Galactic Republic

This page collects thoughts and reactions to technical issues arising from The Phantom Menace.


This transitional page gathers technical observations about the condition of the Galactic Republic as seen in The Phantom Menace. The topics covered here may eventually be divided and integrated with other pages dealing with more general subjects. However the temporary organisation may turn out to be practically semi-permanent.

The Galactic Republic is called the Old Republic in the classic-era STAR WARS literature, and it is not entirely mysterious. The Prologue of the A New Hope novel briefly describes the fall from greatness of this system of government. Spin-off references such as roleplaying game sourcebooks have reiterated the same information, with a few reasonable assumptions. The Tales of the Jedi comics have shown events in the Galactic Republic a few millennia before the time of the Skywalkers, and the civilisation portrayed in these works is the same in scope as the Galactic Empire, accounting for some cosmetic, cyclic changes of fashion. The Galactic Republic appears to have kept the entire galaxy unified in conditions of orderly and stable prosperity for tens of thousands of years.

However the representation of the Galactic Republic and its institutions in Episode I is far more important than those early glimpses. It is our first direct canonical view of the default condition of the galaxy in the absence of Palpatine's strong influence. Present appearances make it seem that the Emperor did not undertake a transformation of his civilisation as radical as some commentators assume. Film evidence is also hold prime interest because it contains much more information than a book or comic ever could: every frame contains nuances that limit or suggest the possible interpretations of the internal reality of STAR WARS. In a few instances a superficial reading of the film leads into conflict with the objectives of realism; in these cases the filmic evidence is especially important because it constrains the task of formulating more complex but realistic alternative interpretations.

Thanks are due to, in alphabetic order:

Navy & Military

The naval and military forces of the Galactic Republic are only distantly suggested in The Phantom Menace, which revolves around a war that took place far from the central regions, and then upon the surface of Coruscant at the secure centre of galactic power. Personnel of the armed forces of the galactic government are only shown in two explicit examples.

The first instance is the naval crew aboard the ship that carried the Supreme Chancellor's ambassadors to Naboo. The captain and pilot wore double-breasted uniforms identical to those of officers or higher NCOs the Imperial Navy, except that they were dark blue rather than olive or black, and there was no visible insignia or cap. Their hair was cut short like the Imperial style as well.

The second example of Old Republic personnel was the ceremonial soldiers who provide security in the Galactic Senate chamber and who escort the Supreme Chancellor. (The guards stand at every one of the passages leading to each of the senatorial saucers, but the Supreme Chancellor seems to be entitled to a squad for personal escort.) Their uniforms were highly decorative but the men were no doubt well trained. They appear to be direct analogues, and perhaps actual antecedents, to the Imperial Guard of Emperor Palpatine. The only significant differences are the use of dark blue colour, the double-plume helmet crest, and the opening and downwards extension of the visor. Judging by the number of sectorial senators in the main chamber of the Galactic Senate, there should be at least a few thousand of the elite blue guards.

Other examples of Old Republic naval and military personnel appear in the spin-off literature. Numerous Senate Guards accompany Chancellor Valorum in Jedi Council: Acts of War. In Eternity's End the non-commissioned crew of an unfortunate naval vessel wear uniforms the same as in TPM, except that the cloth is green instead of blue. The ship's captain wears a red uniform (like Imperial Intelligence Director Ysanne Isard decades later), but his rank insignia are unseen in every available view.

It is reassuring to see that the uniforms of the galactic armed forces express continuity across the decades. This observation scotches early fan speculation about Palpatine's rise involving some kind of external component, rather than the internal political subversion that is literally described in the canonical and official STAR WARS literature. The Galactic Empire is the Galactic Republic, with some executive restructuring.

The fact that the warships and ground assault vehicles of the Old Republic were not seen in The Phantom Menace requires explanation. It is likely that the Starfleet's inaction was due to the political ossification of galactic institutions. Civilian authority over the navy and military must have been more direct during the Naboo blockade, compared to the situation after the Emperor's declaration of martial law in A New Hope. The indecisiveness of the Senate probably affected the executive government as well, and corrupt local authorities in higher-status sectors may have sequestered naval assets for their own aggrandisement and protection. The Imperial Sourcebook states that this was in fact the case during the declining years of the Old Republic (so this explanation fits nicely despite the fact that the roleplaying game was not informed by the prequels).

Naboo's rimward location would also be a disadvantage if much of the galaxy's naval power was concentrated and leashed in the complacent, decadent Core. There is an observational selection effect at work as well: the Trade Federation would not have beseiged a planet that was likely to receive a swift defence from sectorial or galactic naval and military forces. The armed forces of Naboo's sector must be weak, immobile or preoccupied. (These sector forces do exist, since the Episode I Visual Dictionary indicates that Panaka and perhaps other Naboo military personnel first gained their experience in sector-wide service.)

It is interesting to observe that all of the Old Republic naval and military personnel portrayed in The Phantom Menace are human. Several thousand of the elite Senate Guards are shown to be human males, and two pilots for an ambassadorial ship are human. This seems similar to the situation with the galactic armed forces in the later trilogy, suggesting continuity of recruiting practices. (The same applies to non-government forces; almost all the front-line fighters of the Rebel Alliance were human [ANH, TESB, ROTJ].) However this is not necessarily a sign of institutional prejudice. There are other possibilities:

  1. Demographics: Humans may actually constitute a majority of the militarily-inclined galactic population. It may even be true that humans constitute an overwhelming majority of the sapient biomass and population of the galaxy. (Cloud City and Coruscant give that impression, especially in the Special Edition movies.) Collectively, non-humans only appear to be numerous in locations that are on the sparsely-settled margins of the galaxy (eg. Tatooine).

  2. Standardisation: Naval/military units may be species-based for the sake of equipment standardisation and morale, and by chance we simply haven't seen the major non-human units yet.

  3. Sociobiology: There may be practical considerations that are not immediately obvious to we who in a single-species society. Perhaps it's a reason similar to the common real-world disinclination of women from entering military service, or perhaps it is something to do with the physical potential of recruits.

    On Earth, few species engage in socially organised warfare, as distinct from hunting or individually motivated fighting. Humans are noteworthy for war (some ants and termites do it too). Perhaps the human tenacity, propensity and proficiency for warfare is also distinctive among the common sapient species of the Galactic Republic? Non-human species might participate in the galactic military to an extent like human females, who in comparison with human males are less inclined towards front-line fighting than but readily occupy specialist, support and leadership positions. In other words, it may be more a matter of disposition than institution restriction.

* * *
The two bridge crew of the Old Republic ambassadorial ship, seen from behind. [Topps Widevision; movie screenshots]

At least one Senate Guard stands at the entry passage leading to each of the saucer platforms in the main chamber of the Galactic Senate.

* * *
Red-uniformed naval captain, and green-uniformed crew from Eternity's End, some time after the start of Palpatine's chancellorship.


The Phantom Menace exposes some of the highest institutions of the galaxy to scrutiny. We are provided with barely a glimpse of the government's workings, but this is much more explicit and extensive than the vague verbal references given in previous filmed and unfilmed tales of the STAR WARS literature.

The Galactic Senate is shown to consist of over a thousand senators, each of whom represents a sector consisting of hundreds, thousands or perhaps in some cases tens of thousands of member systems1. (The scale of the galactic civilisation, sectors and senatorial representation are discussed in Astrophysical Concerns.) Sectors have local assemblies of some kind [in the literature, eg. Ojoster Sector Assemlby in Spectre of the Past, p.41 (hc)]. In the Galactic Senate, at least a thousand senatorial saucers are available for senators choosing to attend any particular session in person (1024 according to the Visual Dictionary) this must be approximately the number of sectorial senators. It is possible that the number of senators could be greater than the seating, if many senators are uninterested or non-attending2. The head of government and the chairman of the senate is the Supreme Chancellor, who is elected by a vote of the senate, from amongst the senators. We have seen that there can be as many as three candidates at a time. Whether the Supreme Chancellor has a fixed maximum term of office or governs purely at the pleasure of the Senate is unknown, but the fact that Amidala called a vote of "no confidence" rather than a "censure" hints that the latter is more likely.

The relationship between the inhabited planets of a sector and the sectorial senator has not been explained anywhere in the official literature. However in the New Republic, as described in the recent novels by Timothy Zahn, there are sector legislatures with representatives from the sector's member worlds. It is unknown whether there is any connection between a sector's senate and its galactic senator. Perhaps each senator in the Galactic Senate is a member of the respective sector senate who is delegated to Coruscant by that chamber. In that case, the sectorial senator would be theoretically answerable to the legislature of his sector as a whole, and also to his own planetary government. In any case, the sectorial senators must be answerable to system governments by one or more mechanisms, either wholly or individually.

The actions of Senator Palpatine demonstrate that sectorial senators have some interesting privileges. Firstly he was able to lend his speaking rights to the head of state of one of the planetary systems within his sector. Some legislatures on Earth make provision for irregular guest speakers, so Queen Amidala's visit may be considered in those terms. Alternatively, her speech may be a demonstration of a regular and formal mechanism of accountability between sectorial senators and the systems they represent. The Visual Dictionary indicates that controlling access to the Galactic Senate is one of the important functions of a sectorial senator.

Secondly, and more remarkably, Palpatine was able to lend Amidala his rights to raise and vote upon motions of the senate. While this seems unusual by the standards of terrestrial legislatures, there does not seem to be any political or practical problem with it. From the political point of view, each senator ought to be somehow accountable to the governments of his sector. In practice, the voting mechanism is probably electronic and based on the senatorial saucers, so it wouldn't matter who wields the vote as long as the occupants of the saucer are all authorised. The abundant space available in the saucers of the debating chamber provides vastly more room to accommodate guests than is possible in the confines of Earthly legislatures.

