You may have noticed that I have a weakness for all the royalty in Star Wars. That’s why it made perfect sense to team up with Jay Shah from Eleven Thirty-Eight for a nice long chat about all the different monarchies we see across the Star Wars universe. Part I covered how monarchy works and now we’re ready for a deep dive into the intricacies of Naboo.
Bria: I’d like to thank George Lucas and The Phantom Menace for giving nine year-old Bria the dream that she too could one day be elected Queen and get a crown to wear at state occasions.
Jay: I love Naboo so much — you know, it was my home world in Star Wars Galaxies and I never wanted to leave. I hung around Theed and De’ja Po–oh wait, we were supposed to be talking about the Naboo system of government, weren’t we? Sometimes it’s hard to get over how beautiful and awesome Naboo is.
Bria: Did I ever tell you that I went to the Lake House? I mean, technically it’s called Villa Balbianello on Lake Como but it was the kriffing Lake House!
Jay: Yes, I still remember the day you told me and being eternally jealous. I lived vicariously through the photos, but oh my god it looked just like you had walked onto the set of the pier/balcony area.
Bria: Thankfully, no one was there to talk to me about how they hated sand but you’re right. We digress. Let’s get back to talking about how I’d like to be Queen of Naboo. I mean how Naboo elects their monarchs.
Jay: I’d vote for you–I mean, I’d vote for an improbably young candidate who went through a legislative program and a crash course in politics. But then people would probably think I was crazy, so why is it that the people of Naboo feel so comfortable electing children to run their planet?
Bria: Do we actually know how old the youngest queen ever elected was?
Jay: Argh, I feel like it was something that came up in one of the reference books, perhaps Wizard’s of the Coasts Secrets of Naboo sourcebook but I can’t remember offhand. Man, and Naboo is like my second or third favorite SW planet. Nerd fail.
Bria: Let’s assume it was 13 or younger since Amidala was 14. You knew me via the TFN boards when I was 14… would you have voted for me as Queen back then?
Jay: …I feel like we spent much of our time arguing and bantering back then, so I’m not sure. But then again, I don’t know if that’s a fair metric because despite being whip-smart, I don’t think you were raised from a young age for public service. It’s something oddly unique to Naboo.
Bria: No, that I definitely wasn’t. The level of emphasis placed on someone’s intellect is fascinating to me. I think we can both agree that we want smart leaders and more young people to be involved in politics but does Naboo take it too far?
Jay: Yeah, increasingly over the years I’ve become a steady supporter of the younger generation (i.e. ours) stepping up in a leadership role for all sorts of reasons, but I think Naboo’s emphasis on adolescents takes it a step far. I mean, a lot of our laws about criminal justice, contracts, personal relationships, etc. assume that adolescents are not developed enough to understand consequences or take responsibility for their actions. Yet we’re supposed to think they can run an entire government, just because they were taught in school? We all know the difference between theory and practice.
Bria: Clearly it worked for the Naboo though. Although now I’m curious as to how they could have tested to determine intellectual maturity for voting rights and adulthood and such but I feel like that’s digressing from the subject of monarchy.
Jay: I’d just like to say THANK YOU for calling them “the Naboo” and not Nabooans or Nabooians or worse yet, Nubians (come on guys it’s in the movie!). But it’s true, the Naboo have a curious emphasis on democracy, public participation, and voting while they’re actually a monarchy. An elective monarchy, which is the first we’ve seen in Star Wars (note: we’ll talk more about monarchy and democracy with Alderaan…).
Bria: On the surface, it feels like Naboo’s political system is just a democracy with a King or Queen instead of a President or Prime Minister but it’s really not. For starters, I know that the President gets Air Force One and all but that wardrobe for the Queen probably employs an entire continent of seamstresses. That’s one hell of a perk.
Jay: Right, for all the talk I sometimes hear of the United States being an electoral monarchy (which yeah, no), Naboo very much has the trappings of a traditional monarchy. There’s a palace, there’s a set of advisors, there are handmaidens, etc. Truth is, elective monarchy isn’t exactly unknown in history: it’s just that the people who got to vote were usually nobles and the like. It’s the combination of monarchy and democracy that makes Naboo unique, and more than just a democracy with a monarch glommed on to it.
Bria: I could see someone making the argument that it’s a democracy with labels and the trappings of a monarchy but you brought up the nobles. Naboo definitely had a class system which included a nobility. Just look at House Palpatine. Although it certainly wasn’t as strict as the feudal systems on our planet; I don’t think they would’ve blocked someone truly brilliant from rising up.
Jay: I always look at House Palpatine! Oh, sorry, not advertising fanfic here — moving on! You bring up an excellent point about the class system, which is visible even from the fine attire and dress seen in Theed. It’s clearly a very wealthy and prosperous city, while The Clone Wars (and some Legends sources) make reference to poor miners eeking out subsistence-level lives. And the now Legends Plagueis novel takes this contrast one step further: the Naboo may have an elective monarchy, but the candidates have to be sourced from a series of “royal families.” Not exactly your democratic paradigm.
Bria: So maybe that’s part of why they end up having such young candidates for political offices then. It’s a smaller pool.
