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Answers can be from Canon or Legends.


TL;DR: How do the senior Imperial Navy Officers with experience in the Clone Wars account for why a powerful force-using 'baddie' like Vader not only does not overthrow, but faithfully serves an apparently non-force-using human politician in the form of Emperor Palpatine?


Long Question

I was re-watching ROTJ, specifically the scene where Vader arrives at the second Death Star and is speaking with Imperial Moff Tiaan Jerjerrod, when the following exchange took place:

JERJERROD: Lord Vader, this is an unexpected pleasure. We're honored by your presence.

VADER: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I'm here to put you back on schedule.

JERJERROD: I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast as they can.

VADER: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

JERJERROD: I tell you, this station will be operational as planned.

VADER: The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation.

JERJERROD: But he asks the impossible. I need more men.

VADER: Then perhaps you can tell him when he arrives.

JERJERROD: (Terrified) The Emperor's coming here?

VADER: That is correct, Commander. And he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.

JERJERROD: We shall double our efforts.

VADER: I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

JERJERROD: (Big gulp)

When Jerjerrod finds out that the Emperor is coming for an inspection he seems very afraid by that fact, more afraid (and as is implied by Vader's comment that the Emperor is less forgiving than Vader is) than he is of Vader himself.

This led me to wonder why this would actually be since, according to this question and this question, very few people know that Emperor Palpatine is a force-user, much less a Sith (NB 1). While thinking about this, I also considered several points about the Palpatine/Vader relationship:

a) While many in the galaxy at large didn't really know about the Jedi, the Imperial Navy was full of officers who served in the Clone Wars and thus would have either seen, met, or at least heard about the Jedi and their use of the force.

b) Vader never hid his use of the force from his officers or his victims, and yet Palpatine was very careful to limit his use of the force in front of others, or to kill those who saw him doing it.

c) According to the official storyline that the Empire released, the Jedi tried to overthrow the Republic and attacked Palpatine in the process, but the GAR saved Palpatine and he ordered them to wipe out the Jedi.

d) The Imperial Officers who served in the Clone Wars (NB 2), whether they believed that story or not, especially the more senior ones who would have read field reports or worked in intelligence and so on, would not only have known about the Jedi and their use of the force, but would have known the difference between a 'good' force user like Obi-wan or Yoda, and a 'bad' force user like Count Dooku or Asajj Ventress.

e) The 'bad' force users these Imperial Officers would have encountered during the Clone Wars engaged in horrific war crimes, did everything they could to gain/increase/hold power, and used any level of violence required to get what they wanted, whereas the 'good' force users eschewed violence as much as possible, didn't harm others unless necessary, and didn't seek out power. Of course these are generalizations, but I believe they are borne out by TCW tv series.

f) Thus, these senior military officers are unlikely to have mistaken Vader for being a 'good' force user, whether or not they knew about the Sith, or what they thought Vader's backstory actually was.

When you put the previous six points together, the picture it seems to paint is that the higher echelons of the Imperial Navy either knew, thought, or were told that the Jedi were the bad guys, that the Jedi had been (mostly) destroyed, that the Emperor was just a normal non-force-using human politician, and that he was served by an incredibly powerful force-using non-Jedi. And yet at least some of them seemed to fear the Emperor more than Vader.

I can understand the argument that if someone as powerful as Vader served the Emperor, the Emperor must be even more powerful, but if these Imperial Officers had direct experience of 'bad' force users doing everything they could to get as much power as possible, what is the in-universe explanation to the senior military officers as to why Vader not only doesn't overthrow the Emperor and rule in his stead, but serves the Emperor so absolutely, considering the fact that they know Vader is a force-user (and one who uses the force in a way very similar to how the 'bad' force-users used to), and do not know/believe that Palpatine is?


NB 1: See also this discussion, this discussion, and this discussion for more about who knew that Palpatine was a force-user/Sith.

NB 2: Please note that I am not asking about Tarkin or Thrawn here, but the senior Imperial Navy Officers in general, particularly those that served in the Clone Wars.

