Star Wars‘ Emperor Palpatine is one of the most significant villains in Hollywood history. This is thanks, in no small part, to Ian McDiarmid absolutely killing the “most evil man in the galaxy” role with his portrayal of The Emperor. But part of Palpatine’s impact is also due to the writing of George Lucas and his decision to model the rise of The Emperor after the rise of Adolf Hitler. This historical anchor allows audiences to see McDiarmid’s over-the-top performance as vaguely familiar – and all the more chilling.
Many people have already come to the conclusion that the Empire is roughly based on Nazi Germany. George Lucas has openly cited Hitler, Napoleon, and Caesar as inspirations for Palpatine. Certain connections are fairly obvious and have been repeated by fans throughout the years: the term “stormtrooper” originally belonged to German specialist soldiers in World War I; the word Vader is Dutch for “father” and is close to the German word for “father” as well – “vater.” (You may have also heard that “Darth” is Dutch for “dark,” but that isn’t true – Darth is just a word that George Lucas invented, perhaps by blending “dark” and “death,” or as a derivative of “Dark Lord of the Sith.”)
However, most of the strong connections between Palpatine and Hitler come out in the Prequel trilogy. These films depict the rise of a Chancellor (the office held by both Hitler and Palpatine) to supreme leader, the slow transformation of a Republic into a dictatorship (as had occurred in Germany during the ’30s) by a cunning dictator who was orchestrating attacks on his own people as a way to consolidate more and more power (compare the 1933 Reichstag fire to the fact that Palpatine was responsible for the invasion of Naboo and the creation of the Separatist movement under the guise of Darth Sideous). These connections have been discussed before, on forums, columns, and YouTube videos – we are not here to rehash these known comparisons. There is, in fact, more to explore. The connections run deeper, and get much darker…
Palpatine’s Order 66 and Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives
One of the defining moments in Revenge of the Sith is the enactment of Order 66. This is the order that leads to the simultaneous execution of nearly every off-world Jedi by clone troopers (while also being carried out by Anakin in the Jedi temple the same night). Apparently all clones had been programmed to turn on their Jedi commanders by order of the Chancellor. All of the wartime camaraderie established between the clones and Jedi didn’t matter once Palpatine set Order 66 in motion. This plan helps to explain how just two Sith could wipe out all of the Jedi, thereby taking control of the galaxy. It can be seen as merely a Deus Ex Machina to help the end of Revenge of the Sith match up with the setting of A New Hope, but knowledge of history helps to bring focus to the purpose and intent of Palpatine at this stage.
Adolf Hitler had his own “Order 66” moment between June 30th and July 2nd 1934, known as the Night of the Long Knives. During this time, he ordered one branch of his military (the SS) to wipe out much of the leadership of another branch of his military (the SA), along with a number of political adversaries and personal enemies. Most of the SA leadership was rounded up simultaneously on the first night so that the executions could be swift, clean, and without warning. The SA outnumbered the SS troops, just as the Jedi vastly overpowered their Clonetrooper comrades with their force abilities. The element of surprise was crucial to the success of both Order 66 and the Night of the Long Knives.
After Order 66, Chancellor Palpatine soon declared himself Emperor. This timing also correlates to the timeline of Hitler, since the Night of the Long Knives was carried out to establish Hitler as the leader of the German military, and from that point Nazi Germany was more or less an Empire.
Racist agenda: A galaxy ruled by humans, a world ruled by Aryans
Going one step further, the most distinctive and evil part of the Nazi philosophy was the idea of racial supremacy. Hitler believed and taught that the Aryan race (blond-haired, blue-eyed white people of Nordic descent) were superior to every other race on the planet. He particularly hated the Jews, but he also persecuted Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and many others. Hitler’s racist, ethnocentric philosophy was embraced by those who fell to his charisma or feared his wrath and resulted in the mass murder of many non-Aryan people both in concentration camps and in conquered territories.
Was Palpatine racist like Hitler? Yes! Palpatine believed in the supremacy of the human race over all other intelligent species in the galaxy. First of all, the clone army was human, and so the army of the Republic was almost exclusively human, with the exceptions being non-human Jedi fighters. Alien races had a prominent role in government under the reign of the Republic, but somewhere between Episode III and Episode IV all of the notable aliens were phased out of power and replaced by counterparts hand-picked by the Emperor. In Episode IV, Grand Moff Tarkin explains that the operational status of the Death Star allowed the Emperor to disband the Imperial Senate and grant power over various star systems to Imperial governors (who were most likely human). The only aliens we see working for the Empire are bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back, and they are all clustered together, separate from the human staff.
