Retconning the Emperor …

So, I came across this article on Screen Rant (I originally came across it here). It describes a plot in the “Doctor Aphra” comic — and the comics are supposed to be canon — where Palpatine is revealed to be nothing more than a brute and the real power behind the throne is a completely new character Pitina Mar-Mas Voor who was trying to build a proper Empire and was foiled by Palpatine’s incompetence. Since Palpatine is supposed to return in the also-canon Rise of the Skywalker and since more people will watch that movie than read the comic, this is either going to cause a split in the canon or else they’ll have to have Palpatine be incompetent in that one, which would go against his inclusion.

But, as usual, what’s interesting is how they get so many things so very, very wrong:

Whether or not Emperor Palpatine ever returns, there’s no denying that his empire’s greatest weakness was having HIM as a leader. Cruel, vindictive, hateful, and detested across the galaxy, it’s a miracle Emperor Palpatine took as long as he did to lose all power.

Okay, so let’s limit our discussion to the movies to avoid any new retcons. Other than how he treated Luke — which clearly was done in part to make Luke angry enough to turn to the Dark Side — where is the evidence for any of this? He doesn’t take any directly vindictive or hateful actions in any of the movies. He always has Vader or Maul do that, other than angrily dismissing the one Trade Federation crony, and even that was under his Darth Sidious guise. There is no reason to think that, in general, he acted that way, or even that he was detested across the galaxy. The Rebels hated him, but even then in the movies he was always hated and targeted more for his position of power and the policies of the Empire that he was seen as being responsible for than anything else. Vader was always seen as the greater evil. There’s no indication that Palpatine couldn’t be diplomatic when necessary, and in fact in Return of the Jedi he’s handling negotiations at one point when he dismisses Vader, and he’s not even using any threats to do so. So this claim has no evidence for it in the movies whatsoever.

Every fan is going to want to know the woman born Pitina Mar-Mas Voor, twenty-five years before Sheev Palpatine began his rise to power. Married to a lame duck bureaucrat in the Empire’s ruling class of competing officers and governors, Pitina saw history repeating itself. That below all the bravado, intimidation, and posturing… the expansion of the Empire through brute force was killing it even as it spread (running out of both soldiers and money). And Pitina just might have led the Galactic Empire to total success, if not for once crucial weakness: Emperor Palpatine had absolutely no idea how to lead.

First, how could she see history repeating itself when the actual history was that the democracies themselves constantly fell? What previous Empire could she have been referencing? About the only one that’s even close to canon is The Old Republic’s Sith Empire, but she’d probably have to be a Sith then to make that work and, well, she almost certainly isn’t without eliminating the whole “Rule of Two” canon from the prequels. Second, in order for this to work and for Palpatine to be an utterly incompetent leader she would have had to have started this before the prequels, because that’s when Palpatine made his biggest and most brilliant moves. But the backstory here denies that, since the Empire didn’t exist until the very end of Revenge of the Sith, and surely it would have taken her a few years to marry that bureaucrat, see the issues, and then start to work around them. And third, there’s no evidence that the Empire relied solely on that. The Death Star was, canonically, a facet of Imperial dominance in line with the Tarkin doctrine. While he says that fear will keep the systems in line, there’s no indication that nothing else will be used. In fact, there’s no indication that the Emperor didn’t share Vader’s opinion of the Death Star in relation to the Force, and some Legends sources posited that he did so mostly to keep his Admirals and Tarkin busy.

And finally, no, not every fan is going to want to know this, because I’m a fan and I care not one whit about the character, and this inclusion makes me even less likely to want to follow any of this. I’m only even replying because the article annoyed me and I need a post to end the week, so ranting about it seems a good use of my time.

Encouraging her husband’s suicide to spare himself a traitor’s death at Vader’s hand (which was not actually coming), Pitina claimed his position for herself. Acknowledging that Emperor Palpatine may have known the truth of her deception, he granted her influence and position anyway. Which is when she began to enact her true vision for the Empire’s successful expansion.

