Emperor Palpatine is a fictional character and the main antagonist of the Star Wars saga, portrayed by Ian McDiarmid in the feature films.
Palpatine first appeared as the unnamed Emperor of the Galactic Empire in the 1980 film Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. In this film and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, he is an aged, pale-faced figure who wears dark robes.
In the prequel trilogy, Palpatine is a middle-aged politician of the Republic who rises to power through deception and treachery. As the Senator of Naboo and later the Supreme Chancellor, he outwardly behaves like a well-intentioned and loyal public servant, yet underneath his affable public persona lurks his true identity: Darth Sidious, a Dark Lord of the Sith. As both Palpatine and Sidious, he sets into motion a series of events—including the Clone Wars—which ultimately destroys the Jedi Knights and the Republic, allowing him to usher in the Galactic Empire, a brutal authoritarian regime.
Since the initial theatrical run of Return of the Jedi, Palpatine has become a symbol of evil and sinister deception in popular culture.
Star Wars films
In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, several characters mention that the Emperor is the ruler of the Empire, but he is neither properly named nor seen in the film.
In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Emperor Palpatine appears for the first time as the Sith master of Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones). The Emperor contacts Vader via holographic communication to tell him of a "great disturbance in the Force," and warns him that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is becoming a threat. Vader convinces the Emperor that Luke would be an asset if he could be turned to the dark side of the Force.
In Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Palpatine arrives on the second Death Star to oversee the last stages of its construction. When Darth Vader delivers his son, Luke Skywalker, to Palpatine, the Emperor—intent on replacing Vader with a younger, more powerful apprentice—tempts the young Jedi to the dark side by appealing to his fear for his friends. This leads to a lightsaber duel in which Luke defeats and nearly kills Vader. Luke ultimately refuses to turn to the dark side, however, and an enraged Palpatine attacks him with Force lightning. Moved by the sight of his son's suffering, Vader turns on his master and redeems himself by throwing the evil Emperor into the Death Star's reactor shaft, killing him.
In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, set 32 years before A New Hope, Palpatine is introduced as the senior Galactic Senator from the planet Naboo. The corrupt Trade Federation blockades and invades Naboo under the influence of Palpatine's Sith alter ego, Darth Sidious. Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) flees to the planet Coruscant to receive counsel from the senator. After a plea for help from the senate results in bureaucratic delays, Palpatine persuades her to make a motion to have Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum (Terence Stamp) removed from office. Palpatine, as Sidious, sends his apprentice Darth Maul (Ray Park/Peter Serafinowicz) to Naboo to oversee the invasion and find the queen. The invasion, however, is thwarted by Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor); in the ensuing lightsaber duel, both Maul and Jinn are killed. Palpatine returns to Naboo, having been elected the new Supreme Chancellor. He tells nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), newly accepted as Obi-Wan's Jedi apprentice, that "we will watch your career with great interest".
In Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, set 10 years later, the galaxy is on the verge of civil war, as a growing Separatist movement of planets seeks to secede from the Republic to form the Confederacy of Independent Systems. They are led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a former Jedi and Darth Sidious' new apprentice, known secretly by his Sith name, Darth Tyranus. Dooku hires a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) to assassinate Padmé, leading to a wild goose chase for Obi-Wan to kill Fett and find Dooku. Palpatine tells Anakin (Hayden Christensen) to bring Padmé to her home planet of Naboo and guard her; Anakin and Padmé soon fall in love. After Obi-Wan discovers that the Separatists are building a secret battle droid army, Palpatine uses the situation to have himself granted emergency powers. Palpatine feigns reluctance to accept this authority, promising to return it to the Senate once the crisis has ended. His first act is to create an army of cloned human warriors to counter the Separatist threat. The clones had recently been discovered by Obi-Wan as having been secretly ordered by deceased Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas many years earlier. When Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padmé, and the other Jedi go to the planet Geonosis, they engage in an epic battle that serves as the opening salvo of the Clone Wars, but Dooku and the Separatists escape. Dooku then meets with Sidious, bringing with him plans for a Geonosian superweapon.
In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, set three years later, Palpatine is captured by Separatist leader General Grievous (Matthew Wood) as part of Darth Sidious' elaborate plan. Palpatine is rescued by Anakin and Obi-Wan, but not before the Jedi confront Count Dooku. A short duel ensues, in which Dooku knocks Obi-Wan unconscious, and goes after Anakin; the younger Jedi eventually overpowers Dooku, and then kills him in cold blood at Palpatine's urging. Palpatine then escapes with his Jedi rescuers and returns to Coruscant.
