There are some who argue that Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequels; these people are crazy, because Revenge of the Sith is a terrible mishmash of plot points devoid of drama and sometimes sense. On top of that it is utterly graceless in getting to the predetermined finale of the movies, almost as if Lucas realized in the last twenty minutes that he had to really wrap this shit up, as if he didn't have six hours to tell this story already.
But what Revenge of the Sith may end being best known for is its basic prescience; in that film the Old Republic becomes a Galactic Empire not through strong-arm tactics or an overt purge of dissenters*- Palpatine becomes Emperor to the acclaim of the Senate, who believes him when he says this is the best way to maintain peace and stability. "This is how liberty dies," Padme says, watching the hearing. "To thunderous applause."
Not to be too alarmist, but that's exactly what's happening in the halls of government of the United States of America right now. Two bills making their way through Congress should chill every American to the bone, and taken together as a one-two punch they appear to deliver a decisive knockout to liberty. They're SOPA and NDAA.
SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act, a roided-up version of the Protect IP Act designed to thwart internet pirates. While Protect IP was pretty far reaching, SOPA is essentially an open invitation to censor the internet in the name of law and order. Don't believe me? Markham Erickson, head of the NetCoalition, a group that includes such radical companies as Amazon, Google and Yahoo, says that SOPA would cover IP blocking - ie, the government could decide what IP addresses you are or are not allowed to visit. The guidelines for those decisions? Any website 'directed' at the US that 'promotes' copyright infringement or acts that infringe copyright. That's really, really vague and seems ripe for abuse - which is why the companies in the NetCoalition are actively opposing the bill.
But SOPA is nothing compared to NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA is usually a basic housekeeping act that establishes the budget and boundaries of the Department of Defense for the fiscal year, but this year it has some terrible stuff written into it. At one point this year's NDAA was going to name the United States a battleground, allowing the Armed Forces to be deployed within it, a flagrant breaking of the statute of Posse Comitatus, which forbids using the Armed Forces for law enforcement within the national boundaries.
That part was killed in July, but there's still plenty to be upset about - the 2012 NDAA codifies language that would allow the president to detain any individual suspected of being part of or aiding Al Qaeda or similar terrorist groups without a trial until the end of hostilities. Since the hostilities we're talking about is the War on Terror, which like the War on Drugs is an essentially unendable conflict, that means indefinite detention. You can be put in jail without a trial for as long as the US government wants you to be in jail.
Much of this is already implicit in the horrible Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists Act of 2002, but NDAA really makes it plain that this can be done to American citizens. The language has been changed a bit in NDAA to ensure you can't be held indefinitely in a miltary prison - now they can just hold you indefinitely in a regular prison as opposed to Guantanamo.
How did we get here? This nation has long had a cycle of liberty-killing laws; they begin way at the start of the republic with the Alien and Sedition Acts - the Sedition Act specifically making it against the law to 'falsely' criticize John Adams' administration. The last time the nation was caught up in the throes of something this ugly was the 1950s, during the McCarthy era. What makes this all so much weirder is that the Obama administration has had amazing success in shattering Al Qaeda, including the killing of Osama bin Laden this year. There were some really horrible laws passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 - I'm looking at you, PATRIOT Act - but we're ten years gone now.
If I was to put on my conspiracy cap I would think that the popular uprisings across the globe have put a bit of fear into the ruling class of this country. It doesn't take a huge amount of paranoia to imagine NDAA being used to detain Occupy agitators, or SOPA being directed at platforms for political speech, like YouTube. Do I think this will happen as soon as these bills are passed? No, but I doubt the Galactic Empire started getting all rough the day after Palpatine became Emperor.
I don't want George Lucas to be right - for many reasons, some of them artistic. Let's all stand up and tell our representatives that we appreciate and demand our liberty, that we will not stand idly by - and certainly will not applaud - as those liberties are eroded.
Here's the scene from Revenge of the Sith. Watch it now before this website is blocked for promoting infringement.
* the Jedi purge is very non-overt and very non-dramatic