The Imperial Ruling Council was the name given to the group of Imperial Advisors who constituted the most powerful collective body in the galaxy during the New Order. While Palpatine was Emperor, it was the Council that managed the Empire and carried out his will. After his death, it became the effective central government of the Empire. Prior to the Battle of Endor, the Council was also widely known as the Imperial Inner Circle and Emperor's Inner Circle, and after Endor, the survivors and their successors organized themselves as the Emperor's Ruling Circle, the Cabal, the Tribunal, and later as the Imperial Interim Ruling Council.
Members of the Council were addressed as "Lords." Technically, the Council seems simply to have consisted of Advisors to be convened for discussion at the Imperial court. There were several hundred members of the larger group. Sate Pestage, as Grand Vizier, was the senior member of the group, serving as the key policy strategist.
The Ruling Council had its origins in the cadre of aides who Palpatine had gathered around himself while still Senator for Naboo. These men, among them Pestage and Dangor, remained the most important members of the Council until the final year of its existence, and they shared Palpatine's vision for the galaxy not out of personal ambition, but out of idealism and loyalty. Over the years, however, as Palpatine grew in power as Supreme Chancellor, he recruited more thrusting advisors whose sympathy with his agenda was allied with intense private ambitions of their own, like Mas Amedda, Sly Moore, and Sarcev Quest. Later, as the absolute autocrat of the galaxy, the Emperor inevitably drew those who were interested only in personal power. Some were men with real talents which Palpatine could bend to serve his will, others loyal and reliable agents and assistants, while many at times seemed little more than craven sycophants and court jesters—but even such men could, with the backing of Imperial patronage, serve as instruments of genuine fear.
By the height of the Empire, the ranks of the Advisors had swollen to include several hundred individuals, many of them Human males. With the Imperial Senate reduced to a powerless gathering, membership of the Council represented the summit of civilian power in the New Order. Normally, a few dozen of the Advisors would be in attendance at the Imperial court, forming the Inner Council proper, while the rest were dispatched across the galaxy. With this dual role, they served both as a central council on Imperial Center and on-the-spot overseers for the regional governors and the individual planets of the Empire. Planetary governors, and even some Moffs, were directly appointed by the Emperor's advisors, and Palpatine seems to have deliberately engineered a situation in which it could be believed that the leading Advisors were directing central policy on their own initiative: personal communiqués from Ars Dangor served as the formal sanctions for such major acts of policy as the creation of Oversectors, the dissolution of the Imperial Senate, and the granting of galaxywide military authority to Lord Darth Vader.
In the course of their missions, Palpatine allowed his advisors to build up personal powerbases of their own, sometimes even interplanetary fiefs. Mutual jealousy and avarice meant that they kept each other's ambitions in check, and, always outnumbered by their rivals, they remained ultimately individual agents, dependent on Imperial patronage for their status. Palpatine encouraged this adversarial system, often giving one advisor oversight over a system or region which was home to another advisor's political power base. This made administration of the Empire less efficient, but benefited Palpatine by ensuring that he continued to be the source of all political power in the Empire.
Although they wielded immense power, the Advisors' dependence on Palpatine's favor to further their own ambitions meant that they commanded fear and obedience only through the authority they borrowed from the Emperor. By and large, they were regarded as creatures of the court, perfumed sycophants and costumed clowns, and this was certainly true of men like Sim Aloo, Kren Blista-Vanee, and Janus Greejatus. But others, while nevertheless Palpatine's servants, stood out from the crowd: Ars Dangor was committed above all else to the political vision of a man he admired and deliberately shunned the trappings of court finery; while behind his supremely elegant manners, Sarcev Quest concealed the fact that he was an Emperor's Hand, as well as a one-time Jedi trainee, used by Palpatine as his spy among the Council.
One area that the Advisors did hold power over was the appointing of almost all governors and some Moffs. Every Moff was also appointed an Advisor to oversee his efforts, although Moffs also sent duplicates of all of their reports directly to Palpatine. The Advisors also oversaw the Imperial bureaucracy.
Though he was Emperor Palpatine's de facto second-in-command, Darth Vader was never a member of the Council, as he held a unique position in the Empire as Executor, and Palpatine's fellow Dark Lord of the Sith. Vader held the Inner Circle in utter contempt, as they were not Sith nor did they use the Force; but from a certain point of view, Vader's self-justifications and private ambitions were little different than those of the most pathetic of the men who Palpatine had twisted and transformed into his favored creatures.