By this point, Palpatine has become a virtual dictator, able to take any action in the Senate. The Jedi Council is troubled by Palpatine's power and fears he will not relinquish it when the Clone Wars end — suspicions which only grow when the Senate grants Palpatine a vote on the Jedi Council. He appoints Anakin as his representative on the Jedi Council, but they refuse to grant Anakin the rank of Jedi Master. The Council then orders Anakin to spy on Palpatine, but he instead reveals the Jedi's plan to him. Palpatine tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise, a powerful Sith Lord who was able to manipulate life and death, but was killed by his apprentice. Eventually, Palpatine reveals his secret identity to Anakin, and tempts him with promises of the power to prevent death. Palpatine knows that Anakin has been having visions of Padmé, who is now pregnant with Anakin's children, dying in childbirth, and offers to teach him Plagueis' secrets to save her life.
Confused and torn over his loyalty to both Palpatine and the Jedi, Anakin informs Jedi Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) that Palpatine is the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Windu and fellow Council members Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar and Saesee Tiin go to arrest Palpatine, but the Chancellor surprises them and kills Kolar, Tiin, and Fisto. Palpatine unleashes Force lightning at Windu, who deflects it back with his lightsaber at Palpatine, deforming Palpatine's face into the wizened, yellow-eyed visage seen in the original films. Anakin appears and intercedes on Palpatine's behalf, resulting in the death of Windu. Palpatine then accepts Anakin as his new apprentice, Darth Vader.
Palpatine then sets the destruction of the Jedi in motion. He announces to the Senate that the Jedi were planning to overthrow the Republic, and that the Republic will be reorganized into the Galactic Empire, with himself as Emperor for life. Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz) confronts Palpatine in his Senate office. A lightsaber duel erupts between them which ends in stalemate when Yoda flees into exile. Palpatine travels to Mustafar, where he finds his apprentice Vader maimed and burned almost to the point of death following a duel with Obi-Wan. Palpatine returns to Coruscant with Vader and provides him with the black armor suit first seen in the original trilogy. When Vader regains consciousness, Palpatine tells him that Padmé died in the heat of Vader's anger, breaking what remains of his apprentice's spirit. Palpatine is last seen watching the first Death Star under construction, with Vader and Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (Wayne Pygram) at his side.
2003 animated series
Palpatine is a central character in Genndy Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars, an animated miniseries set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The character is based on McDiarmid's likeness in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. In the first chapter, Obi-Wan Kenobi informs Palpatine that the Jedi have discovered that the InterGalactic Banking Clan has established battle droid factories on the planet Muunilinst. Palpatine agrees to send a strike force that includes Obi-Wan and Anakin, but Palpatine suggests that Anakin be given "special command" of Obi-Wan's fighters. Yoda and Obi-Wan initially speak against it, but reluctantly concede to the Chancellor. In another chapter, Darth Sidious appears to Count Dooku as a holographic image shortly after Dooku trains Asajj Ventress, a Force-sensitive female warrior adept in the dark side. Sidious orders her to track down and kill Anakin Skywalker; he remarks to Count Dooku that her failure is certain, but the point of her mission is to test Anakin. Chapter 22 features the training of General Grievous by Count Dooku. Darth Sidious appears as a hologram and orders Grievous to begin the special mission: an assault on the galactic capital. The Separatist invasion of Coruscant begins in the next episode, and Palpatine watches from the window in his private residence. He is protected by Jedi Shaak Ti, Roron Corobb, and Foul Moudama. Grievous breaks through the Chancellor's window and kidnaps him. Grievous kills Roron and Foul and captures Shaak Ti as Palpatine is taken to the Invisible Hand, Grievous' flagship, setting the stage for Revenge of the Sith.
2008 animated series
In the 2008 animated film The Clone Wars, also set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious engineers a Separatist plot to turn Jabba the Hutt against the Republic by kidnapping his son, Rotta, and framing the Jedi for it. Anakin and his apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, foil the plot, but the outcome also suits Sidious' ends, since Jabba places Hutt hyperspace routes at the Republic's disposal.
In the spinoff animated series, Darth Sidious hires Cad Bane, the galaxy's deadliest bounty hunter, to infiltrate the Jedi Temple and steal a holocron. He then takes a valuable Kyber memory crystal, held by Bolla Ropal. The crystal contains the names of thousands of Force-sensitive younglings around the galaxy, and thus the future of the Jedi Order. The final stage of the plot: to retrieve four children to bring to Sidious' secret facility on the planet Mustafar. Bane kidnaps Zinn Toa and Wee Dunn and brings them there. Anakin and Ahsoka again foil the plot, but Bane escapes and any evidence of whoever was behind the scheme is lost.
