“Breaking Ranks” Analysis

From Filicide to Fratricide: Yet Another Set of Empires Influence Star Wars

Episode four of Star Wars: Rebels, “Breaking Ranks,” ventures into the world of the Lothal branch of the Imperial Academy — eminently discussed by one Luke Skywalker in the original 1977 release. In my previous article for “Droids in Distress,” I noted the propensity for ineptitude of stormtroopers during the Imperial era as akin to Maryland counterfeit speed cameras that are used simultaneously with the veritable. In essence, while quality troops still exist in the galaxy, it’s better to boost your numbers via conscription (albeit sacrificing quality for quantity) when attempting to pacify an expansive galaxy, where the essence of the white imperial armored visage incurs a withdrawal from the intimidation capital built by Clone Trooper planetary seizures during the preceding conflict.

Given the mission the Inquisitor has inherited from the Emperor, via Darth Vader at the inception of this series — that all children of the Force be identified, verified, approached, and either recruited or destroyed — it should not take anyone by surprise that he ventures  to the Lothal Academy as Ezra’s covert mission coalesces. One of the first observable aspects depicted within the hallowed walls is a series of skills tests for the young cadets, each approximately 14 years old, that resembles the monstrosity previously witnessed by Clone Wars aficionados in Season 4’s “The Box.” That story, part three of the Rako Hardeen or Obi-Wan Undercover arc, saw Separatist leader Count Dooku and his crime partner Moralo Evol recruit the greatest bounty hunters in the galaxy, in an effort to kidnap Republic Chancellor Palpatine. The giant hovering labyrinth of deceptive floating platforms and weapons-abundant boobytraps was uniquely designed to simulate various elements of the mission, to a ludicrous level of difficulty, ostensibly to weed out any weak links — though ultimately to fish out any Force users or Jedi in disguise. As Count Dooku was secretly the apprentice of Palpatine, co-conspirator of the mendacious civil war that built the wily politician his empire, it is understandable that utilitarian devices of this nature would be found in the new government’s arsenal. While Darth Vader and the Inquisitor are busy hunting down the last of the Temple-honed emissaries of the Light Side, now deemed heretics by the New Order, it would be the task of the military academies to filter out any consanguineous users of that higher spiritual power. But what purpose would it serve for a burgeoning empire to eliminate its best recruits, demonstrating a proficiency in physical feats while innately ignorant of any cosmic boost, if not simply to appease the fears of its leader? Commandant Aresko, upon witnessing magnanimous physical performance feats from Ezra, laments to Grint that he’s, “…impressive; perhaps too impressive. Make a note of that…” We later see the same Aresko contacting the Inquisitor, informing him that “Morgan” (Ezra’s pseudonym) and his fellow cadet Jai Kell, match the “special requirements” necessary  for his purview. The backstory of a third character introduced in this episode, Zare Leonis, we’re told in exposition (and at the behest of a junior novel entitled Servants of the Empire), suggests that his older sister was equally a standout performer, who abruptly disappears at some point. If Lothal serves as a microcosmic case study for a galaxy-wide initiative, then we’re to assume the best and the brightest are universally syphoned, damning the general military population to draw from a pool drained of unique talent and leadership. Perhaps another part of the key to deciphering the morass of ineptitude, concerning the general plight of the Empire’s rank and file, lies with an inherent characteristic of the Dark Side — of the Force, and within politics as well. In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine tells Anakin Skywalker: “All who gain power are afraid to lose it…” As Luke astutely observes in Return of the Jedi, the Emperor’s greatest weakness, in this age of Sith victory and imperial reign, is his overconfidence. Who cares if my troops are mediocre at this point, he must muse. What they lack in individual wit and talent they make up for in sheer numbers. Indeed, the single honey bee means nothing when compared to the force of the boot heel, or the spray of the Raid can. But a swarm can wreak havoc; even cause death. That much is also true of army ants and a whole host of nature’s prized possessions. What I fear the most is a resurgence of the Force, not only in the form of rogue Jedi, or their trainees, but among my best troops, who may seek to supplant me if their power lust exceeds mine.

