Alongside Darth Vader, Palpatine is unquestionably one of the most iconic villains of all time. He is scheming, powerful, and malevolently evil to his very core. Palpatine restored the Sith to power and exterminated the Jedi Order, accomplishing something no other Sith Lord in history had been able to. Not to mention he transformed the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire with himself as Emperor. Between manipulating galactic politics to become Supreme Chancellor during the Naboo Crisis, then engineering the devastating Clone Wars in order to seize more power, culminating in declaring himself absolute ruler of the entire galaxy, Palpatine stands as one of the greatest villains in cinematic and science fiction history.
As one of the most powerful villains in the Star Wars Universe, he managed to use the Dark Side to cloud the vision of the most elite Jedi masters and fool the entire galaxy for years, playing the part of Senator and eventually Chancellor, all the while leading a double life as the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious. Palpatine's flowing black robes, evil laugh, endless schemes and plots, not to mention his crackling blue Force lightning, have all become iconic. He has been compared to everyone from Julius Caesar and Adolf Hitler to George W. Bush. He remains a symbol of pure evil in popular culture, as well as one of corruption, tyranny, deception, and the transformation of democracy into a dictatorship.
In the original trilogy, very little is known about the Emperor. In the prequel trilogy, we see his rise from a Senator from Naboo to Chancellor of the Senate, and finally to ruling the Galactic Empire as Emperor. Still, much about the ultimate bad guy from Star Wars remains a mystery. Here are 15 facts about Emperor Palpatine you may not have known.
We hope you enjoy, and may the Force be with you.
15 Recorded by History as the Most Powerful Sith Lord Who Ever Lived
Palpatine was considered by many throughout history, including Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, to be the most powerful Sith Lord of all time. He was notably the only Sith Lord ever able to accomplish their long-time goal of eliminating the Jedi and restoring the Sith Empire. He learned virtually every application of the Dark Side of the Force that existed, including decades spent studying the most arcane Jedi disciplines. Palpatine was considered to have mastered all the previously known Force powers and to have unlocked previously unknown powers, and even devised new ones. Even Master Yoda was unable to defeat Palpatine during their fight in the Senate chamber. Many canon sources explicitly name him as the most powerful Sith to exist.
A millennium before, the Sith Lord Darth Bane came up with the concept of the "Rule of Two," the governing law of the Sith wherein an apprentice has to overthrow their master to advance. Bane realized the power the Sith held would dilute generation after generation unless there were only two: a master and an apprentice. Because if there are only two, that means the apprentice would have to become stronger than the master, but if there were more than two, several weaklings could gang up on a stronger individual and make the Sith weaker overall. Seen in this light, Darth Sidious is the culmination of 1,000 years of the process of each Sith Lord getting stronger and stronger than the last.
14 He Had a First Name
In the films, Palpatine was always known as simply that: Palpatine, no matter if the name was preceded by Senator, Chancellor, or Emperor. Alternatively, he was known as Darth Sidious by his apprentices and servants, but no one who associated with the Sith Lord ever mentioned one very important thing: his first name. In the real world, his first name remained unknown for decades.
In fact, it wasn't until 2014 with the publication of James Luceno's canon novel Tarkin that Palpatine's first name was casually revealed to readers. Grand Moff Tarkin was apparently one of the few people in the entire galaxy to address the devious Sith by his full name, which was revealed as "Sheev Palpatine." As is often the case with the Star Wars Universe, the fans met this revelation with mixed feelings, though since Tarkin is a canon novel, "Sheev" is not Palpatine's official name in the Expanded Universe (which is now called the Legends continuity).
13 He Was Played During His First Appearance by a Woman and a Chimp
Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid is famous for playing Palpatine in four of the movies, including Return of the Jedi and all three prequel films. But sharp-eyed fans may notice that the Emperor looks and sounds vastly different in his earliest appearance in the original theatrical version of The Empire Strikes Back. The Emperor, at this time nameless, appears to Vader in a hologram to discuss the threat posed by Luke Skywalker.
