From the very first moments of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, it was clear that the Galactic Empire was a fierce and fascinating foe. There were the white-armored soldiers – the stormtroopers – firing at will, contrasted by the towering, black-clad presence of Darth Vader, with his Force mastery. That combination of power was what the Empire was all about: the brutal violence of the stormtroopers and their technology, combined with the quieter, more spiritual brutality of the dark side of the Force.
For most of its existence, the Empire was led by the evil Emperor Palpatine, also known as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, with Vader as his loyal enforcer and apprentice. We know that from the movies. But there are many other facts about the Empire that we don’t explicitly learn from the films and have to find other canon sources, along with some real-life sources. Here, we’ve accumulated some of the best of those.
We have foreseen it: you will read the 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Empire.
Despite his all-black armor and cape, Darth Vader was depicted very much as Emperor Palpatine’s golden boy in the original trilogy. Well, until Vader killed him, that is. That kind of put a damper on the relationship. Before that, though, Vader seemed like Palpatine’s perfect Sith sidekick. Things didn't stay that way, however.
The first crack in their relationship came when Vader was unable to thwart the Rebel attack on and destruction of the Emperor’s precious Death Star, which also happened to kill Palpatine’s other good buddy, Grand Moff Tarkin. Not long after that, the Rebels were able to destroy a major weapons factory on Cymoon 1 under Vader’s watch.
As a result of these disappointing failures, the Emperor stripped Vader of a lot of his authority, demoting him to report to Cassio Tagge in the Imperial Military he once commanded. And we all know what happened in the end...
It’s widely known that George Lucas drew significant inspiration from classic films like Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress when he wrote the first Star Wars film, now known as Episode IV: A New Hope. Specifically, though, he had a number of inspirations for the evil Empire. He’s spoken about the influence of Vietnam-era America, which Lucas lived through during the years leading up to the film. From that, he borrowed the notion of a small group (Rebels in Star Wars, the North Vietnamese in real life) battling a seemingly insurmountable power (the Empire/the United States), and he based the Emperor on U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Going back a few decades, much of the Empire’s aesthetic and fascism was lifted from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Imperial officers’ uniforms are very Nazi-esque, and you can see the Soviet’s May Day celebrations in the pomp and circumstance and military formation when the Emperor arrived at the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
Meanwhile, a significant fictional influence came from legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series of novels, thanks to an entity known as – surprise – the Galactic Empire.
There are many, many similarities between the fictional life of Sheev Palpatine and the real life of Ancient Roman politician Gaius Octavian, who led the Roman Empire from 27 BC to 14 AD. Both started out as lower-level politicians and worked their way up to a position of supreme leadership. Well, “worked their way up” is actually a little too kind to both men. What they both did was manipulate a democratic Senate to shift power into their hands, then declare themselves Emperor.
Octavian and Palapatine both convinced their Senates to give them great power during a tense time, claiming it would be temporary, but never relinquishing their authoritarian power. They claimed that their authoritarian rule was necessary because the Senate was corrupt.
Finally, both had alternate names. Octavian was given the name Augustus, while we know that Palpatine was also known as Dark Lord of the Sith Darth Sidious.
Despite the presence of Chagrian alien Mas Amedda in a key position, as well as a few other aliens, the Empire was quite xenophobic from the start, and by design. For the Empire, it was simple: they believed non-humans were too strange to be welcome within their ranks. More often than not, if you saw an alien around the Death Star or aboard a Star Destroyer, it would be in a subservient role, even as a slave.
Nevertheless, in addition to Mas Amedda, there were a couple of other aliens in key roles within the empire. Grand Admiral Thrawn was a blue Chiss alien bent on destroying the fledgling rebellion in the years before the Battle of Yavin. Then there was the Grand Inquisitor, a Pau’an alien and leader of the Inquisitorious, a group that searched out remaining Jedi.
Meanwhile, the Rebels would have been nowhere without their inclusive philosophy. Their alien contingent, including Wookiees like Chewbacca, Mon Calamari like Ackbar, and Sullustans like Nien Nunb, played key roles in their victory.
Anyone who’s seen A New Hope knows that the Empire performed an unspeakably despicable act, demonstrating the power of their new Death Star space station/superweapon by destroying the entire planet of Alderaan, aka Princess Leia’s home. And they did it right in front of her, no less. That wasn’t this regime’s only genocide, though. In fact, genocide was already old hat for the Empire by the time they destroyed Alderaan, and they didn’t always have to blow up a planet to do it.