Star Wars literature
Star Wars Expanded Universe literature elaborates on Palpatine's role in Star Wars fiction outside of the films. The first appearance of Palpatine in Star Wars literature was in Alan Dean Foster's (writing as George Lucas) novelization of the script of A New Hope, published as Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (1976). Foster characterizes Palpatine as a cunning Senator who "caused himself" to be elected president of the Republic, and then declared himself Emperor and isolated himself from his subjects, eventually becoming a pawn of his advisors.
Palpatine made his first major appearance in the Expanded Universe in 1991 and 1992 with the Dark Empire series of comic books written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy. In the series, set six years after Return of the Jedi, Palpatine is resurrected as the Emperor Reborn or Palpatine the Undying. His spirit returns from the underworld of the Force with the aid of Sith ghosts on Korriban and possesses the body of Jeng Droga, one of Palpatine's elite spies and assassins known as the Emperor's Hands. Droga flees to a secret Imperial base on the planet Byss, where the Emperor's advisor Sate Pestage exorcises Palpatine's spirit and channels it into one of many clones created by Palpatine before his death. Palpatine attempts to resume control of the galaxy, but Luke Skywalker, who is now a Jedi Master, sabotages his plans. Luke destroys most of Palpatine's cloning tanks, but is only able to defeat the Emperor with help from his sister, Princess Leia, who is now herself a Jedi. The two repel a Force storm Palpatine had created and turn it back onto him, once again destroying his physical form.
Palpatine's ultimate fate is further chronicled in the Dark Empire II and Empire's End series of comics. The Dark Empire II series, published from 1994 to 1995, details how the Emperor is once again reborn on Byss into a clone body. Palpatine tries to rebuild the Empire as the Rebel Alliance grows weak. In Empire's End (1995), a traitorous Imperial guard bribes Palpatine's cloning supervisor to tamper with the Emperor's stored DNA samples. This causes the clones to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Palpatine attempts to possess the body of Anakin Solo, the infant son of Princess Leia and Han Solo, before the clone body dies, but is thwarted once again by Luke Skywalker. Palpatine is killed by a blaster shot fired by Han, and his spirit is captured by a wounded Jedi named Empatojayos Brand, who uses his remaining strength to dissipate Palpatine's spirit, destroying the Sith Lord once and for all.
Novels and comics published before 1999 focus on Palpatine's role as Galactic Emperor. Shadows of the Empire (1996) by Steve Perry and The Mandalorian Armor (1998) by K. W. Jeter—all set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi—show how Palpatine uses crime lords such as Prince Xizor and bounty hunters like Boba Fett to fight his enemies. Barbara Hambly's novel Children of the Jedi (1995), set eight years after Return of the Jedi, features a woman named Roganda Ismaren who claims that Palpatine fathered her son Irek. The Jedi Prince series of novels introduces an insane, three-eyed mutant named Triclops who is revealed to be Palpatine's illegitimate son. Created from DNA extracted from Palpatine and placed into a woman, he was born mutated, cast away and forgotten. Triclops had a son named Ken who became known as the Jedi Prince but also as Palpatine's grandson.
Beginning in 1999 with Terry Brooks' novelization of The Phantom Menace, Star Wars writers chronicled the role of Palpatine prior to A New Hope as a politician and Sith Lord. The comic "Marked" by Rob Williams, printed in Star Wars Tales 24 (2005), and Michael Reaves's novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter (2001) explain Darth Sidious' relationship with his apprentice Darth Maul. Cloak of Deception (2001) by James Luceno follows Reaves's novel and details how Darth Sidious encourages the Trade Federation to build an army of battle droids in preparation for the invasion of Naboo. Cloak of Deception also focuses on Palpatine's early political career, revealing how he becomes a confidante of Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum and acquainted with Padmé Amidala, newly elected queen of Naboo. Palpatine's role during the Clone Wars as Supreme Chancellor and Darth Sidious is explained in novels such as Matthew Stover's Shatterpoint (2003), Steven Barnes' The Cestus Deception (2004), Sean Stewart's Yoda: Dark Rendezvous (2004), and Luceno's Labyrinth of Evil (2005).
