The Fall of the Roman Republic, as Told by George Lucas

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

You may remember a time in your life when the gentle ticking of a wall-mounted clock was far more interesting than the endless stream of dry facts falling from the face of a dour, monotone history teacher. Some dead guy did this thing a godawful long time ago which made this other dead guy mad, so on this date, a godawful long time ago… You get the picture.

The sad thing is, many of the greatest human dramas ever told were unfolded in the pages of our history books: epic battles, treacherous political schemes, and the birth and burning of entire civilizations. If only there were a way we could learn these things in a way we could appreciate…

Well, guess what? If you’ve seen the Star Wars saga…

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

Yes, all of it.

…you probably know more about the fall of the Roman Republic than you think. What do Death Stars and AT-ATs have to do with Julius Caesar and the SPQR? Time to learn ya some history, kiddos — Star Wars style!

Palpatine = Gaius Julius Caesar

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

This man conducted an illegal war, but was granted immunity from prosecution by his station. Rather than surrender to the authorities when his term ended, he turned on the seat of power and seized it for his own, becoming dictator and sparking a civil war.

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: Emperor Palpatine is Julius Caesar. The would-be Roman Emperor began his ascendancy when he was elected Consul of Rome and joined the unofficial First Triumvirate of Gnaeus Pompey Magnus and Marcus Crassus.

So too did Palpatine ascend to power when he was elected as Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Senate. His Triumvirate was suspiciously similar to the one of antiquity. Balancing the ebb and flow of his power was Yoda of the Jedi and Count Dooku of the Separatists.

Palpatine, like Caesar, was ambitious, and sought to gain wealth and power through military adventurism. As slavers and private organizations nipped away at the Republic’s integrity, a dead-locked and impotent Senate seemed content to remain entrenched in their space-mushroom on Coruscant, quick to pay lip service, but slow to act.

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

Wrong senate! I think…

The barbaric tribes in Gaul posed a similar threat to Caesar. While they were unlikely to even amass the manpower required to conquer Rome, Caesar insisted (whether he was genuinely convinced or otherwise) that they were a threat, and took measures to deal with them personally — regardless of whether the Roman Senate approved.

Committing Roman Legions to fight without Senate approval was so, so illegal, you guys. But Caesar enjoyed temporary legal immunity as Proconsul. Hmm… able to act beyond the scope of the law because of convenient political positioning? Sounds a lot like the emergency powers granted to Palpatine during the Clone Wars.

But the clock was ticking for both Caesar and Palpatine. Once both of their terms were up — either come the end of the Clone Wars or Caesar’s term as Proconsul — they were sure to be prosecuted for crimes against the Republic.

Obi-Wan Kenobi = Cato the Younger

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

This man was always suspicious of the growing power of the would-be dictator. He would serve the Republic as the law dictated he must, but he would seek to undermine his enemy upon the first opportunity, and continued to do so until he breathed his last.

Obi-Wan was the first to discover the mysterious Clone Army. While it was nominally for the benefit of the Republic, he always suspected a sinister purpose behind it. But he was unable to convince his superiors to look too closely, and when Palpatine made his move, all of Kenobi’s suspicions came true.

Rather than hide in the desert, Cato joined the civil war against Caesar, refusing to surrender or negotiate on principle. You see, Cato was a stoic, and had been warning the senate of the danger posed by Caesar long before he crossed the Rubicon. Cato never gave in to Caesar. Instead, he ripped out his own bowels rather then be captured at Utica.

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

Which would have been pretty awesome with a lightsaber.

Yoda = Gnaeus Pompey Magnus

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

This man held a would-be Emperor’s power in check (and was held in check by same), until a shift in power favored the usurper. With no resources to stop his opponent, this man fled the capitol into exile, and died in obscurity.

As Master of the Jedi Order, Yoda was a creature of great esteem in the Republic, but the influence of the Jedi had been waning. In a sense, the nature of relations between the Order, Palpatine, and Dooku were somewhat beneficial. It’s true, Jedi were being killed and were (ultimately) being manipulated by Palpatine, but they were being allowed to take real action against the injustices of the Separatists, Trandoshan slavers, and all other unsavory factions besieging the Republic.