In the version seen in theaters, Palpatine was played by American actress and painter Marjorie Lee Eaton wearing a latex mask over her face. Actor Clive Revill provided the voice of the Emperor, which was then dubbed over. The eyes of a chimpanzee were superimposed over the footage to give the character an alien, unsettling look. Years later, Ian McDiarmid was digitally inserted and dubbed over in a later edition of Empire, and the dialogue of the scene was changed.
12 He Killed His Entire Family
Star Wars is filled with highly recognizable recurring themes, such as the battle between light and dark, a student betraying and overthrowing their master, and of course, a son killing their father. These themes are heavily explored within the Skywalker family. But what many might not know is that Palpatine is also guilty of patricide. Apparently thirsty for power even before he became a Sith Lord, as a young man Palpatine implored his family to enter politics. When they refused his wishes, he grew to despise them. Most of this hatred was focused on his father, who he deemed weak. They argued profusely over politics and the future of Naboo, until one day his father said he wished his son was dead, and that he should have killed him long ago.
Consumed by years of resentment and rage and under instruction from Darth Plagueis, the young Palpatine used the Force to murder his father by smashing his skull against the bulkhead of a ship. He then proceeded to murder everyone aboard, including his mother, his siblings, and his family's bodyguards. He then pledged himself to the Dark Side and his new master's teachings, taking the name Darth Sidious. Of course, Palpatine would also fulfill another one of these themes when he killed Darth Plagueis in his sleep after he had been taught everything he knew and had no further use for him.
11 He Was a Popular Figure At First
Star Wars fans know Palpatine as the wicked Emperor, bringing billions of subjects to their knees and ruling over the evil and militaristic Galactic Empire with an iron fist. There can be no doubt that Palpatine's cunning and command of the Dark Side of the Force brought subjugated many peoples. But did you also know that, at least at the beginning of his reign, he was a popular and revered figure in the galaxy? Yes, it's true: it wasn't just fear or oppression that kept the people in line; it was the fact that he had the support of most of the population and the Republic's government early on.
He first rose to power vowing to drive out the corruption and inaction that plagued the Senate, and during his time as Chancellor, he surprised everyone by becoming increasingly popular. He wrote extensively, and his theories were well-known enough to be taught at universities. Yet he remained humble and unassuming on the surface. The Clone Wars also increased his popularity even as he orchestrated them himself. He had enough popularity later in his Chancellorship not only to dissolve the Republic and establish the Empire but to turn the galaxy against the Jedi by convincing them they had a hand in starting and prolonging the war. Because of this, he received little backlash to his wiping out the Jedi Order as traitors. It was only later in his reign as Emperor when the true oppressive nature of his regime became apparent that public opinion began to turn against him.
10 He Banned Lightsabers
During the days of the Galactic Empire, Palpatine made owning a lightsaber illegal. Wielding a lightsaber was a crime and even possessing one as a collectible was illegal. He also ordered many of the sacred sites where the Jedi gathered the kyber crystals used to make their lightsabers razed to the ground, and imposed strict sanctions forbidding the trade of the crystals across the galaxy. Sith warriors like Darth Vader had to have special permits to carry theirs. Lightsabers, already rare, became impossible to find.
He doesn't believe that Sith should need the use of lightsabers as weapons, and despises them as the traditional weapons of the Jedi. Although Palpatine owns several lightsabers and uses them to deadly effect in combat, he claims he only continues to use them as an insult to the Jedi. This may be true, as his Force abilities and lightning are more than enough to defeat any opponent, though he was still shown using the weapon (to great effect) in Revenge of the Sith. After his rise as Emperor, Palpatine used the weapon less frequently, though he maintained his skills as a master duelist.
9 He Loved Torture
While it may come as no surprise that the man who physically embodied the Dark Side, which is based on fear, anger, hate and pain, would love to inflict pain on others, Palpatine showed a special talent for it over the years. He took great satisfaction is describing to captured rebel leaders how they would all be interrogated, tortured, and executed as traitors to the Empire. He also famously savored the pain he inflicted on Luke Skywalker with Force lightning during the Battle of Endor.
