The Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is unlike any version we’ve ever seen. From the human chancellor to the monster that we saw in the original trilogy, the former chancellor’s descent into the dark side takes a physical toll.
However, when he showed up at the end of the latest trilogy, that toll was even more extraordinary. This Emperor, a practical corpse of what he once was, holds more power and less humanity. It’s a trope that was not lost on the series’ fans. They spoke of it on Reddit.
Palpatine’s screen journey
According to Wookiepedia, the first on-screen screen Palpatine in Empire Strikes Back was an elderly actress named Marjorie Eaton. She was under heavy makeup that Lucas later retconned in future releases.
Her initial performance was a far cry from the version we got in the original trilogy’s conclusion, with froggy eyes and a different voice. When Ian McDiarmid took over the role in 1983, he likely didn’t know that it would define him for the next 40 years.
The Palpatine of Return of the Jedi was a force of evil with pale-grey skin and deadly eyes. However, when Diarmid returned for the prequels, we got to see his human form.
A flawed politician who had some merit to the ideas that eventually turned him toward a life of unabashed evil. In one dual, Palpatine goes from a weak old man to a pale-skinned warlock wholly consumed by the dark side.
After remaining absent through the latest trilogy, however, Palpatine came back in the newest movie.
The Emperor’s new face
Taking to Reddit, u/ErikTrexy saw the Emperor’s weathered, war-scarred form in Episode IX as a natural progression from his arc dating back to the original trilogy and expanded on in the prequels.
After all, the Emperor of the prequels had some method to his madness, even if the path he took was the destructive one. Now, Palpatine is blinded by that same evil that overtook the essence of his being.
“I really felt like this was the full-on Sith incarnation of Palpatine, and that was so cool to see. If the prequels gave us politician Palpatine, and the originals gave us Emperor Palpatine, the sequels gave us Sith Lord Palpatine. Could’ve been better executed, but I dug it,” they wrote.
Many other fans agreed. Episode IX was one of the most maligned pieces of Star Wars media. Many took issue with the plot, the script, and how it tried to wrap things up in ways that didn’t make sense given the previous movies.
However, while the execution may have faltered, all seemed to agree that Palpatine’s descent’s visual representation made sense, even if the explanations did not.
However, while the inclusion of Palpatine after three movies and his reveal’s execution might not have worked, the version we got fit right with the other version. It was the end of a 40-year journey that McDiarmid himself spoke about in the lead-up to its release.
McDiarmid on the Emperor
McDiarmid has now played Palpatine for nearly 40 years. The 76-year-old actor took the time to discuss the character. To McDiarmid, Palpatine is a three-dimensional character he helped build through subtle performances and George Lucas’s guidance.
“The great thing in playing him,” says McDiarmid, understandably wary of giving the game away, “is that it’s clear in Episodes I and II that he’s a hypocrite, a hypocritical politician, so that’s what you play. And then there is this dark person in a black robe who crops up. He’s a solid block of evil. No redeeming features. Except one: he has a scene set at the opera. He’s obviously a patron of the arts.”
That final form, as far as we know it, was what we got in JJ Abrams’ Episode 9. While fans may not have appreciated how Abrams took the arc, aspects like his appearance and McDiarmid’s performance give it a little bit of continuity in a movie that many felt was out of place.
Whether this is the last of Palpatine or not, his appearance tells us everything we need to know. The rest is in McDiarmid’s historic performance.
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