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    as to Jerjerrod, whether or not the supreme leader of your despotic government can choke you from across the room, he can still boot you out the air lock if he's dissatisfied – NKCampbell Aug 27 at 17:11
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    Vader is well known as the Emperor's enforcer. There's no obvious reason to assume that just because Vader is a Force user that he'd necessarily have the desire to take over the galaxy by killing the Emperor, nor would anyone particularly follow him (as the new leader) if he did so. Rasputin could have killed the Emperor, but that wouldn't have made him Tsar. – Valorum Aug 27 at 17:11
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    how many would have known Dooku / Ventress though? Remember, to the public, Palpatine is just a guy from Naboo that was attacked by the Jedi. He isn't Sidious - which is who Dooku / Ventress worked with. Also, Tarkin was a young-ish man near the end of the Clone Wars and he's old by the time of New Hope. There probably aren't that many line officers that were around when Dooku was – NKCampbell Aug 27 at 17:20
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    @Phyneas It's all about the spin: Lord Vader just needs to be advertised as a former Jedi who, upon learning of the Order's treachery, alerted the Supreme Chancellor and personally lead the attempts to capture the corrupt Jedi Council. Unfortunately, the Jedi refused capture and either fought to the death or killed themselves/each other - even the poor, brainwashed younglings. Vader himself was gravely injured in the process, resulting in his life-support armour, and has taken on a new name to distance himself from the fiendish Jedi he was once tricked into serving. – Chronocidal Aug 28 at 8:58
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    Plus, isn't it convenient that once the Jedi with all their Mind Control abilities are no longer spread throughout the Galaxy, many of the Separatist leaders suddenly flock to re-join the Republic and the Clone Wars fizzle down to a mop-up exercise... – Chronocidal Aug 28 at 9:01
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While Star Wars revolves around The Force and its users, not everything is about the Force and its users. If my department is having problems with schedule and word is spread that we are going to be visited by the CEO, my managers are going to get very nervous, despite the fact our CEO isn't a Force user, nor a Sith.

If the commander of a Nazi installation which was underperforming received a stern reprimand from the High Command, and a visit from the Führer himself was announced, you can rest assured they would had been terrified, even though Hitler wasn't a Force user (although he was probably a Lord Sith!). Hitler was rather small and not very strong, yet many people were scared of him. Strange, isn't it?

TL;DR: The Force is a source of power, but it is not the only source of power. When you are the target of the ires of a very powerful and merciless tyrant, you panic.

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    But why is it, that you don't panic when their representative is noting that the Führer would be unpleased? – Zaibis Aug 28 at 14:44
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    @Zaibis If you were to rate the level of panic inspired by (a) "This will make the Boss unhappy," and (b) "This will make the Boss unhappy when he shows up in a few days", wouldn't you pick (b) as even more panicking? I don't necessarily think the Moff isn't panicking with just Vader there. It's just dialed up when he finds out the Emperor is coming too. – Gregor Aug 28 at 14:59
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    It's also relevant to note that most people, even ones with such experiences as Grand Moff Tarkin, don't believe the Force is as powerful as we know it to be. This is demonstrated by Admiral Motti when he mocks Vader (and consequentially get's choked). They don't fear Vader because of his force powers, but because of his rank within the Empire (essentially being the second in command). So it goes to reason that the only thing more frightening than Vader would be his boss. – jared.nesbit Aug 28 at 20:29
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    "despite the fact our CEO isn't a Force user, nor a Sith." So sure are you... – Technophile Aug 28 at 21:46
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    I don't think this addresses the question. The question isn't why our grand-boss makes us more nervous than our boss in real life. The question is why high-ranking officers don't question why Vader is subservient to Palpatine, when Vader could seemingly take over Palpatine and/or his position without trouble. – MichaelS Aug 29 at 4:07
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In the current canon, many of the Imperial Senior officers have confusion where Vader fits into the hierarchy. After many blunders that occur due to them not recognizing him, and to a few assassination attempts, the Emperor had to address the officer corp to tell them where he fits in, saying that Vader is the Emperor's Voice, and a command from Vader is a command from the Emperor.