As usual, a number of Advisors accompanied Palpatine when he moved his court to the new Death Star prior to the Battle of Endor. But although the destruction of the battle station accordingly reduced the Council's numbers, it by no means represented a fatal blow to the group, and many of the leading members survived, including those who had remained on Coruscant, and those who had been on missions elsewhere in the galaxy.
In a purely technical sense, the catastrophe at Endor had no effect whatsoever on the Council. For many years, it had been widely believed that Palpatine had withdrawn into reclusive seclusion, ceding effective control of the Empire to his intimates—and this was only half a lie. The Advisors had always been responsible for the execution of Palpatine's will and the intricacies of Imperial policy, and now they were merely implementing the legacy of a dead political visionary rather than the will of a living ruler. However, with only the ghost of Palpatine's authority behind them, they had lost much of their power and purpose, not least the crutch of the tyrant's Force mastery.
Grand Vizier Sate Pestage, who had been left in charge on Coruscant, was ex officio the head of the Ruling Council, and accordingly became "interim emperor"; but Pestage was primarily a counselor, friend, functionary and courtier to Palpatine. It was Ars Dangor who was both the New Order's administrative eminence gris and its premier public spokesman, and accordingly, it was around him that a quorum of Advisors gathered on Coruscant, and attempted to provide leadership for the Empire. These men are sometimes referred to simply as the Ruling Council, and they do seem to have constituted a legitimate quorum, but they were known to their rivals as the Cabal, and they styled themselves the Emperor's Ruling Circle or the ERC. In origin, it is possible that "Emperor's Ruling Circle" was simply another name for the Inner Circle, but it is used to differentiate the Cabal from the pre-Endor Council, and this usage will accordingly be adopted here.
The ERC were largely responsible for dictating the military strategy which the Empire pursued after Endor, recalling Imperial fleet units to the Core and redeploying them to defend key fortress worlds. These planets were often the rich industrial and economic powerhouses of the Empire, and strategic nodes on major hyperspace routes. Dispatching fifteen Star Destroyers to Kuat, for example, was an entirely sound strategic move, and right up until the signing of the Bastion Accords, the Empire would doggedly pursue a policy of retrenchment around fortress worlds, intended as a prelude to a key strategic defeat of the Alliance and a reconquest of lost territory. But it was no coincidence that many of the worlds the ERC selected for defense were also the worlds which the group's members regarded as their own fiefdoms, and the policy was perceived in many quarters as being driven entirely by self-interest.
It should not be thought that the ERC's actions were a total disaster: many elements of the fleet did obey their orders, and they consolidated Imperial authority in a way that prevented the heirs of the Rebel Alliance ever completely crushing the New Order; but their move to take control also served as a major catalyst for the fragmentation of the Empire into rival fiefdoms. Even the one they placed in command of the Navy, Admiral Kermen, went rogue. Many of the ERC themselves sought only to secure control of their own local powerbases, and they misjudged the Empire's military leadership in issuing orders that would have reduce them to mere props for their personal power. Fleet commanders like Admiral Zsinj simply imitated the example of the Council members, breaking with Imperial Center to establish themselves as warlords in the sectors they already controlled.
The Cabal, by issuing orders as the Empire's central authority, was inevitably challenging the leadership of Sate Pestage, who officially headed the Council and held the throne as regent. It is unclear how much of a genuine fracture in the chain of command there was in the first months after Endor, and Pestage was initially confident of his own position: he was not without support on the Council, most notably from Palpatine's former agent Sarcev Quest, and he also enjoyed some backing from units of the Imperial Royal Guard. But a conflict between the Grand Vizier and the Cabal was carefully cultivated by Director of Intelligence Ysanne Isard. She regarded Pestage and the Council alike as incompetents who had to be removed to ensure the New Order's survival, and so, she played both sides off against each other.
Six months after Endor, matters came to a head at Brentaal IV, a key military and commercial hyperspace junction in the Core. Neither Pestage nor the Cabal wished to lose the world—the Grand Vizier sought to hold the planet for strategic reasons and to prove himself capable of resisting the New Republic, while leading members of the ERC had important holdings there (and it was home to at least one councilor). But Brentaal was defended by the incompetent Admiral Lon Isoto, who Isard presented to the Grand Vizier as the Cabal's candidate, while persuading leading members of the Council that he was Pestage's man. As Isoto stumbled his way from disaster to defeat, Isard told each side that the other was preventing his replacement by a more competent commander, in the hope of undermining their position.
