More than 30 years after his original demise, Palpatine made his return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Emperor Palpatine, first seen in The Empire Strikes Back and defeated in Return of the Jedi, lives on in the final chapter of the Skywalker saga. Back to clash with Rey, Finn, and Poe, Emperor Palpatine, a.k.a. Darth Sidious, continually proves himself the most malicious presence in the galaxy — and is the saga’s greatest villain.
Open up this Sith holocron to find out more about the character and why he’s so important to the history of Star Wars…
1. His first name is Sheev.
It isn’t nearly as menacing as “Emperor,” but Palpatine does have a first name. “Sheev” was introduced in the novel Tarkin by James Luceno, published in 2014. Fan consensus is that the name is pretty silly. As with many things in Star Wars, the little piece of lore is most famous as a meme. But it’s also not that much weirder than the other, more obscure names in the Prequels — “Eeth” also has that double “e.”
2. Palpatine comes from Naboo, Padmé’s home planet.
The Emperor always plays the long game. Step one to galactic domination was leadership on his home planet of Naboo. As portrayed in The Phantom Menace, it’s a planet of contrasts. Its human citizens rest beside beautiful lakes and build elegant cities, as does the Gungan species underground. But humans and Gungans dislike one another and tensely divide up the planet. Palpatine gains enough trust in the Senate by manipulating events on Naboo to eventually be elected Chancellor of the Republic.
3. He was trained by Darth Plagueis…
As Palpatine tells Anakin right at the cusp of the Jedi’s downfall, Darth Plagueis knew how powerful, corrupt Force users could learn to live beyond death. This is an ability both Sith and Jedi can achieve, Jedi by becoming one with the Force and living on as spirits and Sith by binding themselves to objects or places. For Anakin, all that mattered was that Palpatine presented him with a possible way to save his wife Padmé.
As for how Sidious replaced Plagueis as Dark Lord of the Sith, their ancient order of villains clings to a long tradition of apprentices embracing the dark side by killing their teachers. Once Sidious learned all he could (and presumably after he was granted his “Darth” title), he killed Darth Plagueis. This took place after Palpatine started representing Naboo in the Senate, so he knew that he had solid footing under him in both the political and mystical realms. Ironically, by throwing his Master into the pit on board the Death Star, Darth Vader continued this chain of Sith succession.
4. His custom lightsaber was hidden in plain sight.
When the Jedi council tried to arrest Palpatine in his office, he was more than prepared. Palpatine, ever the planner, had hidden his lightsaber inside of one of the statues in his office, making it easy for him to retrieve it when it was time to fight the Jedi.
Although he is seen using two identical lightsabers in The Clone Wars, in Revenge of the Sith it takes just one for him to take out a group of Jedi Masters, including Mace Windu. The lightsaber hilts look like what one might expect from a refined and corrupt senator, not necessarily from a dark side master: they gleam with smooth surfaces of silver and gold.
5. Palptine might be Anakin Skywalker’s true father.
In The Making of Revenge of the Sith by J.W. Rinzler, it’s revealed that Lucas’ earlier drafts of the story featured a scene where Palpatine would reveal to Anakin that he had manipulated the midi-chlorians to create the young Jedi, and in this way, the Sith lord was his father. While Lucas cut this storyline from the movie, hints of it returned in the second volume of Marvel’s excellent Darth Vader comic, which features Vader having a trippy Force vision that shows him how the Emperor might have created him. But this revelation is left open to interpretation. Is Vader seeing the truth or witnessing his worst fear come to life?
6. He has contingency plans for his own death…
Along with last-ditch blitzkrieg attacks by the Empire, Palpatine also set up personal failsafes in case of his untimely demise. The death of his physical body was even part of his dark plan. The Rise of Skywalker shows how Palpatine planned to live on by possessing another person. At first he planned for it to be Luke Skywalker, then Palpatine’s own son, then Rey. Since he could access all the spirits of Sith Lords past and she could speak to the Force Ghosts of Jedi Masters, corrupting her would put an end to the Jedi forever.
To ensure he lived long enough to do that, Palpatine had to move his spirit into a clone body first. After Return of the Jedi, he lived in the care of the Sith acolytes on Exegol. The body he wears in The Rise of Skywalker is a clone form and an imperfect one at that. It began to decay and was unable to move on its own. In essence, while Palpatine’s body didn’t survive being thrown into the Death Star’s reactor, his spirit could as long as there was a vessel for it.
Actor Ian McDiarmid said at The Phantom Menace 20-year anniversary panel at Star Wars Celebration Chicago that he and George Lucas had multiple conversations about the Emperor’s fate, and that the saga’s creator always insisted that Palpatine was dead. But that didn’t mean the Emperor couldn’t find a different way to return. In fact, he did return in the Legends continuity in the comic series Dark Empire, which resurrected the Emperor as a series of clones that corrupted Luke for a time. This comic was likely a major source of inspiration for J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio when penning the script for The Rise of Skywalker.
7. …And for the Empire.
In the canon Aftermath novel trilogy, it was also revealed that the Emperor had a plan to cull weakness from the Empire after his own death. He would draw the Empire and its foes into battle at the planet Jakku and then destroy the planet, taking out the “weakest” fighters and leaving the stronger to rule a new Empire.
The first part of the Contingency plan was Operation: Cinder. Carried out immediately after the Battle of Endor, it was an order for Imperial forces to destroy key planets using deadly satellites. The targets included Palpatine’s own homeward of Naboo and the Imperial loyalist world Vardos, among others. He communicated with key commanders through droids wearing red robes and displaying holograms of his face, as if he were still alive.
8. Palpatine prepared a new Empire on Exegol.
The end result of Palpatine’s master plan would have been the rise of the Final Order, a new Empire without the threat of rebellion or Jedi. On Exegol, we see how he’d been building up his new war machine for years, and he used the First Order and Supreme Leader Snoke to distract the New Republic and the Resistance while he prepared to unleash his massive fleet of planet-destroying Star Destroyers.
Palpatine also had a fascination with the Unknown Regions of space throughout his original rule. The Aftermath series describes the Unknown Regions as an unmapped place wild enough to drive explorers mad. But it’s habitable, at least in parts: the Chiss species thrives in the anomalous star systems with the help of Force-sensitive navigators called “skywalkers.”
Now that The Rise of Skywalker is out, we know that Palpatine did find some secret there related to his ability to survive in some form after death. His Sith acolytes used this newfound knowledge to create dark technology that kept their master alive.
9. Palpatine’s son was a clone who couldn’t use the Force.
Like Luke Skywalker learning Darth Vader was his father in The Empire Strikes Back, The Rise of Skywalker also had a wild family reveal. Rey is Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter. The movie novelization explains more about this than Episode IX itself does, showing that Palpatine’s son was actually a strand-cast, a genetically modified clone. These clones are notoriously misshapen (see the reference to them in The Mandalorian), but Palpatine Jr. seemed to be healthy, except for one big problem: he was not able to use the Force.
Undoubtedly pushed away by his father’s scorn, Junior left Palpatine and married. He and his wife raised Rey away from Palpatine and tried to hide her from him, thus leading to her solitary childhood on Jakku.
10. The inclusion of Palpatine in Episode IX was part of George Lucas’ plan.
In an interview with IGN, producer Gary Kurtz said that the Emperor’s return had been present in George Lucas’ idea for Star Wars sequel films. The first trilogy had always been the middle of the story in Lucas’ mind: “At that time, he always said that he had enough material for three earlier films and three later films, to make a total of nine, and there were outlined materials certainly for a later three that culminated with this big clash with the Emperor in Episode IX,” Katz said.
11. He finally got to sit on his original creepy throne in Episode IX.
In The Rise of Skywalker, we finally get to see Emperor Palpatine sit on the throne that was originally designed for him in a sketch by Ralph McQuarrie in 1981. Phil Szostak, creative art manager at Lucasfilm and author of The Art of movie books, posted a side-by-side comparison of the thrones:
The throne is an intimidating sight, to say the least, and a perfect fit for the Dark Lord of the Sith. Unfortunately for Palpatine, the Sith lord barely gets any time to sit on the throne at all before he’s destroyed by Rey and the spirit of the Jedi she summons.
12. Lucas was inspired by real-life dictators and Nixon when creating Palpatine.
Lucas has said through the years that he looked at real-life dictators Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Napoleon when coming up with the concept for Emperor Palpatine. But he also took inspiration from Richard Nixon, a president who became deeply unpopular through his handling of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that forced him to resign the presidency in his second term. Lucas later said in an interview with The New York Times that the Emperor Palpatine more closely resembled former vice president Dick Cheney.
13. Palpatine was originally a character named Cos Dashit.
The first drafts of Star Wars featured a very different version of Emperor Palpatine. Lucas had originally created a character named Cos Dashit, a bumbling Emperor who didn’t have Force powers nor any real strategical skills. A version of the Cos character later appeared in the original Star Wars novelization, From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, which begins with a prologue describing the Emperor as more of a puppet leader controlled by other Imperial leaders like Grand Moff Tarkin. This was retconned in later Star Wars adventures.
14. The Emperor was originally played by Marjorie Eaton.
The Emperor first appeared on screen in The Empire Strikes Back as a hologram. But that’s not McDiarmid. It’s actress Marjorie Eaton, who wore a mask for the scene. Her lines were then dubbed over by London stage actor Clive Revill, who gave the Emperor his unique voice in the movie.
The hologram scene was later digitally edited to replace Eaton and Revill’s performance with McDiarmid’s face and voice for the DVD release of the movie. That’s why you won’t find any trace of Eaton or Revill in a modern cut of The Empire Strikes Back.
15. A different actor was cast as Palpatine before McDiarmid.
While McDiarmid has been immortalized as the Emperor in Star Wars history, Lucas originally cast a different actor in the role: 75-year-old Alan Webb, an English stage actor. But Webb became ill just as Return of the Jedi began filming. He died in 1982, almost a whole year before the movie hit theaters.
Ben Kingsley was then brought in to read for the role but it was McDiarmid who ultimately got the part. Decades later, we can’t imagine what it’d be like to see anyone but McDiarmid playing the Emperor!