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Science Fiction
November 2001
The Insidious Darth Sidious
by Ross TenEyck

In the rec.arts.sf.written newsgroup I expressed some puzzlement about the actions of Darth Sidious/Senator Palpatine in The Phantom Menace. Why did he sacrifice Darth Maul? Why did he alert the Jedi to existence of the Sith? What was his original plan? Ross TenEyck kindly illuminated my mind as follows: - RH

Foolish mortal... you have given me the perfect opportunity to post my Excessively Long Analysis of Palpatine's Plan!

Here's how I see it:

Imagine a young Palpatine, on his homeworld (apparently) Naboo. He's ambitious, unscrupulous, and a Lord of the Sith. His primary goal is power. Where can power be found?

Not on Naboo; he could probably get himself elected King of Naboo fairly easily, but in the end, so what? He gets to rule over a bunch of hicks and frogs. No, the venue of power is in the capital of the Republic; so the first step is to get himself elected Senator from Naboo. We can presume he has little difficulty accomplishing this.

But the Senate is large, and Palpatine is just one voice in it -- and a voice representing a small backwoods planet, at that. The next step is to become Supreme Chancellor. Even that position, however, is surrounded by enough checks and balances that it wouldn't satisfy Palpatine... but if there were some sort of ongoing emergency or crisis, then the Chancellor could declare martial law, or whatever their equivalent is, and get special emergency powers. After that, the emergency simply has to last long enough for the Chancellor to secure his position, and then he has it made; he can be, in fact and even in name, the Emperor of the galaxy.

But what kind of emergency? An external enemy is a time-tested and reliable one; unfortunately, there don't happen to be any plausible enemies of the Republic handy.

Well, when you don't have what you need, you make it. The Trade Federation is large, powerful, and greedy; they can be forced into becoming an enemy of the Republic... much to their surprise, of course.

So Palpatine, in his persona as Darth Sidious, makes a deal with the Trade Feds -- we don't know exactly what, but it's probably along the lines of, "Do exactly what I say, and I will make you wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice." Probably he demonstrates his usefulness -- mind control goes a long way towards successful negotiations -- so they trust him; even more probably, he convinces them to do some shady deals, so he has a hold on them.

Meanwhile, he arranges for the election of Amidala as Queen of Naboo. (Or, maybe, he just gets lucky.) He needs someone who is charismatic and telegenic, as well as stubborn. A beautiful, courageous, idealistic teenage girl fits the bill perfectly.

Next, he persuades the Trade Federation that they can get exceptionally favorable terms from the small planet of Naboo -- the ruler is a young human girl, easily cowed, easily bullied. All they have to do is bluster and threaten a little more than they normally would, and she will collapse in tears and give them whatever they want.

Palpatine knows, of course, that Amidala will do no such thing; in fact, nothing could be better designed to put her back up and make her dig in her heels. She will haughtily reject the Trade Federation's demand, and all but dare them to do their worst.

At this point, he has to play a delicate game of reverse brinksmanship. As Darth Sidious, he has to keep assuring the Trade Federation that the Queen is on the verge of giving in -- if they threaten a blockade, she'll capitulate. If they bring up warships, she'll capitulate. If they impose the blockade, she'll capitulate. After all, she's just a child... and the Senate is weak and distracted, it will turn a blind eye.

As Palpatine, he has to keep the Queen defiant -- a much easier task. He can assure her that the Senate will never let things go too far, and in fact is on the verge of acting; all she has to do is hold out just a little longer. And besides, the Trade Federation would never dare to actually invade.

At some point, he will have to kick the Trade Federation into doing just that. Once they do invade, they've crossed the Rubicon -- they can't pretend to themselves any more that the Senate will ignore them. Unless, of course, they can get the Queen to sign a treaty that will lend a veneer of legitimacy to the situation. Once they invade, they will have to get her to sign that treaty, or find themselves in armed conflict with the Republic. They'll be terrified.

And the Queen, of course, will sooner die than sign that treaty. Darth Sidious will only need to push a little now; the Trade Federation, in their panic, can be counted on to commit ever-escalating atrocities to convince the Queen to sign. Eventually, Sidious will see to it that they put the Queen herself to torture. A little too far -- easy to arrange -- and the Queen dies, a martyr for Naboo.

And Palpatine, of course, will have secretly taped the whole thing. Now he can get the attention of the Senate -- look what they allowed to happen, while they bickered in session! Young, courageous, beautiful Amidala will be the ideal victim, guaranteed to rouse the passion of the populace. They will demand that something be done, and they will cry out for the heads of the politicians who sat idle while this was going on.

All Palpatine needs is a convenient tool in the Senate -- he doubtless has several -- to propose a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valoran, and another to nominate him, in his righteous sorrow and anger, as the new Chancellor.

Once elected, he will have no trouble getting emergency powers to fight the war against the Trade Federation. At that point, his only challenge will be to keep the war from ending too quickly. The Trade Federation will be horrified at the position they find themselves in; but he can rush them into the first few battles and arrange for them to win. That will shock the Republic and bolster his case for more powers, and he can also use those victories to convince the Trade Federation that they can actually win the war -- the Republic is clearly, now, just a hollow shell; with a strong push, they can knock it over and loot the entire galaxy. Once both sides are committed, he can drag the war out as long as necessary.

The path to the Imperial throne is straightforward after that.

