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Editorials

1997-1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002+



Palpatine vs. Hitler: Prequel Speculation Runs Amok!

You know how in movies there'll be some guy lost in the desert, hopelessly dying of thirst? And then he sees the mirage of an oasis in the distance. He runs to it until the vision resolves into a reality, and he has to make himself believe that he really IS drinking fresh water and eating luscious wild dates.

That was who we were as Star Wars fans three years ago: that guy, enduring fifteen years of thirst for a new Star Wars flick. We madly followed every mirage that flickered on the horizon until we got to the trees and had to kick ourselves into realizing that, yes, this was a whole 'nother Star Wars movie.

As nifty a thrill as The Phantom Menace was, those heady days of '97 to early '99 were even more special, I think. Back then Kenneth Branaugh was flying the Millennium Falcon with Jedi Master Charlton Heston in the Clone Wars against the Mandalorians and an army of IG-88s. The first trailer started with a wooden box on a child's bed: Alec Guinness's voice intoning "you know who he became, now find out who he was" before we saw Vader's lightsaber in the box. Plo Koon was a cyborg Jedi. We laughed when we heard the name "Darth Maul". Laughed even harder at "Darth Sidious". And laughed, then groaned, at the first mention of "midi-chlorians".

Most of the pre-Episode I fun was looking at the classic trilogy and speculating on what brought the story to the beginning of A New Hope. How would we see the Empire come about? How would Anakin fall from grace? What was the Old Republic like? Numerous theories and scenarios were put forth. We foresaw anything and everything happening in the prequels: Timothy Leary going through Hunter S. Thompson's medicine cabinet couldn't have hallucinated like we did.

We sobered a bit after Episode I, but with fourteen months left until E2 we're back on the wagon again. Empty bottles are starting to fill the shelf as we imbibe on every new bit of prequel lore … including a fresh look at real life. When George Lucas was crafting the Star Wars saga, he intertwined it with elements from our world: cultural references, languages, religions, and history. Lots of history. Take f'rinstance the space battles: Lucas studied countless hours of World War II dogfight footage from the Pacific theater. As a result the battle in Return Of The Jedi follows WWII logic: small fighters take on each other while softening up the capital ships for the larger vessels to make the bigger kills.

Three years ago I wrote a speculation (which may or may not be accurate) based on post-World War I history: the Clone Wars are going to be a massive setup. They won't be intended to be "winnable", but only to bring the galaxy to the brink of collapse. Palpatine will somehow engineer the Clone Wars (would they even involve "clones" as we know them to be?) to justify his declaring a state of emergency in the Republic. Sort of like what Adolph Hitler did on his road to power in Germany, except what Hitler did by twists of fate, Palpatine is going to pull off by long-term design… maybe.

I'll be watching Episode II to see if that's what happens. But meanwhile I'm wondering: Lucas has a lot of appreciation for historical nuance, so what other parallels might there be between the fictional tyrant and the actual despot? I started putting together a list comparing everything we know to date about Palpatine with some facts about Hitler… who knows, maybe by studying Hitler we can figure out some things in advance about Palpatine, right?

Well, it's pretty amazing how many points of similarity there are between the two. Consider…