Jay: Possibly a very small pool, in fact! Legends sources — starting with Secrets of Naboo, I think — said that Naboo was colonized by the Core World Grizmallt, with a royal expedition chartered by their Queen Elsinoré den Tasia. So if that’s the case, all of these “royal families” are basically cadet branches of this ancient line descending back to a Core World (which are basically bastions of aristocratic privilege in Star Wars). This explains both why they are sometimes resorting to younger candidates, but also why they’d be educated so unusually. Naboo isn’t a utopian democracy, but just has a standard ruling-class education for potential monarchs.
Bria: Assuming that ruling-class system wasn’t going to change, there certainly are far worse ways that the Naboo could have approached their monarchy. It’s not like they were a hereditary monarchy where a five year old could end up on the throne because of a freak accident. They had to be incredibly well educated, prove themselves, and be elected.
Jay: Absolutely right — I just like pointing out unseen aspects of SW politics, whether they’re the occasional good parts of the Empire or the sometimes bad parts of good governments like Naboo. But while the Naboo restrict their choice of rulers, they have very high standards for their rulers. In fact, we know that they disallow rulers to abuse their powers because the Naboo monarchs do not rule for life. They have set terms, and even term limits (even Amidala, of all people, had to step down). There’s always the exception, Queen Kylantha was so beloved that she could disregard term limits, but there’s no doubt that a hated monarch could be voted out.
Bria: I’d chalk up Kylantha’s long reign less towards her being beloved and more due to the Empire’s influence.
Jay: Oh sure, blow up my political spin on sight why don’t you. See folks, nothing gets past her.
Bria: I would’ve gone for the example of Ars Veruna who got caught up in a political scandal (Thanks to two certain Sith Lords…) and was forced to abdicate.
Jay: Ah yes, the second most important character in Star Wars named Ars. What, you didn’t think I’d go without mentioning Ars Dangor, did you? Although on that subject, there was a neat short story on Hyperspace (I think?) related to Sate Pestage framing Veruna years before Luceno wrote Plagueis. Naturally, I assume Luceno knew all about it and was referencing it. But the point remains that the monarchs of Naboo are politically accountable, moreso than elected presidents might be, and are vulnerable to scandal the way prime ministers might be. It’s a little odd to think of in a monarch — do we even know what kind of executive powers the ruler of Naboo has?
Bria: All of them, right?
Jay: Honestly, I don’t recall — I might have to see if any of the sourcebooks go into it, but I didn’t get the impression that Naboo was an absolute monarchy. Amidala’s signature could ratify a treaty of occupation but being able to conduct foreign affairs isn’t absolute power. We know that Amidala has a council of advisors, consisting of governors of various parts of Naboo and that cities like Theed had an elected prince/princess.
Bria: Sorry, let me rephrase. I think the ruler has the ability to make decisions about foreign policy, trade, military decisions, etc but it’s not entirely unilateral. I feel like I remember reading something about her/his advisors and councilors being elected too but I could be making that up.
Jay: Yeah, I don’t recall any reference to a legislature or anything, so you’re right that the monarch basically exercises most government functions in that one office. And yeah, I am pretty sure the advisors and the like are elected. I think they might be representatives of the different cities/regions of Naboo.
Bria: It’s a super condensed version of the executive and legislative branches all smushed into one.
Jay: It’s little wonder that Emperor Palpatine came from this system — I almost see in him the dark side (no pun intended) of the Naboo system of government. He’s the highly popular and charismatic leader (probably educated in the Naboo way), elected to power, assumes a monarchical position, and even adopts some of the anti-alienism that the Naboo show in TPM before the conclusion of the film. Naboo’s leaders are wise and just generally… until they aren’t. And the galaxy paid the price. Wow, that got dark.
Bria: Super dark. It’s interesting though that Senators weren’t elected and had no term limits. Why, out of all the roles on the elections obsessed planet, was this the only one that was special?
Jay: Yeah, I’m not doing my usual Imperial propaganda schtick for some reason. But the senators do stick out as strange, even more so because they’re representing Naboo in the Galactic Republic. This is supposed to be the galactic democracy. But it occurs to me a lot of people called the Senate the “Space UN,” and there might be a point to that. The Senator of Naboo is really more like an ambassador than a legislator from the way we’ve seen the Senate operate.
Bria: But still. That’s the only one without a term limit or some sort of election or, I don’t know, Naboo Council approval?
Jay: It’s definitely a little weird in view of the amount of power and influence a galactic senator has. Like, I’m sure the King or Queen of Naboo is a big deal on Naboo — but other worlds probably consider Naboo’s senator a far more important figure. The Galactic Senate is the most powerful organ of government in the galaxy. A senator with dirt or other influence over a monarch could easily blackmail the monarch into keeping him or her in power.
Bria: I can’t believe I’m saying this but Naboo really needed more elections.
Jay: Hey at least they’re not Chandrila, those weirdos had elections like every year or something. But I guess that’s where you get awful people like Mon Mothma from.
Bria: Your Imperial is showing. At the end of the day though, I think that Naboo is far more complex than it seems on the surface from both a political and cultural point of view. They’re far more than this happy little utopian society who had their day ruined when the Trade Federation showed up.
Jay: Couldn’t have said it better myself. And I’ll just end with the observation that Naboo is one of my favorite worlds in Star Wars because of how many layers you can dig into. We’ve spent all this time on the political system, and probably could’ve easily said as much about the art, architecture, and fashion too. Naboo’s definitely one of the most inspired and fascinating parts of the Star Wars canon.