What Do the Sith Want, Anyway?
“Bringing order to the galaxy” sounds nice, but can you imagine Palpatine, Vader, or Kylo Ren ruling in peacetime? Is that even what they’re after?
Imagine this: A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an escape pod jettisons from an Alderaan cruiser and plummets toward the desert planet of Tatooine. Aboard a nearby Imperial Star Destroyer, officers note the pod’s descent and, even though there are no life signs from within, decide to shoot it down—better not to take chances when Lord Vader’s around. Boom. Out of existence blink C-3PO and R2D2, and with them the Death Star plans. In short order, the Rebel Alliance is crushed, and any remaining star systems brought to heel under the might of the Empire, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine. At long last, order returns to the galaxy.
Well, then what? If this were a normal empire, with a normal emperor, it would go like this: The emperor would enact policies that would, in general, enrich the peoples and corporations of the galaxy, although much of this benefit would probably hew to those peoples who fit easily into the dominant culture and to those companies that serve the Empire’s military and bureaucratic aims. The Emperor’s cronies would get rich, and his chosen civilizations would prosper, while everyone else would simply subsist. They could certainly rebel, I guess, but that didn’t go so well last time around. Eventually, though, the Emperor’s time would come: death at the hands of ambitious subordinates, or as the result of ill health brought on by either old age or alcoholism. There might be a period of chaos in the interim, but soon a new emperor would emerge to maintain the hard-won order.
The Empire of Star Wars, however, is not a normal empire, nor Palpatine a Napoleon, an Alexander, or even a Kim Jong-il. He, like most Sith, doesn’t seem to have any interests apart from the acquisition of power and the crushing of the opposition. Is he a development guy? A techo-visionary? A patron of the arts? Uh, no. Could he possibly be a peacetime leader? Could he stand the boredom? After all, he dissolved the Senate—there’s almost no one with any power left to manipulate, and manipulation was pretty much the only thing Palpatine ever seemed to enjoy.
Again, if this were a normal empire, Palpatine’s inability to rule in the absence of threats would surely result in his overthrow. At worst, he’d die of old age or ill health. But this is a Sith Lord—the traditional rules of aging do not apply to him. Looking at 900 years of ruling the galaxy, he is! How to fill all that empty, empty time when he’s the pinnacle of power, unchallenged politically or personally?
There’s no answer for Palpatine—or for his potential successors Vader and Kylo Ren (who are too busy dealing with their own deep-seated emotional issues to give the future much consideration). Their quest for power and longing for order are ends unto themselves, and therefore doomed to failure. They can never be the bureaucrats the galaxy needs.
I’m tempted to think this is a fundamental problem with Star Wars itself. The “Let’s bring order to the galaxy!” schtick is so deeply embedded in the franchise that it’s become the default First Order rallying cry. But has anyone thought about what that order means for the ones imposing it? I doubt it.
To me, it would make much more sense for the Sith to be dedicated to bringing disorder to the galaxy, to raining death and destruction at random upon untold worlds, and to indulge in all the carnal sins the Jedi seem so studiously to avoid. They need to be ninjas, assassins, terrorists—and they need to be fun. If you ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you probably remember that Lawful Evil characters were the worst: uptight prigs who whinily insisted on adhering to every Gygax-given rule. Chaotic Evil was the solution—a dice-chucking explosion of id upon the reams of hex-paper maps laid out before you. The Sith should follow suit, gaining control over the galaxy so they can slake their unquenchable for Corellian brandy and Slave Leias. They could learn a thing or two from Jabba the Hutt.
Other series have deployed chaotic evil characters with fearsome effectiveness: the Reavers of Firefly, the Wolves of The Walking Dead, the White Walkers of Game of Thrones. With them comes dread, not just of the death they bring but of the ensuing destabilization that results in yet more death. The Sith certainly inspire fear among the people of the galaxy, but unless the Empire or the First Order has specifically targeted you (e.g., by taxing you, suppressing your culture, or stealing your children to become Stormtroopers), you probably wouldn’t worry about them every day. It would be like living in Libya under Gaddafi: pretty shitty generally, but with less random killing than in Libya today.
But then here we are again at the question of what the Sith actually want. If, say, they’re all about sowing death and destruction across the galaxy, then they may not really want to defeat the Rebellion or the Resistance. Think about it: Will more people die in an orderly galaxy, or in an unending civil conflict that draws in billions of noncombatants? This would definitely explain certain, uh, failures to adequately secure their planet-blowing-up stations. Because so what if you lose a Death Star here and there? The very act of building it, deploying it, and seeing it destroyed wreaks devastation enough. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Kylo Ren clearly knows all about that.) If that’s the case, then bravo! The Sith have the galaxy exactly where they want it.
They may, however, be about something more than that. Various other Star Wars sites talk about the Sith as being purely devoted to the Dark Side of the Force, which means using fear, anger, and hatred—the Holy Trinity of negative emotions—as fuel for personal power. And while that can be pretty effective, it creates characters like Palpatine and Kylo Ren, who, once they’ve given in to those emotions, are then blinded by them, in a kind of analog of the Dunning-Kruger effect: They don’t understand that they will never be satisfied, no matter how successful their wars. They’re pushing themselves toward an eternity of boredom.
Which is as good an argument in favor of the Jedi as any. Whether you see them as kick-ass mystical knights or a self-important caste of know-it-alls, they at least had the good sense to realize they, too, were order-obsessed monks who desired nothing of this world, and therefore stepped aside and let actual human beings (more or less) run the Republic. That didn’t turn out so well, of course, but still: I’d rather be screwed over by elected civilians than by religious zealots who believe they know best. May the Force be with you—I’m fine with secularists, no matter how incompetent or corrupt.