Episode II: Art Imitates Life
Notice that towards the middle of the trailer, Senator Palpatine, who was elected Chancellor of the Republic during Episode I, announces that he will use his emergency powers to create a "Grand Army of the Republic" to counter the threat of "separatists."
In an interview with Time magazine, meanwhile, director George Lucas has explained that over time, all democracies become tyrannies. As Lucas told Time,
All democracies turn into dictatorships - but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it's Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea...What kinds of things push people and institutions into this direction?
That's the issue that I've been exploring: How did the Republic turn into the Empire? That's paralleled with: How did Anakin turn into Darth Vader? How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship? It isn't that the Empire conquered the Republic, it's that the Empire is the Republic...One day Princess Leia and her friends woke up and said, ‘This isn't the Republic anymore, it's the Empire. We are the bad guys. Well, we don't agree with this. This democracy is a sham, it's all wrong.'
The comments of the great director, himself as American as mom, apple pie, and, well, American Graffiti, should give Americans reason to think.
It cannot seriously be contended that an American director such as George Lucas chose the name "Grand Army of the Republic" merely by happenstance. For those versed in American history, it is easily remembered that "Grand Army of the Republic" was the name of the Northern army in the American Civil War.
What might Lucas be hinting to moviegoers about democracy in America?
In the Star Wars universe, where the original trilogy is concerned, the Republic was a thing of the past. It had been replaced by an Empire. And the rebels were the good guys.
Also, one man in particular had a hand in creating the Empire: the Emperor Palpatine, previously known as Senator Palpatine. The guy who created the Grand Army of the Republic to fight the separatists.
It does not take a degree in formal logic to see what Lucas might be getting at about the relationship between democracy and dictatorship in American history.
Perhaps the American body politic is not the same Republic that existed under the Articles of Confederation. Perhaps it is not even the same Republic that existed under the Constitution as ratified in 1789.
Perhaps a certain politician, at a certain point in history, used his "emergency powers" to send a Grand Army of the Republic to battle separatists, also known as "secessionists," leaving in place of the Republic a centralized, national government, which now acts very much like an empire?
Those wishing to pursue this line of inquiry might have a look at another new release. Tom DiLorenzo's book, The Real Lincoln, is hot off the presses. And it examines the actions of Abraham Lincoln in a light that Star Wars fans might recognize.
Three cheers for George Lucas. One hopes that Attack of the Clones will encourage Americans to revisit the myths of their history in the light of the truth. As Tolstoy wrote, there is no greatness where there is not truth.
Senator Palpatine, meet President Lincoln.
May 6, 2002
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2002 David Dieteman