Back on Season 2 of Podcasters Assemble (covering the Star Wars movies), I correctly predicted that Emperor Palpatine, Darth Plagueis, and Supreme Leader Snoke were all one in the same… well, at least from a certain point of view. In “Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” we learn that “Palpatine’s back… somehow”, and while this reveal could have been handled and set up better, I do think Palpatine’s inclusion in the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga actually makes A LOT of sense.
Say what you will about the prequels and sequels, Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of the evil Sith Lord is one of the best things about the Star Wars movies. He’s not just the ultimate embodiment of evil in the franchise, Emperor Palpatine is literally the main driving force behind Episodes One through Nine!
1 – Palpatine *IS* ‘The Phantom Menace’
In “Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, we learn that the Jedi Knights have become the guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy after vanquishing the Sith over a thousand years ago… or so they thought. It turns out that the Sith were actually just in hiding, keeping their numbers low, and biding their time as they grew in the Dark Side of the Force. As Darth Maul states, in his one line of dialogue, “At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi, at last we will have revenge…”
After Obi-Wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn, is slain by Darth Maul, Master Yoda and Mace Windu ponder whether Maul was the master or apprentice. The camera slowly pans over to Palpatine, who has the subtle hint of a mischievous smile. As fans know all too well, Senator Palpatine of Naboo was in fact the mysterious cloaked figure known as Darth Sidious – the Dark Lord of the Sith!
As Sidious, Sheev Palpatine (yes, his name is Sheev) carefully plotted to overthrow the Galactic Republic from the shadows. During a convoluted course of events, he manipulated Padme Amidala into calling for a vote of no confidence in Supreme Chancellor Valorum, leading to his opportunity to replace him as the new Supreme Chancellor, and setting the stage for the next phase of his long-term plans…
So yeah, Palpatine *was* the Phantom Menace all along!
2 – Sidious orchestrated both sides of The Clone Wars!
During the events of “Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones”, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine secretly orchestrates an assassination attempt against Senator Amidala, leading to her hiding out off world, while none other than Jar-Jar Binks steps up as her substitute. Palpatine easily manipulates Jar-Jar into proposing a vote to give Chancellor Palpatine ‘Emergency Powers’ to deal with the impending crisis (which he also orchestrated). He declared, “As my first act with this new authority, I will create a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists!”
Conveniently, around that same time, Obi-Wan discovered a massive cloning operation on the planet Kamino. It was allegedly ordered by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas ten years earlier in secret, but the Jedi Master was betrayed and killed by Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrannous), on Sidious’s orders.
However, little did the Jedi know that the Sith Lord himself had been manipulating Sifo-Dyas, hired the notorious bounty hunter Jango Fett as a template for the clones, and had them implant “Order 66” into the Clone Troopers (more on that later). The Clone Wars break out soon after, and the Jedi are too busy fighting off Count Dooku and his droid armies to realize that they’re taking orders from the guy who started the conflict in the first place! Palpatine orchestrated the entire conflict in order to cull the Jedi’s numbers, and weaken their power, waiting for his moment to strike.
So yeah, long story short, just like Agatha, it was Palpatine all along! (I think I’m sensing a pattern here…)
3 – The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis, the Wise…
“Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” begins with the end of the Clone Wars, as a battle rages in orbit above Coruscant. Obi-Wan Kenobi and his young apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, are on a mission to ‘save’ Chancellor Palpatine from the clutches of the evil cyborg, General Grievous, and the sinister Count Dooku. Unfortunately, the Jedi still had no clue that it was Good Ole’ Pappy pulling the strings, behind the scenes. It was all a ruse to test Anakin, because Sidious had his sights set on replacing Dooku / Tyrannous. In his own words: “Soon I will have a new apprentice. One far younger and more powerful…”
When Anakin starts having foreboding premonitions of losing Padme (his baby mama), he turns to (Supreme Chancellor) Palpatine who reveals himself to be the Sith Lord, and tempts him with the power over life and death. Palpatine first planted this seed of doubt when he told him about a ‘Sith Legend’, the “Tragedy of Darth Plagueis, the Wise” – “Darth Plagueis… was a Dark Lord of the Sith! So powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create… life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side, he could even keep the ones he cared about… from dying.“
“He could actually… save people from death?” Anakin asked.
