Mobile Suit Gundam (Kidou Senshi Gundam, lit. "Mobile Soldier Gundam") is the original Gundam show, created by Yoshiyuki Tomino. It started in 1979 as a planned 52-episode series, but it was cut down to 43 due to the show pulling in horrible ratings. However, the merchandise for the TV show sold rather well, allowing the series to go straight into syndication, where it found its audience. A largely reanimated Compilation Movie trilogy successfully convinced the people with the money to further develop the series, and Mobile Suit Gundam eventually spawned a massive franchise. Though there are now a large number of sequels, side stories, and Alternate Continuities, the original Mobile Suit Gundam remains the most popular show of the franchise.The series follows Ordinary High-School Student Amuro Ray, opening in the midst of a stalemate in the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. Though the Earth Federation has (or, rather, had) superior numbers and resources, the Zeon military has annihilated much of the Federation's population with chemical weapons, decimated their fleet with their new mobile suit technology, nearly ended the war in a stroke with a Colony Drop, and follow up by invading Earth.While fighting a losing battle on Earth, the Federation stepped up its R&D program to develop its own mobile suits, resulting in the Super Prototype "Gundam". While doing final tests on the Gundam in a remote space colony, they are attacked by a small Zeon force led by CharAznable. Amuro ends up Falling into the Cockpit in order to save the colony, and from there is pulled into the war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. But, of course, things aren't as simple as they appear to be...The original Real Robot series, Mobile Suit Gundam literally created a genre, and eventually spawned numerous sequels and side stories. Its direct sequel is Zeta Gundam, and there are also a trio of OVAs set in the same time period as Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket and MS IGLOO.A manga re-imagining is in progress under the name Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin.This program provides examples of:
Alas, Poor Villain: Ramba Ral, Crowley Hamon, and any Zabi other than Gihren are played for sympathy at the last.
Achilles in His Tent: Amuro abandons the White Base twice. The first time (figuratively) he refuses to fight, causing Bright to slap him back to sanity. The second time, Amuro physically deserts the White Base when Bright threatens to take him off the Gundam.
Adaptation Distillation: The Compilation Movie trilogy, which are often considered of higher production value than the series. They streamline the plot (albeit at the expense of crucial character and plot development), and cut out a lot of elements that Tomino didn't really want in there to start with (Like the G-Fighter/Armour and Gundam Hammer). They also improve on the animation, which was not great in the original series.
The novelization is greatly compressed when compared with the TV series, completely skipping the Earth-bound portion of the plot and cutting out a lot of the characters and mecha (Zeon only has two MS, the Zaku II and Rick Dom).
Aerith and Bob: Standard names like Ryu, Kai, Matilda, etc. put alongside Kycilia, Dozel, Artesia, and, of course, Bright. In a funny twist to this, Tomino, the director and writer, decided to name the lead character Amuro because he thought it was exotic and a made up name. Turns out it is the name of a Japanese island and is in fact a real name.
Bittersweet Ending: Amuro defeats Char, but is about to let himself die until he hears his friends' voices and is able to reunite with his adoptive family. Char survives, finishes his "revenge" by killing Kycilia and escapes, but is separated from his beloved sister Sayla forever. To add insult to injury, the Cool Ship, Whitebase is destroyed, along with the Gundam, Guncannon and Guntank, leaving the protagonists without a home to go back to.
Bridge Bunnies: Mirai as White Base's pilot, Sayla as Communications Officer later replaced by Fraw Bow, plus two male navigators who play no role in the plot outside of navigating.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The entire White Base crew knows and fears Char Aznable, the Red Comet. Conversely, for most of the series Char doesn't even know who Amuro is and they meet face-to-face very late in the series (Char helps Amuro pull his car out of a mud puddle). Of course, after Amuro kills Lalah the whole thing becomes very personal.
Colony Drop: Operation British in the back story is the Trope Namer. Zeon nerve gassed a space colony, and then deorbited it in an attempt to destroy the Federation HQ in South America (which, being an Elaborate Underground Base whose exact location was secret, was effectively invulnerable to everything up to and including nukes). Unfortunately for them, the Federation intervened and inflicted enough damage on their missile that it broke up in the atmosphere, with the only major damage being to Sydney, Australia.
