Star Wars Celebration

Ian McDiarmid just settled a classic Star Wars debate

The Emperor Palpatine actor talked about Mace Windu, the opera house scene, and more at Star Wars Celebration.

For all the debate and controversy around the Star Wars prequels, there’s one thing everyone agrees on: Emperor Palpatine rules. That’s mostly thanks to the performance of Ian McDiarmid, and on May 26, the Scottish actor took the stage at Star Wars Celebration to answer audience questions. In the process, he may have solved a mystery that’s been plaguing fans for over a decade.

Emperor Palpatine’s true face

After playing it cool for three movies, Sheev Palpatine reveals his true identity in Revenge of the Sith when confronted by Mace Windu and a handful of disposable Jedi. Unlike his friends, Mace puts up a pretty good fight and manages to redirect Palp’s Sith lightning back at him, permanently melting his face into the version we saw in the original Star Wars films.

The question is, which Palpatine is the real one: regular human face or evil melty face? Was Shee actually injured, or did Windu just reveal his true visage?

Speaking at Star Wars Celebration, McDiarmid recounted a bit of direction he received from George Lucas. “You should think of your face as a mask,” Lucas told him.

In other words, the regular face we see throughout most of the prequels really is a mask. The Emperor’s true face is the one we see once that mask melts away.

Mystery solved, but that’s not all.

Emperor Palpatine vs. Mace Windu

Perhaps another equally important question is whether Mace Windu really bested Palpatine in combat. When a fan asked McDiarmid, he responded plainly: Palps threw the fight on purpose to tempt Anakin Skywalker to the Dark side.

“There was some debate about that scene,” McDiarmid elaborated. “George thought about doing it a number of ways… He wanted to compromise Anakin in another way, which he did, and destroy Mace at the same time.”

Palpatine at the Opera House

“Have you heard the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise”


When asked about his favorite scene, McDiarmid didn’t hesitate. The scene where Palpatine “nails” Anakin (McDiarmid’s choice of word, not ours) is undeniably iconic, but it was almost very different. The actor revealed that the interaction was originally meant to take place in Palp’s office before George Lucas decided to mix things up by putting the two characters in box seats at the Mon Calamari Ballet (performed at the Galaxies Opera House).

“I think we should get out of the office,” McDiarmid said, imitating Lucas’ nasally voice.

The rest is history. Speaking of which...

Young Palpatine?

With Lucasfilm set to explore an era of Star Wars history even older than the prequels in the upcoming Acolyte series, rumors have been swirling that we could see a younger version of Sheev Palpatine. When asked to comment, McDiarmid was quick to deny any insider knowledge, but he added that if that does happen, the studio should find a younger actor to take on the role.

Then again, maybe not. “Have you seen what they can do with faces?” he said, slyly.

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