34

Palpatine went from being a senator from a relatively obscure planet to chancellor of the entire senate in a very short period of time. At most one year passed for the entirety of this rise to power.

It seems unlikely when investigating how current political systems work. Very rarely does such an obscure political official ascend to a chief of state role in such a short time a year. I would imagine in a huge bureaucracy like the Republic this to be even less likely.

  • Naboo is obscure initially (obviously the Trade Federation brought it to light) but a non-important planet
  • He was heavily multitasking his time to plot the whole Naboo fiasco and other Sith related things, so couldn't have been devoting as much time to political ambition
  • Likely other political figures were also prominent in the Senate who were not obscure prior to his rise and who had ambition/goals to take the position
  • Many influential figures in subcommittees/etc are relatively well known to begin with (unlike Palpatine)

It seems implausible that everything would have worked the way it did given how current political systems work. We can hand wave "Sith influence" or "Lucas plot device" but it seems a bit difficult to believe.

Are there any cohesive explanations given for how he was able to accomplish this?

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    He is quite literally the most evil supervillain in the galaxy, capable of using his powers to control minds and kill his opponents... – Valorum Dec 11 '15 at 15:37
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    UK Prime Minister David Cameron: First elected to Parliament 2001, leader of the Conservative Party 2005, Prime Minister 2010. Barack Obama: First elected Senator 2004, President of the USA 2008. Both of them beat far more experienced and well-known candidates to get their current jobs. Rapid rises do happen. Also, Palpatine could have been a Senator for some time, making contacts and gathering influence behind the scenes. His sudden rise to Chancellor would be the culmination of years of planning. – Royal Canadian Bandit Dec 11 '15 at 16:12
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    @enderland: Not exactly. The UK has a parliamentary system; to become (and remain) party leader and PM, Cameron needed the approval of his fellow MPs. There are also examples of rapid rises under less-democratic systems; Vladimir Putin was an obscure bureaucrat before becoming Prime Minister of Russia in August 1999 and President in December 1999. – Royal Canadian Bandit Dec 11 '15 at 16:49
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit Someone, somewhere has read your comment and is, right now, writing up a conspiracy theory that Barack Obama is a Sith Lord. "It's the only explanation for his Palpatine-esque rise from obscure senator to executive leader", they'll say – user568458 Dec 11 '15 at 17:16
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    Wookepedia says Palpatine was in the Senate for 20 years before becoming Supreme Chancellor. That's plenty of time to build alliances and friendships which would support a "promotion" in a crisis. – GreenMatt Dec 11 '15 at 19:49
46

Palpatine convinced Queen Amidala to call for a vote of no confidence in the existing Supreme Chancellor, Finis Valorum, due to the Republic's inability to act quickly against the Trade Federation.

PALPATINE: If I may say so, Your Majesty, the Chancellor has little real power...he is mired down by baseless accusations of corruption. A manufactured scandal surrounds him. The bureaucrats are in charge now.

AMIDALA: What options do we have?

PALPATINE: Our best choice would be to push for the election of a stronger Supreme Chancellor. One who will take control of the bureaucrats, enforces the laws, and give us justice. You could call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum.

AMIDALA: He has been our strongest supporter. Is there any other way?

PALPATINE: Our only other choice would to be to submit a plea to the courts...

AMIDALA: There's no time for that. The courts take even longer to decide things than the Senate. Our people are dying, Senator...more and more each day. We must do something quickly to stop the Federation.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Because Palpatine was the senator for the poor planet suffering from the Trade Federation, he received sympathy votes and was elected Supreme Chancellor:

PALPATINE: I feel confident...our "situation" will create a strong sympathy vote for us... I will be Chancellor, I promise you.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The whole point of the crisis with the Trade Federation and Naboo was to help Palpatine rise to the Supreme Chancellorship quickly. Since Palpatine engineered the crisis, he could gather political supporters ahead of time and start the crisis only when he was politically ready. Additionally, his comment that a "manufactured crisis" surrounded Valorum suggests that Palpatine also weakened Valorum's reputation prior to launching the crisis. Valorum was seen as weak, whereas Palpatine was considered strong-willed and obviously motivated to resolve the crisis. Palpatine was elected Supreme Chancellor in the hope that he would be able to end the crisis quickly.

This was the first incident in which Palpatine demonstrated that he is a master politician. He prepared himself politically for an election for a new Supreme Chancellor, launched a crisis, and used the crisis to manipulate other politicians for his own gain (including Queen Amidala, herself a skilled politician, into initiating an election for a new Supreme Chancellor). The Clone Wars were the Naboo crisis all over again but on an even larger scale: Palpatine again created the crisis himself and then manipulated politicians into giving him more power.

