Star Wars is going through a state of transition. For twenty years, an Expanded Universe of novels, comics, and games have supplemented the films and TV shows to create an incredibly deep and detailed Star Wars universe. Soon after Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, however, they wiped the canon slate clean, saying they would no longer adhere to the stories of the Expanded Universe in order to have the greatest creative freedom with their new Star Wars films starting with The Force Awakens.
But with the new films, so comes new books, comics, and games in a new continuity to replace the old one. So, what is canon and what isn’t anymore? After twenty years, are these the same characters and planets we’ve always known and loved? Is it even the same universe? Well, in our new column Canon Catch-Up, we’re here to answer those questions and set the record straight.
Today, we’re discussing Palpatine aka Darth Sidious.
So, what’s the deal with Palpatine in the current continuity?
Sheev Palpatine was born on Naboo about 84 years before the destruction of the first Death Star. For years, he built a career in politics and gained a great deal of diplomatic acumen. At an unknown time, Palpatine became Naboo’s representative in the Republic Senate while also pledging apprenticeship to the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis. As a powerful Sith, Palpatine became known as Darth Sidious. After Plagueis taught Palpatine (almost) everything he knew, Palpatine murdered his master in his sleep.
Starting a long plan to take back the galaxy from the Jedi, Palpatine traveled to the planet Dathomir where he kidnapped the son of the Nightsister Mother Talzin. Palpatine trained the boy as an apprentice and gave him the name Darth Maul.
Palpatine managed to manipulate galactic politics and the cracks in Republic bureaucracy to precipitate the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo. The incident created a backlash against Republic Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum and the resulting vote of no confidence ended with Palpatine taking Valorum’s position. Unfortunately, the battle for Naboo’s freedom led to the apparent death of Maul.
Shortly after Maul’s defeat, Palpatine recruited the ex-Jedi Count Dooku as the Sith Lord Darth Tyranus. Together, they played on the tensions risen from the Naboo blockade and used them to create a secessionist movement that threatened to break the Republic in half. With Dooku leading the Separatists and Palpatine in charge of the Republic, the two worked in tandem to create the Clone Wars which tore the galaxy apart. By the end of the conflict, the Republic had a massive standing army of Clones, the Separatists were defeated, the Jedi were all but exterminated, and Palpatine had betrayed Dooku and replaced him with Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker taking the mantel of Darth Vader. Palpatine reorganized the Republic into a Galactic Empire with him as the Emperor and Vader as his right hand man.
Emperor Palpatine ruled the galaxy with an iron fist from the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, focusing his power through Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, and regional governors overseeing the Empire’s territories. The culmination of the system would be the Death Star, but a growing Rebel movement became an increasing problem for the Empire. After the destruction of the first Death Star at Yavin IV, Vader became obsessed with finding his son, Luke Skywalker, as the Rebels were scattered across the galaxy.
While chasing the Millennium Falcon from the Hoth system, Vader confessed his motivations to Palpatine who encouraged him to turn his son to the dark side. However, Palpatine had an ulterior motive: replacing Vader with the more worthy apprentice of his son. Palpatine’s plan culminated aboard the second Death Star, where he tried to turn Luke against his father and embrace the dark side. Palpatine underestimated Vader’s love for his son, however, and died when his apprentice threw him down a shaft.
In the ensuing chaos of the Rebel’s victory at Endor, several regional governors tried to suppress news of the Emperor’s death. One such sector was Anoat, where a Rebel resistance movement had to be created to break the isolationist regime.
What about the Palpatine in the Expanded Universe?
Palpatine was born to a rich aristocratic family on Naboo. From an early age, Palpatine had sociopathic and murderous tendencies but kept them hidden to better fit in with his family and peers. He took an interest in the Sith, using his family’s wealth to collect as many ancient Sith texts and artifacts as he could locate. It was during this time Palpatine realized his true ambition: absolute power.
Palpatine studied at some of the most renown academies on Naboo, including Theed University. During his time there, Palpatine made inroads with aides of Republic senators and a Muun banker named Hego Damask… who was also the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis. The two became close and Palpatine eventually gained Plagueis’ confidence. Plageuis took Palpatine as his apprentice, teaching him the ways of the Sith. Palpatine, ever the sociopathic academic, wanted more Sith knowledge than Plagueis was willing to teach.
It was also during this time that Palpatine began his political career, running in small elections and gaining in roads with higher connections. Palpatine also acquired his own apprentice, a Zabrak boy he would eventually called Darth Maul, from the Nightsisters on Dathomir. Palpatine put the boy through a grueling training regimen while psychologically manipulating him to be fanatically loyal to his master.
In order to secure Palpatine’s appointment to the Republic Senate, Plageuis and Palpatine arranged for the assassination of Senator Vidar Kim. The plan succeeded and Palpatine was elevated to Naboo’s senator for the Galactic Republic. In the world of Coruscanti politics, Palpatine’s humble facade allowed him to flourish, earning him positions on powerful committees. Palpatine made allies everywhere he could, including a certain Lieutenant Governor Wilhuff Tarkin on Eriadu.
As he was making inroads in the Republic, Palpatine was working with his master to destabilize it in order to allow for their ascension to power. Together, they orchestrated the Naboo Blockade incident which allowed Palpatine to become Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. Despite the loss of Darth Maul, Palpatine decided he had become powerful enough that he did not need Darth Plageuis any longer. They attended a Mon Calamari performance together and Palpatine drank with him while pretending to practice his acceptance speech for Supreme Chancellor. After Plageuis fell asleep, Palpatine murdered him with force lightning.
In the aftermath of Naboo, Palpatine recruited Count Dooku to his cause as the Sith Lord Darth Tyrannus and the two prepared for the next phase of their plan: The Clone Wars. For ten years, Palpatine led the Republic in a time of relative peace, despite growing tensions as Dooku created a movement of thousands of star systems to succeed from the Republic. Threats on Palpatine’s life occurred, giving him cause to order stricter policies such as the Red Guards.
When the Clone Wars broke out, Palpatine used the opportunity to manipulate the Galactic Senate into giving him emergency powers. Now with a clone army and freed from the system of checks and balances, Palpatine had almost completely achieved the power he had craved since he was a boy. Palpatine used the Clone Wars as an opportunity to expand his power base even further, brewing resentment amongst the Republic of non-human species and the Jedi Knights. Despite the reappearance of his old apprentice, Darth Maul, the Jedi Knights starting an investigation into a Sith Lord hiding in the upper ranks of the Republic, Palpatine was stronger than ever.
By the end of the Clone Wars, Palpatine had Dooku killed and replaced with ex-Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, renamed Darth Vader by Palpatine. He ordered Jedi eradicated by their Clone Troopers, leaving the order all but destroyed. The Republic was reformed into the Galactic Empire, with Palpatine as its Emperor. The Galactic Sensate was reduced significantly in power and renamed the Imperial Senate… now merely another tool of Palpatine’s control. The Empire became a place of totalitarian control.
Palpatine used Vader to hunt down any remaining Jedi as the Empire swept away the remains of the Republic and Separatists. Attempts to overthrow or assassinate the Emperor were instantly put down. Palpatine eventually recruited a young force sensitive girl, Mara Jade, to be his eyes and ears in the Empire: a covert agent known as the Emperor’s Hand.
Eventually, Palpatine dissolved the Imperial Senate in preparation of Grand Moff Tarkin’s Death Star, a weapon powerful enough to keep the star systems in line through fear alone. After the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, however, Palpatine ordered a military crackdown on the Rebellion that culminated in the siege of Echo Base on Hoth.
Vader admitted to Palpatine that the Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star was his son, Luke Skywalker. When Vader failed to turn Luke to the dark side at Bespin, Palpatine ordered Mara Jade to find and kill Skywalker. Meanwhile, Palpatine planned to trap the remains of the Rebel fleet by leaking the construction site of the second Death Star.
Mara Jade tracked Luke down to Jabba’s Palace, but was unable to kill him due to the ensuing chaos at the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon. Palpatine used Jade’s failure’s to his advantage, hoping to lure Luke over to the dark side himself and have him replace his father’s place at his apprentice.
Luke resisted the Emperor’s influence however, and Darth Vader killed him just as the Rebel Fleet overcame his trap at Endor and destroyed the second Death Star. Just before he died, he sent a mental command to Mara Jade: “You Will Kill Luke Skywalker.”
Mara Jade became obsessed with finding and killing Skywalker, but five years after the Battle of Endor the two were forced to work together when the New Republic fell under the threat of Grand Admiral Thrawn. Jade broke through Palpatine’s programming and became friendly with Skywalker after Thrawn’s defeat.
Palpatine returned, however, soon after in the body of a clone. Luke Skywalker turned to the dark side and joined him, thinking he could destroy Palpatine’s new regime from within. Palpatine cut a swath through New Republic space, but was finally defeated when Leia Organa Solo successfully turned her brother back to the light side. Emperor Palpatine was defeated for the final time, fracturing the remains of the Empire into the Imperial Remnant.
What does the Expanded Universe tell us about Palpatine in the new continuity?
As far as Palpatine’s ascension to power and his reign as Emperor is concerned, the two continuities are actually fairly identical. The biggest difference lies in the lack of detail in the new canon. However, the book Tarkin confirmed (or at least confirmed through implication) that the events of the book Darth Plageius are canon in the new continuity. As a result, we can assume Palpatine’s backstory is by and large the same as it was before.
The biggest change will probably be after Return of the Jedi, as there is no way Kevin J. Anderson’s Dark Empire book will have any equivalent in the new continuity. Given that writers in the old Expanded Universe tried their best to sweep that story under the rug, it makes little sense we’ll see it return in a new stripped down timeline. It’s far more likely that Vader and Palpatine are dead and gone, despite their legacy remaining on the galaxy as a whole.