Palpatine replied ominously, “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities… some consider to be unnatural!” Palpatine goes on to heavily imply that Plagueis taught him everything he knew, before killing his master in his sleep, as is the Sith way, or something.
So why did Palpatine go through all the trouble of making Anakin his new apprentice? Especially when he even acknowledges to Yoda (during that badass saber fight in the senate chambers) that Skywalker has the potential to be more powerful than either of them? Well, I believe it’s because Palpatine fully intended to transfer his essence into Anakin Skywalker, to cheat death – but could it be that the same had happened to Palpatine when he killed his own master, Darth Plagueis? Was Darth Sidious really just a new host for Darth Plagueis?! (more on that later)
After revealing himself to the Jedi, and single-handedly cutting down several Jedi Knights with ease, Sidious was cornered by Mace Windu, who managed to reverse Palpatine’s force lightning back on him – revealing his true form? Perhaps the reason Palpatine suddenly appeared a thousand years old, is because he was in fact an ancient Sith who had transferred his consciousness between Master and Apprentice for centuries?
Regardless, Palpatine feigned weakness to gain Anakin’s sympathy, seducing him to the dark side with the false promise to save his wife from certain doom, but we all know how that turned out…
4 – The Fall of the Republic and the Rise of the Galactic Empire
By the end of “Revenge of the Sith”, Palpatine had orchestrated the Fall of the Republic through manipulating both sides of the Clone Wars, virtually wiped out the Jedi by commanding the Clone Troopers to “Execute Order 66”, turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, named himself Emperor, and consolidated power by establishing the “First Galactic Empire!!!” (For a safe and secure society, of course) – all of which perfectly sets the stage for the original film, “Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope” – where the plucky and outnumbered Rebel Alliance is fighting back against the evil Galactic Empire. You know, it was a period of Civil War and all that.
Although Emperor Palpatine himself doesn’t directly appear in the original 1977 ‘Star Wars’, Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader both refer directly to him. In an awkward board meeting on the Death Star (where Vader chokes out an underling for talking smack about the Force), Tarkin explains to his men that “The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I’ve just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.” He then goes on to explain that: “Fear will keep the systems in line, fear of this battle station.”
To add insult to injury, we also learn in “Rogue One” that the Death Star’s planet killing weapon was developed using Kyber crystals – the very same sacred gems that the Jedi used to create their lightsabers! Further, in “Solo” we get confirmation that the Empire phased out Clone Armies and instead recruited the citizens themselves as Storm Troopers and Imperial Officers to enforce their hold over the galaxy. Not to mention all the stuff with the Inquisitors as seen in Rebels and Obi-Wan, where force-sensitive people were either executed, or indoctrinated to hunt down their own kind.
So yeah, basically everything terrible in the original Star Wars trilogy is directly the result of Palpatine’s evil schemes, because… Sith happens?
Luckily, ‘A New Hope’ arrived in the form of an overly enthusiastic farm boy from Tatooine, who was quickly radicalized by an old space hermit into blowing up said Death Star, and the rest is space history.
5 – Who’s Vader’s daddy?!
As everyone and their mother knows, in “Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker that he is in fact (spoiler alert?) his father! It’s one of the most iconic scenes in all of Star Wars. This was a pretty shocking twist back in 1980, (“No, that’s not true! That’s impossible!”) but now it’s been parodied to death.
But there’s another piece of lore that really adds another layer to the saga: in the excellent book “Darth Plagueis” (remember him?), we learn that Palpatine used his newfound powers to “create life”, like Plagueis had taught him, and this was confirmed in cannon in the recent comics with Darth Vader #25!
Way back in “The Phantom Menace”, Shmi Skywalker (Anakin’s mom) said, “There was no father”, but it’s heavily implied that Palpatine manipulated the midichlorians to create Anakin to fulfill a Jedi prophecy of “the one chosen to bring balance to the force” as part of his overly complicated masterplan to take over the entire galaxy. It also makes a little more sense why Grandpa Palpy took such an interest in young Anakin from the very beginning, and ultimately corrupted him into his apprentice, Darth Vader.
In “The Empire Strikes Back”, Emperor Palpatine tells Vader that he felt a great disturbance in the force: “We have a new enemy. The young Rebel who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.” He warns Vader that Luke could destroy them, but Vader says, “If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.”
If Palpatine was in fact Vader’s father, than that would make him both Luke and Leia’s grandfather, and Ben Solo’s great grandfather – at least from a certain point of view – and if Palpatine was directly related to the rest of the Skywalker family, that would mean that the Skywalker saga itself is really the Palpatine saga!
Of course, later on, during that epic confrontation on Bespin, Vader tries to get Luke to join him so that together they can overthrow the Emperor, but I’m pretty sure that was also secretly part of Palpatine’s long term plans all along, as I’ll get to next…
6 – The Temptation of Luke Skywalker
Many fans got their first real taste of Palpatine (and his force lightning) back in 1983 with “Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”, where the Emperor himself decided to pay a visit to the newly constructed Death Star (this time with less exhaust ports), to oversee their final victory over the Rebellion, once and for all. As scary as Darth Vader was in the original trilogy, it was clear that he was even more scared of his boss. Yoda even warns Luke: “Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor, or suffer your father’s fate you will.”
Now there’s a weird moment where Emperor Palpatine tells Luke: “Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!” Ever since I was a kid, I’ve often wondered about what his endgame was here, but it becomes much more clear by the time we get to Episode IX: Palpatine wanted Luke to kill him, so that he could take over his body! (Remember that bit about Darth Plagueis earlier?)
Now the only reason he never did the same to Anakin was because poor lil Annie got barbecued on Mustafar! (“He’s more machine than man now” after all.) And although Luke ultimately resisted the temptation of the Dark Side, and Vader sacrificed himself to stop the Emperor from killing his son, we now know that Palpatine’s spirit escaped to Exegol for his Plan B, because… plot reasons. “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.”
Remember, this guy has plans within plans. I mean, come on, the dude had a whole second Death Star in the works, just in case! Speaking of backup plans though…
7 – Snoke was just Palpatine’s Puppet
“Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” introduced us to a seemingly new threat in the form of The First Order, which was led by Kylo Ren, under the mysterious “Supreme Leader Snoke”. The First Order at the time really felt like a cheap knock-off version of the Empire before it, but they were still scary because of their conviction to this ultra fascist ideology.
In the opening of “The Rise of Skywalker”, Kylo Ren confronts Sidious on Exegol. Palpatine tells him, “At last. Snoke trained you well.” Kylo retorts, “I killed Snoke. I’ll kill you.” Emperor Palpatine laughs, then tells him that he created Snoke and has been every voice whispering inside his head.
It turns out that Snoke was really just a meat puppet for Palpatine, who had managed to resurrect himself into a cloned body after his ‘death’ in “Return of the Jedi”, but there were actually hints that Palpatine was pulling the strings on Snoke, even back then! The biggest hint of course was that whenever we saw Snoke’s hologram, the theme from the Darth Plagueis scene in “Revenge of the Sith” played in the background. (Again, Plagueis = Palpatine = Sidious = Snoke.) This of course is also later reinforced by all the prototype Snoke clones we see in both “The Mandalorian” and “The Rise of Skywalker” later on. Even in the latest series, “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, we learn that the Empire has an entire tomb of fallen Jedi, which are presumably being collected by the Inquisitors to harvest their midichlorians in secret, for the Emperor’s eventual contingency plans.
The biggest clue however, was how similar Snoke’s appearance and mannerisms were to Palpatine, and his apparent obsession with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren, and of course Rey…
8 – Rey was a Palpatine, before it was cool.
Throughout “Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, we follow Rey as she attempts to uncover her true heritage. Kylo Ren tells her dismissively that she was the child of junk traders who sold her off for drinking money, but we eventually learn the truth in “The Rise of Skywalker” – that she wasn’t a Skywalker, a Solo, or a Kenobi, but that she was a Palpatine! And for all the fans that cried fowl, there were actually a few hints at this as well, way back in “The Force Awakens”!
When Rey has a vision, after touching Anakin’s old lightsaber, she hears the voices of numerous Jedi, but she also hears Palpatine’s voice. Later on, without any training, she was naturally able to resist Kylo Ren’s force abilities! Rey’s theme by John Williams is also very reminiscent of a lighter and faster paced version of Palpatine’s throne room theme from “Return of the Jedi”!
In “The Last Jedi”, Luke was warry of training Rey, because he sensed great darkness in her, especially when he saw how easily she was drawn to the dark side. “I only saw this raw strength once before. In Ben Solo. It didn’t scare me then. It does now.” And obviously Palpatine himself was one of the most powerful force users in the galaxy, up there with Master Yoda. Skywalker goes on to explain to her, that at the height of the Jedi, “they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire, and wipe them out. It was a Jedi Master who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader.”
As we come to learn later, both Luke and Leia were aware of Rey’s secret lineage, which is why Leia tells her to never be afraid of who she is, because as Yoda once said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering…” Further, Rey’s force vision on Ahch-To actually foreshadows her connection to Palpatine, showing a series of clones of herself.
The biggest clue however was her lightsaber fighting style during her initial confrontation with Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base in “The Force Awakens” – the way she raised the saber over her head to bring it down was very reminiscent of Sidious’s fighting style against Yoda in “Revenge of the Sith”! And then, we see her *accidentally* harness force lightning in “The Rise of Skywalker”, which is a key move from the Palpatine playbook. And then of course, we get that moment in the Emperor’s throne room on the crashed ruins of the second Death Star (on the *ocean* moon of Endor), where Rey sees a vision of what she could become, if she were to embrace the Dark Side.
So really the entire sequel trilogy is (and always has been) about Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter!
9 – The Emperor is “ALL the Sith”!?
Finally, in “Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker”, Palpatine finally returns… somehow? While the specifics are left shrouded in mystery (and probably for the best), it’s revealed that Snoke was really just mouth piece for Palpatine (called it btw), who was barely clinging to life in a series of creepy cloned bodies that kept deteriorating from all the dark force energy inside him.
On the long-forgotten Sith planet of Exegol, where the ‘Final Order’ prepares to conquer the galaxy once more, Darth Sidious reveals Rey’s true heritage, and attempts to persuade her to his side: “Long have I waited, for my grandchild to come home! I never wanted you dead. I wanted you here, Empress Palpatine.”
Just like with Luke Skywalker in “Return of the Jedi”, Palpatine tells Rey to strike him down, but this time explaining that he will live on inside of her! “Your hatred, your anger. You want to kill me. That is what I want. Kill me… and my spirit will pass into you. As all the Sith live in me… you will be Empress… we will be one.” Palpatine goes on to say that he is the embodiment of ALL the Sith, confirming that Darth Plagueis and all the Sith that came before lived on inside him.
Unfortunately for Palpatine, Rey chose the light side of the Force. As a last resort, Palpatine nearly managed to absorb all of Kylo and Rey’s life force to restore his body and abilities. Rey ultimately triumphs, after calling upon the spirits of all the fallen Jedi to defeat the ancient Sith Lord once and for all.
‘The Skywalker Saga’ or ‘The Rise and Fall of Emperor Palpatine’
So to recap: Palpatine was the Phantom Menace, he caused the Clone Wars, destroyed the Jedi order and conquered the galaxy as Emperor, created the Death Star(s), corrupted Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, tempted Luke Skywalker, and created Snoke as a puppet ruler of the First Order, after surviving his own demise. Rey was secretly his granddaughter – whom he had planned to inhabit, as all the other Sith that had come before, lived on in him. Sidious, like Plagueis and the previous Sith Lords before him, was obsessed by his pursuit of power (Unlimited Power!) and eternal life, but it was ultimately his (their?) undoing, as his manipulations ultimately brought about the prophecy that Rey fulfilled in finally bringing balance to the Force.
While “The Rise of Skywalker” certainly has it’s faults, and “The Last Jedi” could have set up things better (not to mention a few missteps with the prequels), overall I think the ending really makes sense for the Skywalker Saga as a whole. Considering Palpatine was really there from the beginning, it’s fitting that it should end with his final defeat.
The only weird part now is that kiss between Rey and Ben Solo, if the Skywalkers are also technically Palpatines? Regardless I do appreciate her taking on the last name ‘Skywalker’ as her found family, rather than her genetic one, as a Palpatine.
But what do you think – is Palpatine really the central character of the Skywalker Saga? Do you think his return in Episode IX was earned? Where do you think the Star Wars series should go next? Let us know in the comments below!
For more great Star Wars content, check out our Podcasters Disassembled episode on “Rogue One”, or click here to read about Erik’s favorite Star Destroyers!