Galactic empire

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Galactic empires are a common trope used in science fantasy and science fiction, particularly in works known as 'space operas'. Many authors have either used a galaxy-spanning empire as background or written about the growth and/or decline of such an empire. The capital of a galactic empire is frequently a core world, such as a planet relatively close to a galaxy's supermassive black hole, which has advanced considerably in science and technology compared to current human civilization. Characterizations can vary wildly from malevolent forces attacking sympathetic victims to apathetic bureaucracies to more reasonable entities focused on social progress and anywhere in between.

In literature, a trope is a common plot convention, idea, element or theme as a use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.

Science fantasy is a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which simultaneously draws upon or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a science-fiction story, the world is scientifically possible, while a science-fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations.

Space opera subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often focused on adventures

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera" and "horse opera", the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games.


Details and notable examples

Caesar Augustus and other powerful leaders of Imperial Rome have had a wide-ranging influence upon fictional empires. Statue-Augustus.jpg
Caesar Augustus and other powerful leaders of Imperial Rome have had a wide-ranging influence upon fictional empires.

The best known such organization to the general public today is probably the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, which was formed in turn from the Galactic Republic. A military dictatorship based upon fear and terror, said Empire is an explicitly villainous force with linguistic and visual traits directly reminiscent of Nazi Germany. For example, their armored forces known as "stormtroopers" are named analogously to the Sturmabteilung (often known as the SA), a paramilitary entity created by the Nazis in 1920. Their best known weapon is the iconic Death Star ; the moon-sized space station has the ability to destroy entire planets.

Galactic Empire (<i>Star Wars</i>) fictional state in the "Star Wars" universe

The First Galactic Empire is a fictional autocracy featured in the Star Wars franchise. It was first introduced in the 1977 film Star Wars and also appears in its two sequels: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) and is the main antagonist faction of the original trilogy. By the time of the sequel trilogy, which starts three decades following the events of the original trilogy, the government has since collapsed into the Imperial remnants and has been succeeded by the First Order. An autocratic regime with a complicated bureaucracy, the Galactic Empire sought to ensure one rule over every planetary system under its dominion.

Galactic Republic Fictional state in the "Star Wars" universe

The Galactic Republic, often referred to as simply the Republic, is the interplanetary State used in the fictional Star Wars universe prior to the establishment of the Galactic Empire. The Republic was mainly overseen by the Senate, a body in the Legislative Branch of the Republic government, and was introduced in the prequel trilogy. By the time of the original trilogy, it is referred to as the Old Republic. It was a democratic constitutional republic tied up in layers of bureaucracy. The Galactic Republic was a republican government that was able to sustain itself for over twenty-five thousand years peacefully.

A military dictatorship, also known as a military junta, is a dictatorship wherein the military exerts complete or substantial control over political authority, and a dictator is often a high ranked military officer.

Most of these galaxy-spanning domains depend on some form of transportation capable of quickly or instantly crossing vast cosmic distances, usually measured in light-years, many times faster than regular particles such as photons traveling at light speed. These, instantaneous or faster-than-light (FTL) technologies invariably require some type of propulsion or displacement technology forbidden by Albert Einstein's theories on relativity. Described methods often rely on theories that circumvent or supersede relativity. Examples include the hypothesis of a warp drive (such as, more specifically, an Alcubierre drive) that bend the fabric of space-time.

Light-year unit of length that light totales within one Earthyear; equal to just under 10 trillion kilometres (or about 6 trillion miles)

The light-year is a unit of length used to express astronomical distances and measures about 9.46 trillion kilometres (9.46 x 1012 km) or 5.88 trillion miles (5.88 x 1012 mi). As defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a light-year is the distance that light travels in vacuum in one Julian year (365.25 days). Because it includes the word "year", the term light-year is sometimes misinterpreted as a unit of time.

Photon elementary particle or quantum of light

The photon is a type of elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiation such as light and radio waves, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. The invariant mass of the photon is zero; it always moves at the speed of light within a vacuum.

Faster-than-light communication and travel are the conjectural propagation of information or matter faster than the speed of light.

The term "galactic empire" has, no doubt because of association with the Empire from Star Wars , gained an unfavorable reputation. However, the galactic empires from the Foundation universe and the CoDominium universe are relatively benign organizations. Much of the plot of the Foundation series, authored by Isaac Asimov, revolves around the issue of who can best and most quickly revive the fallen galactic empire, it being taken for granted that this is a positive and worthy aim. In writer Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium series, members of the empire often work to maintain the best interests of humanity despite efforts by violent political extremists to pursue their own ends.

<i>Star Wars</i> Epic science fantasy space opera franchise

Star Wars is an American epic space-opera media franchise created by George Lucas. The franchise began with the eponymous 1977 film and quickly became a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon.

<i>Foundation</i> series Science fiction book series by Isaac Asimov

The Foundation series is a science fiction book series written by American author Isaac Asimov. First collected in 1951, for thirty years the series was a trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. It won the one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Asimov began adding new volumes in 1981, with two sequels: Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, and two prequels: Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation. The additions made reference to events in Asimov's Robot and Empire series, indicating that they were also set in the same fictional universe.

