23 min read

Decline and Fall: History and Star Wars with Patrick Wyman

A lively interview on processes of empire, the violence of frontiers, and the role of history in invented worlds.
Decline and Fall: History and Star Wars with Patrick Wyman

Welcome to Decline and Fall, a Heat Death series about Star Wars, American empire, and everything in between.

In our last entry, we laid out the broad sweep of the Galactic Civil War, and how political gridlock brought a once-stable Republic to a point of political collapse. But before we get to the crisis that triggered that collapse — detailed in Episode I: The Phantom Menace — let’s talk a bit about history itself, and its role in an imagined text.

Part of the joy of a richly fictional imagined world is the sense of depth, which — in the case of a saga like Star Wars, which has been accreting now for two real-world generations — can begin to approximate that of the real world it draws from. In a sense, Star Wars is Lucas himself geeking out on myth and history, imagining a world that, however whiz-bang and exotic, was a refraction of his own, a distillation.

Star Wars is self-consciously both a refraction of real-world history and a (more or less) internally consistent pseudo-history. And both give you a way to test drive ideas of political crisis, and also how our relationship to those ideas changes over time.

Just ask podcaster and author Patrick Wyman, a historian of structural dynamics and turning points. Wyman has made his career — inventing a job for himself where none previously existed, in fact — by creating popular histories that explore the contested zones where empires end, both in space and in time.

In 2016, Wyman independently launched The Fall of Rome Podcast, which untangled the social dynamics around the collapse of the empire and the rise of medieval Europe. That led to his Wondery series, Tides of History, where he examined the medieval origins of the modern world — the emergence of states and capitalism from the 12th to 16th centuries — before beginning an epic ride through the deep origins of civilization from the first hominids to the Bronze Age collapse. His widely acclaimed new book, The Verge, explores the birth of modernity over four pivotal decades between 1490 and 1530. (Asher's read it. It's excellent.)

He’s also, as luck would have it, a huge Star Wars head.

We sat down with Wyman to talk about the role of history in invented worlds, the violence of the frontiers, and how America’s changing opinion of empire got embedded in the fabric of a franchise made to sell toys to children. (The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

It’s Heat Death. Stay with us.

HD: Before we get started: something we’ve found really interesting about your work is how you separate out the flow of power between “rights” and “claims.” That a king might assert his right to the throne, but that’s ultimately just a claim, and claims have to be enforced. It’s something that’s been lost in a lot of the ways that we talk about politics now.

Yeah! It always fascinated me how medieval rulers would keep portfolios of potential claims sitting out there. Maybe someday we'll go for Naples? Just see if we can do it. You can have all sorts of ideas about what you're entitled to, but at some point, you're going to have to make an actual move.

It's one of the things that's really interesting when you talk to dedicated anarchists. For them, those discussions of rights are always contingent on what you can imagine, and what you can get away with. That's something we all too often take for granted, whether you're an anarchist or not — that there's a constant process of negotiation and choice.

That walks us right into the thing. What's your background with Star Wars?

I started watching Star Wars when I was probably 11. I would come home from school every day and just watch a Star Wars movie for probably a year and a half. I've watched every one of the original trilogy many, many times. During that whole period in the 90s when there were new Star Wars books coming out every month, I pretty much read every one of them. I've played pretty much all the Star Wars games. I've now watched all of the Clone Wars and Rebels series, of course, the prequels, The Mandalorian. I've seen essentially every Star Wars property out there.

You’re trained as a historian. How has that changed your understanding of Star Wars?

I think the best Star Wars properties give you a sense of the accretion of time and traditions that build up in the universe. Nobody who's doing things in Star Wars is an independent actor — they're influenced by things that happened decades and centuries and millennia before. Nothing just happens out of nowhere in Star Wars, because it can't. That's not how the world works.

That's the thing that I appreciate most about the prequels after rewatching them. It's not that George Lucas did a great job of making them as movies, but that stuff is all really present there. It feels like everybody in the prequels is living under the weight of this long past, this series of ossified institutions, that have led them to the point of the "Star Wars" stuff that we know is going to happen. There's a sense of almost structural inevitability. Not just in a narrative sense, where we know who Darth Vader is, but in the sense that you look at the universe that they reside in and you're like, Oh, it makes a lot of sense as to how you end up there.

There's obviously other fantasy and science fiction properties of this sort of epic sweep, like Dune or Lord of the Rings. Is that sense of historical contingency unique to Star Wars?

