I remember first watching Star Wars. The sense of excitement of watching a scrappy band of rebels try to overcome the infinitely more powerful Empire, led by the mysterious and evil Emperor was thrilling. It feels great to root for the underdog. I had imagined generations of freedom fighters laying down their lives fighting this ruthless inter-planetary dictatorship. It was awesome.
And then the prequels came out. And I learned that the Empire was only about 20 years old. And worse yet, the Republic, which in the original trilogy was an idyllic supposed utopia, worth striving for turns out to be a corrupt, decadent, bureaucratic nightmare ruled by a squabbling, ineffective senate clearly under the influence of special interest groups, and susceptible to meddling and manipulation. The citizens in the undercity of Coruscant live terrible lives in the dark; the ruling elite, while so physically close to them leading a life so unlike their own as to be unrecognizable.
The republic, faced with a threat, readily betrays principles of self-determination and personhood all in the name of winning the war against the separatists by embracing the use of clone-soldiers to fight their war, not a volunteer army of citizens. Worse than this, the Jedi Knights, supposedly a detached, impersonal embodiment of all that is good and right in the universe are culpable political puppets, doomed to defend a society their own ideals should abhor.
Now with this in mind, the motives of Princess Leia become suspect: Is she really a devoted freedom-fighter? Or is she merely royalty who misses the perks her family used to have as ruling elites before the Emperor usurped their power? Bail Organa, her adoptive father, is clearly a very influential member of the senate prior to the dissolution.
There is no doubt that the Emperor is a caricature of an evil, manipulative ruler. But I’m not convinced after watching the prequels that the lives of anyone except for the previous ruling elite were any worse for his rule. Indeed, if you look at the example of Lando Calrissian’s upward mobility in becoming the ruler of Cloud City on Bespin (no matter how short-lived, or how puppet-like it may be), the lives of the lower- and middle-classes may actually have improved with the loss of the previous ruling elites: there’s room for them to move up in the world.