CoDominium is a series of future history novels written by American writer Jerry Pournelle, along with several co-authors, primarily Larry Niven.

In many cases, the term "galactic empire" is misleading as it suggests an organization encompassing far more star systems than is actually described. This may come about as a result of propaganda exaggerating the spread of an imperial entity in order to appear stronger than is actually the case. The situation is similar to how historical nation-states such as the 'Holy Roman Empire' presented themselves; being roughly equal in size to modern Germany. While some of the noted fictional empires tend to encompass a large portion of the galaxy, many other empires may be classified as interplanetary or interstellar empires since they encompass only a local group of star systems.

Holy Roman Empire Varying complex of lands that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. The largest territory of the empire after 962 was the Kingdom of Germany, though it also came to include the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, the Kingdom of Italy, and numerous other territories.

Writer Poul Anderson makes the point that the declining empire depicted in his Dominic Flandry series does not span the entire galaxy but only a fraction of one of its spiral arms. Still, however, the institution is vast beyond a regular human‘s ability to truly comprehend, and it is in the process of collapsing under its own weight.[ citation needed ]

Poul Anderson American writer

Poul William Anderson was an American science fiction author who began his career in the 1940s and continued to write into the 21st century. Anderson authored several works of fantasy, historical novels, and short stories. His awards include seven Hugo Awards and three Nebula Awards.

Dominic Flandry

Dominic Flandry is a fictional character, the central figure in the second half of Poul Anderson's Technic History science fiction series. He first appeared in 1951.

Galactic Empires are many cases consciously modeled on historical Earth-bound empires. Asimov stated explicitly that the Galactic Empire whose fall is depicted in his Foundation books is modeled on the Roman Empire, with the author taking direct inspiration from the historical writings of Edward Gibbon, even to the point of basing some individual characters on historical figures. In addition, Anderson's Dominic Flandry series consciously compares the imperial organization for which the protagonist serves with the Roman Empire to the point of tracing out the space equivalents of the Roman 'Principate' and 'Dominate' phases. In the Star Wars universe, the fall of the Galactic Republic and its replacement by the Galactic Empire - as depicted in Revenge of the Sith - recall the historic fall of the Roman Republic and its replacement by the Roman Empire headed by Augustus.

The universe established in Frank Herbert's Dune recalls the aforementioned Holy Roman Empire as well as the Byzantine and Islamic empires, especially given the role of hitherto disregarded desert-dwellers who, due to a powerful new religion, expand to topple an old empire and build a new one. For example, the Egyptian-Canadian commentator Khalid M. Baheyeldin has enumerated the obviously Islamic concepts and references appearing in Dune to the level of finding multiple similarities between the career of Herbert's Paul Atreides and that of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. [1]

Another notable example of a galactic empire would be the Imperium of Man from the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which is a theocratic industrial and militaristic totalitarian regime that does in fact span almost the entirety of the Milky Way Galaxy. Despite massive strength, the institution's territories are constantly at risk due to unending conflict with various alien races and rebel factions.

In the final arc of the Sailor Moon manga series by Naoko Takeuchi, a fictional organization called Shadow Galactica has established an empire all over the Milky Way. Shadow Galactica is stealing "starseeds", the essense of sentient life in the galaxy. Its members come from different Star Systems and Sailor Galaxia, the self-proclaimed "Golden Queen of Shadow Galactica", has built her palace around the Galaxy Cauldron, the birthplace of all life in the Milky Way located in Galactic Center.

Bertram Chandler wrote two interstellar series – one featuring a Galactic Empire ruled by a series of non-hereditary Empresses while the other has a Republican Galactic Federation. Chandler's Empire and Federation, both relatively benign, have much in common – both covering the same volume of space, having much the same kind of Space Navy and both having the same commercial spaceflight company called "The Dog Star Line", suggesting that these are two alternate history timelines which branched off from the same original space travelling culture.

In Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, the interstellar entity known as "The League of All Worlds" and later as "The Ekumen" is in possession of the 'ansible'. Technology makes possible instantaneous interstellar communications, and the ability to send instantaneous unmanned ships carrying bombs to another planet is exploited as well. However, living beings can't survive such travel, and thus humans are limited to space exploration done at relativistic speeds. Correspondingly, this organization, despite on occasion waging war across interstellar distances, ends up being more loose than a true empire.

Author Orson Scott Card's "Starways Congress", an organization featured in the work Speaker for the Dead (the follow-up to Ender's Game ), similarly relies on the ansible. Yet it is more authoritarian and less benevolent than Le Guin's creation. Much of the story-line of the book and its sequels involve attempts to avoid interstellar bloodshed despite difficult circumstances.


In the novel Dune, the empire's power is held within three organizations, these being the Imperial family; the Landsraad, representing the nobility; and the Guild, an interstellar travel monopoly.

