The theory behind any social Darwinist system is that not only do the fittest survive, but society is purportedly better off when competition encourages innovation and achievement. “Always Two There Are” demonstrates how rivalry and competition not only serve as the basis for advancement within the Inquisitorius, but as the fundamental organizing principle of the Galactic Empire. Already in this episode, the audience sees that this competition might sow the seeds for future conflict within the Imperial ranks: conflict that might not actually bring about the results that ambition demands.
In this episode, we learn that the Seventh Sister and the Fifth Brother are Inquisitors seeking the same quarry. They’re competing for the same prize in a few ways, as Dave Filoni explained in Rebels Recon: the Inquisitors are not only chasing after Ahsoka and her Jedi entourage but they’re also all competing for the now-vacant position of Grand Inquisitor. Pablo Hidalgo added another detail: even the very numbers in their names might signify some sort of status, or at least another basis of competition. Even without these behind-the-scenes details, we see that the Fifth Brother and Seventh Sister are surprised to see each other and that they’re refusing to share credit or information with each other. I don’t blame the Seventh Sister, as she’s much cooler than the Fifth Brother so far (SMG’s voice acting and the character animation and design knocked it out of the park — she’s described as a thinking man’s villain, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that entails) but she’s clearly willing to pretend she has knowledge that she doesn’t, just to make a play at withholding information from the Fifth Brother. That’s not very productive.
Similarly, Admiral Konstantine doesn’t seem too happy to be serving an Inquisitor and dismisses them as “mystics.” His discontent is partly due to the Fifth Brother’s summons in the last episode, which cost him his ability to ensure air superiority for Agent Kallus. ISB and the Imperial Navy aren’t the best of friends, but Kallus is at least a reliable, empirical asset and not an agent of a cosmic energy he can’t measure. Kallus himself is happy to play his cards close to the chest: he’s seen what the Force can do and he’s not going to discount the Inquisitors just yet, but he’s dealt with one before and if we know anything about Kallus, it’s that he’s a survivor. He’ll do his best to outlast these Inquisitors, whatever happens. And there’s the problem: if everyone’s looking out for number one, aren’t they working at cross purposes?
The idea behind encouraging competition and ambition is to create results. The Galactic Empire is a bit of a hyper meritocracy, and it’s hard not to see the Sith influence here. Legends lore has Banite Sith engaging in a perpetual struggle between master and apprentice, with the apprentice working to overcome the master until he or she becomes the Dark Lord. Sith philosophy in the canon universe seems to follow the same pattern, judging from Lords of the Sith, and it’s a pattern that’s reflected in the Empire too. But the problem is that all this competition and ambition creates a zero sum game: someone wins and someone loses. The Inquisitors — or the Navy admiral and the COMPNOR agent — have every incentive to underplay or deny success to their rivals. I don’t think this would go to outright sabotage, but fighting over credit and glory leaves opportunities for the rebels to escape the clutches of the Empire. Though this is the Empire Strikes Back season of the show, with the rebels on the run and under a constant disadvantage, I suspect that Imperial infighting will help them to survive and fight another day. It’s certainly a refreshing change of pace from the Rimward, Lothalian Imperial incompetence that characterized the first season. That worked given the setting, and I think the double-edged sword of competition works well here.
This isn’t something new, by the way. Competition is inherent in the Imperial system. We saw rivalries in the briefing chamber in A New Hope and we saw Piett opportunistically undermining Admiral Ozzel (who, to be fair, was incompetent) in earshot of Lord Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. The new canon books have continued in this vein, with competition among the Imperial court featuring prominently in A New Dawn, referenced somewhat in passing in the upcoming Twilight Company, and featured in the Royal Academy sequences of Lost Stars (it was common in the EU too, but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion). We also see it in the Servants of the Empire books that parallel and intersect with the story of the TV show, and The Secret Academy was just the latest to show how seriously the Empire takes competition (p.s. I never miss a chance to plug this series — go read it, now!). The show itself laid groundwork for the savagery of this competition during “Breaking Ranks”, where we saw that the Lothal Academy encouraged an eat-or-be-eaten mentality in its trooper cadets. The sense we’re supposed to get is that the Empire rewards ferocity over camaraderie. This may promote success, but it also encourages breakdown — it’s little wonder that the Empire was quickly breaking apart in Aftermath and Lost Stars if the notion of teamwork is strictly against Imperial ideology.
The creative team behind Rebels and the Story Group have done a great job here, I think. The threats to the rebels are greater than ever this season. But these threats are blunted by the Empire’s own nature, which would cut its leg to spite its foot. The Empire is ostensibly about unity and uniformity: one authority, one voice, everyone working together: but it encourages division and dissension, even in its own ranks. The Empire enforces obedience, but it’s an insincere obedience that is ever-waiting for a chance to stab someone else in the back. This instability and disunity lays seeds for not only the rebel escapades this season, but it resonates with the post-Endor scenarios leading up to and beyond the still-mysterious Battle of Jakku. Lord Vader started the season off by making the rebels nearly extinct: but Vader is sui generis. He’s so capable that none dare compete with him (at least among this lot, compared with his struggles in the Marvel comic series) and he enforces obedience. Not even the so-called Grand Inquisitor could accomplish that, because this Empire of ambition is rather more chaotic than orderly. It’s an excellent way to characterize these new Inquisitors and the Empire as a whole, throughout its portrayals. Imperial selfishness stymies their chances and causes defeat, while the selflessness of the Ghost crew leads them to success.
Sarah: Infighting and one-upsmanship has definitely been a hallmark of the Empire as we’ve seen it in the Star Wars universe, but something that I don’t think is touched on quite as much is the tension between the Force user leaders and the non-Force-sensitive military. The introduction of the Inquisitors in Rebels and the existence of the Emperor’s Hands in Legends points to a rudimentary caste system between a Force-using military elite and the “regular” military who (perhaps grudgingly) tacitly accepts that there is only so far they can rise before hitting a glass ceiling of sorts. No matter how high they rise, they are still ranked below the guys with lightsabers and subject to their whims.
This certainly isn’t a new concept in Star Wars lore (anyone who’s familiar with the Imperial Agent story in Star Wars: The Old Republic will recognize it) but it’s not generally been explored in movie-era material. In many ways I think this Force-based military caste system is a holdover from the Clone Wars; all the generals were Jedi, with clones not rising higher than commanding officer, even if the clone had more military experience than their Jedi commander (see: Ahsoka Tano). And we’re starting to see Kallus and the Imperial military chafing under the rule of the Fifth Brother; if the Seventh Sister ends up joining that would only exacerbate it, especially if the Kallus and Konstatine are caught in the middle of an Inquisitor power struggle.
As for what this could mean going forward….well if we’re looking long term, it could impact Luke’s ability to successfully rebuild the Jedi Order. For a generation that grew up under the Empire, where Force users occupied an elite status that seemed to give them free reign and were thus to be feared, it could be that many galactic citizens would look at a new Jedi Order as yet another elite group that gets to operate outside of normal rules just by virtue of being born with special powers. As far as they’re concerned, how is it any different than the elite caste of darksiders under the Empire? Combine this with the amount of propaganda they’ve surely been fed that demonized the old Jedi Order and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of anti-Jedi sentiment that could complicate things real fast.