The effect is still pretty terrifying. The blast was 60,000 megatons, devastated southeastern Australia (killing 10 million people in Sydney alone), and left a 500 kilometer crater in the continent that leaves a massive gulf along the coastline.
Combining Mecha: The Gundam is formed from three separate parts; later in the series, even more optional parts are added.
The Guncannon and Guntank are also merely plug-and-play parts that can be attached to a Core Fighter.
The Core Fighter, a little jet with anemic firepower, can combine with the G-Fighter in the TV series and the Core Booster in the movies.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: When Ramba Ral first appears in the Gouf, Amuro can barely hold his own and is nearly taken down with it. Later, Goufs appear somewhat regularly and Amuro can destroy several of them at a time. Possibly justified by Ramba Ral being an ace pilot and Amuro not being used to the Gouf's speed and weapons.
Death by Falling Over: Happens more than once. First Garma's girlfriend Icelina slips and falls off the top of the aircraft she was chasing after the White Base on in an ill-conceived attempt to avenge his death (though this part was cut from the compilation). Later on, Amuro's dad falls down a flight of stairs and breaks his neck. Eerily, this is also how M'Quve's voice actor died in Real Life.
Downer Ending: In the novelization of the series, Amuro is actually killed by a random beam bazooka blast from behind during the Battle of A Baoa Qu. The novelization differs in several other points (such as actual use of the G3 Gundam), but this is the most shocking change.
And of all things, SD Gundam G Generation DS used THAT Downer Ending to set up the Villain Route.
Double Weapon: The Gelgoog, Zeon's answer to the Gundam, has a double-ended beam naginata, one of the earliest examples of this in speculative fiction.
Early-Installment Weirdness: Fans of the franchise who haven't seen the original series will be surprised to find there are no mid-season upgrades, only one Gundam, several machines and weapons that aren't mobile suits and plenty of battle scenes that do not revolve around actual mobile suit battle. There's also the Guntank and Guncannon, which are reasonably far from the types of mobile suits seen in later installments. The series can have something of a rough around the edges feeling, given that Tomino was in the process of figuring things out.
In-universe, the (rather logical) explanation for all of this is that the One Year War is the very beginning of Mobile Suits, and for technological and logistical reasons it's easier to keep fighting with what they had. For example, the Guntank and Guncannon fill long- and mid-range fire-support roles that later Mobile Suits can do with better mobility, and quite a few of the Federation's land battles were won through the use of old-style tanks and tactics.
Energy Weapons: Mostly based on Minovsky reaction-derived mega-particles, though there's lasers here and there.
Engineered Public Confession: How General Elran gets caught - Amuro corners him with incriminating evidence whilst the general's soldiers (who Amuro had warned beforehand) monitor the cameras in his office.
Evil Is Bigger: If the Brow Bro, Elmeth, and Big Zam are any indicator, someone at Zeon's department of design likes to build large. (The Brow Bro and Elmeth were designed around the use of psy-commu weapons, then in its infancy, which forced them to be larger than Mobile Suits. The Big Zam was designed to be able to take a whole fleet on by itself, and is big in order to fit everything it needs.)
Falling into the Cockpit: Amuro, even when his dad was the one who built the Gundam itself. To a lesser extent, the entire White Base crew; at age 19, Bright was the most junior officer of the White Base's original crew until a Zeon attack left him as acting captain.
Fictional Geneva Conventions: The Antarctic Treaty sets out the laws of war for both the Federation and Zeon. It's treated more as a guideline.
Forgotten Phlebotinum: The super napalm used in the second episode; a mecha-scaled flamethrower would have been awesome and useful, if impractical in vacuum and limited in ammunition. Somewhat rectified in recent years, as newer video games included it as part of Gundam's arsenal, as well as its inclusion in the newest Gundam MG model kit.
The Gundam's learning computer. This was the early explanation for how a novice pilot like Amuro was able to kick ass the way he did. Tomino seems to have forgotten about it, because he introduced the concept of Newtypes with the sole purpose of explaining why the Gundam fought so well.
Full-Name Basis: Everyone calls him "Ramba Ral". Nobody calls him just "Ramba". Sometimes (in the series) they call him just "Ral", but mostly it's "Ramba Ral". Also Challia Bull, and often, but not always, Fraw Bow.