Indeed, Palpatine’s Empire shares yet another systemic attribute inspired by Earth’s vast experience with imperial regimes. The great Muslim empires of the 15th century were so inclined to repeated filicide and fratricide, given their fears of a direct challenge to the sultan’s rule. Typically, as most human kingdoms and empires were ruled by men who wished to be replaced by their strongest sons, the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires endured periods of mediocrity as a sultan’s strongest successors were often the targets of house arrest or outright execution. Under Mehmed I (upon killing his brothers and taking control of the Turks after their previous conqueror Timur-i-Lang was distracted with China), the Ottoman Turks assisted in building one of the grandest empires in the Middle East. His son Murad II defeated the seafaring Venetians, invaded Hungary, and took out a phalanx of Italian crusaders in the Balkans in a daring effort to weaken their Byzantine neighbors. Murad’s son Mehmed II accomplished this task outright, sacking the Byzantine capital Constantinople (renaming it Istanbul), along with surrounding trade-rich regions. At one point a declining city of under 50,000, under Ottoman rule, Istanbul grew to a thriving metropolis of Muslim/Byzantine amalgamated culture, artistry, and streamlined administrative government. Even the ancient cathedral Hagia Sofia was converted into a grand mosque, akin to what Palpatine did to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, as recently detailed in James Luceno’s Tarkin. Mehmed’s grandson Selim the Grim expanded the Empire to its greatest extent, defeating the Safavids of Persia, and then sweeping through Muslim holy lands in Arabia and North Africa. The Golden Age of the Turks was managed by Selim’s son Suleyman, the “Lawgiver” (or “The Magnificent,” as he was known in European circles), who presided over perhaps the world’s greatest empire of the 16th century, further expanding his Istanbul reach into the outskirts of Vienna, Austria, throughout the Mediterranean region, and down into central and southern Asia. Suleiman’s empire encouraged the study of various disciplines, including poetry, artistry, astronomy, geometry, history, mathematics, and architecture — reminiscent to the renaissance movement in Italy occurring coextensively. He initiated a code of laws for his religiously and culturally diverse domain, affording Christians and Jews the Qur’an-endorsed freedom to worship, within millets — literally “small nations.” His army exhibited legendary discipline, the latest in muskets and cannon-based weaponry (the reason for the fall of Byzantium), and were led by an elite force of 30,000 janissaries — highly educated, highly-trained soldiers who were completely loyal to the sultan.

So what became of this once great empire, leading up to its final defeat in World War I? Unlike former Ottoman rulers, who statutorily engaged in fratricide to avoid conflicts of succession, Suleiman was spared this ritual as he was the only son. In the waning years of his reign, the great leader became inextricably entangled in a web of maneuver wars between his many wives, as they vied to secure hegemony for their son, and avoid the inevitable perdition afforded those unlucky to miss the call of the caliph. Having his greatest son strangled, in an attempt to thwart him from taking over his reign, Suleiman inadvertently provoked a civil war between his other two sons Selim II and Bayezid, the latter of which fled to Persia. Sending assassins to take this son out, Selim II was the final son left for the succession upon Suleiman’s death. Dubbed Selim the Drunkard, the weakest of Suleiman’s heirs would rather spend his days cavorting in harems, satiating his addiction to wine, and writing poetry. This development led to an extended history of poor leadership development, as future generations of sultans maintained their fratricidal tendencies, and kept their sons secluded in harems (removed from education and contact with the evolving world) rather than prepare them adequately to favor strength, power, and wisdom.

The Safavid Empire of Persia also fell into this timorous inclination. Shah Abbas, ruling from the grand capital of Isfahan,  ushered in a Golden Age for Persians in 1587, hiring Chinese builders to assist in the intricate designs of the classic city, and overseeing a massive boom in carpet and tapestry production for clients as far away as European kingdoms. Unfortunately for the legacy of his domain, prior to the end of his reign, he killed or blinded his best sons, leaving an incompetent grandson — and inescapable decline — to succeed him.

