Teaching students about the various forms of government can often be a challenging task. Whether students are in elementary or high school, they typically have very little enthusiasm for politics. To peak their interest, try using Star Wars to spark debate over which system is better, democracy or dictatorship.
To begin your lesson on democracy and dictatorship, have your students answer the following discussion (brainstorming) questions on a sheet of paper. If you have younger learners, it may be necessary to provide a little background on the two systems.
Take some time to let students write down their answers. Once students appear to be finished brainstorming, show them the Senate scene from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This scene is number 29 ("Senate Session") on the Episode I: The Phantom Menace DVD or approximately at 1:26:40 into the film. The clip should be stopped at 1:29:20. Part of the scene is available on YouTube (see below). Educators unfamiliar with Star Wars are encouraged to review the "Educator Notes" found below. It may also be fun to have students act out the scene using the dialogue below!
- VALORUM :The chair recognizes the senator from the sovereign system of Naboo.
- PALPATINE : Supreme chancellor, delegates of the senate, a tragedy has occurred… which started right here with the taxation of the trade routes and has now engulfed our entire planet in the oppression of the trade federation.
- AMIDALA : Honorable representatives of the Republic, I come to you under the gravest of circumstances. The Naboo system has been invaded by force. Invaded...against all the laws of the Republic by the Droid Armies of the Trade...
- LOTT DOD:This is outrageous! I object to the senator’s statements.
- VALORUM: The chair has not recognized the senator from the Trade Federation at this time.
- PALPATINE : To state are allegations, I present Queen Amidala, the recently elected ruler of the Naboo who speaks on our behalf.
- QUEEN AMIDALA: Honorable representatives of the Republic, I come to you under the gravest of circumstances. Naboo’s system has been invaded by the droid armies of the Trade…
- LOTT DOD:I object! There is no proof. This is incredible! We recommend a commission be sent to Naboo to ascertain the truth.
- A third box representing Malastare moves into the center of the room. AKS MOE, the Ambassador, addresses the convention.
- AKS MOE:The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honorable delegate from the Trade Federation. A commission must be appointed.
- VALORUM:The point...
- VALORUM confers with several of his AIDES and VICE CHAIRMAN MAS AMEDDA.
- PALPATINE whispers something to the QUEEN.
- PALPATINE: Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic, and on the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum's strength will dissapear.
- VALORUM: The point is conceded. Will you defer your motion to allow a commission to explore the validity of your accusations?
- AMIDALA: (angrily) I will not defer. I have come before you to resolve this attack on our sovereignty now! I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee. If this body is not capable of action, I suggest new leadership is needed. I move for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum’s leadership.
- Senate members begin to chant, "Vote now! Vote now! Vote now!"
After watching the clip, discuss with students whether or not the Galactic Senate helped Queen Amidala with her concerns regarding her planet. What were some of the complications she ran into while seeking the government's help? Students will hopefully note that Queen Amidala was hesitant to let her planet's desperate need become bogged down in a committee. This would be a great opportunity to discuss the purpose of committees in democracy/government. Be sure to have students compare the benefits and challenges of sending problems to committees.
Following this discussion, show students the scene of Padme (former Queen Amidala) and Anakin picnicking in the fields of Naboo. Encourage students to pay attention to the dialogue, listening for the reasons why Padme believes in the value of democracy while Anakin supports the ideals of dictatorship. This scene is number 21 ("Teasing a Senator") on the Episode II: Attack of the Clones DVD or approximately at 47:50 into the film. The clip should be stopped at 49:25. The scene is also available on YouTube in poor quality (see below). Educators unfamiliar with Star Wars are encouraged to review the "Educator Notes" found below.
- PADMÉ: I don’t know.
- ANAKIN:Sure you do. You just don’t want to tell me.
- PADMÉ: You gonna use one of your Jedi mind tricks on me?
- ANAKIN:They only work on the weak-minded.
- PADMÉ: Alright. I was 12. His name was Palo. We were both in the legislative youth program. He was a few years older than I. Very cute. Dark, curly hair. Dreamy eyes.
- ANAKIN: All right, I get the picture... whatever happened to him?
- PADMÉ: I went on to become a Queen. He went on to become an artist.
- ANAKIN: Maybe he was the smart one.
- PADME: You really don't like politicians, do you?
- ANAKIN: I like two or three, but I'm not really sure about one of them. (smiling) I don't think the system works.
- PADME: How would you have it work?
- ANAKIN: We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problems, agree what's in the best interests of all the people, and then do it.
- PADME: That is exactly what we do. The trouble is that people don't always agree. In fact, they hardly ever do.
- ANAKIN: Then they should be made to.
- PADME: By whom? Who's going to make them?
- ANAKIN: I don't know. Someone.
- PADME: You?
- ANAKIN: Of course not me.
- PADME: But someone.
- ANAKIN: Someone wise.
- PADME: That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me.
- A mischievous little grin creeps across his face.
- ANAKIN: Well, if it works...
Take a few moments to review some of the major points Padme and Anakin made for their respective government choices. Why is Anakin leery of democracy? Why does Padme seem concerned with dictatorship?
Lastly, show students another clip from Attack of the Clones where Supreme Chancellor Palpatine is given emergency dictatorial powers. This scene is number 37 ("Emergency Powers") on the Episode II: Attack of the Clones DVD or approximately at 1:33:35 into the film. The clip should be stopped at 1:34:58. Part of the scene is available on YouTube (see below). Educators unfamiliar with Star Wars are encouraged to review the "Educator Notes" found below.
