Star Wars: How Mandalore and Palpatine mirror Iraq War justifications

Photo: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode 710 “The Phantom Apprentice” - Image Courtesy Disney+
Photo: Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode 710 “The Phantom Apprentice” - Image Courtesy Disney+ /

Star Wars has always set out to be political. Right from the start, George Lucas imbues these themes into the original and prequel trilogy, with the Empire and the Republic being a dystopian vision of America.

America’s war in Vietnam was a key source of inspiration for the original trilogy, and the prequel trilogy invites many comparisons to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Lucas himself commenting that Dick Cheney is the Emperor and George Bush is Darth Vader. Lucas continues to explore the politics of our  in the seven seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with the episode titled “The Duchess of Mandalore” paralleling the justifications for the Iraq War.

This episode is the final part of a three -part arc exploring Mandalore’s delicate position in the Clone War. A now pacifist planet, Duchess Satine vows to keep Mandalore neutral in the war. However, the terrorist group Deathwatch threatens the planet’s security, and Palpatine attempts to use this as an excuse to send clone troops to occupy the planet as a peacekeeping force. Satine pushes against this, rightfully arguing a Republic occupation would violate Mandalore’s sovereignty, inflame tensions, and give Deathwatch a rallying point. Season two episode fourteen reveals this is Palpatine’s true intention, as he wants to cause regime change on Mandalore.

Analyzing the episode, it’s possible to see a critique of the Iraq War but a more general critique of America. The Republic, the galactic superpower, is attempting to be the galaxy’s police force, going around planets that are neutral and inflicting their will, often without the planet’s consent. This is seen in the Republic’s justifications for wanting to occupy Mandalore. It is important to note that Palpatine’s justifications are different to the Republic’s and will be addressed separately.

The Senate expresses a desire to occupy Mandalore to “save” the Mandalorian people from Deathwatch, though other, less publicized reasons would include using Mandalore as a staging ground for nearby systems and preventing Mandalore from joining the Confederacy of Independent Systems, something that “The Mandalore Plot” shows to be a concern in the Senate. All of this is despite the protest of the Mandalorian leader, Duchess Satine, who wants to prevent the Republic occupying her planet.

Mirroring the Republic, America is known as “the world’s policeman”, and throughout several decades would “correct” what it saw as anti-liberal behaviour, establish American military bases and otherwise bring them in line with American views, all of which required America to violate a country’s sovereignty. These countries (including Iraq) didn’t want America interfering with their affairs, yet lack the voice to speak out. The Clone Wars gives these countries a voice through Duchess Satine and her vocal opposition to Republic interference.

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The Senate’s justifications also share a commonality with America’s when invading Iraq. The opening of “The Duchess of Mandalore” explains that Satine must convince the Senate that Deathwatch doesn’t represent the Mandalorian government, implying that there are some in the Senate that think Satine’s government has sympathies with Deathwatch and that the Republic needs to intervene because of it.

As the episodes prior reveal two Mandalorian officials (Pre Vizsla and Tal Merrik) are part of Deathwatch, the Senate’s concern about the intent of some members of Satine’s government isn’t unreasonable, but it would be an exaggeration to say that Satine’s government has terrorist sympathies. This echoes America’s justification for invading Iraq, as part of it was based on the idea that Saddam Hussein had links to the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, but this turned out to be a lie.

Lies are common in justifying invasions, something that the episode focuses on. Palpatine, the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, asserts that the Republic wishes to send troops to Mandalore to “save” the population, going as far to doctor a message from a member of Satine’s government, in which it calls for the Republic to send troops to the planet. However, later in the episode Palpatine speaks to Dooku, asking if the Deathwatch troops are ready to fight the Republic and topple Satine. Palpatine’s true justification for occupying Mandalore is regime change, though he doesn’t voice this to the Republic.

This deceit echoes the justification for invading Iraq. Bush and Cheney falsely spread the idea that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), even though they knew Iraq didn’t. This is the official reason that the US invaded Iraq, with the humanitarian concerns of Saddam’s rule not the reason for US involvement in Iraq. Instead, references to this, including that in Bush’s War Ultimatum speech of March 2003 that “the day of your [the Iraqi people] liberation is near,” were included to make the invasion palatable to the public.

This culminates in the true reason for the joint US/UK invasion of Iraq, regime change. Since 1998, the removal of Saddam Hussein was official US policy, but Bush makes little reference to this in his speech, instead talking about WMDs and the links Saddam has to terrorism. Meetings between the UK and US before the invasion of Iraq suggest that Blair and Bush agreed that “with or without WMDs,” leaving Saddam in power wouldn’t be tolerated by Bush. However, so that invasion would be well received publicly, Blair and Bush avoided talking about regime change being the true goal of the invasion, mirroring Palpatine’s hidden goal of regime change on Mandalore.

The Clone Wars criticizes this deceit and the Iraq occupation by giving Palpatine a similar rhetoric to George Bush, Dick Cheney and others in the American government. Going into this episode, the audience are aware that Palpatine is untrustworthy, as many will know his true identity as a Sith Lord, something that the episode itself shows. Therefore, this primes the audience to oppose Palpatine and his plan to occupy Mandalore, as not only would it result in the toppling of Satine – a character the audience cares about – but also conflict breaking out on Mandalore. Mandalorian citizens would inevitably get caught in the crossfire, especially due to the indiscriminate nature of Deathwatch tactics.  By having an inherently distrust worthy character this rhetoric, it signals to the audience to reject similar justifications, like the ones Bush and others use.

While Satine’s government is markedly different from Saddam Hussein’s government, and Palpatine’s plot to invade and occupy Mandalore underwent a minor setback unlike Bush’s invasion of Iraq, there are clear similarities between the episode and the justification for going to war in Iraq. These similarities serve to criticise the justification for invasion, and while it’s hard to know if this is Lucas’ intent, the common critique of America in Star Wars coupled with the strong nature of the similarities make the possibility hard to discount.

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