The dark side of the Force no doubt helped Palpatine plan how best to manipulate others. For example, Vader notes that

The Emperor’s thinking ranged over time and distance in a way not even Vader fully understood, allowing him to anticipate and plan for contingencies that others did not recognize. Vader hoped to learn the technique one day, provided he didn’t kill his Master first.

Lords of the Sith, p. 27

Even so, Palpatine also demonstrated the ability to manipulate skilled politicians like Queen Amidala with logical arguments rather than any use of the dark side. The dark side helped, but was not the only reason Palpatine became the Supreme Chancellor.

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    Is there any particular evidence that the young Queen Amidala was a skilled politician? If anything, her age suggests an inexperience that would make it easier for Palpatine to manipulate. – 8bittree Dec 23 '15 at 12:40
  • @8bittree Sidious initially tells the Trade Federation that she's young, naive, and easily controlled. However, when she later returns to Naboo he says that it was "unexpected" and "aggressive" on her part. She helped partially foil Sidious' plans. Granted, she was out of her element in the Senate, but what can you expect from a teenage girl who has never been to the Senate before? She proved to be a skilled senator when she did join the Senate later. – Null Dec 23 '15 at 14:54
  • @8bittree In a universe marketed (out of universe) in a great part to teenagers, there are no in universe reasons to make a teenager to be be less skilled at anything than any experienced adult. – Pere Jun 9 '18 at 18:01
14

Because he was a master schemer.

The next time you watch the prequel trilogy or Star Wars: The Clone Wars, pay particular attention to Palpatine. When you start tracking the subtle way he guides conversations and popular sentiment, you may find yourself marveling at him. He’s quite impressive in the original trilogy as well, but if you visit earlier periods, you can see his devotion to his twisted plan. Palpatine was a masterful and patient manipulator. Emphasis on the word patient. He put things in motion long before we saw him in The Phantom Menace and carefully played countless people like pianos. His intelligence coupled with his desire for power makes him one of the most formidable villains you’ll encounter in fiction.source

Scheming away: Palpatine scheming

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    Palpatine was the one thing I enjoyed about the prequels. – Paul D. Waite Dec 12 '15 at 16:19
11

I think that there are two more points that were not yet covered in other answers, but are worth pointing out.

Naboo or Palpatine is important

In Episode I, when Amidala and Jedi finally reach Coruscant, Chancellor Valorum is seen joining Palpatine in welcoming committee.

Now, chancellors and other high-rank politicians in our world have their entire days filled with meetings and administrative tasks; I assume the same is true in Star Wars universe. There are anywhere from few hundreds to ten thousands seats in Galactic Senate, so I doubt that Chancellor was supposed to welcome every single important local politician that arrived to capital city. But even if he was, Amidala was never supposed to leave Naboo (there is that blockade thing going on, after all) and she had some troubles on route, so there is no way that this visit could be scheduled in advance. This means that Chancellor had to give up some other activity to be at landing pod then, and he most likely needed some very good reason for that. I can imagine three such reasons:

  • Naboo is one of the most important worlds in Republic and deserves special treatment
  • Naboo Crisis is one of the most important and urgent issues that Senate deals with, so Naboo representative is top VIP
  • Senator Palpatine's political position is so strong, that it is beneficial even for Chancellor himself to have him as an ally; he doesn't care about Amidala, but he does care about his relationship with Palpatine

Either way, we were not dealing with obscure senator from backwater world.

Gaining political influence was one of top priorities for Palpatine

He was heavily multitasking his time to plot the whole Naboo fiasco and other Sith related things, so couldn't have been devoting as much time to political ambition

Ruling the galaxy is the final goal of Sith, and Palpatine is Sith. His way of achieving that goal was through legal process. He wasn't doing politics out of ambition or to keep his true identity undercover. Maintaining position, gaining influence and stepping up the Senate ladder was the most important "Sith-related thing" for him.

8

Your premise is a little off. Palpatine likely unfolded this plan over more than two decades. If you remember, Anakin was only 9 in Episode I, he jumped to 19 in Episode II, and then was 23 in Episode III (Reference). That means that from the Trade disputes of Episode I to the formation of the Galactic Empire in Episode III, 14 years pass.

Then we have to include the time spent training Darth Maul, forming relationships with the Trade Federation, and waiting for the perfect timing to put his plan into action. I don't have an exact reference for those events but you would imagine it would take years - especially for the training of Darth Maul.