- JAR JAR: It’s-a clear desa separatists made a pact… wesa desa Federation du Trade. Senators, “dellow felegates”. In response to this direct threat to the Republic… mesa propose that the senate… give immediately emergency powers… to the supreme chancellor.
- Senators begin chanting, "Palpatine! Palpatine! Palpatine!"
- MAS AMEDDA: Order! We shall have order!
- PALPATINE:It is with great reluctance.. that I have agreed to this calling. I love democracy. I love the Republic. The power you give me… I will lay down when this crisis has abated. And as my first act with this new authority… I will create a Grand Army of the Republic… to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists.
After watching the clip, ask your students how quickly Chancellor Palpatine was able to take action against the Separatists once he was given dictatorial powers. Encourage them to compare this action to a democracy by asking them to break down the process the Galactic Senate would have needed to go through to create an army. How long might this process take? What could happen to the Republic or the Separatist Movement in that amount of time? Don't forget to also examine the dangerous side of dictatorship. How might a dictator abuse total power? What historical examples exist of good and bad dictatorship?
If you feel it's relevant, you can also show students the scene where Chancellor Palpatine transitions the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire, thus ending democracy and assuming total control of the galaxy. This scene is number 34 ("Birth of the Empire") on the Episode III: Revenge of the Sith DVD or approximately at 1:33:40 into the film. The clip should be stopped at 1:36:20. The scene is also available on Vimeo (see below). Educators unfamiliar with Star Wars are encouraged to review the "Educator Notes" found below.
- PALPATINE: And the Jedi Rebellion has been foiled.
- BAIL ORGANA:What’s happening?
- PADME: The chancellor has been elaborating on a plot by the Jedi, to overthrow the senate.
- PALPATINE:The remaining Jedi will be hunted down and defeated.
- Cut to Obi-Wan and Yoda at the Jedi Temple.
- OBI-WAN:Not even the younglings have survived.
- YODA: Killed not by clones, this Padawan. By a lightsaber he was.
- OBI-WAN:Who? Who could have done this?
- Cut to Anakin destroying the Separatist leaders.
- Cut back to the Senate.
- PALPATINE:The attempt on my life has left me scarred… and deformed. But I assure my resolve has never been stronger. In order to ensure the security and continuing stability… the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire! For a safe… and secure… society.
- PADME: So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.
What reasons does Palpatine give for creating the Empire? Have students analyze Padme's meaning when she says, "So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause."
Finally, facilitate a brief discussion with your students where they use their original answers to the brainstorming questions. Ask them if their opinions on democracy or dictatorship changed after watching the video clips. Students could also chart the benefits and challenges of each system on the board.
If time allows, students can construct argumentative essays explaining why they think either democracy or dictatorship is a more ideal form of government. Student essays should include historical examples and even concepts they learned from watching Star Wars.
For fun, you may want to show your students this humorous, but informative video found on the UK's Parliament website. The video follows journalist, Danny Wallace as he compares the vast differences between democracy and dictatorship.
In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the planet Naboo is deep in crisis, having been illegally blockaded and invaded by the Trade Federation. Naboo's leader, Queen Amidala has fled the planet in an effort to reach the Galactic Senate on Coruscant, where she hopes to foster their assistance in ending the crisis. Finally reaching Coruscant, she speaks before the senate where Supreme Chancellor Valorum is forced to consider the arguments of both the Nabooian Queen and representatives of the Trade Federation who have denied the accusations of an illegal invasion. Reluctant to support either side, Valorum requests that Queen Amidala concede to an investigation by a Senatorial Committee. Believing her people to be in a dire situation, Queen Amidala refutes the Chancellor's request saying, "I will not defer... I have come before you to resolve this attack on our sovereignty now. I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee."
Approximately ten years have passed since the events of The Phantom Menace. Padme Amidala's term has expired and she is no longer Naboo's leader, but represents the planet as an outspoken and strongly opinionated senator. After numerous assassination attempts on Padme's life, Anakin Skywalker, who is now a teenage Padawan (Jedi in training), has been tasked with protecting her. The two depart Coruscant and retreat to Padme's home planet of Naboo where she is presumably safer from attack. Anakin and Padme spend a great amount of time together and fall in love. The scene shown for this activity finds the pair picnicking in a Nabooian field where they engage in a discussion over whether or not democracy or dictatorship is the better form of government. Both make valid points for their respective choices.
In this scene, Jar Jar Binks, representing Senator Amidala in her absence, makes a motion to give Chancellor Palpatine emergency dictatorial powers. The emergency stems from a Separatist Movement led by a former Jedi named Count Dooku. The Separatists have broken away from the Republic and, with the backing of the Trade Federation's droid armies, threaten war. To stop the Separatists, Palpatine needs an army and moves quickly to use his dictatorial powers to create the Grand Army of the Republic, an army of clones.
As the Clone Wars rage on, a secret plot led by an elusive Dark Lord of the Sith begins to unravel. It turns out that Chancellor Palpatine is, in fact, this Sith Lord known as Darth Sidious. All along, Sidious has been plotting to end the Republic and forge an empire with him as its sole leader. By creating the Separatist Crisis and strengthening his power with the loyal clone army, Sidious destroys the Jedi and uses fear of more uprising to foster support for the formation of the Galactic Empire.
First posted on: May 08, 2014 by Wes Dodgens