It is, for all intents and purposes, a statement in Attack of the Clones that is meant to inform and nothing more. Speaking with Senator Padmé Amidala (the former Queen of Naboo) and Jedi Padawan Anakin Skywalker, Governor Sio Bibble of Naboo expresses his annoyance that “…after four trials in the Supreme Court, Nute Gunray is still the Viceroy of the Trade Federation.” As a viewer, we know why the Neimodian Viceroy was put on trial: for blockading and invading the planet Naboo. Yet, ten years following the Naboo Crisis depicted in The Phantom Menace, Bibble’s remark gives us a brief and to the point reason for Gunray’s freedom.
While the quote ensures that we have information about Nute Gunray as Attack of the Clones continues – a helpful bit of insight given that Gunray re-emerges later in the film as part of the Separatist cause – I often find myself wondering why, when Bibble references the four trials, that the Viceroy was able to avoid punishment for his crimes. In fact, this curiosity was was amplified recently when I read E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow, a novel which explores Padmé Amidala’s transition from Queen of Naboo to Senator. In the book, the trials are mentioned but details about the proceedings are scarce. Just as Attack of the Clones leaves us wondering what transpired during the court proceedings, Queen’s Shadow does the same, forcing us to fill in the blanks ourselves.
If, then, we put our minds to work filling in those blanks, we can certainly imagine, and even assume, that it was Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious), working behind the scenes, who manipulated the trials to ensure Gunray’s liberty. After all, it was Sidious who held influence over Gunray, convincing the Neimodian to attack Naboo and assuring the Viceroy, when questioned about the invasion’s legality, that he would “make it legal.” Never-the-less, even working under the assumption that Gunray received aid from his Sith benefactor, I cannot help but desire a story – probably in novel form, but I would even take a short-story – which would highlight how the trials unfolded and the way(s) Palpatine manipulated the outcome of each proceeding to make the invasion “legal.” Additionally, such a story would have the added benefit of exploring the relationship between Palpatine and Gunray prior to The Phantom Menace, offering insight into why the Sith Lord chose the Viceroy and his Trade Federation as a tool in his galactic scheme.
In turn, we can add another layer to Palpatine’s machinations by including Count Dooku. Becoming Sidious’ new apprentice following Darth Maul’s “death” in The Phantom Menace, Dooku (aka Darth Tyranus) acknowledges in Attack of the Clones that Nute Gunray came to him for help following the Naboo Crisis. Thus, we can assume that Dooku, working in tandem with his Sith Master, participated in the defense of Gunray as the four trials unfolded, offering support both openly and behind-the-scenes. But what Dooku’s support looked like is, again, another reason that the trials of Nute Gunray are worthy of narrative exploration.
At this juncture, I will readily admit that I am probably one of the few Star Wars fans who would be interested in a story of any type about Nute Gunray in general, and his trials specifically. Gunray is not a “sexy” Star Wars character, and is otherwise a pretty straight-forward villain. Never-the-less, as I have noted, I believe there is value in a story about Gunray’s trials, offering perspective and background on his relationship with Palpatine and Dooku, respectively. More importantly, what such a story could offer is insight into an element of Star Wars that is rarely explored with any real depth: the legal and judicial system of the Old Republic.
While legal and judicial elements are mentioned at times throughout Star Wars stories (such as in Attack of the Clones and Queen’s Shadow) these and related elements are rarely developed with any meaningful depth. As a result, while fans have some basic understanding about laws, courts, judges, etc. in Star Wars, this information tends to be shallow and underdeveloped. For example, we know there was a Supreme Court thanks to Bibble’s comment about Gunray’s trials, but how many justices sit on the Supreme Court, and how they are nominated/confirmed, remains a mystery. In turn, while we know there were four trials in total, we do not know what charges were brought against Gunray, a point worthy of exploration that could shed light on whether the Republic had laws governing double jeopardy.
These are but a few thoughts which come to mind when I personally think about the legal and judicial system of the Old Republic. And, again, I believe a story about Gunray’s trials could shed light on a wide-range of topics regarding that system. Even more critically, though, shedding light on the ins-and-outs of the Republic’s legal system is necessary in further understanding why the Galactic Republic ultimately collapsed. While we know Palpatine ascended to the mantle of Supreme Chancellor, and was subsequently given emergency powers by the Senate at the outbreak of the Clone War – powers which gave him far-reaching control over the Republic and its bureaucracy – what we also know is that Palpatine was able to gain control over the courts. It is Jedi Master Mace Windu who tells us as much when, speaking to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, he exclaims that Palpatine “…has control over the Senate and the courts!”
Star Wars has, for the most part, done a good job of showing how Palpatine controlled the Senate as Supreme Chancellor, using his authority and powers to erode the institution. Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars animated series, countless books/comics, and more have tackled this topic from multiple angles, showcasing Palpatine’s tyrannical takeover of the Republic’s governing body. However, what Star Wars has not done very well is show exactly how he came to control the courts, using the authority and powers of his Chancellorship to dominate the legal/judicial system of the Republic. This is precisely where a story about Nute Gunray’s trials before the Supreme Court become a necessity. Such a tale would lay out critical details not only about the Republic’s legal system (i.e. – the number of justices on the Supreme Court) but would also show how, as he methodically took control over the levers of power in the legislative branch, Palpatine used the trials of Nute Gunray as a stepping stone towards his insidious transformation of the judicial branch to fit his evil agenda.