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Star Wars: 15 Dark Secrets You Never Knew About Emperor Palpatine

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Star Wars: 15 Dark Secrets You Never Knew About Emperor Palpatine

Throughout the Star Wars saga, there was always a mysterious figure of ultimate evil pulling the strings. The Emperor. Darth Sidious. Chancellor Palpatine. First revealed in a cameo in The Empire Strikes Back, he would later go on to be the main antagonist for Return of the Jedi and become a more prominent character, and again the main antagonist, in the prequel trilogy. Evoking the twisted old evil wizards of fantasy literature, Ian McDiarmid cemented Palpatine as one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history.

RELATED: Darth Maul: 15 Dark Secrets You Never Knew

Since this is Star Wars, Palpatine’s history and personality would later be fleshed out in novels, comics and cartoons. A figure as shrouded in mystery as Palpatine would of course have plenty of dark secrets, yet across 30 years of existence, only a few details of his life outside the movies has emerged. This is perhaps because Palpatine was never really a viewpoint character, but rather an implacable, impossibly evil antagonist, casting his shadow across the entire series of films. For whatever reason, all the various Expanded Universe writers never bothered to add any depth to the Emperor, content to let him remain the unambiguous force (pun intended) of evil he was in the movies.

15. HIS HISTORY BEFORE THE MOVIES (AND HIS FIRST NAME)

emperor-palpatine

Long before his machinations would bring the Republic crashing down into the Empire, Palpatine was just the son of a minor noble on Naboo, ambitious, but never really having an avenue for advancement. Several sources confirmed that Darth Plagueis in Revenge of the Sith was indeed Palpatine’s master, who pulled him out of obscurity into the broader stage. Palpatine was very interested in collecting Sith and other dark side relics, which in turn caught the attention of Plagueis.

As Palpatine relates to Anakin in ROTS, he eventually kills Plagueis and takes over the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith, unfortunately before he can figure out the secret to eternal life. He builds a cabal of trustworthy individuals, including eventual Grand Moff Tarkin, and sets his plan to quietly subvert the Republic and wipe out the Jedi in motion. The biggest secret about his history, however, is his first name, revealed in James Luceno’s Tarkin: Sheev.

14. MY OWN CLONE

emperor clone luke skywalker

While Palpatine failed to unlock the secret to true immortality from Plagueis, he did manage a workaround, inspired by the clone army he personally arranged for the Republic. By creating a small selection of clones, he learned to transfer his spirit between them, creating an ad hoc immortality, provided he had a steady supply of clones. He would use these clones after his death in Return of the Jedi to return from the dead to harry the budding New Republic in Dark Empire.

While he claimed that his death on the Death Star was not the first, it is later revealed that he was lying for dramatic effect, as he has been known to do. Despite this initial lie, he ends up transferring his consciousness between several clone bodies throughout the story as the clones fail due to the overwhelming corruption of the dark side.

13. RECRUITED MAUL EARLIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK

emperor darth maul

One of the most memorable aspects of The Phantom Menace was the mysterious Darth Maul, Sith apprentice to the even more mysterious Darth Sidious. Maul’s history and character would be vastly expanded in The Clone Wars and Rebels, reconceptualizing the character in a more sympathetic and complex light. While he remained fairly unambiguously “bad,” his motivations and interests as a character took him from mere cool-looking bad guy to a full-fledged character in his own right.

What the cartoons don’t show is that Palpatine was still under Plagueis when he recruited Maul from the Nightsisters. While Palpatine had originally wanted Maul’s mother Talzin as his apprentice, her ambition and pre-established skills led him to choose the younger and more malleable Maul. Because Sidious subscribed wholeheartedly to the Sith Rule of Two, recruiting Maul was the final catalyst for killing Plagueis.

12. WANTED A PET GODZILLA

zillo beast godzilla

Star Wars: The Clone Wars showed corners of the Star Wars universe that had yet to be explored, including the apparent existence of gigantic kaiju-like monsters. As part of a three-episode arc, Anakin Skywalker captures the Zillo Beast, a massive creature buried beneath the surface of a planet. On Palpatine’s orders, the creature is transported to Coruscant to be studied for his own sinister purposes.

