Continuing the same thought experiment from last week (what would you be able to use for worldbuilding if you only had episodes 4-6?), this week is all about those risky dinner table topics: religion and politics.

The Force as Religion

The original trilogy implies, to my mind, a fairly weird development of religion in the galaxy:

  • There is an inarguable source of supernatural power, and it likely crowds out other religions that don’t demonstrably let their priests predict the future, control minds, and levitate things.
  • At some point, it gets a bad reputation and most of its empowered representatives disappear (possibly when a growing Empire decides to go on a pogrom against it, possibly on its own).
  • By the time of A New Hope, it’s considered hokey, ancient, and just a bunch of tricks. Likely, technology is advanced enough that it’s pretty easy to assume, on casual inspection, that Force powers are just some kind of sleight of hand that you haven’t figured out yet. There aren’t enough Force users left to give most people a non-casual inspection.
  • No dominant religion seems to have replaced it, it’s just as if people have moved off of religion (or, conversely, are just very good about never, ever mentioning their religion in a multicultural society with a lot of tiny religions). Well, except for the Ewoks’ tendency to cargo-cult shiny droids.

Maybe it’s because, religion-wise, the Force has much more in common with Buddhism or Shintoism as opposed to ones that have gods that espouse dogma. That is, after an unknown but presumably long period where the major religion doesn’t feature commandments, but instead is just about feeling how everything is connected, people just got out of the habit of using divine mandate to justify their actions?

In particular, the Empire is lacking a certain undercurrent of “We’re the good guys because our god wants us to do this” that is prevalent in similar structures in the real world. In fact, the Empire, at least at its highest levels, is self-avowedly evil. Whenever Luke accuses Vader that “there is still good in you” it meets with denial, and exhortations about the power of the Dark Side (implying that yes, he’s evil, but it’s worth it). It’s not like the Emperor and Vader have even constructed a moral equivalency where they think the Dark Side is superior and morally correct; they know they’re doing the wrong thing, and enjoying the power.

From a worldbuilding standpoint, this probably means there are three kinds of religions in the galaxy:

  • Religions that are just some kind of gloss on light side Force use, which somehow reference the connection between all things and demonize anger, fear, aggression, and hate.
  • Antinomian religions that are a gloss on the Dark Side (and probably opposed to some other light side religion), that actually admit to being demonic in exchange for power.
  • Religions that can’t demonstrably create miracles, so are likely to hemorrhage adherents to the first cult that happens by that is led by a Force user .

And none of those religions receive much credence from the dominant political structure in the galaxy or even from your common man who’d rather have a good blaster at his side.

The Politics of the Empire

The original trilogy is kind of a Libertarian paradise.

The galaxy is huge, most planets seem to be habitable by humanoids, and going to a different planet is relatively easy (particularly if you’re not too picky about time frames and exactly where you’re going). This likely creates an abundant frontier mindset, where it’s pretty common to pack it in and move somewhere away from people if you can’t get along with the folks where you are. Indeed, even core, developed worlds seem to only have millions of inhabitants (unless Obi-Wan’s death-sense is inaccurate by a couple orders of magnitude); they don’t get packed like modern day Earth, because there are plenty of places to go if your planet starts getting crowded.

There’s probably not a lot of worry about environmental consequences. When a planet can be blown up with a big shrug even with millions dead, likely nobody cares too much about the long-term effects of Tibanna gas extraction on the Bespin ecosystem. There’s always somewhere else to go if you start ruining your current planet.

We don’t really see too many active societies, and maybe Mos Eisley and Bespin aren’t ideal snapshots of what a normal city would look like, but they’re notable for their lack of police and government services. Tatooine is the very picture of an armed, polite society: everyone has a blaster, and if someone starts something in a bar nobody’s too worried if they get maimed or killed, unless Stormtroopers happen by to ask about it. And, yet, you don’t seem to get enclaves of warlords trying to take over the territory; everyone seems to be able to just go about their farming, bar-owning, trading, and criminal activities in relative peace. Likely it has something to do with a combination of everyone being armed with instantly lethal blasters, most people having an easy time of escaping to a different planet if you make things annoying for them, and the Empire probably stepping in to quash local warlords that aren’t acting on their behalf.

Instead, what you seem to get is, at the bottom levels, a fairly peaceful anarchy. There are enough space pilots that pretty much any piece of technology can be had shipped in from anywhere, and everyone self-organizes to plug into this galactic trade in some way without oversight. Owen is the very picture of a small-business entrepreneur, and Lando’s operation isn’t really that much bigger.

At the non-local level, the films suggest only a few galactic hierarchies:

  • There’s an Emperor, and star destroyers and death stars fly about the galaxy trying to enact his greater agenda. They have good communications, and are able to project overwhelming force, but, crucially, not everywhere at once. Getting on the Empire’s radar might drop a star destroyer on your head (more if you’re considered a key rebellion hotspot), but you may not even see them except for rare inspections if you’re not a priority for them.
  • There are Governors, which probably call in the star destroyers when needed, but we have no idea how big their territories are, and the only one we ever meet, Tarkin, is actually serving as a general on a death star. Your governor is probably mainly just your local source for grievances if you want to be a snitch and get the Empire involved in your dispute, and the guys that try to keep a finger on what’s going on in their systems to coordinate Empire activities.
  • There was a Senate, but it was a remnant of the Old Republic, and likely had no power beyond the ceremonial. Before the senate was dissolved, you could probably track down a diplomat to run something up to your senator to try to get the senate to pass a non-binding resolution that the Emperor might or might not listen to, as fit his whimsy for the day. Dissolving it didn’t seem to make anyone that upset other than Leia.
  • There are Guilds, like the Mining Guild, that you can join (and which might come around and lean on you to join if you get big enough). They probably offer a pretty straightforward deal of dues/cut of the profits for larger protection and negotiating power. Lando obviously considers them too expensive to be worthwhile, though he might have been in a stronger position against Vader if he’d have been able to call in the Mining Guild to help out.

But, on the ground, things seem to work incredibly well without government involvement. The Empire is an imposition, though it may have a few benefits over total anarchy. In general, people just do their own things trying to provide goods and services that plug into a galactic trade economy. Yeah, sometimes you get assaulted by Sand People, maimed in a bar, or disintegrated because you accidentally got involved with a rebellion/Empire dust up, but, on the whole, you’re pretty safe. On a planet that’s home to a galaxy-spanning cartel and a wretched hive of scum and villainy, you can safely maintain a small desert farmstead for two decades using only yourself, your spouse, your nephew, a few used droids, and some seasonal farmhands.

You’re armed, and most people don’t want to risk getting shot, if things get too hot you can pack up and jump a freighter at the nearest port, and, all things considered, the Empire sucks but at least they’re more likely to bother the guy trying to set up a fiefdom at your expense than to bother you. Keep your head down and figure out how to make money, and you don’t even need a functioning local government.

(Continued in Part 3)