I've been playing this game for awhile now, and so far it seems like the Imperials are the "bad guys" in Skyrim, invading the country and trying to seize it as their own. However, I know next to nothing about the Stormcloaks other than that they're rebelling against the Imperials. I don't know their methods, I don't know what they plan to do after they've driven of the Imperials, and whenever I ask any NPCs about them, I usually get an answer like, "I'm not into politics..." or "They're against the Imperials!" (Yeah, real helpful, guys...) --- I imagine Bethesda's Quality Testing Department a big, dusty room filled with cobwebs, and a chimp wearing a Fez banging on the keyboard of a single computer...
I'm no expert on the subject.. but the Imperials have been in Skyrim for a very long time already, actually since Talos united the lands? Stormcloaks are some upstart rebels trying to take back Skyrim from the Empire.
neither side are "bad". the stormcloaks are fighting a civil war with the Imperials to make break Skyrim away from the Empire to get away from the Dominion. the Imperials are just trying to keep the empire together. they are commonly despised due to the treaty with the Dominion which outlawed the worship of Talos, the founder of the empire who was also a Nord. this was a big insult to the Nords, and the prime reason for the rebellion.
Skyrim is already part of the empire, the Stormcloaks are seeking to secede because of the White-Gold Concordant, a peace treaty the empire has with the Aldmeri Dominion which bans the worship of Talos, who is Emporer Tiber Septim ascended into godhood. The elves don't like the idea that a man can become a god since they believe in their superiority and the Stormcloaks (as well as many others) are angry that worship of this god has been banned. They're mainly angry at the empire bowing to the demands of the Thalmor, leaders of the Aldmeri Dominion, and are afraid for the future of their way of life as a result. The empire compared to other games has become a bit weaker and more corrupt thanks to the Oblivion crisis from the last game and the war with the Dominion that followed costing them a few provinces. They don't want to lose Skyrim as well.
But before you decide the empire is evil, the Stormcloaks are not much better. A lot of their ranks include racists who dislike anyone who isn't a Nord, their leader Ulfric being one of the worst examples of this as he forces the dark elves in his city to live in the slums and the Argonians outside the walls. He's kind of a greedy dictator in his own right, wanting the crown of skyrim and murdering a young king that had no defense against his ability to use the Th'uum. You also find out that the Thalmor are depending on him to divide the empire further with this war and his Stormcloaks probably couldn't survive a full scale invasion by the very people the Dominion without additional help from imperial forces.
Neither side is good nor evil, both have benefits and faults. The Stormcloaks have some just reasons to rebel but their leader isn't exactly great judging by how crap his city is run and the empire is beneficial in that it unites the lands against the looming threat of the Thalmor and provides resources to Skyrim but it's become a rather cold and brutal bureaucracy at times.
So choose whatever side you want, there's no right answer.
Jrock1019 posted... all I know is that the Imperials tried to kill me.
One officer tried to kill you. Because you were apparently in company with the rebellion leader. In a time when extremely detrimental infighting needs to be stamped out immediately. It's kind of understandable, no?