While the creature awakens and attempts to kill Palpatine in an homage to Godzilla and King Kong, it is eventually subdued and killed to stop its rampage. Palpatine then orders the creature to be cloned, although nothing really comes of it. It is likely this sprung out of Palpatine’s fascination with super-weapons that would later be realized in the Death Star.

11. USED TWO LIGHTSABERS

emperor two lightsabers

Revenge of the Sith saw Palpatine finally bust out his lightsaber to fight off a number of Jedi. While he displayed incredible fighting skill in the film, instantly killing two Jedi Masters, with a third shortly thereafter, and fighting on level ground with both Mace Windu and Yoda, it doesn’t really compare to his one instance of lightsaber combat in The Clone Wars.

Darth Maul, having miraculously survived being bisected on Naboo, had begun to build his own empire far from Coruscant with his brother Savage Oppress (yes, really). Palpatine, of course, isn’t too pleased with that. He arrives with little fanfare and completely dismantles the two powerful warriors with relative ease, using two lightsabers, likely showing his true skill as a duelist that he apparently held back in ROTS.

10. DIDN’T NEED A CANE

palpatine arrives cane

In Return of the Jedi, the Emperor’s first true appearance shows him descending out of an Imperial shuttle, hunched over and leaning on a cane. Despite this air of projected weakness, we later see him easily overpower Luke Skywalker with his mastery of the Force. Through supplementary materials, we learn that the cane is part of a carefully crafted persona of being a doddering old man.

This is similar to Palpatine’s ruse before becoming Emperor, projecting an air of congeniality and kindness to mask his true power as Dark Lord of the Sith. While we don’t see the Emperor bust out the acrobatics of ROTS (due to a combination of underestimating Skywalker and a smaller effects budget), he still reminds us just how powerful he really his.

9. ORIGINALLY PLAYED BY A MONKEY

original emperor chimp

Before the Emperor would make his full appearance in Return of the Jedi, he made a brief appearance in The Empire Strikes Back as a hologram warning Darth Vader of Luke Skywalker. It is here they hatch the plan to turn Luke to the dark side, and reveal that they know his lineage. As Ian McDiarmid would not step into the role until Return of the Jedi, the shadowy figure was played by actress Marjorie Eaton, with chimpanzee eyes superimposed over darkened eye sockets.

The hologram would later be replaced for the 2004 DVD release, with McDiarmid in his Revenge of the Sith makeup and some rewritten lines. While the change does unify the series a bit more, it also takes away a large part of what made the Emperor’s first appearance so unsettling and sinister, along with raising questions of why his makeup changed from Empire to Jedi.

8. IF I CAN’T HAVE IT, NO ONE CAN

emperor bot operation cinder

The recent video game Star Wars Battlefront 2 from EA, in addition to sparking a bit of controversy about some economic practices, revealed the Emperor’s contingency plan in the event of his death: act like a toddler and break everything. Dubbed Operation Cinder, the order is relayed by a droid with the Emperor’s face and final orders to target loyal Imperial worlds for destruction by orbital bombardment.

Among the targets is his home planet of Naboo, which causes protagonist Iden Versio to turn traitor and join the Rebellion to stop them. The game raises many questions, foremost among them why almost every other Imperial officer went along with this plan rather than attempt to seize power for themselves, and not least why the protagonist was fine with the Death Star but not fine with Operation Cinder.

7. BUILT HIS PALACE ON THE JEDI TEMPLE

jedi temple imperial palace

With the fall of the Republic and the Jedi, there was suddenly a large plot of real estate readily available in the form of the now-abandoned Jedi Temple. Palpatine, never one to let good abandoned temples formerly inhabited by his mortal enemies go to waste, moved in as fast as his wrinkly legs (that’s a thing you’re thinking about now) could carry him.

In doing so, he learned that the temple sat atop a massive nexus of dark side energy, and quickly turned it into his center of power. While the fate of the Jedi Temple has not yet been detailed by Disney, in the Legends canon, the temple is eventually reclaimed by the Jedi after the Emperor’s death, and again later reclaimed by the resurgent Sith.

6. POSSIBLY ANAKIN’S FATHER

anakin and palpatine opera

Anakin Skywalker’s parentage was revealed in The Phantom Menace, an apparently virgin birth by Shmi Skywalker. While it is never made explicit, there are strong implications that Anakin was created through the Force, possibly by the machinations of Plagueis and Sidious. What is known is that the two Sith Lords enacted a powerful dark side ritual to hinder the Jedi’s ability to use the Force and see the future.