Full Potential Upgrade: The RX 78-2 needed multiple upgrades due to Amuro's growing capabilities, the best-known of which is the Magnet(ic) Coating on its joints to make them react faster. (Of course, even this wasn't enough, and the NT-1 "Alex" was designed just for him...)
Genius Bruiser: Prince Dozle Zabi is 7' feet of pure Zabi muscle and leads his troops in person heroically in the Battle of Solomon. Might be a bit of a Gentle Giant, since he truly cared for his family (namely his little brother Garma, his wife Zenna and his daughter Mineva, and was apparently well-loved by his subordinates. Thank God Mineva didn't take after her father in appearance.
That probably also explains why the indestructible Big Zam was so easy to destroy. Most of it was simply the cockpit.
Half Truth: The opening narration for the early episodes lays the blame for the slaughter of half of the human race on both the Federation and the Principality of Zeon. This isn't actually the case, however, since it was Zeon's colony-drop that wiped out most of the population.
The series actually qualifies this in further narration. The Federation and Zeon wiped out half of each other's population, which still makes Zeon's body count higher because the population of Earth is bigger than the population of Side 3.
Heroic Sacrifice: From both throwaway and major characters. Poor Matilda, poor Ryu, poor Michelle, poor Woody, poor Lalah...
Hollywood Homely: Invoked. Despite the Zabi family being frequently described as ugly, only Degwin and Dozle (and in The Origin, Sasro) are particularly ugly. The rest of the family ranges from average to beautiful. The Zabi males, however, are considerably darker than most of the other main characters.
Hot Blade: Being a step behind the Federation in Energy Weapons science, Zeon's standard mecha melee weapons for most of the war are superheated metal blades like the Zaku's heat hawk and the Dom's heat saber. General consensus is that they're good, but not quite as good as a beam saber.
Hover Mecha: The MS-09 Dom. The MS-09R Rick Dom and MSN-02 Zeong look like they might count, but they're designed to fight in space (and the Zeong isn't meant to hover).
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Dozle Zabi and his wife Zenna. Zenna appears normal size, but Dozle is gigantically tall at 210cm coupled with a broad muscular frame built up like a brick house. And his daughter literally fits in the palm of his hand.
Real Robot: Started the genre. Despite this, it still has many Super Robot hangups, mainly in the TV series.
Hypocrite: Zeon claims to be liberating the colonies, even as it destroys several of them.
I Have No Son: Though Amuro's mother makes a show of seeing him off when he returns to the White Base at the end of the North America arc, it's clear she can't bring herself to love him anymore after watching him kill a Zeon soldier and the two of them have no further contact for the remainder of their lives.
In a Single Bound: Thanks to its thrusters, the Gundam can jump high enough to engage enemy fighters in their own airspace.
Insult Backfire: Gihren takes it as a compliment when his father compares his world view with that of Adolf Hitler.
Though he'd never heard of Hitler before Degwin made the comparison onscreen, and Gihren didn't hear very much detail about Hitler. In this sense it's almost an Insult Backfire Backfire.
Interservice Rivalry: The Zeon forces would probably have beaten the Federation if they could resist the urge to play politics with each other. One memorable case is when M'Quve "loses" a request by Ramba Ral (who's not part of Kycilia's faction) for the new Rick Doms. Gihren's Greed suggests that if M'Quve had provided Ramba Ral with the support he needed, he'd have been able to capture White Base.
Supplemental material also makes clear that this is part of why Zeon has so many mobile suit variations; there were several companies and design teams all pushing their own programs and diverting resources to pet projects, and many Ace Customs (for example, M'Quve's Gyan) are just rejected prototypes that some ace or Zeon bigwig liked and kept for their personal suit. Conversely, all of this tail-chasing meant that Char's preferred design, the Gelgoog, didn't go into mass production until it was too late to affect the outcome of the war.
I Surrender, Suckers: At one point, White Base sets up a ceasefire with the Zeon forces to let the civilians off the ship, and uses the ceasefire to secretly plant Gundam behind enemy lines before the fighting restarts.
Lady and Knight: Kycilia Zabi and her DragonM'Quve have got this vibe going. Kycilia is a Manipulative Bastard and Evil Genius, who nevertheless maintains a very feminine air to her persona. M'Quve, who always addresses her as "Lady Kycilia" serves as her strategist, enforcer, and go to whenever dirty work is required; he is obsessively loyal to her, and to top it all off, pilots a mecha (the YMS-15 Gyan) designed to resemble a knight.