Even the great Mughal rulers of India, during the same historical period, could not escape this fratricidal and filicidal course. Shah Jahan, who ordered the building of the world-renowned Taj Mahal to memorialize his beloved wife, moved to kill all of his rivals upon assuming the mantle of leadership. Once he grew ill in 1657, analogous to the Ottoman tendencies, his four sons initiated their own bloody war of succession. The eldest sibling, Dara Shikoh, was chosen by Jahan to assume control upon his death. The third son, Aurangzeb (could it really be “Zeb” for short???), grew bitter and quickly moved against him. He defeated and executed Dara, imprisoned his father, and had several of his family members (including brothers, his nephew, and one of his sons) killed as well. Though his martial dictatorship led to the peak of Mughal authority in southern Asia, his intolerant policies and endless wars led to its decline.

Palpatine, fearful of those with Force talents and abilities rising up to challenge his rule of the galaxy, could be invoking the essence of these mistaken trends, hoping to curtail the possibility of a cosmic schism akin to what Maul, Savage, and Mother Talzin elicited during the Clone Wars. Giving in to his own fears, fortunately for those freedom-loving rebels, afforded an opening to his eventual defeat, as mediocrity was encouraged from the academy level up.



  • The mental image of conscription. One of the explanations offered for stormtrooper miscarriage is the often unjustified perception that a draft will produce a cadre of inefficient and undisciplined soldiers. Much of that reputation is the product of a post-Vietnam cognizance where alcohol, drug abuse, demerits, fragging, and Oliver Stone permeate the subconscious. As there were considerable issues surrounding the war, its draft, and the politics surrounding its prosecution, the mobilization of WWI and WWII proved to produce a considerably effective fighting force. Likewise, the Israeli military has maintained the strength of its security via conscription virtually since its modern inception. Has this model proven efficacious in every scenario globally? There is considerable data suggesting that a blanket statement such as “employing conscripts, in general, is proven to be less effective when compared to an all-volunteer force” is inaccurate. It is often when troops receive poor training, are only employed for short durations (necessitating the recruitment of fresh and inexperienced batches with short turnaround), and have no fundamental understanding or logical interpretation for what they defend do conscription services fall short. Researchers Andrew L. Spivak and William Alex Pridemore (2004) have shown the weaknesses in Soviet conscription, given changes in policy beginning in 1967. Because officials feared nuclear holocaust would yield massive incipient casualties, young people were indoctrinated in military culture and civil defense training during their elementary and secondary school years (not unlike Zare and his compatriots, all of 15 when they are put through their course of training in this episode). By the time they reached conscription age (18), all of their basal indoctrination had already been fulfilled, and soldiers were sent to active duty immediately, without the benefit of a formal training often granted U.S. and equivalent forces. A lack of a competent non-commissioned officer corp also contributed to an ineffective model, creating a leadership vacuum among the rank and file. In the beginning of “Breaking Ranks,” Commandant Aresko can be heard telling the cadets that, “… in a few short weeks, you will leave as soldiers. By the time you complete your training, you will be prepared to serve your Emperor… Are you ready to become stormtroopers?!” It would appear that the Empire is following yet another Soviet paradigm, though further detail is required to confirm. Perhaps in the coming seasons.
  • Calling all Dexter fans! Star Wars: The Clone Wars, have always attempted to throw in subtle shoutouts to personal passions and fandoms — especially as it pertains to sports teams and hometowns. A fellow descendent of Pittsburgh, and an avid fan of the Steelers and Penguins, Dave has given us a black and gold antagonist droid, and a Zabrak Maul sibling with black and gold tattoos (of which a famous New Orleans Saints fan has “stolen”). Many have pointed out that the pit droid from Season 5’s infamous Droids Arc was painted red and gold, and had a 47 affixed to its shell — an homage to former Washington tight end, and favorite, Chris Cooley. Then, of course, the purple and yellow tactical droid in the Citadel Arc of Season 3 — aptly named “K2-B4” — served to directly invoke the legacy of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (who wore no. 24 for those uninitiated). So, it comes as to no surprise if Ezra’s undercover moniker, Dev Morgan, is a play on Cable TV blood spatter analyst/serial killer Dexter Morgan’s sister, Deb (played by Jennifer Carpenter).