While the Grand Vizier was astute enough to realize that he had been manipulated by Isard, the Cabal blamed Pestage for his conduct of the war, and some began to openly suggest recruiting warlords such as Blitzer Harrsk and Treuten Teradoc to defend their holdings rather than rely on commanders loyal—as they thought—to the Grand Vizier. Pestage's position was weakened by his loss of Sarcev Quest's support: according to some sources, Quest believed that the real Grand Vizier had fled to Byss in the Deep Core and replaced himself on Coruscant with a mentally unstable clone.
As Pestage (or his clone) sought to escape Isard's machinations and secure his own control of his fiefdom in the Ciutric Hegemony, Isard presented his actions to members of the Cabal as treason against the Empire, and called on them to act. This had the—perhaps unanticipated—effect of breaking the unity of the ERC, as General Paltr Carvin and the civilian Advisors Challer and Plumba seized power and formed a troika known as the Tribunal, although they were rapidly deposed in turn by Isard herself, who used the Imperial Intelligence apparatus to eliminate her remaining opponents, and established a dictatorship with herself as empress in all but name.
Between the actions of the Tribunal and Isard, it seemed that the ERC, and indeed the Ruling Council as a whole, was a spent force.
Somehow—it is unclear how, or why—some members of the Council escaped Isard's purges, among them Ars Dangor and Sarcev Quest. After Isard's loss of Coruscant and her retreat to Thyferra, Dangor and the survivors of the ERC were found once again providing a tenuous central authority for the Empire. They supported Grand Admiral Thrawn as Supreme Commander—mistakenly believing that as an alien, and with no standing in their rarified political world, he would necessarily remain beholden to their patronage and government. They considered granting him the title of Emperor if he was successful, still assuming they could control him afterwards; however, even during his campaign he acted largely on his own, stating that he was the sole leader of the Empire.
At this time, New Republic Council Research apparently learned that the IRC had survived the fall of Coruscant, and was helping build up a war effort; but its Director, Voren Na'al, had trouble believing it. Ironically, Thrawn's death prevented him eclipsing them, and subsequently, they were able to build on his successes by driving the New Republic from the Core Worlds and reconquering Coruscant.
With their usual naïve optimism as to the way the other elements of the hierarchy would react, the survivors of the Cabal suggested that they should convene the Ruling Council in the Senate and elect one of their number as Emperor—a proposal which provoked first outrage from the Navy, the Moffs and COMPNOR, and then a vicious civil war. In the resulting chaos, observers may have been forgiven for overlooking the shifting balance of power within the Council itself. Sarcev Quest had been building up support among his fellow Advisors and also winning over units of the Imperial Royal Guard.
Then, as if out of nowhere, a seemingly reborn Palpatine reappeared on Byss with Pestage at his side, and Quest led the Council and the Royal Guard in reaffirming their allegiance to the Emperor.
However, Sarcev Quest was no longer Palpatine's loyal spy among the Advisors, and the Council members were reluctant to surrender the authority they had acquired since Endor—not even to Palpatine. At Quest's urging, the Council had already lent its patronage to Carnor Jax, a Royal Guard officer and aspirant Sith Lord, as a new figurehead for the Empire, and now Quest and Jax worked together, in the heart of the Imperial court, to overthrow the Emperor.
Laying the groundwork for a coup, Quest installed Carnor Jax as one of the cadre of Sovereign Protectors who provided Palpatine's personal guard, and together, they sounded out support, eliminating rivals like Sa-Di and Nefta, the only other Force-users on the Council. With funds provided by Council members like Xandel Carivus, Quest bribed the Emperor's physician to sabotage the genetic material for the clone bodies which were the key to Palpatine's rebirth.
On the most basic level, the motivations of the conspirators are not hard to understand: they were faced with the palpable madness of the cloned Emperor, the transfer of much of their power to a Dark Jedi elite, and the willful, wanton destruction of Operation Shadow Hand. Some perhaps believed that they were taking necessary action for the good of the Empire; others were concerned for their own survival and status, even driven by ambition—but at the back of the Council there was now a small, shadowy group of Force-users: Jax and Quest, of course, but the key role of Lord Jax in the conspiracy may indicate the support of his mistress, Lumiya, while the subsequent appearance of Blackhole stormtroopers as Jax's personal guard hints at a connection with Lord Cronal.
