What is Order 66 in ‘Star Wars’? Explained

Image via Lucasfilm.

Anyone new to the universe of Star Wars you may feel a little lost when the hardcore Stans start referencing Order 66. So what is this mysterious directive all about? It may surprise you to learn that the infamous scene from a galaxy far, far away may have been inspired by everything from medieval knights to The Godfather.

By now Ian McDiarmid’s Sheev Palpatine aka Darth Sidious uttering the phrase “Execute Order 66” is so well known that it’s practically a catchphrase itself within the Star Wars fandom — for example, inserting the scene from Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith in the Obi Wan Kenobi Summary of the Disney Plus character arc.

While it makes a lot of sense for Disney Plus to revive the phrase when it comes to remembering the life of Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, given that his story is inextricably linked to the authoritarian order, the scene is so famous that it could be said to be found in as one of the great turning points in the Star Wars universe.

As we mentioned earlier, Order 66 was essentially Sidious coming full circle on his coup of overthrowing the ruling power and placing it solely in his authoritative hands by ordering the mass execution of his main protectors, the Jedi. As Wookiepedia stated, Order 66, also known as Clone Protocol 66, “was a top secret order that identified all Jedi as traitors to the Galactic Republic and therefore subject to summary execution by the Grand Army of the Republic”.

The actual scene in question in which Sidious utters the now-famous line occurs a little more than halfway into Stars Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Shortly after that, Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker, who has just been renamed Darth Vader after killing Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu, goes and massacres the “youngsters”, aka Padawans.

Perhaps writer-director George Lucas explained it best in the Revenge of the Sith Blu-ray commentary track on the importance of Order 66 in the story.

The telling of this story, of Anakin entering the Jedi Temple and the other Jedi being killed through Order 66 clones, is done as one of those inevitable payoffs in terms of getting rid of everyone. The Emperor who is getting rid of all his enemies. But there is a certain inevitability in all this and a sadness in it.

Lucas also revealed on that same commentary track that he was concerned that perhaps too many plot points would be revealed in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, where people may have already guessed that the clone troopers would betray the Jedi in the third movie. That has a lot to do with Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku and his dark side alter ego, Darth Tyranus.

Because if you go back, they bring up the fact that Lord Tyranus and Count Dooku are the same person. You know, Darth Tyranus. And that Darth Tyranus is the one who started the clones. So, if you paid attention, it was very easy to find out what was going to happen to the clones, that is, if they were going to be the ones to betray everyone. Difficult to put things like that without revealing everything.

There’s actually a lot to unpack with just the opening scene of when Sidious communicates with one of his clone troopers, Temuera Morrison’s Commander Cody, via a long-distance hologram call. While Cody and the other clone troopers were once allies of the Jedi, they soon betrayed them after receiving Order 66 from Sidious.

Order 66 is a pretty big moment in the movie, one that producer Rick McCallum called a “turning point” and “a big moment in the movie,” according to the film’s commentary track. However, it almost started out somewhat goofy by introducing a kind of Russian doll-like visual gag with the holograms. As VFX supervisor John Knoll noted on the commentary track,

So originally, there was a whole question about whether there should be a hologram within a hologram. Hologram of Cody with outstretched hand, should there be another little Palpatine in there? And we did a version like that and then George decided, no, it would be better if it didn’t get broadcast.

To show you what we’re talking about, here’s a visualization we simulated of how the scene almost it seemed, according to Knoll’s description.

Image via Lucasfilm. Remix by Danny Peterson.

After the opening scene of Sidious giving the order to Cody begins, we’re treated to a montage of clone troopers on various planets shooting different Jedi who are caught completely unaware that they’ve been betrayed.

It all culminates in Anakin’s famous scene of slaughtering the youngsters, which we don’t see directly, but mostly determine through setup and aftermath via security hologram footage.

Lucas explained that while the scene was extremely heartbreaking, it was necessary to include it for Anakin’s character development and his final turn to the dark side.

The children thing was very necessary to establish how far down the road he had come to do something so brutal and barbaric. And she had to be there but she definitely didn’t want to show it.

Lucas added that the scene in question was intercut with Natalie Portman’s Padmé worrying about her love, Anakin, just as we’re seeing him “where he’s at his worst.”

That juxtaposition works quite well because it reflects both the killing of the children and her concern for him. Although she does not know that children are being killed. But she gives you this very strong emotional connection when those two sequences play against each other.

By the way, there’s a lot of speculation online that McGregor couldn’t hold back his laughter, and so he covered his mouth with his hand, after delivering Lucas’s possibly stiffly written dialogue and having to say “kill youngsters” to Padmé, when he later explains the situation to her, as Looper pointed out, but we digress.

After many of the Jedi are killed, there is also a scene where Yoda can feel the disturbance in the Force caused by this and briefly grabs his heart and almost loses his balance. That was a scene McCallum called “a very powerful moment.”

Later in the movie, Emperor Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, makes a grand speech in the Senate, which is when the democratic union of the Galactic Republic is officially dissolved and the authoritarian Galactic Empire is born to take its place. This “birth” scene intercut with another scene of Anakin killing an adult Jedi in a command station, thus fulfilling Order 66 to the end, was Lucas’s nod to Francis Ford Coppola’s wish. The Godfather.

This is where, in The Godfather, he is doing the christening of the baby and at the same time killing all his enemies. And that’s pretty much what’s going on here… is that the Emperor is declaring the Empire at the same time that he’s eliminating the last of his allies, really. It is to contrast those two events with each other.

Although many Jedi died as a result of Order 66, not all did. For example, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda would later appear in episodes IV-VIaka the original Star Wars trilogy, so that we know that they survived, among others. As we know from an appearance by Rosario Dawson on the mandalorianJedi Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s former apprentice, also survived Order 66.

In terms of the clone troopers’ compliance with Order 66 Protocol, that was actually incorporated into the mass manufacturing process for them using a chip. As Wookieepedia explained,

All clones were given a behavior modification biochip that could be remotely activated via voice command. […] The biochip, when activated, would ensure total obedience in a clone, erasing existing prejudices and beliefs and instilling absolute loyalty to Palpatine.

Lucas also said on the commentary track that although Star Wars was written a long time ago, “was based on history” and was always “reasonably political”, but that Revenge of the Sith it’s just a movie that stands out even more in that regard.

In fact, while the samurai of feudal Japan are often noted as a major influence on the Jedi, the medieval Knights Templar of the west may have been a major inspiration as well, according to History. In fact, there was even a mass execution of the knights commissioned by the King of France at a time that closely resembled Order 66. The article explained:

Much like the Great Jedi Purge ordered by Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the SithKing Philip IV of France annihilated the Knights Templar after arresting hundreds of them on October 13, 1307, and subsequently torturing and executing them for heresy.

There is also a longstanding fan theory that Order 66’s name intentionally resembles US Executive Order 9066, which is an executive order President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the Second World War. The directive ordered the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans in internment camps based solely on their ethnic heritage. This connection was proposed by Reddit user u/misterbristles on the r/StarWars subreddit, among other fan theory sites.

“[I]It doesn’t have much in common with Order 66 other than the title, but, I don’t know, I have a weird feeling about it,” the fan wrote, citing other connections Lucas has explicitly made about Star Wars and World War II.

We don’t talk about that in much detail here because we didn’t want to spoil it, but the Disney Plus show Obi Wan Kenobi has even more revelations about Order 66 that are quite interesting. We definitely recommend watching the show if you are a Revenge of the Sith fan.

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