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Star Wars: Why did the Separatists leave the Republic? Examining the politics of the Clone Wars

Why did the Separatist movement choose to go to war with the Republic?

Separatist Senator in Bad Batch
Screengrab via Disney Plus/Lucasfilm

“War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere,” the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith reads. This intro does a good job of touching on the complexity of the Clone Wars. However, the intricacies surrounding the conflict, primarily the Separatist reasoning for rebellion, were only partially explored during the prequel films.

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The Clone Wars is arguably the most pivotal event portrayed in the Star Wars franchise. First mentioned in New Hope, the titular conflict completely transformed the galaxy and ushered in the ultimate reign of tyranny and terror that we see in the original trilogy.

As significant as the Clone Wars is to the Star Wars mythos, fans have only truly experienced it through the side of the Republic. While Dave Filoni’s animated series does give episodic glimpses into the Separatist cause, the show still mainly follows characters like Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano. Granted, a cartoon geared toward children featuring space wizards, laser swords, and clumsy robots shouldn’t be expected to dive deep into the intricacies of galactic-wide politics. (I would totally take a class that teaches Star Wars politics, nonetheless.)

So, for those fans who wish to dig deeper into the causes of the Clone Wars and understand the Separatist reasoning for rebelling, we’ve got you covered.

What exactly was the Separatist movement?

Separatist Council talking together
Image via 20th Century Fox

The Clone Wars was a massive war that spanned the galaxy between the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems. The Republic, of course, was led by the Galactic Senate, Jedi Order, and Clone Army. As Star Wars: The Clone Wars showed fans, the Jedi and the Clone Army were a well-oiled machine, operating in perfect sync and with maximum efficiency. However, the senate was a different story.

When viewers are first introduced to the Galactic Senate, it’s immediately made apparent that this governing system has seen better days; the democratic union struggles greatly with its own size and severely multi-level bureaucracy. 

The opening crawl of The Phantom Menace reads: “Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute.” Corruption and corporate interests plague the Republic and easily stall the Senate from implementing any real change. It’s also evident that while the Republic is able to maintain safety and prosperity in the Core Worlds, the Mid and Outer Rims are a completely different tale. Look no further than Naboo. The Phantom Menace story showed just how inept the Senate was at keeping the corrupt Trade Federation at bay and helping out a planet in need. The people of Naboo were forced to take matters into their own hands without any real help from the Republic.

This type of inefficiency helped trigger many planets to look at the Republic with disdain. Their mindset was a relatively straightforward one: Why should so many worlds have to pay taxes and go by the rules of a government that is so easily hindered and corrupted by outside forces? This type of sentiment led to the forming of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. The opening crawl in Attack of the Clones reads: “There is unrest in the Galactic Senate. Several thousand solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic.”

The Confederacy of Independent Systems was a multi-layered association

Hologram of Count Dooku talking
Image via Cartoon Network

The CIS was a coalition of countless systems that wished for greater self-governance and aspired to pull away from what they perceived to be a compromised Galactic Republic. Count Dooku flat out states this to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Attack of the Clones, and directly tells the Jedi Knight that the Republic is under the sway of a Sith Lord. Fans know this isn’t a lie. So, on paper and from that perspective, the CIS is not necessarily wrong in their view of the Republic.

This mentality is somewhat explored in Filoni’s The Clone Wars, specifically in season 3, episode 10: “Heroes on Both Sides.” When Ahsoka Tano is baffled that Padme is friends with an a prominent Separatist leader, the Senator responds: “The Separatists used to be part of the Republic. I was close to many of the Senators who left.”

During this episode, viewers see that the Separatists are not just an army of mindless droids; it is a force compromised of many political figures who truly believe they are in the right. In fact, they have their own governing body, a parliament with Count Dooku as its head. It’s even shown that not all Separatist leaders wish for bloodshed. Mina Bonteri, a Separatist Senator, states in the episode: “How many lives on both sides have to end before we see the futility. Surely there’s room in the galaxy for Confederate and Republic planets to co-exist.”

While characters like Bonteri were surely plentiful in the Separatist cause, the rebellion was inevitably overshadowed by its other factions. The CIS were supported and supplied by greedy corporations like the Trade Federation and the Techno Union who only cared about their profit margins. And, with remorseless leaders like Asajj Ventress and General Grievous leading the ruthless droid armies, sympathy wasn’t exactly superabundant for the Separatist cause. And unfortunately, as fans know, the Separatists, just like the Republic, were manipulated by Darth Sidious from afar. Both sides were mere pawns in the Sith’s master plot.

Overall, the Clone Wars conflict had some very interesting political layers. While the havoc and chaos caused by the Separatists cannot be understated, their movement and ideology is incredibly fascinating and reminds fans just how multi-faceted and complex the world of Star Wars truly is.