It’s not easy to hide things from today’s fans. Marvel didn’t say a word about Avengers: Endgame being a time travel movie, and yet every MCU fan went in expecting it, because they’d trawled the trailers and set photos and costume designs and simply figured it out. But Lucasfilm managed to keep the fact that Emperor Palpatine was making a return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a secret from fans.
Ian McDiarmid wasn’t spotted on the set and no plot details were leaked, so the producers managed to make it a completely unexpected reveal. Here are the 10 greatest Emperor Palpatine moments to get you excited for his return.
10 Getting thrown into a reactor core by Darth Vader
Palpatine managed to service Darth Vader’s character development across the Star Wars saga by simply being way more evil than him. He was hitting Luke with Force lightning, and it was sadistic enough to snap Vader out of his Dark Side tendencies and get him to pick up Palpatine and toss him down a reactor core, sacrificing himself to save his only son. What makes this moment even more impressive on Palpatine’s part is the fact that he somehow managed to survive the fall – or live on from beyond the grave – and make it to the events of The Rise of Skywalker, several decades later.
9 “Power! Unlimited Power!”
Some of the impact of this scene is lessened by the fact that Samuel L. Jackson and George Lucas have both since agreed that Mace Windu survived the fall. Still, it’s an important moment, because it’s the clearest moment that we see Anakin abandon the Light Side of the Force and turn to the Dark Side. Palpatine is hitting Windu with Force lightning and Windu is deflecting it back into his face.
Anakin can only choose to save one of them, and with Palpatine promising him “unlimited power,” he decides to save him, sending Windu flying out into the Coruscant skyline.
8 Persuading Anakin to kill Count Dooku
The opening scene of Revenge of the Sith gave us one of the greatest space battles in Star Wars history. Three movies in, George Lucas finally learned how to use CGI effects as an improvement, rather than a hindrance. It sees Obi-Wan and Anakin infiltrating a Separatist ship in order to rescue a captured Palpatine.
The two Jedi Knights have to battle Count Dooku to get to Palpatine, and at the end of the fight, Anakin has Dooku on his knees, ready to be decapitated. The Jedi don’t kill unless it’s absolutely necessary, and in this case, it’s not necessary – but Palpatine tells Anakin, “Do it,” and he does.
7 Encouraging Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to fight
The greatest strength of the Palpatine character is his ability to manipulate other people’s motivations and behavior. For years, he was the puppet-master behind Darth Vader, telling him what to do and what to think. In the climactic battle sequence in Return of the Jedi, he manipulates a lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. When Luke arrives at the Emperor’s throne room, he doesn’t want to fight Vader.
But because Vader is under the Emperor’s thumb, a fight breaks out anyway. The perfect shot to symbolize this is the closeup of a smiling Emperor as Luke and Vader’s lightsabers clash in front of his face.
6 Telling Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis
One of the most controversial things that Disney did after purchasing Lucasfilm to alienate Star Wars fans was throw out the Expanded Universe – novels, comic books, and video games that these fans had invested years in and hundreds of creators had cultivated to build a wider Star Wars universe, and the Mouse House just tossed it in the trash.
Thankfully, Darth Plagueis, possibly the most powerful Sith Lord who ever lived, made his way into canon when Palpatine told his story to Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. The scene is even more powerful, because it hints at Palpatine being Anakin’s father.
5 Taking on four Jedi Knights singlehandedly
When Palpatine’s evil plan becomes apparent to the Jedi Council, it’s not long before Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Saesee Tiin, and Agen Kolar all head down to his office to bring him to justice. However, as the mild-mannered, if a little dodgy politician reveals himself to be the Sith Lord they call Darth Sidious, the Jedi realize they’re in serious trouble.
These are highly trained, powerful, experienced Jedi Knights, and Windu is the only one that it takes Palpatine more than a few seconds to strike down. The threat of Darth Sidious escalates exponentially within moments and even Mace Windu himself panics.
4 Hitting Luke with Force lightning
We were first introduced to the concept of Force lightning in Return of the Jedi, and it was pretty awesome. We’d seen that the Force could be used to move things around or sense that loved ones were in danger, which is how the Jedi use it, but then we saw that the Sith have much cooler applications for it, like shooting lightning out of their fingers.
It’s a gut-wrenching scene, because Luke Skywalker is the heart of this saga and, as it came to its conclusion, it was looking like our hero might not make it to the end.
3 Executing Order 66
As soon as the Galactic Senate’s vote goes through and Palpatine assumes control of the entire Republic, he contacts Commander Cody and tells him, “Execute Order 66.” This turns out to be the mass murder of every Jedi Knight currently in the field. A huge part of Palpatine’s plan involved wiping out the Jedi, because they were the only force in the galaxy that posed a threat to him.
It was pretty tragic, seeing the Clone Troopers suddenly turn on the Jedi Knights they were guarding, who were completely taken by surprise. Apparently, George Lucas’ first cut of the scene was even more violent.
2 Lying to Darth Vader
One of the greatest moments in Revenge of the Sith – and bear in mind that this is a movie with a very high great moment quotient – is the moment at which Anakin Skywalker truly becomes Darth Vader. He’d already turned his back on the Jedi and been seduced by the Dark Side, but when he awakens in that black suit with Palpatine at his side is the moment he really embodies Vader for the first time.
The final nail in Anakin’s coffin is when Palpatine tells him he murdered his wife, and the tragedy is that this isn’t even true; he just said it to kill whatever shred of Anakin might have remained.
1 His lightsaber duel with Yoda
It wasn’t until Revenge of the Sith that we really saw Palpatine in action. Until then, we knew him as the crotchety old man pulling the strings behind Darth Vader in the original trilogy and a politician stuck behind a desk in the other prequels. But in Revenge of the Sith, he takes on Yoda in one of the most breathtaking lightsaber duels in Star Wars history.
They head into the chambers of the Galactic Senate and launch pods at each other using the Force. This moment gives us two of the most powerful Force users in the history of the galaxy, doing battle with one another – it’s a sight to behold.