Collected thoughts
on Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (part 1)

Why this is not the way governments behave in times of war

Queen Amidala, the heroine of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, is an incompetent stateswoman and only won because the enemy Trade Federation are even more pathetic. The film starts with the minor planet of Naboo under legal naval blockade by the Trade Federation. The ruling Queen knows the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic has sent two Jedis as ambassadors to negotiate an end to it. Even when the Federation denies all knowledge of these ambassadors and jams Naboo communications, it is not unreasonable for the Queen to assume this is not the start of an invasion. After all, the resources of a small, outlying planet is not worth the huge, political backlash of a military occupation.

When the invasion takes place, escaping and asking the Galactic Senate for help is far wiser than staying and fighting with inadequate forces. When the Chancellor, an ally, cowardly acquiesces to the enemy, it is wise for the Queen to follow her Senator's suggestions and destroy him with a vote of no confidence. Politics is a dirty business and in a time of crisis, there is no time for quiet, gentle diplomacy.

Queen Amidala's biggest mistake is not using backroom diplomacy to raise an unofficial, ad-hoc army and navy. With the Senate members only looking out for themselves and their race, it is easy to bribe, charm or trade with individual members, especially other enemies of the Trade Federation. Like nations today, Naboo should have various foreign-held currency reserves and numerous diplomats to call in favours and negotiate deals. That Senator Palpatine, loyal to her, is likely to become Chancellor gives her enormous political leverage. I am aware that Palpatine is secretly a bad guy but none of the Senate would know this. This may be corruption but it is the first duty of government to protect its citizens.

In the movie, the Queen returns to Naboo and begs the Gungans for help. If she raised an unofficial force, this would still be necessary, as it is unlikely any ally would supply significant troop numbers. Few corrupt leaders will risk large numbers of body bags. How she succeeded in persuading the Gungans is a mystery, as you cannot gain someone's love without their respect. The Gungans, having evacuated their own cities, cannot afford to ally with a loser. If she acquired mercenaries, weapons, aerospace fighters and naval support, then her request would not look like a suicide mission.

It's unfortunate that the Gungans are the best troops, in significant numbers, she could recruit, as they are hopeless. But that's a future column.

Queen Amidala's redeeming act is identifying the local Federation command as anaemic and that capturing the Viceroy would cripple it. This would not normally apply to other organisations, as an eliminated leader would be replaced by another director, who can determine policy. Failing that, executives, who understand current policy, would continue operations before deciding a new leader. For example, if the British Prime Minister were eliminated, the Cabinet would take over. If all MPs and the Monarchy were eliminated, the executive departments such as Whitehall, the military, the police and the secret services would be the government in absentia. In the case of the Trade Federation, only the Viceroy and his assistant seem to make any decisions. Such anorexic organisations can exist but not for long.

In conclusion, her skill in military raids means Queen Amidala should be an army officer, but her inability to exploit resources and foreign relations means she should not be head of state.