No, I think it's part of making a really compelling universe to start with. One of the baseline things that makes these worlds worth coming back to is that they have that ring of truth to them. They have that depth. Maybe this is just because I'm not a Star Trek person, but I feel like Star Trek doesn't really have that — everything feels very recent. It feels new and shiny, and I think that's what people like about Star Trek: it has all these possibilities, these new vistas for people to gaze out onto.

In stories like Lord of The Rings or Dune, you feel hemmed in by the weight of the past. My other personal favorite, as ridiculous as it is, is the Warhammer 40k universe, which is literally all about descent from a mythological, better past into … something nowhere near as good. You've got to have that sense of people being embedded in these broader, deeper constellations of relationships and pasts.

It feels like the original trilogy approaches that sense of history differently: you have a series of larger-than-life figures seemingly driving the story, like the Great Man theory of history. Then after the prequels, everything starts feeling a lot more hemmed in.

Well, take Luke Skywalker — he ends up on Tatooine because of the actions of other people. He's got Ben Kenobi watching over him, guiding and shaping him his whole life. As he goes off on his journey into the stars, he joins the rebels — who are not people who just randomly showed up there. There's a past to that. If you wanted to really dig into that universe, I'm sure that the idea of rebellion in Star Wars is conditioned by political traditions that go back through the Republic, and perhaps even further. All of these things are converging to give people their options of what they're going to do, when and why. Individuals are making choices within that framework, rather than the framework being determined by the individual choices.

You're absolutely right about the difference in tone. Once you've seen the prequels, you look at the original trilogy differently. The originals are very much playing off the old school hero tropes and story styles, and ideas about what's supposed to happen for a hero to make the journey. But the prequels — as not-ideal as they are as actual movies — have a much deeper sense for the world in which a hero operates.

Something I think about often is how, theoretically, you get to make your decisions, but you're not choosing from an unlimited array of possibilities. Your sense of what is possible is going to be conditioned by your background, by what occurs to you to do.

If you come from a desert, and show up to a river that's packed full of salmon, that doesn't do you any good if it doesn't occur to you to eat salmon.

Luke sort of goes with the flow, actually. The one actual choice he makes in the original trilogy is to go and confront Darth Vader. Everything else he does is something someone told him to do.

And I think you see that way more clearly after the prequels. You get the sense that no matter how much agency it seems like Luke has, he's still living in a world where people have made all of these choices for him. Even the choice to confront Darth Vader at the end is a choice that has been set up by all of these different characters.

Which is what makes The Last Jedi so interesting. It sets up a world where we see Luke make a choice that is not set up for him: where he walks away, and then eventually comes back to engage with his heroic legacy on his own terms. And part of the backlash against the film came from upset fans saying that’s not what Luke Skywalker, Hero of the Republic, would do.

But what Luke the person would do, apparently, is fuck off to an island and hang out with puffins.

I think that's exactly right! I feel like the thing that bothered people about The Last Jedi so much was the idea that these people are making choices, that there is a broader range of possibilities available to them than just playing the role that's ordained. And as we all know, that made people really, really uncomfortable. Existentially uncomfortable, too: If, even in this hermetically sealed universe, people can make choices that surprised me, well, what does that say about my own place in this world? I think that really bugged people in a way that they couldn't quite put their finger on.

And so it was easy for them to bitch and moan about other aspects of that movie. And sure, you can argue about plot structure, or how to give information to the audience. But I think it just felt like a jarring awakening for them. It also made it feel like a much more grown-up movie, because there weren't right choices in The Last Jedi. There were just choices. And I think that could that's a hard thing to deal with, if that's not what you're expecting.

I'm curious how you would characterize the larger narrative arc of Star Wars through a historical lens. Do you find the Star Wars conception of societal decline and fall to be a convincing one?

Oh, god, yeah, I actually really do. I think the biggest theme is the way in which institutions just ossify and get stuck. The reason why you set up an institution, at some point in the distant past, carries a momentum of its own. And it’s really hard for institutions — whether you're talking about the Senate or the Jedi — to adapt to changing circumstances, when all they have known is this one particular way of doing things. Which has, in fairness, worked ok for them! But when you're confronted with a new set of circumstances —like a Sith Lord, or a power-hungry Chancellor — the weight of having done things in this particular way for so long prevents you from seeing either the dangers or the possibilities of doing it otherwise.