The theory goes that the Force itself pushed back against the ritual and created Anakin. Whether Palpatine had a direct hand in Anakin’s birth or merely caused it inadvertently will likely never be answered, but the connection they shared was apparent even before Anakin began his Jedi training. It likely provided a slight opening for Palpatine to corrupt the young Jedi into Darth Vader.

5. ALWAYS TRYING TO REPLACE VADER

imperial inquisitors rebels

One of the most famous scenes in the Star Wars saga is the Emperor attempting to turn Luke Skywalker against his father and cause his fall to the dark side. Even before Luke entered into his plans, he was constantly seeking a replacement for Vader after his disfigurement on Mustafar. Because the cybernetic limbs and other enhancements hindered Vader’s ability to use the Force, the Emperor needed a stronger apprentice.

Between the Imperial Inquisitors and Doctor Cylo’s research into cloning and bleeding-edge cybernetics, the Emperor kept a ready stable of replacement apprentices, although as time progressed it became clear that none of the potential replacements measured up even to Vader’s crippled form, and served as little more than tests of Vader’s skill and loyalty.

4. BASED ON RICHARD NIXON (AMONG OTHERS)

nixon star wars

In the creation and development of the Emperor, George Lucas pulled from a number of historical sources, some more obvious than others. The most obvious parallels were Adolf Hitler and Julius Caesar, chancellors seizing absolute power in times of war and refusing to relinquish it when the war was over. One of the more subtle (yes, ol’ George was occasionally subtle) inspirations, though, was Richard Nixon.

Consider that the original Star Wars was being written in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, and that Nixon attempted to place himself above the courts and the legislature, as Palpatine successfully did. Anakin even directly calls out the parallel in Revenge of the Sith by calling the courts and the Senate corrupt, with Palpatine himself going so far as to claim “I am the Senate.”

3. WRINKLY FACE IS HIS REAL FACE

emperor's true face

In Revenge of the Sith, the climactic duel between Mace Windu and Sidious ends with Sidious’ lightning being reflected back to him, turning him into the wrinkled and wizened old man of Return of the Jedi. While he claims before the Senate that he has been scarred by the Jedi’s attack, supplementary materials and Ian McDiarmid himself both confirm that the congenial middle-aged persona he put forth before the attack didn’t end at his mannerisms.

The face he showed before his duel with Windu was in fact an illusion, and his true face is ravaged and wrinkled, caused by the corrupting power of the dark side. He abandons the disguise when he finally lets slip the charade of Palpatine, becoming Sidious fully in both manner and appearance. In Legends, he would later be resurrected in a clone body, which would quickly degenerate into the aged form of the movies due to the dark side.

2. KEPT VADER ALIVE WITH THE FORCE (AND KILLED PADME)

palpatine on mustafar

This entry is a little more theoretical. Padme’s death and Anakin’s miraculous survival in Revenge of the Sith are two slight mysteries within the Star Wars universe. The theory goes that, since Sidious felt Vader’s distress on Mustafar from half a galaxy away on Coruscant, he also had the power to reach across the galaxy to Polis Massa and drain Padme’s life force into Vader to ensure that he survived the cybernetic surgery.

The theory continues further than Sidious was keeping Vader alive the entire time, evidenced by Vader not collapsing and starting to die in Return of the Jedi until after the Emperor’s death on the second Death Star. The Emperor was certainly capable of this power, if the ritual he and Plagueis enacted to reduce the Jedi’s ability to use the Force is any indication.

1. LUKE BECAME HIS APPRENTICE

luke skywalker dark side

While the Emperor failed to corrupt Luke Skywalker in their first encounter, his later return in a clone body in Dark Empire saw his plans finally come to fruition. Luke offered to serve Palpatine, thinking he could defeat him from the inside, but ended up being corrupted by the Emperor’s overwhelming evil. He serves the Emperor as a replacement for his father, and leads Imperial forces against the New Republic.

Although Luke eventually breaks free of the Emperor’s dark influence with the help of Leia, the Sith Lord maintains his presence through a seemingly endless supply of clones and his immortal spirit. He is fortunately eventually defeated with the help of one of Luke’s budding Jedi apprentices, but not without devastating several planets in the newly-born New Republic.

What else do you know about The Emperor? Let us know in the comments!

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