You know, I could see parallels in Star Wars: Episode II and post-9/11 America. Palpatine’s emergency powers = PATRIOT Act. Militarization in response to the separatist movement = attacking Afghanistan and rattling sabers at Iraq. And there are conspiracy theorists who think that Bush arranged for 9/11 to generate an excuse for a power grab—just as Palpatine/Sidious manufactured his crisis by having Dooku/Tyranus arrange for the clone army under the name of a dead Jedi, then wait for the appropriate time to start fomenting a rebellion. But you know what, Episode II was filmed before 9/11, so Lucas couldn’t possibly have intended all that as commentary on the War on Terror any more than JMS could have been commenting on the same subject with the Nightwatch arc on Babylon 5.
So now, with Episode III, sure, he could mean it as commentary. And he admits seeing parallels. Note: seeing, not writing. But he states that the story grew out of looking at historical democracies’ descent into dictatorship (Los Angeles Times this morning):
Lucas began researching how democracies can turn into dictatorships with full consent of the electorate.
In ancient Rome, “why did the senate, after killing Caesar, turn around and give the government to his nephew?” Lucas said. “Why did France, after they got rid of the king and that whole system, turn around and give it to Napoleon? It’s the same thing with Germany and Hitler.
“You sort of see these recurring themes where a democracy turns itself into a dictatorship, and it always seems to happen kind of in the same way, with the same kinds of issues, and threats from the outside, needing more control. A democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody’s squabbling, there’s corruption.”
That’s the model he’s been basing the transformation on. The prologue in the original 1976 novelization of Star Wars refers to the Republic “rotting from within” and describes Palpatine’s rise to power:
Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.
Lucas originally described Palpatine as becoming a figurehead Emperor, with the Imperial governors behind the Empire’s “reign of terror” (note the French Revolution reference there), but had clearly changed his mind by the time he wrote Return of the Jedi. But the description of how Palpatine gets into power tracks exactly with what we’ve seen him do in the actual films. In fact, throughout the prequel trilogy he uses the same strategy in each film. He creates a crisis as Darth Sidious (the invasion of Naboo, or the Separatist movement), then offers to solve it as Palpatine—as long as people will give him the power to do so.
In other words, Palpatine’s tactics were set in stone back when Bill Clinton was President.
As far as dialogue… Please, if you think a variation on “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” is a deliberate attack on a statement Bush made, you really need to get out more. How many centuries has that phrase been around?
I’m reminded of Yoda’s words to Luke on Dagobah, when he asked what was in the cave. “Only what you take with you.”