And that creates space for dangerous and ambitious people: people who are willing to break rules, who are willing to do things differently. Not just the Sith. The underworld figures that we spend a lot of time with in Star Wars are playing a similar kind of game: they see the opportunities that are available to them in the absence of a Republic, in the absence of the Jedi. There’s this new world for them to expand into. They make a bid where they try to act on the claims that they have.

And that's the thing that really rings true to me: the possibilities and the actors that find ways of taking advantage of situations amid these destabilized situations.

What’s interesting about Star Wars is that it starts out not only as Lucas’ take on mythic structures, but also as a sort of political science fiction. He does the original trilogy as a reaction to Vietnam, he does the prequels in the lead-up to the Iraq War. How does Star Wars engage with the American empire?

One of the things that makes Star Wars interesting to me is that it's very much a product of a critique — of the American empire in particular, but empire more generally — that belongs to a specific time and place: the 60s and 70s. That’s the generation George Lucas is a part of. It’s an intellectual debate that I don’t think had a huge afterlife, because it was followed by Reagan and the triumph of that American empire, the era of 90s American hyperpower and a kind of unipolar world.

There was a debate and argument about the nature of the United States, and the nature of its role in the world, that was kind of forgotten—except it lives on, in Star Wars. Now, because of the world in which we find ourselves in the 2010s and 2020s, that argument seems relevant again, for reasons that I probably don't have to point out.

You know, Star Wars being a really cute underdog story about rebels rising up — that seemed really non-threatening when I was kid. Like, of course, the rebels are the good guys. That story looks a lot more complicated and a lot less black and white this year than it did back then. I think that’s something that they’ve actually done a pretty good job of exploring with characters like Saw Gerrera in the last decade or so. Turns out there’s a lot more ambiguity to the idea of running a rebellion against established authority, and the choices that you have to make to do that, then it seemed when it was just blowing up a thing that's literally called the Death Star.

Saw Gerrera is this really interesting figure because, as a veteran of the Clone Wars who rolls right into the Rebellion, he represents a good argument that the Galactic Civil War that begins with the Clone Wars just keeps on going. The war gets pushed out to the margins, comes in again, goes out, comes in. It’s like the Italian Wars, or the early modern European wars. It just will not fucking end.

Yeah. I think one of the more profound points made in Star Wars is the way in which war feeds itself. It becomes a logic of its own, and the people created by generation after generation of warfare don’t know another life. They don’t know another way to go about doing things.

A few months ago, I started doing a lot of reading about insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. I did a lot of reading about the French wars in Indochina, and then in Algeria. And it was the same people! It was the same people who were torturing villagers in Vietnam, who were torturing people in Algiers, and who were then taking their views on Muslims and foreigners into French domestic politics in ways that still resonate fairly clearly today. That’s the key point: those people don't go away.

Something I've realized more and more is that even though we might consider a particular historical era over and done with — even though we might close the book on it and say “we’re now in the era of the Empire,” or whatever — the people who live through that stuff don’t have the book closed on their experiences. It’s not like they just forget the lessons they learned in the middle of a massive clone war, or what have you. So we might draw these artificial historical boundaries, but that’s not the way the world actually works. It’s not the way that people actually work.

In Star Wars, when Palpatine declares that The Republic is now a Galactic Empire, it’s basically a branding exercise to create the illusion of a sea change. But there actually is no sea change.

Yeah! Just to follow this thought experiment out: it’s the same army. They’re wearing the same armor, they’re flying the same insignia. You have to imagine they’re using the same computer systems that Republic bureaucrats were using. It’s not like they — one day, all of a sudden — did away with whatever system of governance existed. They obviously still have the Senate. I mean, you’re exactly right: initially, it’s a rebranding exercise.

Then over time, sure, you can see these changes, but you can also see how people would just kind of go along with that. An empire? Oh, that sounds ominous, but I’m still sending my taxes to the same tax collector. My speeder is still being manufactured by the same corporation. I still can take the exact same flight to the neighboring planet. That’s something I think the Bad Batch series has done a pretty good job with, so far: showing you that this is a step-by-step thing. It’s embedded in your daily life. They’re just very slowly but surely asking you to change certain things.

So why does the word “empire” sound so ominous to us? Historically it's often been a much more neutral term.

For Americans of the later 20th century, empire was kind of self-evidently a bad thing. We’d lived through the age of decolonization and the collapse of old global empires.