Latex Space Suit: Pilot suits. Averted on the Federation side with the suits worn by civilians and the ship's crew, which are much bulkier.
SD Gundam G Generation World, the newest SD Gundam G Generation game, holds Mobile Weapons and Pilots from any series, up until A Wakening of the Trailblazer and Unicorn. Yup. More than 1000 Mobile Weapons and 500 Pilots in a PSP and Wii Game.
Mid-Season Upgrade: The G-Armour, a transport/fighter-bomber/tank that is compatible with the Core Block System, provides the Gundam and its sister suits with a great deal of extra tactical utility.
In the Compilation Films, the G-Armour is replaced with the Core Booster, basically a set of Core Fighters with additional fire-power. The reason being that Tomino felt the G-Armour was too 'Super-Robot'.
Mildly Military: A deliberate choice on the part of the White Base officer cadre - given their desperate situation and the fact that most of their crew were green recruits and civilians, they decided that it would be easier for all concerned if they played fast-and-loose with the formalities. The mainstream Federation military is notably more rigid and disciplined.
Merchandise-Driven: Like you would not believe. It's interesting to note that this was a necessity - since the show was pulling low viewership numbers, the only thing that kept it on air past a certain point was a strong toy line - the full story of which is chronicled in Gundam Sousei.
What's impressive is that they were able to justify this to a believable extent - competition between manufacturers, a fundamental difference in the weapons designing process between the two sides, the scale of the war, etc.
Mood Whiplash: At one part, the kids catch Zeon troops planting time bombs to destroy a series of Gundams at Jaburo and have to find and dispose of them themselves before they explode. An otherwise tense scene is made rather odd with some more comical moments added in.
Mukokuseki: Mostly averted. Mirai Yashima, the one with more direct Asian heritage, looks noticeably more Asian than the rest. Amuro is an aversion, since he's But Not Too Foreign (his mother is either American, Canadian or Mexican, depending on the canon you follow).
A Nazi by Any Other Name: SIEG ZEON! HAIL ZEON! Gihren Zabi is directly compared to Hitler by his father at one point, though if one looks more closely, they're more similar to Imperial Japan.
Non-Indicative Name: Char's Newtype Corps is three people, including himself, two of which (Challia Bull, Lalah Sune) end up dead before they even get to A Baoa Qu.
Nose Art: Many of Char Aznable's Ace Custom mobile suits featured his trademark red paintjob. Played Straight to the point of parody, where several mangas even featured "Char Aznable" custom RB-79 Ball designs, painted red with horns attached.
No Sell: An interesting variation in the first episode. When Amuro is shot at point blank with a Zaku machine gun after starting up the Gundam for the first time, he starts screaming in abject terror, but the Gundam itself stands stalk still as the bullets bounce off its fancy new super alloy armor.
Nicknaming the Enemy: Some of the English localizations had this. The Federation forces were nicknamed "Feddies", while Zeon forces were nicknamed "Zekes". Some weapons received nicknames too, such as 'skirts' for Zeon's Dom fast assault suits, which used hover-jets to propel their massively-armoured frames.
Nuclear Weapons Taboo: Averted. Nukes are used extensively in the opening battles of the war, resulting in up to a billion civilian casualties. M'Quve also launches an explicitly nuclear missile when it becomes clear that he's lost. Mobile suits also have nuclear reactors in them that Go Critical when hit by beam weapons; this happens several times in the series, including in Side 7 during the first episode.
The Ojou: Iselina Eschenbach is a very tragic version of the trope. Mirai is technically one, but she tries her best to not let her family connections interfere.
Off Model: While it ran rampant throughout the series, one episode was taken out of circulation because of it.
Overshadowed by Awesome: By the end of the One Year War, Hayato, Sayla, and Kai are all highly competent pilots who qualify as aces several times over. They just have the bad luck of serving alongside the One-Man Army that is Amuro Ray. Zeon, meanwhile, has its own examples in the MS-14 Gelgoog and MSN-02 Zeong (particularly and especially the Gelgoog), suits that equal or exceed the Gundam in performance but pale before Amuro's supreme piloting skills.