Robots are seen working for the Empire, but they are all defenseless servants. Robots are treated with incredible disdain in Episodes IV-VI, which makes sense, seeing that the army that attacked the Republic 20 years earlier was made up of robots.
Going back to the Prequels, we see that the Trade Federation was exclusively non-human, and the Separatists were mostly non-human, apart their human leader, Count Dooku, who was secretly the apprentice of Palpatine. This was all part of the plan. Palpatine was helping to solidify a pro-human, anti-alien-and-robot sentiment among his subjects even during the Clone Wars. He was planting the seeds of his racist beliefs in the public eye to prepare them to accept his eventual final solution to the alien “problem”: the Death Star.
At this point you might think, “Wait a minute, the Death Star was only used once, to blow up the human planet of Alderaan,” which would seem to conflict with my theory. But Alderaan was the home planet of Leia Organa and more importantly her adoptive father Bail Organa, who was present at the Jedi temple to witness a youngling get murdered during Order 66, and was one of the founding members of the Rebel Alliance.
Bail and his family represented one of the last truly potential political threats against Palpatine’s plan to cement humanity as the sole dominant species in the galaxy. I submit that a majority of the humans in the Rebellion were recruited and trained by Bail Organa on Alderaan. This is why the planet was chosen as the first example of the Empire’s brand new superweapon.
Palpatine persecuting alien species would explain why so many Bothans gave their lives to deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebellion (here we are referencing a quote from Return of the Jedi, prior to the Battle of Endor, when Mon Mothma said, “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”) It would also explain why so many aliens were willing to help the Rebellion cause – and in the case of Admiral Akbar, command them. Finally, it would explain why Obi-Wan Kenobi was chosen to stay on Tatooine, and Yoda exiled himself to the jungle world of Degobah. Yoda was both a Jedi and a non-human, which would make him twice the target for the Empire as Kenobi.
If it weren’t for Luke and his uncanny ability to hit exhaust ports only two meters wide, the Death Star would have gone throughout the galaxy destroying planet after planet until Palpatine was satisfied.
Doomsday devices: The Death Star and Nazi superweapons
The Death Star had been part of Palpatine’s master plan since at least Episode II, where the fabled plans were first seen. It was shown being constructed at the end of Episode III. Some may argue that the Death Star was included because George Lucas loves cameos, but I believe the Death Star was Palpatine’s instrument of choice for enacting his vision of a Sith-ruled galaxy from the very beginning.
Once the plans for the Death Star were successfully stolen, the Emperor demanded to get them back at all costs. He didn’t care if the Alderaan rebels knew that he was on to them; he was going to deal with them soon enough. That weapon was the culmination of Palpatine’s sinister agenda. When it was destroyed, the Emperor had no back-up plan. His next move was to build another Death Star, which underlines how crucial this superweapon was to whatever Palpatine had in mind for the future of the galaxy.
Adolf Hitler, thankfully, never did develop a Death Star of his own. He tried, countless times, to develop superweapons, but in the end his racism ended up being his undoing, as some of the best and brightest minds had fled Germany to Allied sanctuary. Not only was Germany hard at work to be the first country to develop an Atomic Bomb, Nazi scientists had also developed a massive multi-chamber gun (the V-3) which had secondary explosives along the barrel to enhance the velocity of projectiles to…ahem….ludicrous speed. This gun was going to be used to bombard any target in Europe, because apparently the massive guns they already had along the French coast that could fire on targets in England up to 29 miles away just weren’t impressive or destructive enough.
Finally, Hitler was obsessed with the occult, and many of his closest advisors like Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess also shared a deep fascination. Most people are familiar with this concept thanks to the exposure of George Lucas’ other multi-chapter film franchise, Indiana Jones. The Nazis formed a state religion based on their occult-inspired beliefs, borrowing their sign from the Hindus, their gods from Nordic mythology, and certain rituals from Christianity (such as the stations of the cross being replaced with the parading of a blood-soaked Nazi flag from Hitler’s failed coup in 1923). Hitler’s study of dark arts and arcane knowledge to further his agenda of conquest is disturbingly similar to the ways of the Sith.
There have been many tyrants throughout history who have used similar tactics in the expansion of their respective empires, and who can each be described as “evil.” Palpatine may be a bit of Caesar, a bit of Napoleon, a bit of Stalin, and a bit of Satan; but there is no question that Palpatine is a lot of Hitler.