Do you think President Trump resembles Emperor Palpatine, just a little?
This may seem like a cheap shot — either at Trump or Palpatine, depending on your tastes. But the question makes for a fun comparison for a couple of reasons. Trump, probably more than any president before him, has been viewed through a pop culture lens: Before he went into politics, he was a reality-TV star, made a Pizza Hut commercial, and was name-dropped in about a million rap songs. His presidency, at various times, has evoked comparisons to The Godfather, Goodfellas, Citizen Kane and Star Trek, among others. So why not Star Wars?
Star Wars has had political subtexts from the beginning, after all. The original 1977 movie, now known as A New Hope, featured a plucky band of rebels facing down a superpower to end all superpowers, just a couple of years after the United States ignominiously exited the Vietnam War after a fruitless campaign against a guerilla army. Ronald Reagan's missile defense system was soon nicknamed after the movie franchise. And Revenge of the Sith — released in 2005, when concerns about torture, warrantless surveillance, and the Patriot Act were very much in the headlines — was, in part, about a democracy voting itself out of existence because of fears about security and safety.
Sith also featured the best line from the prequel trilogy:
The latest trilogy, too, has been intertwined with the politics of the moment — the racist harassment of Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, is perfectly in line with the broader current of racial hatred that Trump's campaign and presidency helped unleash.
So how do Trump and Palpatine compare? Beware, some spoilers are ahead.
Both unexpectedly survived the 1980s. If you exclude the prequels, Palpatine was last seen being thrown down a Death Star shaft in 1983's Return of the Jedi — and the Death Star exploded shortly thereafter. No way he could have survived that, right?
Similarly, Trump declared bankruptcy for the Trump Taj Mahal casino in 1991, and he ultimately was forced to sell his yacht and airline. His public persona, based on being the smartest and richest dealmaker in the room, took a very big hit.
But both survived! In 2019, Trump is president and Palpatine — much to our surprise — turns out to have been bossing around the bad guys behind the scenes for years. Their methods of survival were different: Trump went on TV and made himself more famous, while Palpatine dropped out of sight and plotted.
They both love to troll. Trump's political popularity — such as it is — has been based on his willingness to be provocative, to say what most presidents would avoid saying, and to be completely unapologetic about it. “I don't, frankly, have time for total political correctness,” he said once. And what's more trollishly incorrect than moaning in pleasure while inciting Luke Skywalker to murderous rage?
They're both into building gigantic monuments to themselves. Trump Tower, meet the Death Star.
They're looking to keep the business in the family. The Rise of Skywalker reveals that Palpatine wants his granddaughter — surprise! — to rule the galaxy, while Trump's children are battling behind the scenes for the right to carry on their father's political and business legacies. Powerful people are always tempted to nepotism, apparently.
Both are relying on the Senate as a last line of defense. For Trump, the Senate is where impeachment will go to die. Palpatine, meanwhile, actually threw the Galactic Senate at Yoda during their big showdown in Revenge of the Sith. There was probably a metaphor in there, somewhere.
If there's a final comparison to be made, it's that both Trump and Palpatine must find life in 2019 pretty frustrating. Trump was just impeached, and his poll ratings have never been very high among the general public. The Rise of Skywalker, meanwhile, is the worst-reviewed Star Wars movie of all time — not that the movie won't still be a blockbuster at the box office.
Trump and Palpatine can take grim satisfaction in one terrible fact, however: They're both doing better than Cats.