Following the theatrical release of Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars literature focused on Palpatine's role after the creation of the Empire. John Ostrander's comic Star Wars Republic 78: Loyalties (2005) chronicles how, shortly after seizing power, Emperor Palpatine sends Darth Vader to assassinate Sagoro Autem, an Imperial captain who wants nothing to do with the new government and plans to defect. In Luceno's novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (2005), set shortly after Revenge of the Sith, the Emperor sends Darth Vader to the planet Murkhana to discover why clone troopers there refused to carry out Order 66 against their Jedi generals. Palpatine hopes these early missions will teach Vader what it means to be a Sith and crush any remnants of Anakin Skywalker.
In Star Wars fiction, Palpatine is a manipulative politician, a ruthless emperor, and an evil Sith Lord. The Star Wars Databank describes him as "the supreme ruler of the most powerful tyrannical regime the galaxy had ever witnessed" and Stephen J. Sansweet's Star Wars Encyclopedia calls him "evil incarnate."
As a Senator, Palpatine is "unassuming yet ambitious". In Cloak of Deception, James Luceno writes that Palpatine carefully guards his privacy and "others found his reclusiveness intriguing, as if he led a secret life". Despite this, he has many allies in the government. Luceno writes, "What Palpatine lacked in charisma, he made up for in candor, and it was that directness that had led to his widespread appeal in the senate. ... For in his heart he judged the universe on his own terms, with a clear sense of right and wrong." In Terry Brooks' novelization of The Phantom Menace, Senator Palpatine claims to embrace democratic principles. He tells Queen Amidala, "I promise, Your Majesty, if I am elected [Supreme Chancellor], I will restore democracy to the Republic. I will put an end to the corruption that has plagued the Senate." A Visual Dictionary states that he is a self-proclaimed savior.
As Emperor, however, Palpatine abandons any semblance of democracy, as noted in A New Hope, when he abolishes the Imperial Senate. Sansweet states, "His Empire ... is based on tyranny, hatred of nonhumans, brutal and lethal force, and, above all else, constant fear." In Matthew Stover's novelization of Revenge of the Sith, Count Dooku anticipates the coming of the new government: "A government clean, pure, direct: none of the messy scramble for the favor of ignorant rabble and subhuman creatures that made up the Republic he so despised. The government he would serve would be Authority personified. Human authority."
The apprentice of Darth Plagueis, Palpatine is "the most powerful practitioner of the Sith ways in modern times." Palpatine is so powerful that he is able to mask his true identity from the Jedi. In the novel Shatterpoint, Mace Windu remarks to Yoda, "A shame [Palpatine] can't touch the Force. He might have been a fine Jedi."
The Star Wars Databank moreover explains that the Force "granted him inhuman dexterity and speed, agility enough to quickly kill three Jedi Masters" (as depicted in Revenge of the Sith). Stover describes the duel between Yoda and Palpatine in his novelization of Revenge of the Sith thus: "From the shadow of a black wing, a small weapon ... slid into a withered hand and spat a flame-colored blade[.] When the blades met it was more than Yoda against Palpatine, more the millennia of Sith against the legions of Jedi; this was the expression of the fundamental conflict of the universe itself. Light against dark. Winner take all." During the duel, Yoda realizes that Palpatine is in fact a superior warrior, and that he represents a small but powerful Sith Order that had changed and evolved over the years, while the Jedi had not: "He had lost before he started."
According to the Databank and New Essential Guide to Characters, Palpatine possesses great patience and his maneuverings are as a dejarik grandmaster moves pieces on a board. He is depicted as a diabolical genius.
Lucas' conceptualization of Palpatine and the role the character plays in Star Wars changed over time. From Return of the Jedi onwards, Palpatine became the ultimate personification of evil in Star Wars, replacing Darth Vader as the central villain.
When the original Star Wars trilogy was filmed, the Emperor was unnamed and his throne-world unidentified. Though it would not be used in film until the prequel trilogy, the first mention of the name Palpatine came from the prologue of Alan Dean Foster's 1976 A New Hope novelization, which detailed the Emperor's rise to power. Foster writes,
"Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic. Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears."
However, it is unclear whether Lucas intended Palpatine to be the reigning Emperor or just the first of a succession of Emperors. Michael Kaminski, author of The Secret History of Star Wars, claims that Lucas' initial notes discuss a line of corrupt Emperors, not just one. If Palpatine was the first, Kaminski infers, he would therefore not be the current. Later Lucas would abandon this idea, opting instead to focus on a sole villainous ruler.