Star Wars depicts an empire dictated by Darth Sidious, supported by a powerful space navy. It is stated in the original Star Wars film that there was an Imperial Senate that was later disbanded by the Emperor.

In Warhammer 40000, the Imperium of Man is managed by a vast bureaucracy, ranging from the High Lords of Terra to various mostly-autonomous planetary governors, all of which govern the Imperium's territories on behalf of the comatose God-Emperor. It is supported by several organisations, such as the Ecclesiarchy, its state church; and the Adeptus Mechanicus, which produces most of its military equipment, which also operate independently from each other and the central Terran government.

See also

Related Research Articles

The Encyclopedia Galactica is a fictional or hypothetical encyclopedia containing all the knowledge accumulated by a galaxy-spanning civilization. The name evokes the exhaustive aspects of the real-life Encyclopædia Britannica.

Earth in science fiction status of the Earth in fictional stories

An overwhelming majority of fiction is set on or features the Earth. However, authors of speculative fiction novels and writers and directors of science fiction film deal with Earth quite differently from authors of conventional fiction. Unbound from the same ties that bind authors of traditional fiction to the Earth, they can either completely ignore the Earth or use it as but one of many settings in a more complicated universe, exploring a number of common themes through examining outsiders' perceptions of and interactions with Earth.

<i>Robots and Empire</i>

Robots and Empire is a science fiction novel by the American author Isaac Asimov and published by Doubleday Books in 1985. It is part of Asimov's Robot series, which consists of many short stories and several novels.

<i>The Currents of Space</i>

The Currents of Space is a science fiction novel by the American writer Isaac Asimov, published in 1952. It is the second of three books labeled the Galactic Empire series, but it was the last of the three to be written. Each occurs after humans have settled many worlds in the galaxy, after the second wave of colonization that went beyond the Spacer worlds, and before the era of decline that was the setting for the original Foundation series.

Psychohistory is a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire. It was first introduced in the four short stories (1942–1944) which would later be collected as the 1951 novel Foundation.

Galactic Empire (Isaac Asimov) fictional empire in Asimov Foundation

The Galactic Empire is an interstellar empire featured in Isaac Asimov's Robot, Galactic Empire, and Foundation series. The Empire is spread across the Milky Way galaxy and consists of almost 25 million planets settled exclusively by humans. For over 12 millennia the seat of imperial authority was located on the ecumenopolis of Trantor, whose population exceeded 40 billion, until it was sacked in the year 12,328. The official symbol of the empire is the Spaceship-and-Sun. Cleon II was the last Emperor to hold significant authority. The fall of the empire, modelled on the fall of the Roman Empire, is the subject of many of Asimov's novels.

Imperium refers to a legal concept of authority in Roman antiquity

A jump drive is a speculative method of traveling faster than light (FTL) in science fiction. Related superluminal concepts are hyperdrive, warp drive and interstellar teleporter. The key characteristic of a jump drive is that it allows a starship to be instantaneously teleported between two points. A jump drive is supposed to make a spaceship go from one point in space to another point, which may be several light years away, in a single instant. Like time travel, a jump drive is often taken for granted in science fiction, but very few science fiction works talk about the mechanics behind a jump drive. There are vague indications of the involvement of tachyons and the space-time continuum in some works.

Hyperspace is a superluminal method of traveling used in science fiction. It is typically described as an alternative "sub-region" of space co-existing with our own universe which may be entered using an energy field or other device. Hyperspace is usually depicted as a vortex of light. In most fiction, hyperspace is described as physical place that can be entered and exited. Once in hyperspace, the laws of general and special relativity do not behave in the same way when compared to normal outer space, allowing travelers though hyperspace to go great distances without being physically present in normal space and taking less time, measured from normal outer space, to travel said distance. Because of these properties of hyperspace, matter accelerating in hyperspace can exceed the speed of light with out being converted into energy allowing hyperspace travelers to travel faster than light. "Through hyper-space, that unimagineable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time." Hyperspace is a part of the universe where time can be traveled just like normal space's distance. This allows Faster Than Light travel which is necessary to have practical outer space travel.

In both science fiction and utopia/dystopian fiction, authors have made frequent use of the age-old idea of a global state and, accordingly, of world government.

Tau Empire race in universe Warhammer 40,000

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Galaxies other than the Milky Way are popular settings for creators of science fiction, particularly those working with broad-scale space opera settings. Among the most common settings are the Andromeda Galaxy, the Magellanic Clouds, and the Triangulum Galaxy, all part of the Local Group close to the Milky Way, and in the cases of Andromeda and Triangulum the Local Group's two largest other galaxies. The difficulties involved in crossing the immense distances between galaxies are often overlooked in this type of science fiction.

Galactic empires are a common trope used in science fantasy and science fiction.

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A galactic quadrant, or quadrant of the Galaxy, is one of four circular sectors in the division of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The far future, here defined as the time beyond the 10th millennium, has been used as a setting in many works of fiction or popular scientific speculation.