To understand the scope of the challenge the Rebel Alliance faced, we need to first look at their opposition: the Galactic Empire. The Empire had the funding and resources available to construct two Death Stars, build and maintain a massive fleet of star destroyers, thousands of TIE fighters, and feed and cloth countless snow, scout, and stormtroopers. It had innumerable bases and research facilities across the galaxy. The bureaucracy and infrastructure required to keep the Empire functioning is truly mindboggling.
But when we look at it more closely, we can see how the Empire maintained this massive military industrial complex. There were thousands of star systems under its control, providing access to nearly unlimited raw materials. Mustafar, the volcano planet from Revenge of the Sith, had extensive mining facilities to extract minerals from the planet’s lava supply. The planet of Kamino was known for its cloning facilities, providing thousands of clone and later storm troopers to fill the ranks of the Empire’s armies. Coruscant, the Imperial capital, came to take over an entire planet, devoted to maintaining the Imperial bureaucracy. Emperor Palpatine kept the local systems in line by maintaining the apparatus of the Galactic Republic when he came to power. After all, why destroy an entire governing system when you can just shift its priorities a bit?
In order to defeat the Empire, the Alliance needed a similarly large and complex organization. The beginning of the original trilogy undersells the size and scope of the Rebellion. In A New Hope, they are a relatively small force both in numbers and ships. They send maybe 30 attack fighters against the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin. Luke Skywalker is there for about 10 minutes before they put him in an X-Wing and send him off to die. The Empire Strikes Back features a stronger Rebellion, armed with numerous transport ships, an ion cannon capable of disabling a star destroyer, and a larger stable of fighters. While Rogue Group battles the invading Imperials, another group of pilots escorts the transports off of Hoth. They even have a medical frigate. Return of the Jedi finally reveals the full power of the Alliance. Leia speaks of the Alliance assembling for its attack on the Second Death Star, suggesting they operate in a more fragmented structure than we have previously seen. They gather the full power of their fleet that, despite Admiral Ackbar’s protestations, proves capable of holding its own against Imperial Star Destroyers.
|Ships don't come cheap|
Now how did they pay for all of it? A fleet of star ships requires repairs and equipment. Soldiers need food and weapons. While it is conceivable that the Rebel troops are eschewing pay, they still have to have supplies. Getting those supplies becomes a lot easier when you can pay for them in cash rather than vague promises of Galactic equality. Perhaps they stole from the Imperials and others? Stealing from the Empire makes sense, but as a rebellion to restore peace and justice to the Galaxy, stealing from suppliers is bad in both the short term—those people are going to want their stuff back—and long term—they’ll shoot you the next time they see you.
Spies and other collaborators don’t work for free, so they need compensation. And not just any kind of compensation, but cold hard cash. You can preach all of the high minded idealism about freeing the Galaxy from tyranny that you want, but if you want some Bothan spies to risk their necks (do Bothans have necks?) you need to fork over the dough. And as we’ve seen the Rebellion has plenty of cash on hand. As Han Solo readies to leave Yavin 4 in A New Hope he’s packing up his 17,000 credits—not including any bonuses for rescuing Princess Leia and providing the Alliance with the plans to the Death Star. Rebellions are a cash-only business.
Likely the Rebellion relied on several different sources of funding. First, the Alliance has some very wealthy benefactors. Princess Leia’s family, the Organas, was the ruling family of Alderaan, with the ample access to wealth that royalty provides. Additionally the Rebellion drew much of its leadership from the nobles of Alderaan and sympathetic senators (themselves quite rich). Their prosperous positions gave the Rebels access to large revenue streams. While these people contributed their time and effort to the struggle against the Empire, they likely opened their wallets as well. This well of funding, however, may well have dried up after the destruction of Alderaan. With so many supporters and leaders killed, including Leia’s father, a significant amount of the Rebellion’s financial backing probably died in the holocaust that enveloped the planet—access codes and passwords to hidden bank accounts crying out in terror.
Perhaps the Alliance managed to survive this catastrophe with smart financial planning. Maybe they diversified their assets and kept them in banks and other repositories where they could have easy access, even if the account holder died, or her planet was blown up by an angry Imperial administrator. Even if they didn’t keep all their money hidden under their space mattresses, Alderaan’s destruction likely put a dent in the Rebellion’s finances.
|Bye-bye to the source of rebel funding|
According to Wookiepedia, the Rebels also sold “Alliance War Bonds.” Wookiepedia describes them as low yield, long term bonds issued by the Rebels. Investors could buy bonds from the Rebellion in exchange for repayment five to twenty five years after the conclusion of the Galactic Civil War. They, however, promised investors only a small profit on their return. These bonds made for a lousy investment and likely the only people who purchased them were either taken in by their smooth-talking neighborhood Alliance salesman or their sympathies for the Rebels. Surely the Galactic stock exchange offered better and more profitable alternatives.
Wookiepedia also tells us that the Alliance issued its own form of credits (the galactic currency) that could be swapped at a 25-1 exchange rate for Imperial credits. Such a high exchange rate shows how little the rest of the Galaxy valued Alliance currency. Additionally the Rebellion likely never issued enough credits to circulate and become a viable alternative means of exchange. The money is only as good as those who issue it. Which currency had the better long term future: the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance?
The last and most viable option for the Rebels would have been to borrow from the InterGalactic Banking Clan (IGBC). The Clan had already shown its willingness to support rebel causes by allying itself with Count Dooku and the Separatist movement during the Clone Wars. They had helped fund the creation of a droid army that pushed the Republic to the brink of defeat. They had also earned the scorn of the Emperor. Palpatine had the banking clan’s chairman killed by Darth Vader on Mustafar at the end of the Clone Wars. The IGBC and the Alliance seem like natural allies.
The IGBC could get revenge on the Emperor by loaning money to the Rebels. They could also charge some exorbitantly high interest rates (rebellions aren’t known for paying back their debts) and make a profit, regardless of the outcome. If the Rebels triumphed over the Empire, then the IGBC had financed the winning side. If the Alliance lost, the IGBC could just take their profits and move on. This deal also makes sense from the Alliance’s perspective as well. Who better to go to for cash than a banking clan with a grudge against the Empire and a history of fomenting rebellion?
So there you have it, the answer answer to the question that has plagued precisely no one regarding the funding of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars.