Hey everyone, and once again thank you for reading! I am very excited about this week’s post as I will be doing a full analysis of my all-time favorite villain: Sheev Palpatine. A man of many names, he has been called Senator, Supreme Chancellor, Emperor, and by those who know his darkest nature he has gone by Darth Sidious or simply, Master. Despite his apparent defeat at the end of Return of the Jedi, I believe that Palpatine is one of the most successful villains of all time. Here’s why…
NOTE: Throughout this post and future posts, I will interchangeably use Darth Sidious, Palpatine, or Sheev to refer to the same character, in much the same way as I may use Darth Vader or Anakin to refer to Anakin Skywalker or may use Darth Tyranus to refer to Count Dooku. There are a lot of people with a lot of names, just hang in there.
The Rise of Darth Sidious
“The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” –Palpatine, “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”
In current canon we know very little about Darth Sidious’ Sith training. What we do know is that starting in his early teenage years he was trained by Darth Plagueis “The Wise,” a Sith Lord who learned how to keep the people he cared about from dying through the manipulation of midichlorians. In true Sith fashion (see my discussion of the Rule of Two in my post from two weeks ago), Darth Sidious killed his master, thereby proving that he was strong enough to take on the role of Sith Master and worthy to inherit Plagueis’ power and wealth. While Sidious claimed to have learned all that Plagueis had discovered, he eventually admitted to Anakin that he never learned his master’s method to save lives. Whether or not he lied about this is a matter of debate which I will discuss this later.
We also know that at some point (either during his training or after the death of his Master), Sidious took on and trained an apprentice of his own: Darth Maul, a Dathomirian male. This apprentice was acquired by double-crossing the mystical Mother Talzin, the leader of the Dathomirian Nightsisters. Palpatine had promised to make her his apprentice after she taught him her dark side magicks. Instead, he kidnapped her son and raised him to be a fierce Sith warrior. Sidious eventually used Maul in his plot to be elected to Chancellor of the Galactic Senate.
Finally, we know that Sidious was always a collector. He gathered many artifacts of ancient Sith masters and cultures. This helped deepen his understanding of the dark side of the Force.
From Senator to Chancellor to Supreme Chancellor
“It is with great reluctance that I have agreed to this calling. I love democracy. I love the Republic. Once this crisis has abated, I will lay down the powers you have given me!” –Palpatine, “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”
While he was hiding a dark side (get it?), in public Darth Sidious was a kindly senator from Naboo. Senator Palpatine worked hard alongside the Naboo royalty to maintain democracy (Naboo elected their monarchs) and their way of life. However, in the background he manipulated the Trade Federation and used his apprentice, Darth Maul, to block trade and occupy the major cities of Naboo.
How did screwing over his home world assist Palpatine in his quest for ultimate power? At this point the Galactic Senate’s bureaucracy overwhelmed its ability to provide any relief to the Naboo. Palpatine very subtly hinted that it would help if Queen Padmé Amidala put forward a vote of no confidence in the current Chancellor Valorum. While this at first seemed controversial, the vote passed and Palpatine (through both his and Darth Plagueis’ senatorial connections) was voted in as the new chancellor. While his apprentice Darth Maul was defeated by the Jedi during the Battle of Naboo, Palpatine’s goal of increasing his political power was accomplished.
During his stint as Chancellor, the Senate’s convoluted bureaucracy and its corruption increased. Palpatine kept sycophants close, raising those that he could easily manipulate to positions of influence. However, he also kept those who showed true talent and potential close, fostering mentor relationships and keeping those with true promise beholden to him (such persons of interest include Wilhuff Tarkin and Anakin Skywalker). As the corruption in the Senate increased, many systems began a Separatist movement under the leadership of Serreno Count Dooku, a former Jedi Knight who left the Order due to disagreements over the spreading Senatorial venality and Jedi complacency. Once the Separatist droid factory on Geonosis was discovered, the Senate (urged by Representative Jar Jar Binks) voted to give Chancellor Palpatine emergency power, naming him Supreme Chancellor, and the galaxy was thrown into the Clone Wars.
The Clone Wars
“Of course, in wartime, some things must be kept secret, even from the people, so as not to aid the enemy.” –Anakin Skywalker, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” Season 2 Episode 19
This war is by far one of the most brilliantly complex plans put forward by any mastermind I have ever heard of. On one side, the Separatists led by Count Dooku using battle droids as soldiers. On the other side, the Republic, led by Grand Chancellor Palpatine with his army of clones. However, behind the scenes, Count Dooku was also known as Darth Tyranus, apprentice to Darth Sidious. Palpatine fully constructed the Clone Wars to gain ultimate power and to destroy the Jedi Order.
The Clone Wars were named for the Grand Army of the Republic, which was made up completely of clones bred on Kamino. While the Kaminoans claim that the clones were originally commissioned by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas, it is later revealed that they were actually funded by Count Dooku, under the order of Darth Sidious.
The Clone Wars were extremely costly to both sides, yet was effectively an eternal battle. Both sides spent large amounts of money building or breeding their armies. The use of droids and clones meant that these battles were never ending, and the Jedi, who served the Senate and were given the task of commanding the Army of the Republic, were ever-dwindling. While clones and droids could always be bred or build, the Jedi were quickly losing numbers.
Due to the Jedi fighting on the frontlines alongside helmeted clones against featureless droids, they were often seen as the faces of the Clone Wars, breeding large amounts of resent from the citizens of disputed systems who constantly found themselves in the crossfire. The Jedi began to find themselves losing power and popularity. They knew that the Sith were behind this war but could not quite figure out who was the ultimate mastermind, at times believing Dooku to be the master instead of the apprentice. This blindspot can be attributed to two major factors: first of all, the dark side clouds all, and dark side users can hide their presence in the Force from all Jedi. This meant that even though he spent much time with the Jedi Council, none of these esteemed Jedi Masters could even tell that Palpatine was Force-sensitive, let alone a Sith Lord. Secondly, the Jedi Temple itself was built over the remains of an old Sith temple, which still contained much dark side energies. These energies actually began to siphon power from the Jedi, increasing its drain as the war took its toll. More and more the Jedi looked to Anakin Skywalker, believed by many to be the Chosen One prophesied to defeat the Sith and bring balance to the Force, but they were even losing on that front, as Palpatine had begun influencing Skywalker at a very young age. By the end of the Clone Wars the Jedi were weakened, all it took was a final blow.
That final blow came after victory seemed to be in hand for the Republic. Count Dooku had been killed by Anakin Skywalker, and the separatist General Grievous had been killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, at this point Palpatine had told an anxious Anakin that he was the Sith Lord the Jedi were searching for and that only he had the power to save his pregnant wife Padmé, whom Anakin believed was in trouble. When Anakin told the Jedi Council what he had learned, the Council went to apprehend Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, which ultimately led to the disfigurement of Palpatine, and the death of Master Mace Windu at the hands of Anakin along with two Jedi Masters dispatched by Palpatine himself. Anakin then pledged his allegiance to Palpatine, where he received the new title of Darth Vader. Vader was then sent to Mustafar, where he was tasked to kill the Separatists leaders who had gathered there at Darth Sidious’ request.
Afterwards, Palpatine met with the Senate. He used his disfigured face as evidence that the Jedi had turned traitor, attempting to assassinate the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. He declared that all Jedi should be killed. Palpatine then activated Order 66, a programming inside all the clone soldiers that instantly made them identify Jedi as enemies. At this point the Jedi and the clones had become close friends, so many Jedi were immediately killed, unable to foresee the coming betrayal. Very few Jedi survived Order 66. Those that did were hunted by clone troopers, Darth Vader, or Sith Inquisitors. Due to the decreasing galactic morale, most citizens believed Palpatine’s tales of the Jedi betrayal, though many came to regret this after Palpatine declared himself Galactic Emperor and the era of the Empire began.
There is an interesting theory on Palpatine’s disfigurement. He became disfigured while his Force lightning was reflected back at himself from Mace Windu’s lightsaber. This almost killed him, but Anakin, believing Palpatine to be the only one who could save his wife and unborn child, intervened, resulting in Windu’s death. Many viewers have noted that in Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker took a good dose of Palpatine’s Force lightning but did not have the facial effects that Palpatine suffered. There are two main views: 1. Perhaps Palpatine’s lightning was more concentrated on his face, whereas the lightning that Luke took seemed dispersed across his whole body. 2. My favorite theory is that this was Palpatine’s true face. In Legends canon it was shown numerous times that the Sith are often disfigured through their training. The idea is that Palpatine’s face was always disfigured, but he used dark side magicks to disguise it. Once Windu attacked him he probably saw an opportunity to make the Jedi appear to be villains and dropped the disguise. It’s up to you what you want to think.
Another controversial theory comes from the death of Padmé. Palpatine tells Vader after he was saved from his disastrous duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi that Vader killed Padmé in a fit of rage. However, the medical droid who attended Padmé during the hidden birth of her twins and her eventual death stated that she died even though there was no medical reason, stating that she appeared to have lost the will to live. An interesting theory floating around the internet is that Palpatine had learned how to manipulate life through the manipulation of midichlorians. The idea is that he told Vader that there was nothing he could do because after Padmé’s death, Vader essentially lived to serve his master. This theory further states that Palpatine used the manipulation of midichlorians to drain Padmé of her life force. Interesting.
Darth Sidious and His Apprentices
After the seeming death of his first apprentice, Darth Maul, Darth Sidious took on the former Jedi Knight turned Serrano Count, Count Dooku, as his new apprentice. He gave Dooku the name Darth Tyranus and together they engineered the Clone Wars and the downfall of the Republic and the Jedi Order. Their meetings were held only under the strictest of cover as in the public eyes they were enemies, each leading the opposing forces of the Clone Wars. During the Clone Wars, Dooku took on two apprentices of his own, which he used more of assassins than true apprentices. His use of different apprentices caused the Jedi to believe that he was the Sith Master, not the apprentice, as the Rule of Two generally only allows for two Sith at a time. This rule, however, only applies to the existence of Sith Lords, and can allow apprentices to take on apprentices of their own to be used to carry out certain missions.
At one point during the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious’ reign as Sith Lord was challenged, surprisingly, by the reemergence of his old apprentice Darth Maul, whom all believed to have been killed by Obi-Wan Kenobi during the occupation of Naboo. This challenge was short lived, as Darth Sidious, not known for backing down from a challenge, single-handedly defeated both Maul and Savage Oppress,Maul’s brother and apprentice. Maul’s story is still open in canon and I look forward to seeing what happens. I also want to do a shout-out to Darth Sidious’ hood, which is the hardest-working piece of fabric in the galaxy.
During the final battle of the Clone Wars, Count Dooku was killed by Anakin Skywalker, at the urging of Palpatine himself. No doubt Darth Sidious viewed his apprentice’s defeat at the hands of the young Jedi Knight as the will of the Force. As I mentioned earlier, the Clone Wars closed with Darth Sidious taking on Anakin as his new apprentice, and the destruction of the Jedi Order during Order 66, leading to the formation of the Galactic Empire.
The relationship between Darth Sidious and Darth Vader was the ultimate Sith master/apprentice relationship. With the death of his wife and his entire way of living, Darth Vader, now more machine than man, lived only to serve his master. Darth Sidious maintained his superiority over Vader, often forcing his apprentice to do things such as wipe out whole villages just to show that he was in charge. This relationship would probably have continued, as we very rarely see Darth Sidious actually attempt to train Vader or make him stronger, preferring instead to keep him as a guard dog for his Empire. However, when Darth Vader discovered the existence of his son, he began to change, believing for the first time that he could eventually overthrow the Emperor, and rule the galaxy with his son as his apprentice.
An interjection about Darth Sidious and his apprentices Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader: Darth Sidious was never a Jedi. It is assumed that he was very powerful in the dark side of the Force and escaped the attention of the Jedi temple through his prowess in deception and disguise. As such, all of his knowledge of a master/apprentice relationship came from the Rule of Two. The master owes the apprentice nothing and it is up to the apprentice to gain the strength to one day kill the master. If the apprentice shows weakness the master is within his right to kill his apprentice or discard him as he sees fit. On the other hand, both Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader were raised in the Jedi Temple. For the Jedi, it is the master’s job to teach and support the apprentice, nurturing the apprentice’s abilities. This difference led to a few apparent misgiving between Darth Tyranus/Darth Vader and Darth Sidious. This can be seen by Darth Tyranus’ look of betrayal when Palpatine ordered Anakin to execute him, and through Darth Vader’s frustrations that the Emperor was keeping him at a distance. Darth Sidious, however, knew the philosophy of the Rule of Two, and knew that in order to survive he had to keep his apprentices weak and in the dark.
The Imperial Era and the Emperor’s Defeat
During his reign as Galactic Emperor, Palpatine ruled from the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, which he built on top of the Jedi Temple, leaving only its towers in place as reminders of the fate of the Jedi. He continued to surround himself with corrupt sycophants and ruled using a mixture of fear and manipulation. Palpatine placed a large amount of faith in might through technological means, as seen through the construction of monstrosities such as the two Death Stars and numerous Star Destroyers.
While Darth Vader struck fear in the hearts of those who would oppose the Empire using his skills in the Force, the Emperor generally kept his identity of Sith Master a secret. Often destroying those who may have seen his true nature with great prejudice. Not only did he use Vader to hunt those who would oppose him, but he also trained Sith Inquisitors, dark side initiates who were used to hunt down any hidden Jedi.
Under his rule, there was a general policy of human favoritism in which species who were alien in nature were often enslaved or treated with far less preference than humans or human-like species. The Emperor also gave preferential treatment to planets closer to the Galactic Core, thereby increasing complacency in the capital and its surrounding area, making any rebellious activity inherently spread across the Mid- and Outer-Rim.
Planetary resources were largely drained to fill the Empire’s coffers, and systems that did not cooperate with Imperial demands and policies were dealt with harshly. This led to a large amount of Rebellion, and ultimately the birth of the Alliance to Restore the Republic.
With the destruction of the first Death Star, the Emperor began construction on a second, larger Death Star. As more systems rebelled, construction was slow, and Darth Vader’s “kill people who disappoint you” management strategy was not as effective as you would think. The slow-down of progress led to the Emperor personally overseeing the construction.
It was on the second Death Star during the Battle of Endor that Luke Skywalker, who had recently completed his Jedi training, faced Darth Vader and the Emperor. The Emperor had foreseen this confrontation, and believed he could bring Luke to the dark side, just as he had done with his father. This almost worked, as the Emperor’s taunts brought Luke into a rage which almost resulted in the death of Darth Vader, but at the last moment Luke tossed his lightsaber aside, preferring to submit to death than become another slave to the dark side. “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” “So be it, Jedi.”
At this the Emperor stars pelting Luke with Force lightning and laughing maniacally (in all seriousness, Palpatine has one of the best evil guy laughs). Vader eventually lifts his master in the air and throws him down a seemingly bottomless shaft, saving his son and putting an end to Palpatine’s reign, at the cost of his own life. The second Death Star was destroyed by Lando Calrissian in his legendary Death Star run and the Rebellion won. Ewoks danced and in all probability feasted on the carcasses of dead Stormtroopers while X-Wings shot fireworks out of their torpedo launchers. Peace was restored to the Galaxy, for all of ten minutes.
In Legends canon, it was later discovered that Palpatine had created several clones (similarly to what Dr. Cylo-IV and –V had done in the Star Wars comics) allowing him to live on after his supposed death at the hands of his apprentice. This coupled with the hidden identity of Supreme Leader Snoke has led many to believe that Palpatine survived and led the First Order as Snoke in the Sequel Trilogy (“Star Wars Episode VII-IX”). I personally think that Sheev is dead for good, but only time will tell.
“We are the ones who built something called a Death Star under the leadership of a decrepit old goblin who believed in the ‘dark side’ of some ancient, insane religion.” –Jylia Shale, Star Wars: Aftermath
Immediately following the Battle of Endor, Imperial leadership scrambled to prevent knowledge of Palpatine’s death and the destruction of the Death Star from spreading. Entire sectors were blockaded and spreading rumors of the Emperor’s defeat was punishable by death. Operation: Cinder was put into place, commanding the scouring of numerous planets, including Sheev’s homeworld of Naboo. The Rebellion did not stop, and they continued to hit Imperial factories and outposts.
Eventually, the truth of Palpatine’s fate spread and the Empire began to falter. This moment, accentuated in the novel Star Wars: Aftermath, perfectly outlines Palpatine’s genius in my mind. After the dissolution of the Senate and the loss of numerous Moffs and Grand Moffs throughout the Galactic Civil War, the loss of the Emperor and Darth Vader left the Empire without leadership. The Emperor had set up a government that completely relied on him. Those at the top of the Imperial chain of command got there by backstabbing their peers and sucking up to Palpatine. This caused a large amount of infighting amongst the Imperial brass following Sheev’s death, and largely prevented them from uniting against the rising New Republic.
Since Aftermath was the first in a trilogy and we still have a bit of a wait before the second and third installments, we are missing a large amount of information about the thirty years between Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We do know, however, that the Empire was reduced to a small fraction of what it once was, rebranded as the First Order, and the Rebellion was successful, for a time, in reinstating the Republic. However, I do not think we have seen the last of Darth Sidious’ influence and I look forward to learning more about this fascinating villain.
I know a lot of this information is common knowledge to those who have seen the movies. However, more information about Palpatine can be found in the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” TV series (on Netflix) as well as the novels Star Wars: Tarkin, Star Wars: Lords of the Sith, and Star Wars: Aftermath. The Marvel “Darth Vader” comic also shows some of Sheev’s antics between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Various other comics, TV shows, and novels have other tidbits of information in it as well.
This concludes my breakdown of Sheev Palpatine. This is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time and I hope I’ve done him justice with this post. For now, I want to thank my buddy Daryl for reading through, editing, and fact checking all my posts before they are published. Next week, my post will be on Troopers: from the Clone Wars to the First Order. Once again, thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!