During story conferences for The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas and Leigh Brackett decided that "the Emperor and the Force had to be the two main concerns in the [Empire Strikes Back]; the Emperor had barely been dealt with in the first movie, and the intention in the sequel was to deal with him on a more concrete level." Lucas ultimately decided instead to feature the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.
In that film, the initial conception of Palpatine was superseded by his depiction as a powerful, dictatorial ruler adept in the dark side of the Force. The Emperor was inspired by the villain Ming the Merciless from the Flash Gordon comic books. Lucas explained in an interview that he also patterned the Emperor after several historical figures, including Julius Caesar, Joseph Stalin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Richard Nixon and Ferdinand Marcos. Lucas said, "The whole point of the movies, the underlying element that makes the movies work, is that you, whether you go backwards or forwards, you start out in a democracy, and democracy turns into a dictatorship, and then the rebels make it back into a democracy."
Lucas wanted to establish the Emperor as the true source of evil in Star Wars. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan noted, "My sense of the relationship [between Darth Vader and the Emperor] is that the Emperor is much more powerful ... and that Vader is very much intimidated by him. Vader has dignity, but the Emperor in Jedi really has all the power." He explained that the climax of the film is a confrontation between Darth Vader and his master. In the first scene that shows the Emperor, he arrives at the Death Star and is greeted by a host of stormtroopers, technicians, and other personnel. Lucas states he wanted it to look like the military parades on "May Day in Russia."
Lucas fleshed out the Emperor in the prequel films. According to Lucas, Palpatine's role in The Phantom Menace is to explain "how Anakin Skywalker came to be [Palpatine's] apprentice" and the events that lead to his rise to power. The true identity of Darth Sidious — the phantom menace — is left a mystery, and his relationship to Palpatine is not clear, though popular consensus agreed that Darth Sidious and Palpatine were one and the same. Film critic Jonathan L. Bowen remarks, "Debates raged on the Internet concerning the relationship between Darth Sidious and Senator Palpatine. Most fans believed the two characters are actually the same person with logic seeming to support their conclusion." Bowen notes that the debate was fueled by the fact that "suspiciously Darth Sidious does not appear in the credits."
When the Emperor first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back, he was portrayed by Elaine Baker, the wife of make-up designer Rick Baker. Chimpanzee eyes were superimposed into darkened eye sockets during post-production "in order to create a truly unsettling image". The character was voiced by Clive Revill.
"With Kershner," Revill said, "you had to keep the reins tight — you couldn't go overboard. It was the perfect example of the old adage 'less is more' — the Emperor doesn't say very much. But when he finally appears, it's at a point in the saga when everyone's waiting to see him. It's the Emperor, the arch villain of all time, and when he says there's a great disturbance in the Force, I mean, that's enough oomph!" Years later, during production of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas decided to shoot new footage for Empire Strikes Back to create continuity between the prequels and original trilogy. Thus, in the 2004 DVD release of The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition, the original version of the Emperor was replaced by McDiarmid, and the dialogue between the Emperor and Darth Vader was revised.
Lucas and Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand cast Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid to play Emperor Palpatine. He was in his late-30s and had never played a leading role in a feature film, though he had made minor appearances in films like Dragonslayer (1981). After Return of the Jedi, he resumed stage acting in London. In an interview with BackStage, McDiarmid revealed that he "never had his sights set on a film career and never even auditioned for the role of Palpatine." He elaborated, "I got called in for the interview after a Return of the Jedi casting director saw me perform in the Sam Shepard play Seduced at a studio theater at the Royal Court. I was playing a dying Howard Hughes."
McDiarmid was surprised when Lucas approached him 16 years after Return of the Jedi to reprise the role of Palpatine. In an interview, he stated, "When we were doing Return of the Jedi there was a rumor that George Lucas had nine films in his head, and he'd clearly just completed three of them." McDiarmid added, "Someone said that, 'Oh, I think what he might do next is go back in time, and show how Vader came to be.' It never occurred to me in a million years that I would be involved in that, because I thought, 'oh well, then he'll get a much younger actor [to play Palpatine].' That would be obvious." However, "I was the right age, ironically, for the first prequel when it was made. ... So I was in the very strange and rather wonderful paradox of playing myself when young at my own age, having played myself previously when 100-and-I-don't-know-what."