This leads to the one way they can save this mess, as Palpatine in various source materials is known for giving people positions of power and influence while being aware of their actual intentions, and using that to get what he wants. Shadows of the Empire has him do exactly that with Xizor. So the arch could end on a high note if it is revealed that Palpatine was using her to get what he wanted while letting her believe that she was herself the power behind the throne. Given the rest of the comic, though — which I used to read and like before giving up on comic subscriptions entirely and at the end only liking Deadpool anyway (and so not Doctor Aphra anymore) — I don’t that will happen.

But let’s look at her three pillars:

Within a year I had established The Coalition for Progress and coined the Three Guiding Tenets of Imperial Outreach. First we show the people the face of chaos. The pirates, the raiders, the mobsters and the monsters. Some are real–most we invent. Anything to make the dumb natives beg for a garrison to save them. Next we show them how perfect their worlds could be in the Emperor’s embrace. Such order, such calm! (I don’t mind telling you: we’ve become extremely gifted at making false smiles look natural.)

And lastly? Oh–just a casual afterthought!–we conspicuously wipe a tear for the worlds that said ‘No.’ These days, two our of three conflicts resolve without a single shot fired. You understand? I have saved this regime. I have built a culture that transcends the clenched first. I have nursed this Empire with a lie, in the expectation that eventually it will become a truth: harmony and prosperity are the rewards of those who submit. And he. Is ruining. Everything.

Sigh. Okay, point 1, the pirates, raiders, mobsters and monsters existed long before the Empire and so long before she could have tried to invent any of them. Tatooine was completely controlled by the Hutts, remember? Han Solo’s entire backstory is about working in the very common underworld of the Star Wars universe. Second, there’s no indication in the movies that Palpatine wasn’t doing any of this himself. Most material explains the Empire as using the carrot and the stick approach: if you co-operate, you’ll do well, and if you don’t, we’ll destroy you. The Death Star was indeed the ultimate expression of that doctrine. Her tenets make it look like she’s left out the stick part, which wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as she thinks it would (and could be the only parts that he’s screwing up).

The plan outlined by Pitina can be seen throughout the Star Wars saga, being enacted at different stages on numerous worlds. On the one hand, it explains why the Empire made so many backroom deals with warlords, crime bosses, and pirate gangs–since they created the very threats the Empire promised to eliminate through total submission. But all that work is for nothing if you have a leader who looks every bit the villain he truly is, and who torments, kills, and crushes as he desires. That’s the kind of tyrant who inspires rebellion with every people and world he dominates–meaning he has nobody to blame but himself for his own destruction.

First, what backroom deals? There aren’t any of these in the movies. The closest is turning Han Solo over the Jabba, but that was Vader making a deal with the bounty hunter Boba Fett, with the Imperial High Command scoffing at such dealing. In Legends, you had Prince Xizor and thus Black Sun, but that was really, really shady and Palpatine was directly manipulating that for his own ends. Second, there’s no evidence that Palpatine was actually tormenting, killing and crushing people as he wanted to. Vader did that, but there is no scene in the movies where Palpatine kills underlings for their failures. While you can argue that that’s where Vader learned to do that, it’s more consistent with, at least, prequel Palpatine that he places himself above such petty concerns and keeps Vader around precisely for that purpose: to be threatening and to be the dog that Palpatine keeps on a leash, occasionally letting him indulge himself when it will benefit the Empire. Again, throughout the movies there is no indication that Palpatine is a brute at all, and her influence could have only started after Palpatine took power through manipulation.

A case could be made that after getting power, Palpatine became corrupt and more indulgent of his evil desires. Still, Palpatine is stronger as a character if his desires were for manipulation and control, not brute force. As pointed out, this really ends up being a retcon because it doesn’t fit with the movies as we’ve seen them and doesn’t add anything interesting. If they had wanted to do something like this, lifting Isard from Legends would have worked better because she was a character that already existed but whom had a strong relationship with the Emperor. Her commenting that he’s corrupted himself from what she at least saw as his main vision would have some weight. This … doesn’t seem to have that.

So, it looks like it’s a mess, especially if the Emperor is supposed to be the canon villain in the last movie.

One Response to “Retconning the Emperor …”

  1. How did it end up like this? | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] I’ve probably already talked about this, and the preamble is going to be a bit long because it’s probably more interesting than the grumble, but I noted something this week following on from my post last week. […]

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