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At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine makes the Jedi look like the bad guys so he can take power of the Galactic Empire and destroy the Jedi Order.

It appears that he has the support and approval of the Senate (even though it was not really required– he had the power of the clone army behind him).

In A New Hope, the Galactic Empire appears very unpopular among most of the people. This could just be the way the film was made to make the Empire known as the bad guys to begin with.

If the Galactic Empire was mostly popular in Revenge of the Sith, and unpopular in A New Hope, is there any canon source that explains how this dramatic change occurred between the two movies?

My guess is that after around 20 years of the dictatorship, the people felt abused by the tyrant. This is just my own speculation though.

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"A New Hope" is Rebel propaganda. Of course it makes the Empire look unpopular –  DVK Jul 15 at 14:07
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EU has some notes on that (massacres on several planets, corrupt governors etc...). But Empire wasn't as unpopular as it seemed. –  DVK Jul 15 at 14:08
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It's important to remember that during the original trilogy, the only planets we see are in the Outer Rim where the Empire has less direct influence, largely unpopulated, or are blown up. –  phantom42 Jul 15 at 14:12
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I mean, it's not like they're persecuting religious worlds, or using unmanned drones to kill Imperial citizens. –  Chris B. Behrens Jul 15 at 14:43
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It’s like Game of Thrones. The populace don’t actually care what the lords get up to in their quests for power. They just don’t want to get killed by bandits. –  Paul D. Waite Jul 15 at 15:05

4 Answers 4

At the time of A New Hope, the Empire was changing its strategy for domination of the galaxy, as the following dialogue makes clear:

TARKIN: The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

TAGGE: That's impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

TARKIN: The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.

Shortly afterwards, Tarkin destroys the populated planet of Alderaan as a demonstration of the Empire's power.

Instead of retaining the forms of the Republic, Palpatine had begun to rule openly as a dictator. He was comfortable with being hated for the genocide of billions of people on Alderaan, so long as he was obeyed.

This plan went awry when Luke destroyed the Death Star. Suddenly, the Empire was in trouble:

  1. The destruction of the Death Star showed it was vulnerable.
  2. People were angry and horrified at the destruction of Alderaan.
  3. The dissolution of the Senate showed the Empire was no longer even pretending to uphold democracy or the rule of law.
  4. The Death Star no longer existed to keep recalcitrant systems in line.
  5. People knew that sooner or later, the Empire would build a second Death Star to maintain control, so there was a limited window of opportunity to stop them.

The films don't tell us how popular the Rebellion was at the start of A New Hope. Luke says he hates the Empire, but at that point he is whining about almost everything, and he has grown up on Tatooine where the Empire has little influence. Han doesn't like the Empire either, but he is a professional smuggler and would dislike any government that tried to arrest him. However, by the end of A New Hope, conditions are in place for the Rebellion to expand very quickly.


Edit: During Episode 4, the rebellion isn't very widespread. From the opening crawl:

Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

Also, Vader and Tarkin seem confident destroying the base at Yavin will more or less eliminate the Rebel Alliance:

VADER: This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi, and will soon see the end of the Rebellion.

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Alderaan was clearly asking for it, though, what with wearing that thin little atmosphere and everything. –  corsiKa Jul 15 at 16:25
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@user973810 Err Imperial democracy may be a sham, but Senate-like represenstation is how democracy works. Each individual doesn't have direct say in Galactic affairs, but they do get to vote for representatives, which is how democracy works in real life. –  Shisa Jul 15 at 16:29
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There's a reason it was the Galactic Republic, not the Galactic Democracy... most "democracies" in real life are actually not true democracies, but rather democratic republics. –  enderland Jul 15 at 17:35
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@DVK: The Emperor had a 2-part plan: Dissolve the Senate, and crush any resulting discontent with the Death Star. Without the Death Star, even if they successfully blamed Alderaan on the Rebels, the Empire is still in trouble. So no, the "entire premise" is not wrong. Also, the Rebels themselves knew Alderaan was destroyed by the Empire and would have told others; and until Yavin, the Empire had no reason to keep the Death Star's capabilities secret, because according to Tarkin the whole point of building it was fear and intimidation. –  Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 15 at 21:08
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@DVK: That's true, but other EU works such as Allegiance show that the truth was actually well-known, and the Empire quickly went into damage-control, changing their propaganda from "the Rebels did it," to "all the Alderaanians were Rebels, and were building weapons of mass destruction." Outside of Coruscant, where the propaganda by Ysanne Isard was effective enough that people believed the Emperor died at Endor defending the Empire from a Rebel Death Star, I don't believe the propaganda campaign was all that effective after the destruction of Alderaan. –  James Sheridan Jul 16 at 0:42

Location We See in the Movies are very politically different

For one thing, a major reason for the overwhelming anti-Empire bias might simply be a side-effect of the locations we see in the Prequels (Coruscant and the Senate) vs Original Trilogy (mostly Outer Rim and Rebel-Allied/Friendly planets and locations).


