"Fear will keep the local systems in line."
- Grand Moff Tarkin
In the fictional Star Wars universe, the Galactic Empire was the regime established by Palpatine to replace the Galactic Republic.
The Republic ended following a period of intense political turmoil and one war that only led to another. At the height of the chaos the Republic's scheming head of government, Chancellor Palpatine, proclaimed himself Emperor.
Origins of the Empire
There is no distinct dividing line marking the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Galactic Empire. However, we do know the seeds of the Empire were planted during the Clone Wars when Chancellor Palpatine ordered an army of Clone troopers (predecessors to the Stormtroopers) to fight the increasing threat of the Separatists. There was also a period of overlap starting from the election of Senator Palpatine of Naboo to the office of Chancellor, until the Declaration of a New Order – the formal establishment of the Empire.
Palpatine was an efficient and effective leader who quickly brought an end to corruption in the Senate, through greatly increasing the power of the Chancellor. Eventually, the Senate lost most of its power and became little more than an advisory council to the Chancellor. Secure in his power and position, Palpatine issued the Declaration of a New Order and declared himself Emperor nineteen years before the Battle of Yavin.
The people of the new Empire enthusiastically supported the vision outlined in the Declaration of a New Order. Many senators wholeheartedly supported the new government while a number of more cautious senators chose to watch and wait to see how the new government would handle the affairs of state. It promised to trade frailty for strength, chaos for order, and uncertainty for decisiveness. In retrospect, the foundation of the Empire had already been set down during Palpatine’s chancellorship and therefore the transition from Republic to Empire was relatively smooth.
The beginning of the Galactic Civil War ushered in the reign of terror. The Empire initiated the Great Jedi Purge, all but exterminating the Jedi Order.
During the first few years of the Empire, Coruscant was renamed Imperial Center, the galaxy saw the single largest military buildup in history, and a council of Moffs was established to more efficiently govern individual sectors and regions of the Empire. Popular support for the policies of Palpatine’s administration was high.
Organisation of Power
The Empire was ruled with absolute power by Emperor Palpatine, with Sate Pestage as Grand Vizier (the Head of Government, who was actually running the Empire day to day by the Battle of Endor), and Darth Vader as Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy and Military Executor. Two of his top advisors were Janus Greejatus and Sim Aloo, who accompanied Palpatine when he traveled to the second Death Star. The Galactic Senate still existed years after the Empire's establishment, but it had little power and was eventually dissolved by Palpatine shortly before the Battle of Yavin. The real power below the Emperor was in the hands of the Grand Moffs, like Tarkin and the regional governors who were eventually granted direct control of their regions.
The Galactic Empire was actually more decentralized than its immediate predecessor, the Galactic Republic. Much more power was sent into the hands of the Moffs and Grand Moffs who controlled regional issues. This is in contrast to the structure of the Old Republic , which apparently had no intermediary between low-level planetary affairs and those of the Galactic Senate itself.
This power was backed up by the use of state terrorism which threatened horrific retaliation to any defiance to the government. The instrument of that terror was the Imperial military, which included the Imperial Stormtroopers and a large fleet of intimidating war vehicles like the Star Destroyers of the Imperial Navy and the All Terrain Armoured Transports (AT-ATs or Walkers) which were intended in part to spread fear as well as destroy the enemy. This policy reached its zenith with the constuction of the world-destroying Death Star.
Following Palpatine's final death, the Imperial Intern Ruling Council was formed to organize and maintain the Empire. It was hated and didn't last very long.
Resistance to Imperial Rule
Three of the most influential senators, Bail Organa of Alderaan, Garm Bel Iblis of Corellia, and Mon Mothma of Chandrila. met in secret and signed the Corellian Treaty, forming the Alliance to Restore the Republic, more commonly referred to as the Rebel Alliance. However, the threat of Rebellion allowed Palpatine to endorse the Tarkin Doctrine of rule by fear of force rather than force itself. Shortly before the Battle of Yavin, Palpatine declared a state of emergency and disbanded the Imperial Senate. Thus the institution that represented the values and ideals of the Republic was swept away.
In addition a key instrument was intended to be the Death Star, a moon sized space station with sufficient firepower to destroy a planet with a single shot, shown in the first Star Wars movie, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Whereas many planets could afford planetary deflector shields capable of warding off virtually any conventional attack, none could defend against the Death Star's prime weapon. "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station", said Grand Moff Tarkin.
In the Expanded Universe, the Empire also emphasized human and, to a lesser extent, humanoid supremacy, with other alien species like Wookiees subject to slavery. Antislavery laws were repealed and legislation legalizing the persecution of nonhumans was passed. Peaceful demonstrations were dispersed using brute force, often killing and maiming thousands, as during the Ghorman Massacre. The planets of the Empire were no longer given a say in the government, but were now kept in line by the sector squadrons of the Imperial Navy, each containing twenty-four Imperial-class Star Destroyers. Disillusioned senators who had tried unsuccessfully to use legal means, and the time-honored system of checks and balances, now sought to end Palpatine’s rule through rebellion.
This explains why almost everyone on the side of the Empire in Episodes IV, V, and VI is human. The Imperial officers usually have a British accent, reminiscent of British imperialism. It is believed by some that Palpatine's association with non-humans like Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace contradicts the idea that there is any humanoid bias on the part of Palpatine. However, since Palpatine was a Sith Lord, it is logical to assume that he would take advantage of talent wherever he could find it, as was the case with Darth Maul and Grand Admiral Thrawn. It so follows that while the Empire was unquestionably speciesist, there is little to suggest that the Emperor himself was. In fact, some facts of the Expanded Universe imply that the privy councilors and advisors that filled Palpatine's court and ran the Empire on a day-to-day basis were the speciesists, and applied "High Human Culture" on their own accord.
The Rebel Alliance was a guerilla army dedicated to the defeat of the Emperor and the restoration of the Galactic Republic. This goal was nominally (but significantly) achieved with the deaths of Palpatine and Darth Vader, and the destruction of the second Death Star at the hands of the Alliance at the Battle of Endor, as depicted in the third released (but in chronological story order the sixth) Star Wars movie, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
The Post-Endor Empire
However, the Empire was too large to be destroyed in one blow; for the next decade and more, the Rebels, renamed the New Republic, fought to free the galaxy from former Imperials styling themselves as independent warlords as well as Imperial loyalists such as Grand Admiral Thrawn and Ysanne Isard. These battles are chronicled in the many novels licensed by Lucasfilm.
After a peace treaty was signed with the New Republic, what remained of the Empire was the Imperial Remnant, a shadow of its former glory. It consisted of 18 backwater sectors in the Outer Rim and its capital world was Bastion. Its head of state was Grand Admiral Gilad Pellaeon. During the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, the Imperial Remnant allied with the New Republic and its successor-state the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances. It appears that the Remnant will play an increasingly important role in galactic affairs all out of proportion to its small economy and military.
An interesting article supporting the Empire can be found at The Case for the Empire (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/248ipzbt.asp). A response to that article is No Case for the Empire (http://solohq.com/Articles/Lamont/No_Case_for_the_Empire.shtml). A website claiming to be the Empire can be found at Galactic Empire Databank (http://www.galacticempiredatabank.com).