In the Expanded Universe, Palpatine's love of "rule by fear" has a potent example in Bevel Lemelisk, chief engineer, and designer of the Death Star. After the first Death Star was destroyed at the Battle of Yavin, Palpatine punished Lemelisk by having him devoured by flesh-eating piranha beetles. After Lemelisk died an agonizing death, he awoke in a new clone body, his consciousness transferred by Palpatine's dark alchemy. Lemelisk would be killed and revived multiple times over the years, once again showing the malevolence with which Palpatine made examples of those who failed him.
8 He Was Behind the Creation of the Clone Army
Palpatine was not just behind the Clone Wars to begin with, with his own apprentice Count Dooku, also known as Darth Tyrannus, leading the Separatist Alliance. He was also responsible for the creation of the clone troopers of the Grand Army of the Republic, which he had implanted with a biochip programmed with Clone Protocol 66, an order to cause the clones to turn against their Jedi masters and eliminate them. The protocol was activated by remote voice command by Palpatine, who only needed to order them to "execute Order 66."
The chip was implanted in the clones by the Kaminoan scientists as the behest of the Sith Lords under Darth Sidious and ensured total obedience as the order caused the clones to violently lash out and view the Jedi as traitors. At Palpatine's behest, Order 66 was issued and the protocol was activated, with clone troopers all across the galaxy turning on the Jedi and killing them. Only a few Jedi such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Kanan Jarrus escaped and were forced to go into hiding.
7 He Ordered the Destruction of his Home Planet of Naboo
Palpatine's home planet is Naboo, and he has been described by various sources as a noble. House Palpatine, the family of his origins, was one of Naboo's many noble families. Though his public face was a humble public servant working to do his best for his homeworld against the corruption of the Senate and the Republic, Palpatine had no problem engineering the invasion of Naboo by the Trade Federation, which ended with him as Chancellor. But what some may not know is that he went even further as Emperor, actually ordering the destruction of his own home planet.
In a contingency plan known as Operation: Cinder, Palpatine posthumously ordered the complete scouring of the surface of Naboo using the climate disruption array to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Rebels. At least a dozen other key planets in the Empire were to be attacked in a similar fashion. It was only due to the intervention of Rebel forces led by Leia Organa and Lando Calrissian that stopped the complete annihilation of all life on Naboo.
6 He May Have Created Anakin
While still only a theory, this idea has been hinted at dozens of times in both canon and Legends material. Anakin Skywalker's mother, Shmi Skywalker, claims in The Phantom Menace that she carried and gave birth to her son without any father. Mystified by this claim, Qui-Gon Jinn tests the boy's blood for midi-chlorians and found the highest count ever recorded. Jinn concludes that the boy was conceived purely by the Force. Some members of the audience took this story of a "virgin birth" at face value: after all, it would explain much about Anakin's character, such as his extraordinary powers, high midi-chlorian count, and it fits with the idea that he is the "Chosen One" destined to bring balance to the Force.
But sources like the Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia claim that the teachings of Darth Plagueis, applied by Palpatine, were instrumental in the conception of Anakin Skywalker. In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine tells Anakin that Plagueis (who taught Palpatine everything he knew) could manipulate the midi-chlorians to create life, and gives him a strange look while telling the tale. Taking into account how Palpatine had an early interest in Anakin and how much he loved setting up plans far in advance, this is very possible.
5 He May Also Have Killed Padmé
One of the oddest and most mysterious moments in the Star Wars saga comes at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Padmé's tragic death, truly one of the saddest moments in the saga, is attributed by a medical droid to "a broken heart," as he insists there is nothing medically wrong with her. This is attributed to having lost the will to live. While this concept may sound like something out of a fairytale, an interesting fan theory has a different take on this head-scratching scene.