Eighteen years before Alderaan, the Empire started with the inhabitants of a moon called Antar 4. Moff Tarkin, as he was known at the time (no “Grand” yet), wanted to make an example of societies that had been loyal to the defeated Separatists, and Antar 4 was an unfortunate one of those. In an event dubbed the "Antar Atrocity", Tarkin led an absolute massacre of the moon’s inhabitants.
The Empire would go on to unleash another genocide on Lasat, and another on Geonosis, not to mention massacres on other planets like Chewbacca’s homeworld of Kashyyyk.
With his knife-sharp features and cold blue eyes, Wilhuff Tarkin was an intimidating presence. It wasn’t just his presence that was intimidating, though. The native of Eriadu was absolutely ruthless, with a shrewd military mind. He first displayed these traits at a young age as part of the Outlands Security Force, then joined a military academy, where he met his future boss, Sheev Palpatine, who was then a Senator within the Republic.
Tarkin quickly became a favorite of Palpatine, who helped him become Governor of Eriadu, and he stayed loyal to the future Emperor when Count Dooku tried to convince him to move Eriadu to join the Separatists. This was actually a test devised by Palpatine, and Tarkin passed. Once the Empire was formed, Palpatine dubbed him a Moff and later, as a reward for thwarting early rebels and a lifetime of loyalty, anointed him the Empire’s first Grand Moff.
If you’re an authoritarian ruler who has masterminded the creation of an Empire to rule the entire galaxy, there’s a pretty good chance you have a healthy ego and want everyone to know how awesome you are. So it’s not really that surprising that Emperor Palpatine ordered a giant statue to be built in his image.
It’s not even just that it was built, it was where he built it. When the Empire first emerged as the ruling power, they symbolically took over Coruscant, which had been the home of the Republic that they just dismantled. That’s where the Emperor’s statue was built, just outside of the Senate building, in the Senate Plaza, which had been renamed the Imperial Plaza so folks wouldn’t be reminded of the Republic’s Senate.
Incidentally, the statue’s placement was perhaps even more symbolic in the Legends continuity, where it was erected in the partially destroyed Jedi Temple, also on Coruscant.
We know, of course, that the Empire was led by a power-mad Force devotee in Sith Lord Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine. Part of his master plan to topple the Republic and establish the Empire was to rid the galaxy of all the Jedi by using Order 66, a command programmed into the clone troopers and triggered by Palpatine to have them destroy the Jedi they’d fought alongside.
While Order 66 was mostly successful, it wasn’t entirely successful, and that did not make Palpatine a happy camper. He was obsessed with finishing the job, enlisting Darth Vader to hunt them down. The Inquisitorious, a small group of Force-sensitives, was established to help Vader in this quest. It wasn’t just full-fledged Jedi they were after, though. They also went after kids who showed Force sensitivity, creating a program called Project Harvester to capture and detain them, thereby ending any potential Force-led rebellious uprising. That plan, as we all know, was ultimately wildly unsuccessful.
Part of the fun of the Star Wars saga on the big screen has been to watch the evolution of trooper armor over the years. When we first joined the story in A New Hope, the Empire was in full swing, defended by a seemingly infinitesimally huge army of stormtroopers in their iconic white armor and helmet with slanted eyes and bulbous lower portion. In The Force Awakens, we saw that the design was mostly retained for the First Order stormtroopers, with a slightly more angular helmet design.
All of that was preceded by the Kaminoan-designed Republic clone troopers, as we first saw in The Phantom Menace. It was certainly a more primitive design, with an iconic T-shaped eye hole, that in its second phase took on the bulbous lower portion we’d see in the storm trooper. When the Empire was established, it took over the clone army, so for a time the stormtroopers wore that clone armor. But when humans began to be drafted into the troops, they needed a more flexible design to fit different body types, resulting in the armor we’ve seen in Episodes IV-VI and Rogue One.
Any authoritarian regime worth its salt has to control facts, because they don’t want the objective truth to reveal any possible weaknesses. They need to appear as though they’re the strongest power possible that offers the best life for its people. In order to control the public’s perception of what the facts are, they have to not only suppress the public’s faith in existing media, but eventually make their media the only media the public is consuming.
So it was for the Empire. The HoloNet was a communications system first used by the Republic, then taken over by the Empire to broadcast the HoloNet News. It was Tarkin’s idea to restrict the system for Empire use only, to broadcast its propaganda, after it was discovered that rebels were using it to organize their plans. Nevertheless, the Rebellion was still able to find a secret channel on the HoloNet to communicate plans to others within their uprising.