The fly in this ointment is the Jedi. Decadent and inward-turned they may have become, but Palpatine knows -- none better -- just how strong the Jedi really are, and how quickly they could destroy him, if they ever suspected what he was doing. It is inevitable that, at some point, the Jedi will become suspicious. When that happens, he must distract them from the truth with a plausible lie; something that will keep them occupied until he's ready to move against them.

The best lie, when you can arrange it, is the truth. What could be better guaranteed to galvanize the Jedi than the discovery that their ancient enemy, the Sith, are still active? So long as the Jedi can be convinced to look for the Sith in the shadowy corners of the galaxy, rather than right out in the limelight in the center, they will be far too busy to take a close look at the new Chancellor.

So Darth Sidious selects an apprentice, and begins training him. He does not train him to be a Sith Master, and eventually take over after Palpatine -- if, indeed, any Sith Master ever looks favorably on that prospect -- but rather as a dedicated Jedi-killing machine. (Note that, in the movie, Darth Maul was obsessed with fighting the Jedi, regardless of what his mission was supposed to be at any given moment.)

So, when the Jedi start to become suspicious of what the Trade Federation is doing, Palpatine will unleash Darth Maul on them. With luck, Maul will kill several of them before they get him, but that isn't necessary -- all he really has to do is attack the Jedi and die. Since Maul will be unmistakably a Sith, the Jedi will immediately devote all their resources to finding the other one -- and Palpatine will have laid several false trails; enough to keep them sniffing around far, far away from Coruscant for a long time. Long enough for him to secure his power base, and whittle away at their numbers. By the time they track down the real Sith Master, it will be far too late.

Call this Plan A.

In the event, things go according to plan until Chancellor Valoran sends two Jedi to talk to the Trade Federation. Palpatine knew that the Jedi would start nosing around at some point, but he probably didn't know exactly when -- we can speculate that it's harder to foresee what a Force- strong person will do than a normal person.

In any case, when he finds out that the Jedi are on the ship with his Trade Fed stooges, the absolute first priority is that he must not allow the Jedi to meet with them -- the Jedi will simply bully them into abandoning their blockade, and all of Palpatine's work will be for naught.

However, he can also use this as the trigger he needs to push the Trade Fed guys over the edge, into an actual invasion. In the heat of the moment, he convinces them to attempt the kill the Jedi. He knows they're hardly likely to succeed, but he doesn't care; once they've made that attempt, the Trade Federation is locked into conflict with the Republic. They'll have to invade and get the Queen to capitulate, before more Jedi come.

There are some hazards: the Jedi might simply slaughter all of Palpatine's puppets. However, it's a reasonable risk -- even the Jedi probably can't take on all of the Trade Federation's muscle on their HQ ship; and in any case, they'll probably be reluctant to kill indiscriminately until they have a better idea what's going on. Odds are, they'll escape.

Once that happens, there are several ways things could go. The Jedi might steal a ship and head directly back to Coruscant to report. In that case, he'll have to make sure that Darth Maul intercepts them before they get back, or at the very least as soon as possible after wards. That could be problematic, though; he would prefer the encounter with Maul to take place almost anywhere else other than the capital. Still, he can make shift if that happens.

More likely, the Jedi will hang around Naboo, at least for a while. They might decide to organize a resistance against the invasion. In that case, he can again send Maul after them; the challenge in that case will be to avoid having them make the connection between the Sith and the Trade Federation -- Palpatine doesn't want them to look too closely into that link.

However, no matter what the Jedi do, he's prepared to execute some variation of his original plan.

As it happens, the Jedi escape to the planet, and then grab the Queen and take off for Coruscant.

This presents Palpatine with something of a dilemma. On the one hand, the Jedi's rescue of the Queen suggests an intriguing alternative plan: if the Queen comes to Coruscant, then she can make the appeal to the Senate; the atrocities will have lost some of their visceral edge, but the actual presence of the Queen in the Senate chamber will compensate for that. And by having the Queen herself make the motion for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valoran, he gains many bonus Evil Overlord points, for making the Good Guys bring about their own destruction.

On the other hand, he must send Darth Maul against the Jedi as soon as possible, before they have a chance to wonder too much about what exactly was in the Trade Federations' heads to make them act so apparently senselessly. And Darth Maul is good enough that he might well "succeed" in his mission, kill the Jedi, and take the Queen back to Naboo.

However, even if this happens, it won't be a great loss; he can simply revert to Plan A, and make sure that when the rest of the Jedi come around trying to find out who or what offed two of their members, there are enough clues to point them in the right wrong direction.

It falls out as well as he could have hoped, though: the Jedi succeed in bringing Amidala to Coruscant, but their minds are filled with the Sith, and with the unexpected bonus of this strange child who has so much potential, for one side or the other. Amidala is as appealing as he knew she would be, if not quite in the fashion he'd originally planned, and he is elected Chancellor.

So, in the end, Palpatine wins a strong but qualified victory. He isn't quite as far along as he'd hoped to be at this point: the Trade Federation has been unexpectedly defeated and so nullified at the great external threat, and Darth Maul only managed to kill one of the Jedi before being sacrificed. However, he has accomplished his primary goals: he is the Chancellor, the Jedi are thoroughly distracted, and most importantly, he remains completely unsuspected.

And there's Anakin, so powerful but so fearful and angry. He hadn't expected Anakin, but the boy will be a very useful pawn. Let the Jedi take care of his initial training; there are years yet to bring him over to the Dark Side.

In the meantime, he'll have to go about creating another enemy. Perhaps in internal one this time... a resistance or rebellion of some kind...

This page was last updated November 2, 2001.
Copyright © 2001 by Ross TenEyck

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Science Fiction
November 2001