1 Naboo has 36 full member systems; Chancellor Valorum's sector has over a thousand [Episode I Visual Dictionary]. In the late stages of the Old Republic, "hundreds" of member systems is typical of many sectors [Imperial Sourcebook], however the average must be about a thousand if there are only a thousand sectors and a million member worlds in total. To meet this total, sectors with few members (like Naboo's sector) must be balanced by others that have many thousands.
2 Some terrestrial legislatures have low attendence rates and less seating than the total theoretical number of members, eg. the House of Lords in Great Britain.

* *
The main chamber of the Galactic Senate, as depicted in The Phantom Menace. Each mobile saucer holds one senator plus aides, guests or consorts.


Galactic institutions in the era of The Phantom Menace do not appear to have any obvious or repetitively used symbols. On the military personnel seen thusfar there have been no identifiable logos or emblems; and the Supreme Chancellor and the sectorial senators do not appear to wear any special badge of office.

The main chamber of the Senate is decorated with panels of dull, neutral lavender and antiseptically-polished metal. However there is one logo in evidence in this august but spartan venue. The front face of the Supreme Chancellor's podium tower is inlaid with a logo consisting of a cog overlain with a triple-pronged curved shape that is something like a simplified fleur-de-lys. There is a bulb at the centre of this shape. This may be an emblem of the Galactic Republic, of its Senate or perhaps the office of Supreme Chancellor. The latter possiblity is supported by the fact that Valorum carried a heavy staff topped with an axe-like sculpture of this logo [according to the Chancellor Valorum action figure from Hasbro].

Roundel on the side of Galactic Republic starfleet vessels in the Tales of the Jedi era resembles the Imperial logo but with more segments. The emblem on Valorum's podium also contains a cog-like shape.


There are a few substantial or circumstantial signs of the decline of the Old Republic on display in The Phantom Menace.

Firstly, the galactic armed forces are proven to be unready to defend a full member world against seige and invasion. The fact that there exist government forces sufficient to crush the Trade Federation blockade is implied by the fact that the Federation officers fear intervention ordered by the Senate or the executive government. In the spin-off literature [ie. Brian Daley's Han Solo series] the Old Republic navy is described as having mighty cruisers over two kilometres long and at least one type of destroyer nine hundred metres long, which is consistent with the standard of warships possessed and inherited by the Galactic Empire. The navy's inactivity in the Naboo crisis suggests that it is either hampered politically or distracted by defence situations in more valued regions of the galaxy.

Secondly, the formation of merchant naval and military forces capable of challenging system governments represents a severe breakdown of law and order. These forces would not be formed unless the organs of commerce felt insecure due to other players in the greater scheme of the galaxy; the Federation forces are an expression of lost confidence in the normal and legitimate defenders of civilian interests. The Federation armed forces themselves pose a flagrant challenge to government authority, and raise the spectre of large-scale vigilante action between quarrelsome interstellar forces.

A third sign of the decay of the Old Republic is the fact that outlying systems such as Tatooine have fallen into lawlessness and the defacto economic control of insidious elements such as Huttese criminal cartels. The discussion between Shmi Skywalker and Padme concerning slavery reveals much: (1) the legal authority of the Galactic Republic is technically galactic and encompasses Tatooine; however (2) the Republic has no effective practical existence in the region. According to The Phantom Menace novel, there did exist a formally legitimate but little-known governor of the planet somewhere, who was completely overshadowed by Hutts such as Jabba. This was not always the case: Tatooine even managed to provide a great Jedi master during the Tales of the Jedi comics, four millennia before the movie saga. It appears that in Anakin Skywalker's day, the galactic government was clearly overstretched and had abandoned many of its fundamental obligations.


During the Battle above Naboo a single paragraph of Galactic Basic text is shown to Anakin Skywalker on one of the console displays of his N-1 starfighter.

Many fan communities are fond of an interpretation of this text which ascribes it an English phrase via a simplistic code substitution of Basic for Latin letters. This is an amusing but deceptive anglocentric myth which deserves explicit rebuttal. The English transliteration is not a valid interpretation, because Basic is not English. If it is possible to fit English letters to the text to make an English phrase then it is no more than an extra-textual coincidence or joke. Statistically, it is not surprising that there is some kind of vaguely sensible English phrase that can be retrofitted to that section of text, but it makes no intra-textual sense. It has nothing to do with the potential reality of the text within the STAR WARS universe.

Proponents of the naive "Basic = English" transliteration base their theory on a supposed Basic alphabet invented in some of the later products of West End Games' STAR WARS Roleplaying Game. The fans who impose such interpretations on the text in the movies overlook several inconvenient facts which are essential to a valid analysis of STAR WARS Basic text:

The RPG "Aurebesh" is in explicit contradiction with the Return of the Jedi text. WEG assigned nonsensical values to characters that are identifiable on screen. With the WEG version, a large fraction of words don't even contain vowels. That isn't language. The WEG interpretation is not just unproven; it is disproven by the canon. On the other hand, in an abstract sense there exist tens of thousands of potential solutions that combine all of the available canonical data and yield speakable (non-English) language in every case. Those realistic alternatives should be considered.


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Original content is © copyright Dr Curtis Saxton 2001.
Last updated 27 May 2001.

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