Why Mitch McConnell is our Galaxy’s Emperor Palpatine
Now that the impeachment hearings are over, there’s only one conclusion–our galaxy has shares similarities to Star Wars with its own Emperor Palpatine in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Star Wars prequels are a mixed bag. For every young Obi-Wan, there’s a new racist caricature in the form of the Trade Federation.
While the Star Wars prequels often get a bad rap, they are a lot more interesting when you look at them as a political text. (Padme Amidala was like the teenaged, fashion-forward Hillary Clinton of Naboo! Let’s talk about it! But that’s for another article.)
Yes, the prequels often suffer from a bit of heavy-handed retconning, but they also give a fascinating insight into how the greatest sith lord of all time came to be.
The fact that Palpatine started out as a simple politician–Senator Palpatine–is a notion that resonated deeply as the prequels loomed throughout the Bush era. Almost by virtue of the era they lived in, the prequels are inherently political.
The Phantom Menace debuted about a year before Bush v. Gore. Attack of the Clones came out a little over six months after the September 11 World Trade Center Attacks. The conclusion of the trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, was released in 2005 at the beginning of Bush’s second term and the Iraq War.
The relationship between Palpatine and his young protege Anakin Skywalker was not written as a political satire as the space opera has always simply painted its story in terms of “dark and light.” Yet viewers nonetheless read it as one. A 2005 CBS News article about Revenge of the Sith discussed audience comparisons:
“This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause,” bemoans Padme Amidala…as the galactic Senate cheers dictator-in-waiting Palpatine…while he announces a crusade against the Jedi.
“If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy,” …Anakin (soon to become villain Darth Vader) tells former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi… The line echoes Mr. Bush’s international ultimatum after the Sept. 11 attacks, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
It’s almost impossible not to draw connections between Anakin and George W. Bush and Palpatine and Bush’s many influencers (Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, his own father).
While there was a brief, eight-year span, where the political power of the GOP appeared to have dimmed, much like Emperor Palpatine, it never actually went away, and their long-term strategy and thirst for “power, unlimited power,” became clearer than ever when they were willing to elect Donald Trump.
With the senate’s not-surprising-but-still-disconcerting acquittal of the president’s impeachment charges on Wednesday, it’s the latest in a long line of impressive power moves by Majority Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
With the (spoiler alert) reveal in The Rise of Skywalker that Palpatine had been alive for the entirety of the new trilogy and had been pulling the strings all the while, many viewers (myself included) felt the rug pulled out from under them. Didn’t we kill this guy already?
However, Palpatine’s ability to survive and regenerate is a narrative that can again be mapped onto American politics. Mitch McConnell has served in the U.S. Senate for 35 years, only 5 years less than Palpatine has been part of the cultural consciousness.
When the impeachment trial advanced to the Senate, the country knew how it would end and there were few surprises, thanks to McConnell’s steadfast control over Congress. There’s something to be said for the lasting power of old, white men in this country.
Nonetheless, there were at least a few good impeachment Star Wars memes that spoke to the overall divisiveness in the country. Quoting Palpatine’s, “I am the senate,” moment from Revenge of the Sith, several Twitter users put their own spin on the impeachment hearings.
Even when depicting Trump with the “I am the senate” quotation, it was easy for people to use it to paint Trump favorably or ominously (even though the quotation is pretty evil).
Simpler memes depicted McConnell alongside Palpatine with Revenge of the Sith quotes and the comparison is scary to say the least.
All this to say, with an unending news cycle that spews relentless nonsense, it can be hard to look for the spark that keeps hope alive. I don’t know which of the 72 presidential nominees might be the Rey lying in wait to restore balance to the force, but in the meantime, I’ll be rewatching Star Wars for a little comfort.
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