  • Palpatine is a product of the Sith, an ancient secret society dedicated to acquiring absolute power and control, and the destruction of the Jedi. We now know that Adolf Hitler became involved with real-life secret societies - such as the Golden Dawn and the Thule Society - while a young man in Vienna. The adherents of these groups believed they were given the legacy of Atlantis, but their enemies - the "racially inferior" - had to be wiped out before restoring any past "glory".
  • There is a "master-apprentice" relationship between Palpatine, as Darth Sidious, and Darth Maul. Palpatine would certainly have been the apprentice of an earlier Sith Master. Adolph Hitler dedicated the second part of Mein Kampf to his own "master": a man named Dietrich Eckart, who reportedly indoctrinated Hitler into occult mysticism. On his deathbed Eckart is reputed to have said "I will have influenced Germany more than any other man. Follow Hitler: he will dance, but I have called his tune."
  • In The Phantom Menace the Senate of the Republic has become weakened and unable to function due to internal bickering and partisanship. The Reichstag, the Weimar Republic's parliament, was likewise being torn apart by petty politics and corruption, to the point that it failed to exist as a real governing body.
  • Hitler's predecessor was Paul von Hindenburg, a respected German war hero who nevertheless had weak and ineffectual leadership of the Weimar Republic. Similarly, Palpatine succeeded Finis Valorum, a renowned man who no longer possessed any real ability to offer leadership.
  • Hitler came to power in the ruins of World War I, and was seen as a savior by many German people after the reparations of the Versaille Treaty and the crash of 1929. Palpatine will in all likelihood become Emperor in the wake of the Clone Wars… a conflict that will devastate the galaxy and leave most clamoring for a leader promising peace and security, much as Hitler did.
  • If Palpatine is indeed behind the Clone Wars, he will be doing as many historians believe Hitler did: arrange for the Reichstag fire, blaming its destruction on the Communists in an effort to justify an increase in his power. And it'll REALLY be amazing if Palpatine somehow casts blame for the Clone Wars on the Jedi.
  • Hitler believed that certain religious artifacts, such as the Lance of Longinus (the legendary spear which pierced Christ's side at the crucifiction) and the Holy Grail were symbols of power and authority. Hitler seized the Lance when Germany annexed Austria, while Nazi scientists searched southern France for the Grail. In Return Of The Jedi: Special Edition the statue of Palpatine is holding a globe in his hand… much like the one Boss Nass holds aloft at the conclusion of The Phantom Menace. Might this globe be a Star Wars parallel to the Lance?
  • Hitler instituted gun control in Germany: disarming his opponents… and the Jews in particular… so there would be little resisting of his plans. Palpatine ensures less opposition to his own rule by disarming the galaxy of the one force that could overthrow him: the Jedi.
  • Hitler started a mass extermination campaign against Europe's population of Jews, Roma ("gypsies"), people of Slavic origin, and everyone else that did not fit the twisted "Nazi ideal" of ethnic purity. Palpatine will begin a holocaust of the Jedi, leaving only two survivors.
  • Palpatine is known for his superweapons: the two Death Stars, the Executor, etc. The Nazis under Hitler also experimented with "superweapons", including a "sound cannon" that would kill opponents with lethal sonic energy (it didn't work).
  • At the Battle of Endor, Palpatine used his military reserves to spring a trap on the Rebels. Similarly, Hitler threw in his reserves in an attempt to split the Allied forces at the Battle of the Bulge. Both efforts might have ended in brilliant success for the aggressors but instead resulted in decisive failure.
  • Palpatine was destroyed by his right-hand man. Hitler was destroyed by his own hand (okay that's a stretch but still…)
And there's probably a few other things that could be said of Palpatine and Hitler. What does all this mean? I guess someone could say that Lucas was making an intricate commentary on modern history: sort of a "subliminal Santayana". Or maybe he's just using a real person to more fully "flesh out" a fictional character.

My point with all this is, we're at a unique time to enjoy the saga, and it's only going to happen one other time ever, when Episode III goes into production. There's tons of good stuff to ponder before the next movie flickers onto screens in May '02. Enjoy it to the fullest! Go watch all four movies we have now. Then go down to your local library and check out a book on real-life history, or science, or religion and mythology (here's a tip: Hero With A Thousand Faces is a good idea) that Star Wars has drawn from. Then speculate with your fellow fans, including on our message boards. As sobering as the subject matter was, it was a lot of fun to put the Palpatine-Hitler list together, and I'm hoping that someone out there will come up with an even bigger list!

And there's one other thing that comes with reading up on the real-life aspects of the saga: Star Wars as a rich story is good. But enriching yourself as a person is even better!

Chris Knight
March 14th, 2001

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