Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 Episode 10 of The Bad Batch. Tyrannical empires are built on fear – using leverage on a population to keep them subjugated, and too afraid to fight back. Fear, however, is a finite resource. There is only so far you can push people before they’re backed into a corner, and start to push back. Smart tyrants supplement fear with propaganda – give their people a lie to believe in, to rally behind. A reason to think that the life the Empire is providing them is the best life they could hope for. While Palpatine’s hand in creating the Galactic Empire was nothing short of genius, The Bad Batch is showing us the relatively unexplored early days of the Empire’s power, and it’s clear that the reason the Galactic Empire fell as quickly as it did (19 years from the date of its creation to its first galaxy-wide defeat) is how little Palpatine cared for the mask once he was in power. Masking the Empire’s tyranny behind good intentions could have kept it running for centuries — but barely a year or so into its run, that mask is already slipping.
The Empire in Star Wars is relatively unique in terms of the kinds of evil empires typically found in sci-fi and fantasy properties in that it did not conquer the galaxy – it was voted into power. The people of that old galaxy far, far away believed that appointing Palpatine as the Emperor was truly the best thing to do. This was in no small part due to the decades of planning orchestrated by Palpatine himself – always keeping a friendly face to the fore, manipulating people’s perceptions to both sow mistrust among each other, and to place their trust in him. Though he was the cause of a major war, the truth is that Palpatine established his Empire more through political propaganda than he did through military force. The problem is, he clearly never gave much thought beyond his own power, because now that he has it, he’s doing very little to hide just how truly evil he’s been all along.
The Empire Does Not Respect Planet’s Independence or Jurisdiction
One thing that The Bad Batch is doing is showing how little the Empire cares for its own propaganda. In a recent episode of The Bad Batch, “The Solitary Clone”, we see the Empire trying to claim the planet Desix as part of its territory. Legally speaking, the Empire extends to any planet that falls under the Republic – the problem being that Desix declared itself independent of the Republic years ago, and as such the Empire has no jurisdiction over it. That, however, doesn’t stop the Empire from waltzing in like they own the place. In fact, when the Empire’s assigned Governor lands, he simply assumes that the position of power on Desix is his, without so much as even checking in beforehand. The Empire does not respond well to being refused; launching an all-out assault on Desix the moment it tries to assert its own independence.
In the episode’s climax, Commander Cody (Dee Bradley Baker) speaks to the Governor of Desix, Tawni Ames (Tasia Valenza) in a tense standoff. It is there that we learn something important about Palpatine – despite his claims about the Empire enforcing peace and order throughout the galaxy, it was never his intent, and he barely tried to hide it. When he had a chance to end the Clone Wars with a bill that had support from both sides of the war, he shot it down. What’s surprising isn’t that he did that — we all know that the wars were a vital part of his bid for power – but that he did it so publicly. Even back then, it was clear – peace in the Empire was never an option, not when the idea of control appears so much more alluring.
The Empire Prefers Displays of Power
Increasingly, we’re seeing that the Empire cares very little for the lies upon which it was built. Despite a public agenda of peace, the Empire spends much of its time and resources on building up a better army, even wholesale replacing an already loyal clone army simply because they weren’t loyal enough. It’s adopted a policy of shoot first, and ask questions later – if at all. Even in places where there are simple, peaceful options, the Empire prefers displays of power and the absolute destruction of any who’d rebel. Palpatine himself is no longer a part of the day-to-day proceedings of the Government, as we’ve seen in the episode “The Clone Conspiracy”. The Empire is growing increasingly arrogant, and while that means tougher times for all concerned, The Bad Batch is giving us a clearer picture of just how everything went so wrong, so relatively fast. Palpatine’s arrogance made his lies unsustainable. He didn’t care who saw through his lies – the Empire only cared about punishing the people who challenged them.
The latest episode of The Bad Batch – “Retrieval” – features a microcosm of the Empire on a small mining planet. A foreman named Mokko (Jonathan Lipow) rises to power, taking advantage of the chaos of the Clone Wars, and immediately uses his position of power to amass even more power for himself. He turns his employees on each other, sowing mistrust while increasing their dependence on him – just like Palpatine as he rose to power. Just like Palpatine, however, his lies are clear and obvious. When Omega (Michelle Ang) finally exposes Mokko for the fraud he is, it’s not long before his once-loyalists turn on him, and take back power for themselves. We’re reminded that every successful rebellion begins with a moment – a moment when the mask has slipped one too many times, and the lies that have been spewed can no longer be accepted. It is a point of no return. It sparks violence, yes, but however long that violence may last, once that moment has happened, the downfall of tyranny is inevitable. Palpatine’s mask has been slipping since the moment he came into power, and that ultimately proves just how fragile the Empire’s grasp on the galaxy truly is.