addressing officers

clarifying role

Source: Star Wars; Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith comic

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    yeah...and the next panels not shown in this answer make the point abundantly clear to everyone left standing (ie - not Ferro, Bingan, Strephi or Azoras) – NKCampbell Aug 27 at 17:47
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    I didn’t want to copy too much of the comic :D – CBredlow Aug 27 at 17:47
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    This comic depicts the equivalent of a standup meeting about org chart confusion... – jogloran Aug 28 at 5:52
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    To clarify my comment: From my understanding this just confirms the point OP is confused by. As they wonder (if I got that correct), why would one argue with vader but just get hella scared when informed the emperor is on their way? your answer just confirms that Vader is supposed to be taken as serious as the emperor and additionally doing also the bad mean force stuff. So why the EMPEROR causes such an reaction while Vader himself doesn't? – Zaibis Aug 28 at 9:54
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    @Zaibis At a guess, if the Emperor is "not as forgiving" as Vader, then the things Vader does to the officers is small potatoes compared to what could be done to to them. They might believe that Vader holds back his power when disciplining the officers, but if the Emperor is displeased, then he might give Vader the order to something much worse. That's all speculation, though. – Richard Ward Aug 28 at 10:39
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PART ONE OF TWO: FEAR OF VADER VS FEAR OF THE EMPEROR

To reasonably brave warriors like imperial officers, the Emperor might possibly be a lot more frightening than Darth Vader.

It seems to me that if the Emperor wants to punish someone, it doesn't matter if the first person the Emperor sends for the job is force-using Darth Vader, or a high ranking officer, or a high ranking bureaucrat, or a small child who simply hands to the victim written orders from the Emperor telling the victim how to punish himself.

If the victim isn't punished the first time, the Emperor would try again to punish them, and keep on trying until they are punished. The Emperor has the resources of a galaxy and a mighty government to punish those he wants punished.

If the Emperor wants an officer fined, the officer will be fined. If the Emperor wants an officer imprisoned, the officer will be imprisoned. If the Emperor wants an officer whipped, the officer will be whipped. If the Emperor wants an officer beheaded, the officer will be beheaded. If the Emperor wants an officer burned at the stake, the officer will be burned at the stake.

So to brave fighting men, if they anger Darth Vader and Darth Vader decides on his own to punish them without a decree from the Emperor, the worst he can do is merely kill them. Which is frightening, but probably not as frightening to brave fighting men as it is to more rational persons.

But suppose that the Emperor gets angry at someone. In the eyes of brave fighting men, The worst the Emperor could do to someone might be far worse than killing them. Most men had friends and families they loved, and were more or less close to their fellow warriors, and felt responsibility for the well being of those under their command. So in effect most men had a lot of hostages in the hands of the imperial government, whose safety was dependent on the degree that the empire and the Emperor restrained themselves from punishing those who were merely related to, or associated with, criminals.

And I don't remember if I ever heard any canon information about the criminal laws of the Galactic Empire.

But I do remember the different philosophical schools of thought about government in the Warring States era of China. The Confucian school believed in a gentle form of government, leading by good example, while the Legalist School believed in harsh and cruel punishments for every crime. The first Imperial dynasty of China, the Qin Dynasty, used harsh punishments, following the Legalist School.

The next dynasty, the Han Dynasty, eventually adopted Confucianism as the official ideology of the government. But Chinese punishments continued to defy Confucian ideology by being harsh and cruel. For severe crimes, relatives of the person convicted would be executed. There were official rules for degrees of relationship, and the more severe the crime, the more degrees of relatives who could be, and often were, executed.

This evil Chinese example spread to neighboring states, if they ever even needed that example for such harsh laws. So for millennia criminals - or innocent persons falsely convicted - in East Asia risked having their families executed. There were a couple of historic moments when the death penalty was suspended or abolished in China or Japan, but eventually those governments resumed executions - including executing innocent little children for the crimes of their family members.

So if Galactic Empire law resembled East Asian laws, officers might think that if Darth Vader got angry and killed them, when the Emperor heard about he might merely think: "Tsk, tsk, Vader's really quick to anger. Oh well, no real harm done." and forget about it. But if a court convicted them of treason or some other serious crime, their friends and relatives might be sentenced to harsh punishments or even death.

