- "I'm a member of the Imperial Senate on a Diplomatic mission to Alderaan!"
- ―Princess Leia
Rise of the Empire
The Imperial Senate was established in 19 BBY after the Empire was founded by the self-appointed Galactic Emperor Palpatine, transforming the old Galactic Senate. Rather than risk directly seizing power and overthrowing the Senate, Palpatine subtly manipulated the Galactic Senate into voting incrementally more and more emergency powers to the Chancellorship during the crisis of the Clone Wars. By the end of the war, Palpatine had gained near-dictatorial powers. The final stroke came following the death of Separatist leader Count Dooku during the closing days of the war, when the Palpatine issued a decree creating a new system of Governors appointed directly by the Chancellorship—the Moffs—to oversee all star systems in the Republic. A minority of Senators protested this action in the Delegation of 2000, but Palpatine brushed aside their complaints.
Within a few days, the Clone Wars ended with the death of General Grievous and the Separatist Council, Palpatine's troops destroyed the Jedi Order, and in a speech before the Senate he proclaimed himself Emperor. Several senators who vocally resisted were intimidated into silence through brief imprisonment.
On the whole, however, the transition from Galactic Senate to Imperial Senate went quietly and without major incident. Emperor Palpatine did not want to risk tarnishing his public support by making an open grab for power, so he allowed the organization to continue to nominally exist, but it had been gutted of any real functional power. Under advice from Padmé Amidala shortly before her death, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, along with other senators from the Delegation of 2000, did not directly confront Palpatine's declaration of a Galactic Empire. Realizing they had already lost, and further resistance would only be seized upon by Palpatine as justification for arresting all of them and completely dismantling what little remained of the Senate, their best remaining option was to bide their time.
Although at the time of the Empire's formation a supermajority of senators were loyal to Palpatine, the Imperial Senate was still a prime (if often clandestine) source of resistance to Palpatine's authority, and despite its changes, came to be known as the "last remnants of the Old Republic". Certain Senators (many of whom later joined the Rebellion) were known for using the Senate as a platform to voice proposals attempting to moderate Palpatine's rule, although always under the guise of perfect loyalty.
- "The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away."
- ―Wilhuff Tarkin
In 0 BBY (35:3:5), Palpatine ordered the Imperial Senate to be shut down "for the duration of the emergency", ostensibly due to the widespread dissemination of the Declaration of Rebellion over the previous months; it was never revived. It was succeeded as the Imperial legislature by various councils, most composed of Moffs: the Central Committee of Grand Moffs, the Interim Ruling Council, and finally, the Council of Moffs.
According to the Bureau of Operations of Imperial Intelligence, the Rebel Alliance managed to rescue many former senators who were willing to use their political influence to oppose the Galactic Empire. To prevent these politicians from openly supporting the Rebellion, Imperial Intelligence sent teams to attack the senators' hideouts.
Besides the name, its organization differed somewhat from its Republican forebear. Whereas the Galactic Senate had held both legislative and executive power, the Imperial Senate held legislative power (and some of it in the hands of the Emperor, as he was partly ultimate authority) by orders of the Senate Constitution. Despite such, it still held limited judicial authority, enough to try high ranking officials in the Empire and, possibly, handle cases tied into the Supreme Court (for as long as it lasted). The Senate could advise the Emperor, work on the Imperial budget, and pass laws in the Empire. However, the Emperor could introduce, veto, and pass Senate legislation, and both call and dismiss the Senate at will.
The day-to-day head of the Senate was no longer the Vice Chair, but the Grand Vizier. The Senate was, at least in theory, responsible for choosing a new Emperor upon the death or abdication of the current holder of the throne. As Palpatine had no intention of ever dying or abdicating, this power was merely a formality.
The Imperial Senate was made up of groups of congressmen: Senators and representatives, representing sectors in the Empire. Some were elected directly, while others were appointed by a planet's ruler.
Because of "Human High Culture", most of the alien Senators were replaced by Humans, who ended up representing worlds that were entirely nonhuman. However, alien senators were not unheard of, especially in the early days of the Empire.
Committees and Subcommittees include:
- Delegation of 2000
- Senate Budgetary Committee
- Imperial Military Oversight Commission
- Finance Committee
Documents relating to the Imperial Senate included:
- Capital Powers Act
- Decree 77-92465-001
- Emergency Military Powers Act
- Imperial Charter
- Senate Constitution
Behind the Scenes
Palpatine's transformation of the Galactic Senate into the Imperial Senate mirrors how the Roman Republic was transformed into the Roman Empire by its first emperor, Augustus. Rather than risk further confrontation with the Roman Republic's Senate, Augustus allowed the Senators to continue meeting, but they had been stripped of any real executive power, continuing as little more than an advisory council which he could simply ignore at his leisure. Nonetheless, the Senate still continued to meet during the next two centuries of the Roman Empire's existence. As time passed in the first decades after Augustus' reign, it was increasingly stripped of even the pretense of political power, and served as little more than a social club for the wealthier aristocrats of Rome.
- The Princess Leia Diaries (Ambiguously canonical source) (Mentioned only)
- Star Wars Infinities: A New Hope
- The Rebel Club
- Imperial Sourcebook
- "Galaxywide NewsNets"—Star Wars Adventure Journal 3
- Shadows of the Empire Sourcebook
- Star Wars Encyclopedia
- Star Wars Customizable Card Game – Hoth Limited (Card: Tamizander Rey)
- Star Wars: Rebellion: Prima's Official Strategy Guide
- Hero's Guide
- The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide
- Fate of the Jedi: Dramatis Personae
- Rebellion Era Campaign Guide