Even if we exclude all of the setup, training, and planning, we still have 14 concrete years to rise from Senator to Emperor. It's definitely quick for a galactic takeover but if you imagine the political climate we live in now, 14 years is plenty of time for a politician to rise from a district/province/state representative to a president/prime minister type of role.

Plus, you know, ****hand wave**** Sith influence.

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    While it is true that Palpatine prepared ahead of time, the question is not asking how he became Emperor -- only how he became Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. – Null Dec 11 '15 at 16:32
  • **Citation needed? I'm not asking about his rise to emperor, I'm asking about his election as Supreme Chancellor. According to other references on SciFi, the "nothing to Chancellor" took at most a year since it was contained in EP1 (not two decades). – enderland Dec 11 '15 at 17:20
6

I suppose this may no longer be canon, but Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno (ISBN-13: 978-0345511294, and available on Amazon) has basically the entire story.

Star Wars: Darth Plagueis

The book covers Plagueis' rise to be the sole Sith, and his discovery and apprenticeship of Palpatine, ending with Plagueis' death, and Palpatine's ascendancy to the Chancellorship.

One of the key's in the book is that Naboo is not a random planet, but is the Capitol planet of a sector, and not long before Palpatine's apprenticeship is discovered to have very rich deposits of plasma (basically space-oil), just like the planet Malastare. This makes Naboo a rising star of the mid-rim, since energy exports lead to wealth and power.

I would give more detail, but it's a fantastic book, which I highly recommend! Actually well written, unlike many other Star Wars novels.

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    While I think Null's answer is best, you raise a nice possibility. Must. Read. Book. Thx! – Athena Widget Dec 11 '15 at 19:06
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    This one of the few Star Wars books I've read, and the one I've enjoyed the most. Too bad is Legends Canon now. Still, +1 – tilley31 Dec 11 '15 at 19:11
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    I didn't mention this book because it's Legends but it does have good details about Palpatine's backstory. +1 – Null Dec 11 '15 at 20:51
5

TL;DR: I think the premise of this question is flawed. Palpatine climbed the political ladder one step at a time.

I cannot remember any indication from the movies that there are significant steps on the political ladder between senator and chancellor. The only special role is vice chair but the same person (Mas Amedda) occupied this post for the entirety of the prequels. So even if the post comes between senator and chancellor, if Mas Amedda did not want to become chancellor after Valorum’s fall, it is inevitable that somebody has to skip this step.

The following dialogue seems to confirm that chancellors are typically elected from the midth of the senate:

Amidala: Who else has been nominated [for chancellorship]?
Panaka: Bail Antilles of Alderaan and Ainlee Teem of Malastare.

Note that the other candidates are primarily identified with their home planet, i.e., being a senator, and not some other office they hold (e.g., Minister of Death Sticks and Podracing, Governour for the Outer Rim, leader of the Party for Shaving Wookies).

We do not know how exactly the political system of the Republic works but I would expect that senators represent their home planets, the same way that members of our parliaments represent their electoral districts. Given that planets differ more strongly in location, climate, geology, culture, race and so on, I would be surprised if senators switched the planet they represent. In particular, if you come from a backwater planet, you are stuck with it for life. But this does not have to be a severe flaw for becoming chancellor: If the political culture of the Republic sees the chancellor as a representor of the Republic and not your home planet anymore, your home planet’s influence may have little influence on your chances to become chancellor. Not being affiliated with a major player may even be an advantage if the major players cannot agree on one from their own planets. For a real-life example, take the Presidents of the European Commission, three of which came from Luxembourg.

In the beginning of Episode I, Palpatine already is a senator. For all we know from the movies, he may have been in this post for decades and be well known in the senate. The only indication that Palpatine may be a nobody is the way the Naboo conflict is first brought before the senate, but that may all be ritual and protocol.

So after all we can know, when Palpatine becomes chancellor in Episode I, he is taking the political ladder one step at a time. This also fits into the rest of his modus operandi as seen in Episodes II and III: It takes years before he takes the next step of gaining emergency powers and some more years before he declares himself emperor.

He was heavily multitasking his time to plot the whole Naboo fiasco and other Sith related things, so couldn't have been devoting as much time to political ambition

Well, here the master schemer comes into play. He does not need to have been very busy through the Naboo crisis, if he planned a lot in advance (which he is confirmed to do in the rest of the prequels). He can devote most of his attention to politics and only has to give a few directions here to further his unoffical activities.

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