Now, the United States was — and is — running an empire of its own, that just looks different and goes under a different name. That’s something that people are going to argue and talk about. But “empire” was an easy bogeyman in the 70s-90s. And now I think — in my experience, at least, arguing on the internet, which I should do less of — people are not only more inclined to accept the idea of empire in the present, but to say that it's a good thing. Sure, let's say the United States is an empire: ergo, “empire” must be good.

That’s what I mean about these things being a little more ambiguous and hitting a little bit differently than they did when I was a kid: now, The Empire’s got some defenders.

You mentioned decolonization. What do you think the structure of the Empire is in Star Wars? Is it like the French Empire or the American empire, with an imperial core that extracts from the periphery? Or are we talking about something that's much more like a sort of unitary universal state?

I think it's much more extractive — and much looser — than we're given to understand when they talk about “the Republic.” I think there are certain planets and areas of the galaxy that are much more deeply embedded in the state fabric than others.

When you talk about the Outer Rim: what’s the Republic like out there? What’s the Empire out there? I think that’s a pretty interesting and realistic take on what it would like to live in a galactic civilization. Some places, the tax collector may not get there for a few years. Right? Or, you know, maybe the only symbol of centralized authority that you see is a mashal who comes through every now and again. You don’t really know that you’re part of this political entity until the day the stormtroopers show up and start looking for some droids.

This comes back to the question of claims and rights. Part of being an empire is the implicit assumption of universality: that you are claiming a (usually divine) right to expansion. You are the King of Kings, the overlord, and this land was supposed to be under your suzerainty by divine will. Which is an interesting little angle to take on Star Wars! Whenever the Empire shows up in a place, they claim it was already part of the Empire—the inhabitants just didn’t know it yet.

Which makes sense in the aftermath of a big civil war. Obviously we need to get all of this territory that was once part of the Republic — which we are the natural heirs to — back into the fold.


Is that sort of thing happening during the Italian wars? Are there villages where competing troops are coming to say that, of course, this land has always been part of the Kingdom of Spain or The Kingdom of Aragon?

Yeah, that's something that happens all the time. In the Middle Ages, the real question is of who has control over this place. This lord claims it one day, and another lord claims it another. Maybe you fight a war over it, maybe you don't. I mean, that's the thing that makes the dynastic conflicts of the 15th-17th centuries so striking: it's the same stuff that lords had been doing throughout the Middle Ages, but the scale was much larger because all of a sudden they had a state apparatus to back them up.

So instead of it being your local lord and his 40 closest companions riding out from the castle to go establish control over this village, you're using contracts to raise 10,000 mercenaries to go fight a decade's long conflict — over control of what often amounted to like three villages on a border.

But sometimes the war was the point. It wasn’t even what you were fighting over: it was just that you, as a ruler, were expected to go to war, and so you were going to find whatever excuse you had to call up the boys and go do the thing. And you see that in Star Wars, too, with the Empire. If you build this military apparatus, it’s kind of begging to be used, right? What’s the purpose for it if it’s not to crush dissent?

Star Wars also spends a lot of time—maybe even most of its time—on Imperial frontiers. Part of the reason we keep coming back to Tatooine is that it’s a place where the rules get fuzzy and people can hide out. Shows like The Mandalorian are also set in frontiers where your only brushes with the New Republic are the occasional run in with an X-Wing beat cop. Otherwise the New Republic has no presence in that show at all.

God, yeah. There’s almost no overarching governance, so far as we can tell, right? All the governance is regional or maybe planetary. Even their currency systems are not universal as far as we can tell, in that particular age.

I think that’s a much more accurate reflection of what the edges of empire actually look like, where empire is kind of an intermittently-encountered concept, rather than a daily lived experience. And the nature of what you do come into contact with — like the symbols of The Empire or even The Republic — are not necessarily going to be the same ones that define somebody's life on Coruscant. There, you’re surrounded by governance. You're surrounded by the symbols of state power, by regulation and bureaucracy, and by this larger apparatus that exists around you.

But we should be wary in both Star Wars and the rest of our lives of using that one word — Republic, Empire, State — as too broad of an explainer. What do we mean, when we say that The state does this, or this is a Republic, or this is an Empire? If you live on Tatooine, your experience with the Empire is the stormtroopers rolling through. Maybe they’re not even collecting taxes from you. You’re probably not getting access to some broader program of galactic education or galactic health care. Nobody's passing a universal medical bill in the Imperial Senate.

