Unlimited Power

19 Years Later, Star Wars' Most Important Scene is More Relevant Than Ever

Freedom is fragile.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Lucasfilm
Celebrating the Prequels

In Revenge of the Sith, we finally see how the Republic evolves into the Empire that would become the original trilogy’s great villain. After Senator Palpatine reveals his true colors as a Sith Lord, he survives an attack from Mace Windu and brings Anakin Skywalker under his thrall. Then, with his new melted face, he denounces the Jedi as traitors and establishes dictatorial rule.

Many die, including children, stabbed in the back by those sent to protect them. The Senate cheers in unanimous approval. Except for Padme, who utters one of the greatest lines in the entire franchise. In one sentence, she exemplifies the true heart of Star Wars: “So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.”

Star Wars has always been political. Despite the ardent opposition of bad-faith readings, it’s tough to overlook how the entire saga, across film, TV, books, and games, is defined by its dissection of fascism. It’s hardly subtle; the Empire's soldiers, after all, are called stormtroopers. Sci-fi has always been fascinated with the political anxieties of its time, and Star Wars’ tale of rebels battling a seemingly indomitable force has long been part of that.

Maybe not the man you want to put in charge, no matter how good he is at public speaking.


The prequels were frequently dinged for their strange focus on bureaucratic drama. What kid walked into The Phantom Menace eager to hear arguments about trade sanctions? Some of those scenes are admittedly tedious to anyone who’s not a C-SPAN devotee, but in that moment where democracy ends with a rousing speech, we see how the mundanities of the political world can pave the way for total destruction.

And Padme is right. Her weary revelation is the uncomfortable truth at the center of the system. The rise of fascism may be met with loud and proud opposition, but all too often, it’s also welcomed with open arms as a positive force. The overloaded rhetoric, the uniforms, the clearly evil man declaring himself emperor; that, supposedly, is the face of heroism, the necessary change for the common good. One wonders if the Senate knew it was signing the letter of its own ruin, or if they hoped they’d be exempt from the Emperor’s wrath.

This scene laid the groundwork for some of the franchise’s most thrilling stories, particularly the scathing indictment of fascist rule that defines season one of Andor. The battles are more visceral, but no moment better sums up the unnerving truth of how the world works, Jedi or no Jedi. We all like to believe we’d be Padme, sitting on the sidelines and condemning the danger, but as history has proven, it’s not hard to get the crowd to cheer for their demise.

This article is part of the “Celebrating the Prequels” series, a two week-long series of articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy leading up to the 25th anniversary of The Phantom Menace.

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