This is also Deconstructed to an extent - even as late as Zeta Gundam, 8 years later, Amuro lives under virtual house arrest and Bright flies a shuttle, while Hayato, Sayla, and Kai (especially) live and work in relative freedom.
Reasonable Authority Figure: A healthy share of the Federation officers are like this, and whilst Zeon doesn't have as many, they're still visibly present.
Red Shirt Army: In most games, both the Zaku II, Gouf, GM and Ball qualify for this. In Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2, this is increased to every One Year War-era suit except for the Gundam, Char's Zaku and Gelgoog, and the Zeong.
In SD Gundam G Generation Wars, this is, however, not so much the case. While they can still get blown up in one attack, provided a strong enough Mobile Suit, the GM, Zaku II, Gouf and Ball can actually become some of the most lethal Mobile Weapons at Level 99, provided they get both the +3 inheritance bonus, a Level 99 pilot from the beginning and a target to kill.note The reason for needing a Level 99 pilot? The Pilot's level determines the Suit's upgrade amount (3 points, +1 to ATK, DEF or EVA at level 1, while 20 points and +10 to ATK, DEF or EVA per certain number of points).
Reporting Names: The White Base is codenamed "the Trojan Horse" by the Zeon forces.
The Earth Federation refers to Lalah's Elmeth as the "Tricorn Hat."
Right Behind Me: At one point, Kai is praising Matilda's virtues and explaining why she's his ideal girlfriend. She promptly walks by and tells him to focus on repairing the White Base, and wishes him good luck in finding a girlfriend.
Tragically, Amuro is indirectly responsible for his father's brain damage and subsequent death.
Series Franchise: But man, the staff had no idea this would turn out to be the case at the time. (They knew they were making a pretty good show - they just had no idea they were inventing a genre or a series.)
As one would expect for a science-fiction show from the late 70s, Star Wars' fingerprints are everywhere, from the Gundam's beam saber to Char's Darth Vader-esque helmet. Tomino wanted the Gundam to be all-white like an Imperial Stormtrooper, but was overruled by the producers, who wanted kid-friendly primary colors.
Shower Scene: In one scene Amuro trips over a puddle of water coming from Mirai's room and sees Mirai, naked, and the children struggling to fix the tap in the sink. He fixes it for them.
Near the beginning of the series Char got a shower scene. In YAS' The Origin, that scene was a lot longer and left a lot less to the imagination.
Hamon is seen in a towel, having just got out of the shower.
Smoking Is Cool: In the original series, during Gihren's speech Char is seen in a bar, drinking. In the equivalent scene in The Origin, Char is shown drinking AND smoking. Keep in mind that he's an ace pilot who probably couldn't afford to risk his lung health.
Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Justified, in that the mobile suits that Amuro fights are all top-of-the-line at the time, and Zeon is forced to continually develop more powerful suits as they come to terms with the Gundam, and later the Federation's GM's.
Spikes of Villainy: The Principality of Zeon are big fans - more so here, in fact, than at any other point in the faction's history.
Spared by the Adaptation: In the novels, Degwin Zabi is just said to be dethroned. This suggests that he survived as he did not accompany the fleet that was destroyed by the Colony Laser.
Hayato, as well. In fact, of the three main pilots, only Kai survives in the novelization.
Spell My Name with an S: Lots of 'em, including the Principality/Duchy/Archduchy/Grand Duchy of Zeon/Zion/Jion. Also Kycilia/Kashiria, Gihren/Ghiren/Giren, and Mineva/Minerva Zabi. Amuro's last name also frequently shows up as "Rei" instead of the official "Ray".
Sure, Let's Go with That: Bright accuses Sayla of stealing the Gundam so she could prove she was as good as a man in battle. She lets him think that rather than tell him she was looking for Char, to find out if he really was her brother Casval.
Swiss-Army Weapon: A very basic example - the Gundam's beam sabers can extend their handles to become short-bladed tridents.
Sword Fight: With mobile suits, and between Char and Amuro in person during the final episodes!
A few postwar fighters get referenced, too. The name of M'Quve's assistant Uragang is a corruption of the Dassault Ouragan, which first saw service in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: All three of Zeon's late-game superweapons, the Big Zam, the Colony Laser, and the Zeong. Results were decidedly mixed. To elaborate:
The Big Zam proved devastatingly effective, but they hadn't fitted in the close-ranged defences yet, letting Amuro and Sleggar eventually take it out.