That’s kind of baked into what an empire is. They’re discontinuous spaces. They're kind of uneven. It's not like it's a uniform geographical space — there are lumps and bumps of empire within there, and they may not be the same lumps and bumps all over the place.

It’s like the interview you did with Douglas Boine about his book on Alaric the Goth. What is Luke’s best option before he goes off to join the Rebellion? He’s trying to join the Imperial Academy. That's what you do on the frontier, right? You're either encountering the punitive raids or going off and joining them.

Yeah. If you were living on the frontier of the Roman Empire, the Roman institution that you came into contact with was the army. The same way if you're living on Tatooine, the Imperial institution that you're coming into contact with is the military. That's what you're going to see.

And that’s why in so many cases, the frontier is the recruiting ground for the Empire's military. The old argument for why that happened was that they were people who were habituated to violence. Maybe that’s just because, for them, that's what the Empire is. So to find your place within the Empire is to find your place within that specific kind of Imperial institution.

Are you saying that sort of violent and coercive structure of the Empire is sort of a product of the frontier, or that's just where it's localized?

It's a mutually reinforcing relationship. In a very basic world-systems approach — the intellectual children of Immanuel Wallerstein, from a few decades back — empires are core-periphery systems. The core is extracting resources from the periphery in order to feed whatever's happening at the happening at the core: usually some sort of court life and excess artistic production. The Death Star, or the casino at Canto Bight, all of that stuff.

But the frontier also serves an ideological function for the Empire, in the sense that it exists to be pacified. It justifies the continued existence of military force, and it justifies the continued extraction from the periphery back to the core. So it's not just a material relationship. It's also an ideological one.

The most interesting take I heard on the end of the Roman Empire, by the way, was that basically, you were transplanting the frontier back to the interior. You were taking the kinds of relationships and people who had always existed along the empire’s frontiers and just opening the imperial interior to them. I always thought that was a fairly profound point.

And that's what happens at the end of the Return of the Jedi: the frontier sweeps back into the center of Galactic politics. When The Force Awakens opens, things seem bad.

Yeah! I think that's exactly right. The Galactic Civil War seems very much like a conflict of the Outer Rim. But then, as the Empire collapses, it doesn't just collapse on the Outer Rim, because it’s predicated on this ideological and material relationship between the Outer Rim and the core. If you’ve got warring fleets out there, it makes sense that at some point, they’re going to go toward the heartland. You’re going to frontier-ize the interior.

Does that mean the periphery becomes the new core? A core of military expansion?

Historically speaking, Imperial peripheries can become a new core and it happens fairly regularly. If you have a group that originates on a periphery, they can engage in their own campaign of conquest. They can turn that into a new core area.

I’m reading a lot about Mesopotamia right now, and the Akkadian Empire — one of the world's first empires — starts on the fringes of the Mesopotamian world. That's also true of Assyria: the city of Assur is very much on the fringe of Northern Mesopotamia. Arguments have been made for the British Empire.

The Ottomans and Portuguese, too.

Yeah. There are arguments about how marginality is maybe really important [to the establishment of empires.]

I mean, it's weird in Star Wars, because they're talking about literal geographic space, right? There, it’s literally the core of the galaxy versus the outer rim. But like, political space and geographic space are not necessarily the same thing. They can map onto each other in different configurations, depending on what kind of underlying relationships you're talking about.

What’s interesting is that the First Order — the imperial remnant that are the antagonists of the sequel trilogy — are positioned as marginal figures. They’re the Nazis who ran off to Argentina. They get shoved back out into the Outer Rim, and keep pursuing extraction and weird cults of personality, and then they sweep back in—

That’s not at all uncommon! It’s very much like the Crisis of the Third Century in the Roman Empire, where you have a succession of frontier generals sweeping in with their armies, all of them claiming to be more Roman than the last guy. When Diocletian takes back over, he's reforming the Roman state along the lines he thinks it should be: a particularly hard-line, frontier-military version of Rome. It’s not like he’s renewing some ancient traditions, and everything is going to go back to the way it was.

I think that would be a fun parallel for the First Order to like, because those dudes seem like psychos, right?

They are pursuing a very specific vibe. But how long would that have lasted? The history podcaster Dan Carlin talks about what probably would have happened if the Nazis had won World War 2: that after a couple of generations, they might be running an administrative state a lot like any other European nation.

That's one of those banality of power things, right? Eventually, everybody just gets used to the political order, such as it is, because it becomes harder and harder to imagine an alternative. It’s just the way we do things. If you’d been the third generation born under the Empire, what do you even get to remember about the Republic, or the Jedi?

There’s a recurring complaint about the prequels—that the Clone Wars were so recent, the fall of the Republic so recent, that it doesn’t make sense for people not to remember. But that makes sense, doesn’t it? The Republic and the Jedi weren’t universal experiences. You might never have seen them, and the one time you do tune into the news you hear that they’re traitors, or they don’t exist.

I think it's hard to overstate how little the Republic seems to impinge on the lives of the people who lived in it prior to the Clone Wars. It’s a state that theoretically exists, but they don’t have a standing military. They make laws, but how binding are they? What’s the means of enforcement? We know they have a senate, we know that they have courts. We know that planets have representatives who could be elected, or hereditary, or some combination. You have the Jedi, who have a kind of ambiguous relationship with the Republic’s power structures.

It really seems like a pretty dang decentralized state. So yeah, in that context, it doesn't actually seem like it's that hard for people to just move along with their lives. There's a couple of thousand Jedi, if even that. How many people are ever actually going to meet one? It’s not like they have 2 million followers on Instagram, or whatever. They're not famous figures!

It’s bizarre that the Republic doesn't have a standing army. They don't currently have a monopoly on violence, and everything seems strangely…placid. Has it just not been an issue?

That's a really good question! It seems like each planet or unit within the Republic maintains its own military forces. And then at some point, through some sort of mechanism centered on the Senate, they call them together for military campaigns under the leadership of the Jedi, or something.

It’s actually very difficult to pay for a standing army. There’s lots of logistical stuff that you have to do. It requires an ongoing extractive relationship between whatever body is paying for them, and the people who are providing those funds. Taxation, right? And usually that means that you're going to have some sort of back and forth discussion, and concessions granted.

You’re a noted fan of counterfactuals — thinking through where historical events might have gone differently. Do you see any places where the transformation of the Republic into The Empire could have gone another way?

That's a really interesting question. I think that the Republic was always going to fall apart, because it seems like those tensions were kind of baked into it. So either the central institutions of the Republic would be so powerless as to be effectively non-existent, or they were eventually going to explicitly crumble. Those are kind of your two options.

Like we see in the prequels, you have powerful interest groups like the banking union, or the guilds, who have to be bargained with, to the extent that they're going to render the Republic meaningless. They’re going to extract so many concessions that they are effectively doing their own thing, or they're eventually going to bring that structure down, if it no longer serves the purposes of the constituents. So there's that aspect to it.

But was it destined to be an empire? No, that's a Palpatine thing. If you don't have Palpatine, you probably don't get a Galactic Empire. Now, that raises the question of whether those tensions within the Republic would have gotten there, if not for Palpatine. I think that they probably would have. Eventually, somebody is going to come along and try to stir the pot. Eventually, somebody is going to succeed. Now, whether that leads you to the Empire, whether that leads you to a Death Star, whether that leads you to Starkiller Base or whatever comes after that, that's less certain. But the Republic, I think, was always going down.

Do you see a clear turning point?

I think the Naboo Crisis [at the beginning of The Phantom Menace] — that’s where you see open war between various factions, and The Republic has no ability to put a lid on that conflict.

As you guys mentioned earlier, there's no monopoly on legitimate violence, right? That’s something that people probably understood theoretically, but when you see an actual large-scale conflict — people don't forget that. That becomes part of the background of everybody's lives. Like hey, remember when there was an open shooting war on Naboo? That becomes part of the normal background to politics within the Republic.

After that, I think everything else is inevitable. You can't have an open, large-scale invasion by a powerful dedicated interest group within a polity, without that eventually leading to something more serious.

So once Naboo became a shooting war, everything else — not the way it turned out, but that something like this happened — became inevitable?

Yeah. I think that's the key turning point. We're supposed to understand it as being a kind of an extreme event that people take very seriously, and that causes a crisis. So if that's the case, then that, to me, is the point of no return.

Patrick, like we could keep talking to you about this forever. Thanks so much for coming on. Please come back any time.

I could talk about Star Wars whenever! It was an absolute pleasure.

Patrick Wyman’s podcasts can be found at Tides of History and The Fall of Rome. His new book, The Verge, is available wherever books are sold. You can follow him at @Patrick_Wyman on Twitter.

Till next time… may the force be with you.