Unhappy Senators and Influence of the Rebel Leaders

But, while the Galactic Empire began with thunderous applause, even at that point of time, not all Senators were happy - the existence of The Delegation of 2000 means there were at least 2000 Senators and top diplomats opposed to the Palpatine's growing powers. While many were arrested and more removed their support from the Petition of 2000 as the Clone Wars came to an end, many of the remaining were the ones who went on to found and support the Rebellion in 18 BBY, just a year after the Empire (most prominently Bail Organa and Mon Mothma).

Given their persistence and determination, and since they continued to hold positions in the Imperial Senate, it is unlikely that they would have given up spreading their views even outside of the Rebellion, however covertly, in the 20 years between the end of the Prequels and the start of the Original Trilogy.


More Time for the Empire's true Colors to be Revealed

In the time between the end of Prequels and the Original Trilogy, just from the information available from the movies themselves, we know that:

  1. Palpatine finally dissolved the Imperial Senate.

  2. The Empire showed that they could and would destroy a whole planet, without warning even if they were legally a member of the Empire. And this was not some small Outer Rim crime-ridden hell hole no one would care about, but Alderaan, a Core World planet renowned throughout the galaxy "for their planet's unspoiled beauty, refined culture, and commitment to peace".

Alderaan's destruction would not only have instantly made most surviving Alderaanian hostile to the Empire (specially since the truth was successfully spread galaxy-wide by the Rebels) but also shown other planets that giving in to the Empire was no guarantee of safety from annihilation.

If we take information from the EU, protests started up not long after the formation of the Empire, when the Empire turned out to be a rather pro-Human (and discriminatory towards Non-Humans, an in-universe explanation for the mostly human structure of the Empire is the CGI-less OT).

There are many other instances of atrocities committed by the Empire in the EU, such as the Ghorman Massacre, where a non-violent protest was brutally crushed (Literally. They landed a ship on top of them). This was an early atrocity, which apparently explicitly led the Remnants of the Delegation of 2000 to form the Rebel Alliance.

Given the early date of the Massacre (it happened barely a year into the Empire), it seems likely that it was just the first of many such massacres and atrocities, each of which would continue to turn people against the Empire.


The Empire didn't actually die out with the Emperor

As for talking about the time at which everyone is the Galaxy might have started distrusting the Empire, it probably didn't happen for years after Endor, because according the EU the collapse of the original Galactic Empire only really happened almost a decade after the OT (which makes sense, given how large the Empire was, and how many powerful Imperials bureaucrats and generals would still have been left all over the Galaxy post-Endor) and the reorganized Imperial Remnant persisted for decades still.

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+1 I remember seeing several references in the EU to the discriminatory pro-human stance of the Empire causing resentment on many worlds. –  Beofett Jul 15 at 17:07
    
@Shisa: There are cases of Alderaanians remaining loyal to the Empire even after the destruction of Alderaan, though it was very, very rare. There was an Alderaanian officer serving the Empire on Bakura even after Palpatine's death, as an example, and having Alderaanians in the service was common enough for Corran Horn to pose as one while serving as an assistant to the Imperial Governor of Garqi four years after Palpatine's death. –  James Sheridan Jul 16 at 0:45
    
Also, while I think of it, I'd like to say that I actually like this answer more than the more popular one by Royal Canadian Bandit. There's almost no difference in informative content between them, but I think I just like the lay-out of this better. –  James Sheridan Jul 16 at 0:46
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@JamesSheridan Good point about the Alderaanian officers. I did know about the Bakura officer, but not about Horn. Will edit to reflect that :) –  Shisa Jul 16 at 5:51

Based on the feeling I get from the movies while Palpatine did win votes and have support of the Senate I would say the minority was already against him, and when he dissolves the galactic senate (which I believe he does at the end of revenge of the Sith) I believe this would have turned a lot of supporters against him. That would also probably leave people wondering maybe the Jedi didn't try to overthrow the government maybe they where trying to help...

But even in A New Hope, The rebellion didn't even have full planets backing them, it was literally on an individual basis if you rebelled, and despite the miracles in the movie they honestly should have never been able to overthrow the empire. Not without A large group of planet support with full fleets.

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That's what he said! –  Einer Jul 15 at 14:35
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lol its a tall stretch to compare bush to Palpatine, or even the galatic senate to the U.S, but funny anyway. –  Himarm Jul 15 at 14:44
    
It wasn't my intend to criticize your answer! On the contrary. But if you google "Bush Palpatine" you will find that it has been kind of a meme for some time, so I thought it would be worth mentioning ;-) –  Einer Jul 15 at 14:55
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In Ep3 Palpatine does not dissolve the Senate; in fact, he gets it to vote to confirm him as Emperor. The Senate is not dissolved until Ep4 (see my answer). –  Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 15 at 15:09
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@Einer: Bush and Palpatine have nothing in common. Palpatine was competent. –  James Sheridan Jul 16 at 0:39

But was it ever that popular? The prologue to the novelization of Star Wars (when it wasn't even called A New Hope) has this to say...

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.
Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.
Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.

So, self appointed emperor who doesn't listen to the populace, reign of terror, politics, the powerful further enriching themselves, etc.

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Much of that original characterisation of Palpatine - as merely a clever politician who allowed his subordinates to do much of the day-to-day work - was abandoned by Lucas during the course of the original trilogy. Palpatine was originally not a Force-user, for example. –  James Sheridan Jul 16 at 0:38

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