Return of the Jedi reveals that after the Rebels destroyed the second Death Star over the forest moon of Endor, the galaxy rejoiced. We saw joyful celebrations on planets all across the galaxy. We saw our heroes celebrating too, seemingly finally able to relax and enjoy an Ewok hoedown. The Emperor was dead, Darth Vader was dead and the Empire’s ultimate weapon was space dust, along with massive amounts of soldiers, officers and fighter ships. So it seemed that that was it for the Empire.
While it was certainly crippled to a near-fatal degree, the Empire wasn’t dead. There were planets that remained loyal to the Empire, and in the months that followed the death of the Emperor, many refused to acknowledge his death. In fact, the Empire played into that by hiring a lookalike for a time to give the illusion of order at the top of their ranks. The Aftermath series of novels has depicted this time in the Empire’s history, a trilogy that will conclude with Aftermath: Empire’s End, which will be published on February 21.
Palpatine established the Empire and was its first Emperor, but as we all know he kicked the bucket at the end of Return of the Jedi when his apprentice tossed him into a bottomless pit. That, along with the destruction of the second Death Star and everyone in it, created a bit of a stability problem at the top of the Empire’s command chain, to say the least. But there were other leaders after Palpatine, to various degrees, within canon.
The big, blue, horned alien Mas Amedda was Palpatine’s right-hand man and was the natural successor to Palpatine’s leadership duties, so he came first. But he was never fully recognized as Emperor and didn’t have a ton of power. For a time, Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax and Grand Admiral Rae Sloan were co-leaders of sorts. Rax was a conniving sort who often stayed behind the scenes, while Sloan was more visible to the public. Throughout the post-Palpatine era, there were a number of other, lesser pretenders and claimants to the throne.
Desperation is never an attractive trait. After the Battle of Endor, with the head cut off of the Empire via the Emperor’s death and the second Death Star’s destruction, things got decidedly unpretty for the Empire. As we described above, there was no real consistent leadership, and the New Republic was just too attractive next to the ruthlessness of the Empire, so they had less and less support throughout the galaxy.
How desperate did they get? About as desperate as it can get-- namely, suicide. Mas Amedda, as the de facto pseudo Emperor, became so desperate that at first he tried to turn himself in to the New Republic, but when they refused, insisting that he surrender the entire Empire, he seriously considered jumping off a balcony. Then, seemingly out of any other options, TIE fighter pilots embarked on suicide missions. When several Imperial officers went into hiding out of fear, the Empire was on its last legs.
One of the most jaw-dropping images from the trailer for The Force Awakens was the Star Destroyer wrecked on a desert planet. In the movie, we learn that that desert planet was Jakku, home of Rey. And elsewhere in canon we learn that that Star Destroyer was called Inflictor and that it crashed there during the Battle of Jakku about 25 years earlier.
The Empire had been held together with little more than spit and glue for five years after the Battle of Endor, when the New Republic finally landed their decisive blow over Jakku. The Empire’s lack of real leadership and depleted troops led to a messy defense and, while they made some early gains in the fight, ultimately the New Republic emerged victorious, as ships like the Inflictor crashed down into the desert planet. The Empire finally surrendered after negotiations on Coruscant, which was once again in Republic control.
When The Force Awakens hit screens a little over a year ago, we saw a group of new bad guys that looked an awful lot like the old group of bad guys. That is to say, the First Order looked very much like the Empire.
They had stormtroopers led in part by a dark-side Force wielder who loved to wear black, and other soldiers and officers wore very Nazi-esque uniforms. Also, reminiscent of the ceremony for the Emperor’s arrival in Return of the Jedi, the First Order held a massive, obsessively orderly ceremony in the mold of Nazi Germany, even featuring a speech by General Hux very reminiscent of a certain Nazi leader.
None of these similarities were coincidences, because the First Order emerged from the remains of the Empire. All the details of how it happened, though, we don’t yet know. Many questions remain. Who is the Emperor-like Snoke and how big of a role did he play in forming the First Order? Was Snoke a part of the Empire? How was the emergence of the First Order funded, with its huge military presence and an even deadlier superweapon than the two Death Stars (although we know part of the answer to this is Centrist New Republic senators who had admired the Empire)?
We should get answers to these questions in Episodes VIII and IX, plus books and comics that will surely be published around those films’ release.
Any other trivia to share about the Empire from Star Wars? Drop it in the comments!