Palpatine seems to have been oblivious to the machinations of the Council, and while there is no evidence that they predicted events on Onderon and the destruction of Byss, they were nevertheless ready to make their move and remove those who might oppose them. This was, of course, a coup, but it was a coup by those who had, ever since Endor, regarded themselves as rulers of the Empire and guardians of the principles of the New Order.
With the destruction of Byss, the Council reconvened in De-Purteen on the resort world of Ord Cantrell. Yet it appears that Quest had been too careful. Lord Jax seems to have been regarded by most of the others as the leader of the conspiracy, the new Dark Lord and heir-apparent to the Imperial throne—but, since he preferred to command from his Star Destroyer in the manner of Darth Vader, Sarcev Quest was left to see to the running of the Council. After Jax's assassination at the hands of Kir Kanos and the death of his military lieutenant General Redd Wessel, the rest of the conspirators accordingly turned on Quest and removed him from power. They often spoke of Jax as the inceptor of the conspiracy, and there is little evidence that they paid much mind to the former courtier they had tortured and exiled to Nar Shaddaa.After the death of Jax and the removal of Quest, the Council chose Burr Nolyds as their leader. With no more than a handful of Advisors now surviving, Jax had already bolstered the ranks of the Council with new blood like fleet commander Admiral Jeratai and media baroness Mahd Windcaller, and now alien leaders loyal to the New Order were brought onto the Council for the first time, such as the Whiphid Spearmaster Ch'unkk.
For four years, a clone of Feena D'Asta had been Black Sun's agent on the Council, who they used to use to enhance their own leverage and direct their agenda of peace between the Empire and the New Republic. Nom Anor's aim, on the other hand, was to hasten the downfall of the Empire, thus paving the way for an easier Yuuzhan Vong invasion. Assassinating Nolyds and several other key Council members, and convincing the rest of the Council that vengeful Royal Guardsman Kir Kanos was behind the killings, Nom Anor engineered the accession of his inept pawn Xandel Carivus as the final leader of the diminished group, and Carivus, in a final coup, declared himself Emperor and imprisoned the rest of the Council.
The reign of Xandel I lasted mere hours, as Baron D'Asta, the real Kir Kanos, and the New Republic Super Star Destroyer Lusankya arrived at Ord Cantrell. Kanos executed Carivus, and in the aftermath, the D'Astas withdrew from the Empire, while New Republic troops seized most or all of the imprisoned Councilors.
Although Imperial officers and administrators were still the only effective source of authority in large areas of both the Deep Core and the Outer Rim, there was no unifying authority, and the resurgent New Republic was consequently able to claim that the Empire had effectively ceased to exist as a state.
Following the events on Ord Cantrell, many loyalist officers joined the forces of the warlords, and the most significant remnant of the old regime became the Council of Moffs, which had withdrawn from Coruscant with some of the trappings of central authority to a new capital code-named Bastion. It was subsequently the Moffs who would emerge as the ultimate political authority in what remained of Imperial space, and the fall of the Interim Council can be seen as the point at which the Galactic Empire became the Imperial Remnant.
Yet some lingering traces of the Ruling Council remained. Individual Council members survived, of course, with their authority as Advisors intact, however nominal it might now be. Sarcev Quest, for example survived for many years until he was hunted down and executed by Dark Jedi berserker Jeng Droga, and it can be noted that a few months after his exile to Nar Shaddaa, his lover Roganda Ismaren attempted to set up their son Irek as ruler of the Empire in a scheme with a crypto-Imperial "court party" that bore some of the hallmarks of his inimitable style. Also closely involved in this scheme was Lady Theala Vandron, daughter of the late Crueya Vandron, a senior Advisor and founder of COMPNOR.
Finally, it should be noted that the D'Asta capital Nez Peron later rejoined the Empire, and it is possible that Ragez D'Asta or other surviving Advisors could have used their authority "for the Emperor" to legitimize the new political arrangements in what little remained of Imperial Space.
Current sources do not allow a full reconstruction of the personnel of the Imperial Ruling Council. The following are noted by the date at which they are first recorded as serving among Palpatine's advisors or as members of the Council.
It is noted that Palpatine only met with a dozen of his Advisors at a time in an effort to keep them paranoid and divided. It was not uncommon for him to execute old Advisors before promoting newer ones to the Council.
While the well-known publicity photo which appears in the Dark Side Sourcebook only shows five Imperial advisors, close viewing of Return of the Jedi reveals that six advisors disembarked from the shuttle with the Emperor upon arrival at the second Death Star.