The aptly named blog Overthinking It considers whether it made any sense for the Empire to blow up Alderaan.  Isn’t destroying your own territory kind of a loser move, and likely to induce rather than prevent rebellion?

Some good points are made in the Empire’s defense:

  • State terror is a traditional tactic.  Savage enough reprisals will definitely make people think.  There’s an ongoing test right now in Syria: will Bashar Assad’s invasion of his own city of Daraa tamp down dissent?
  • Game theory suggests that acting batshit insane offers an edge in further negotiations.  Again, there’s an ongoing test: the Republican Party.  It sure worked for them in 2010. 

I’m more convinced, however, by the analysis of a dude named Fenzel, who suggests that the Death Star was a cost-cutting measure… a misguided one.  To really control the galaxy you need a galaxywide bureaucracy, and it has to be reasonably effective: Soviet level, not Somalia level.  Sheer destruction does not solve any problems, does not create any allies, and ultimately saves no money, as your empire will fall apart.  (As it does in the film: the Death Star strategy leaves the Emperor dead and rebellion breaking out in his capital.)

On the second page, the analysis is mooted (based on references to a Trade Federation in the prequels, which Palpatine is assumed to have co-opted) that the Star Wars galaxy, despite its high tech, barely has a capitalist economy at all.  So far as we can see it has a mercantilist economy: commerce is controlled by semi-official agencies; we don’t really see corporations or really any middle-class economic activity, only state actors, crime lords, bounty hunters, and smugglers.  So there is not really a private sector that might care about Alderaan, only the central state, for whom anything that is not a puppet is an enemy.

Given that the larger Star Wars canon shows the Sith always showing up, every generation or so, the real question is how any sort of prosperity develops at all.  States that rely entirely on terror, like Tamerlane’s, don’t last long and simply destroy productive resources.  Arguably the Empire only looks good because it’s a projection of the mid-20C threat of the Nazis and Soviets, which at certain times and in certain lights made democratic capitalism look endangered.  But it was all an illusion.  The Nazis just stimulated their economy before the West dared to, and the Soviets just had an industrial revolution, something you only get once.  Neither had any secret more effective economic powers.

In general, fantasy evil empires make no economic sense over the long run, except in the shallow sense that they might simply control more territory than their enemies.  That’s one reason I put a lot of thought into how ktuvok empires might work.  The ktuvoks run the empire for their own benefit, but they can’t even accomplish their own purposes without guaranteeing a certain level of comfort and security for their human subjects.  Once foreign technology really gets going, they even have to come up with some form of power-sharing– they may retain the upper claw, but they can’t simply rely on state terror to accomplish anything.