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

Only one ever went home to ponder his life choices.

Pompey was at odds with the third member of the Triumvirate, Crassus, almost since the start. But Caesar offered enough beneficial opportunities to both men that hatching any true plot against him would have been self-defeating. When Crassus and his army died at Carrhae, however, the deeply corrupted Julius Caesar was now the most powerful Roman commander. With no force to speak of that would allow him to fight the Legions, Pompey fled Rome and fell to an assassin’s blade in Egypt months later.

Dooku (our Crassus) was an outright enemy of Yoda, rather than a mere political colleague; however, Dooku serviced the role well enough, as his death and the defeat of the Separatists heralded the final steps necessary for Palpatine’s rise to power. Without the Dooku’s droid armies to worry about, Palpatine was totally free to claim Coruscant by force. Yoda, unable to defeat Palpatine, fled to Dagobah, where he would live out the rest of his days.

Anakin Skywalker = Marcus Junius Brutus

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

One of the first to surrender, this man was invited into the Emperor’s inner circle. He served quietly and somewhat obscurely until his conscience got the better of him, and he was convinced to kill the dictator.

Brutus was a favorite of Caesar, who went so far as to order his legions not to harm Brutus if he resisted capture. Despite having been part of the enemy faction, Brutus apologized and swore allegiance to Caesar, being rewarded with governorship of Gaul (which, if you’ll recall, was the very territory where Caesar waged the war that made him an enemy of Rome in the first place).

Likewise, Anakin Skywalker was tapped by Palpatine almost from the start.

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

“We shall watch your career with great interest.” Indeed.

Despite the fact that Anakin was a part of the Jedi (thus: enemy) Order, Palpatine sought to sway him over to his side. Even when the Emperor-to-be was being menaced by Mace Windu, it was more important to Palpatine to see if Anakin would come over to his side willingly than kill Windu outright and force the issue.

Brutus, despite being treated very well under Caesar, had his crisis of conscience and killed the dictator. Just so, Anakin Skywalker had his eleventh hour epiphany and struck Palpatine down at Endor.

Darth Vader = Marcus Antonius

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

“Wait! Aren’t you using the same character to represent two people!?” Nooo

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

…not from a certain point of view.

While this man was held as a leader in the Imperial Army, his true role was to keep the rest of the Imperial leadership in line, and he was loyal to the Emperor by any means necessary. Time and again, he put his life on the line for the sake of the Emperor, and had no patience for incompetence or disloyalty from his fellow officers.

Darth Vader’s role in the Empire was highly irregular and poorly defined. He commanded armies and fleets. He had the authority to execute Generals and Admirals on a whim. In essence, Vader carried all the respect of the Emperor and only answered to him.

Mark Anthony’s role in Caesar’s Empire was less vague, but just as irregular. Anthony was designated as Propraetor (though he should have been legally obliged to have served as Praetor first) and became governor of Italy and commander of the army. Marky-Mark was not well loved by those under him. The people of Rome despised him for his dispassion for the hardships the citizenry. Anthony even marched soldiers on the Roman Forum itself to quell an upstart senator.

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

Neither Anthony nor Vader would become Emperor, but to many, their authority and cruelty made this a distinction without a difference.

So there you have it: an ambitious dictator, an enforcer, two honorable but impotent old men, and a traitor. Mix them together, and you get either one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time or one of the most important events in human history. You might accuse Lucas of being uncreative, but perhaps we should wonder how many other beloved stories were ripped straight from the pages of history.

Ryan J. Hodge is a science fiction author and a games industry veteran (his opinions are his own). His latest book, Wounded Worlds: Nihil Novum, is available now for eBook & Paperback.

You can now follow Ryan on Twitter @RJHodgeAuthor

Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Star Wars, history, George Lucas, Darth Vader, Yoda, Emporer Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker

5 thoughts on “The Fall of the Roman Republic, as Told by George Lucas

  1. Good article.
    I really like and see what Lucas was trying to do symbolically.
    If only he had someone else do the personal character dialogue and directing.

  2. One more addition to this would be “Luke Skywalker = Gaius Octavian “Augustus” Caesar”… In fact, a perfect match after he defeats “Antony”!!!

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