But even if their families were sentenced to death for their crimes, there might still be a little hope. I don't know, but it is possible that there was a process of review for capital sentences in the Galactic Empire. Possibly even going as high as the Emperor himself. So if death sentences sometimes or always were reviewed in the Galactic Empire, the process might take a short or along time, with some possibility of the sentence being reduced.

But if the Emperor got angry with someone, what would happen? We can hope that the Emperor would merely rant and rave at them for a while, like Hitler in a World War Two movie, reduce them a few steps in rank, and then let them slink away in shame. But we can fear that possibly the Emperor would order: "Seize him! Torture him to death with The Death of the Hundred Screams - no make that The Death of the Thousand Screams! And make all their ten closest - no make that hundred closest - relatives die the Death of Ten Screams!". And we could fear that such an order would be carried out instantly with no review.

And it seems to me that only a tiny proportion of the Imperial officers would have plans ready to desert to the Rebellion immediately, or have escape routes planned, because the vast majority of the officers would be hoping to continue serving the Empire and rise in rank and have successful careers, even if they didn't have homes and families. So they would have small probability of escaping any punishment the Emperor decreed.

Since we don't know for sure, we can speculate that perhaps brave Imperial officers expected that only they would be killed, and rather quickly and painlessly, if they offended Darth Vader, but maybe they had some reason to fear much worse if they angered the Emperor.

PART TWO: WHY DO THE OFFICERS THINK VADER SERVES THE EMPEROR

And as for their thoughts about why Darth Vader serves the Emperor, Vader's previous service has been rewarded with a very high position and assignment, just as they hope that their services will be rewarded. So the officers might think that Darth Vader has the same goals as they do, to serve the empire and be rewarded.

And why should the officers imagine that Darth Vader would commit treason against the Empire and the Emperor by making himself emperor? Probably most of them have very little desire to commit treason against the Empire and the Emperor by usurping the throne.

And do officers in the Imperial forces commit Klingon promotion by assassinating their superiors? That is the rule in the Sith order, but as far as I know, Emperor Palpatine never made it the rule in the armed forces.

Or maybe Imperial officers periodically duel with their leading subordinates to keep their ranks. In that case, being better at using the weapons of the duel will make an officer qualified to rise in rank. But I have not heard that was the case.

I have not heard that strength to lift more weights, or running speed, or any other physical ability, is a requirement for promotion in the Imperial navy and useful in commanding a spaceship or space fleet. And Imperial officers probably think that Darth Vader's force using abilities are analogous to weight lifting strength, or speed, or good vision, or other physical attributes, so they are not likely to think Vader's force abilities make him better qualified to be an admiral.

Or Imperial officers may think that Darth Vader's force use is a skill, like piloting a TIE fighter. And again, Imperial officers may not think that Vader's force using abilities and skills make him any more qualified to be an Admiral.

So if Imperial officers don't think that Vader's force powers and skill make him better suited to a high rank in their naval profession, why should they imagine that Vader's force powers and force skills made him any better qualified to me a more successful politician and the ruler of the Entire galaxy?

The Imperial officers probably considere the qualifications necessary to be a very highly successful politician to be very strange and exotic and unknown to them, and they would probably assume that Darth Vader felt the same way about it, feeling equally unqualified to be emperor compared to Emperor Palpatine.

After all, the imperial officers had never head of any force user who used the Dark side of the Force to "force" his way to the top in politics and become ruler of the Galactic Republic or something.

So they may have thought that Darth Vader's force powers gave him some advantages in his job as the Emperor's right hand man, but they probably would never have thought that Vader considered himself the Emperor's rival any more than any of them would.

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    ...lots of words here - I think it really only needs paragraphs 1, 4, and the last to do the job. Good speculation but precious little canon info which I'd like to see. No downvote but just my two cents :) – NKCampbell Aug 28 at 20:16
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    Like NKCampbell, I enjoyed the rationale, although the question is looking for in-universe explanations supported by existing canon. But I have a couple issues. First, the question explicitly points out all the high-ranking officers who would have been privy to a number of Sith forcing their way to the tops of various organizations during the Clone Wars, but you seem to ignore that. Second, there's a huge difference between running for an office when you're bad at politics, and usurping an office when you can literally kill your opposition with your mind from worlds away. – MichaelS Aug 29 at 4:29

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