Recalling the initial days of shooting The Phantom Menace, McDiarmid stated, "Stepping onto the set of Episode I for the first time was like going back in time, due to my experience in Jedi. Palpatine's an interesting character; he's conventional on the outside, but demonic on the inside — he's on the edge, trying to go beyond what's possible." McDiarmid added another layer to the character in Attack of the Clones. He noted, "[Palpatine] is a supreme actor. He has to be even more convincing than somebody who isn't behaving in a schizophrenic fashion, so he's extra charming, or extra professional — and for those who are looking for clues, that's almost where you can see them." McDiarmid illuminated on the scene where Padmé Amidala is almost assassinated:
"There's a moment in one scene of the new film where tears almost appear in his eye. These are crocodile tears, but for all those in the movie, and perhaps watching the movie itself, they'll see he is apparently moved — and of course, he is. He can just do it. He can, as it were, turn it on. And I suppose for him, it's also a bit of a turn-on — the pure exercise of power is what he's all about. That's the only thing he's interested in and the only thing that can satisfy him — which makes him completely fascinating to play, because it is an evil soul. He is more evil than the devil. At least Satan fell — he has a history, and it's one of revenge."
In Revenge of the Sith, McDiarmid played a darker interpretation of the character. He explained that "[...]when you're playing a character of solid blackness, that in itself is very interesting, in the sense that you have no other motivation other than the accumulation of power. It's not so much about not having a moral center, it's just that the only thing that mattered is increasing power." He admitted, "I've been trying to find a redeeming feature to Palpatine, and the only one I've got so far is that he's clearly a patron of the arts because he goes to the opera." McDiarmid compared the character to Iago from Shakespeare's Othello:
"Everything he does is an act of pure hypocrisy, and that's interesting to play. I suppose it's rather like playing Iago. All the characters in the play — including Othello until the end — think that "Honest Iago" is a decent guy doing his job, and he's quite liked. But at the same time there's a tremendous evil subconscious in operation."
McDiarmid noticed that the script for Revenge of the Sith demanded more action from his character than in previous films. Lightsaber combat was a challenge to the 60-year-old actor, who, like his costars, took fencing lessons. The close-up shots and non-acrobatic sequences of the duel between Palpatine and Mace Windu were performed by McDiarmid. Advanced fencing and acrobatic stunts were executed by McDiarmid's doubles, Michael Byrne, Sebastian Dickins, and Bob Bowles.
McDiarmid's performance as Palpatine was generally well-received by critics. Todd McCarthy of Variety commented, "Entertaining from start to finish and even enthralling at times, 'Sith' has some acting worth writing home about, specifically McDiarmid's dominant turn as the mastermind of the evil empire." A reviewer for The Village Voice wrote that "Ian McDiarmid's unctuous Emperor turns appropriately vampiric as he attempts to draw Anakin into the Sith fold with promises of eternal life." Still, his performance was not without detractors; David Edelstein of Slate critiqued, "McDiarmid isn't the subtlest of satanic tempters. With his lisp and his clammy little leer, he looks like an old queen keen on trading an aging butt-boy (Count Dooku) for fresh meat — which leaves Anakin looking more and more like a 15-watt bulb."
Make-up and costumes
Ian McDiarmid required little make-up in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. He recalled, "I'm ... slightly aged [in Attack of the Clones]. In the last film, I had a fairly standard make-up on, but now, they're starting to crinkle my face." Transforming McDiarmid into Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, however, required extensive make-up. McDiarmid remarked in an interview with Star Wars Insider magazine, "Yes—that was a four-hour job, initially, although we got it down to about two-and-a-half in the end. But this was just a little bit of latex here and there, a little bit of skin-scrunching." He told the Homing Beacon newsletter, "When my face changes in the film, my mind went back to the early silent movie of The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney." Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that he "looks uncannily like Death in The Seventh Seal" (1957) and film historian Robin Wood compares him to the witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Palpatine's wardrobe, tailored by costume designer Trisha Biggar, played an important part in the development of the character throughout the films. In Attack of the Clones, explained McDiarmid, "The costumes ... have got much more edge to them, I think, than the mere Senator had [in The Phantom Menace]. So we see the trappings of power." In the next episode, McDiarmid remarked, "To wear the costumes as the character I play is wonderfully empowering." McDiarmid's favorite costume in Revenge of the Sith was a high-collared jacket that resembles snake or lizard skin. He stated that "it just feels reptilian, which is exactly right for [Palpatine]." According to Trisha Biggar, Palpatine's costumes proved the most daunting challenge. She said, "His six costumes get progressively darker and more ornately decorated throughout the movie. He wears greys and browns, almost going to black, taking him toward the dark side."
More information: wikipedia:Palpatine#Popular culture