The theory goes like this: after Anakin was defeated in battle with Obi-Wan on Mustafar, Palpatine found his charred and mutilated body and sustained his life through the Dark Side, most likely through midi-chlorian manipulation - a power he had by his own admission. Palpatine kept Vader alive through an influx of the Living Force by taking it from Padmé by way of his dark arts. The reason the medical droids couldn't figure out why she was dying is because droids can't use the Force. While this may seem unlikely at first, the evidence for this theory is extremely compelling. Palpatine was able to sense Anakin in danger all the way on Coruscant, and he is the most powerful Sith to ever live; to affect Padmé all the way on Polis Massa would be easy. It also explains many other things, such as how Padmé died the moment the procedure on Vader was over, why Palpatine somehow knew about Padmé dying, and why in Return of the Jedi Vader only begins wheezing and dying after the Emperor dies.
All this would seem to indicate that this was the final part of Palpatine's plan to enthrall Vader to him forever. Without Padmé, Vader would be completely committed to the Emperor.
4 He Trained Under the Nightsisters – Then Killed Them All
In canon, Palpatine originally wanted Mother Talzin, the Clan Mother of the Nightsisters of Dathomir, as his apprentice. While still training under Darth Plagueis, Palpatine traveled to the planet in order to gain more knowledge of the Dark Side so he could overthrow his master. He asked Mother Talzin to join him, but soon took an interest in her young son Maul, abducting him as his apprentice in her place. Talzin swore revenge on Sidious and all the Sith.
Her personal vendetta against Palpatine extended to the Clone Wars, where Talzin carried out several assassination attempts against Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus, the leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems as well as Sidious' new apprentice.
Asajj Ventress, herself a former Nightsister turned Sith, fled back to Dathomir after being betrayed by Dooku at Sidious' insistence. They hatched a plan where Maul's brother Savage Opress, another of Talzin's children, would become Dooku's new apprentice and infiltrate the ranks of the Sith. Dooku and Palpatine responded by having General Grievous and his forces invade Dathomir, massacring all the Nightsisters except for Ventress and Talzin herself.
3 He Was Revived Many Times
In the Expanded Universe, now called the Legends continuity, Palpatine never intended to be overthrown and aimed to achieve immortality. After his first death onboard the second Death Star during the Battle of Endor, it was revealed that Palpatine has discovered how to return from the dead, and his consciousness survived through the Dark Side. It was also revealed that for years Palpatine had raised an army of clone bodies for himself on the planet Byss, which his consciousness could possess at will. This would enable him to achieve immortality and rule the galaxy forever.
Originally, his apprentice Darth Vader was intended to one day surpass and overthrow him, fulfilling the Sith edict of the "Rule of Two," but Palpatine decided that Vader would never be powerful enough to overthrow him after his injuries on Mustafar.
2 His Death Caused a Dark Force Nexus
Palpatine's death created a Force Nexus, also called a vergence, meaning an unusual convergence of Dark Side Force energy capable of tearing apart the fabric of time and space. A place is called a Force nexus when any aspect of the Force is particularly strong, and they are considered focal points of power for Force users. Some examples for the Dark Side include the entire planet of Korriban and the Valley of the Dark Lords and in particular, the twisted tree cave on the planet Dagobah.
The Emperor's demise on the second Death Star in orbit above Endor tainted the space itself above Endor, leaving behind a "stain" that emanated powerful Dark Side energy. These nexuses were often guarded by Jedi Knights to prevent their discovery and from Dark Side users exploiting them for wicked purposes. A nexus of dark energies was said to be able to tear apart everything in its vicinity, from humans to machines.
1 In the Expanded Universe, Luke Skywalker Became His Apprentice
In the graphic novel Dark Empire, Luke Skywalker traveled to the planet of Byss, which was surrounded by the power of the Dark Side. While there, he came face-to-face with the revived Emperor Palpatine. It's then revealed that Palpatine has been using his Sith magic and dark alchemy to transfer his consciousness into clone bodies to obtain immortality. The reborn Emperor then offers Luke the opportunity to become his apprentice. Faced with the Emperor's power and charisma and realizing that killing him will only lead to him possessing another clone and wanting to defeat the Dark Side from within, Luke surrenders and becomes Palpatine's new apprentice.
After evidently submitting himself to the reborn Emperor, Luke gains the command codes for the Emperor's new Imperial fleet and stops the new automated planet-destroying superweapons the World Devastators from devouring the planet Mon Calamari. He then turns on his would-be master, embracing the light once again.