The Colony Laser was fired prematurely, destroying it after it had wiped out only half the Federation fleet and letting the other half win the war.
The Zeong went into battle missing its legs. This had no real effect on its performance, other than perhaps not allowing Char to use one of his famous kicks.
Unobtainium: Played straight and subverted. Early on the Gundam is all but indestructible, much to the surprise and misfortune of Zeon troops. However by the latter half of the series, Zeon gains access to beam weaponry, and it turns out to be equally deadly to the Gundam as it is to everything else. Afterwords tactics in the entire Universal Century timeline focus on avoiding getting hit at all, as no matter how much armor you have, beam weaponry punches right through it.
Lunar Titanium isn't really Unobtanium per say, it's just a significant upgrade over the kind of armor most mobile suits of the day were using. Conventional weapons still manage to significantly damage the Gundam on several occasions, and during one encounter explosive charges small enough to be carried in one hand are shown to be capable of breaching the armor if placed in the right spot. Really, Lunar Titanium has about as much effect on the battlefield as the invention of Sloped Armor did in WWII; it is superior to any existing design, but not a game-changer in and of itself.
Visual Pun: During its stay in the neutral zone of Side Six, the White Base's weapons are literally tied down with red tape.
Warfare Regression: Minovsky Particles can screw up electronics and telecommunications. As a result, war in the Universal Century goes back to visual ranges.
Warrior Therapist: Char and Amuro tend to talk a lot while they're fighting. Being the first Gundam, every subsequent series following it followed suit.
Only in the series; the Compilation Movie adds a scene where he falls down some stairs and breaks his neck. The animation doesn't seem to confirm that he died but left it open to interpretation (i.e. given his behavior in that scene up to that point, maybe he just passed out drunk). The whole thing comes off as rather arbitrary, really.
On the other hand, M'Quve disappears after Odessa in the films. The manga Char's Deleted Affair depicts him dying in a similar fashion as the TV series, only at A Baoa Qu instead of in the Texas Colony.
What the Hell, Hero?: Amuro's mother denounces him for becoming a soldier and killing other soldiers who could have had children of their own in spite of Amuro's intention of protecting the refugees.
Worst Aid: After having his arm impaled by the blade of Char's fencing foil, Amuro pulls the broken piece out. This can probably be forgiven as he was in a depressurized area of A Baoa Qu, and his main motivation appears to be patching his normal suit.
Worthy Opponent: Char and Amuro eventually consider each other this. Earlier, Ramba Ral came to respect Amuro.
You Are in Command Now: Happens to Bright during the opening episodes; despite being 19 years old and only a Lieutenant, he ends up in command of the White Base when every other officer on the ship is killed or critically wounded.
You Keep Using That Word: According to the novel the "Colony Laser" is a hollowed out colony filled with a large number of mirrors with a single focal point. Therefore the Colony Laser is not, in fact, a laser.
That said, the Gryps Colony Laser that shows up in Zeta Gundam is a bona-fide laser cannon the size of a space colony, so the Novel may just be the odd one out.
Somewhat debatable, but Zeon is called a Principality, even though it's lead by a Archduke. The Other Wiki, however, notes that "principality" can denote any society lead by a monarch, no matter what they call themselves. This bothered Fred Schodt, though, and when he translated Tomino's novels he changed the name to "The Zeon Archduchy"; as with all his other changes (Sha for Char, Zak for Zaku, et cetera), it never caught on.
The whole thing makes a bit more sense given the nation's backstory. Even after the Zabi family took power and declared themselves royalty, Zeon was still (at least nominally) a semi-autonomous Federation state for a while before they began to push for full independence. Degwin calling himself Archduke instead of King or Emperor was a sop to the Federation's authority. On the other hand, the official English version's more ambiguous "Sovereign" and "Principality" come off as a lot more canny. A principality can, like a duchy, refer to the domain of a noble in a larger empire (as in the principalities of The Holy Roman Empire or the "princely states" of India during The British Raj) but it has also been used to refer to small, independent or semi-independent states like those that eventually unified to become Germany and Italy. It's hardly a stretch to think of Degwin, and especially Ghiren, presenting themselves to the Federation as the former while plotting to become the latter.