Thursday, May 11, 2023

Commentary: The Fall of Palpatine

This is commentary for "The Fall of Palpatine."

I’ve always wondered what was going through the Emperor’s head as he plummeted to his death after his minion tossed him down a reactor shaft. This is a (sometimes serious) glimpse into the mind of Sheev Palpatine, a leader of unmatched hubris.

The gist of the story is that the man with all these plans and machinations didn’t see his own fall coming—although he still kind of did because Star Wars canon requires it.

This story, the shortest of my ROTJ entries, probably includes the most references of any of the stories, with nods to everything from Rogue One and The Phantom Menace to Heir to the Empire and The Rise of Skywalker. I originally titled it "As I Have Foreseen It" (that's still its filename in Word, in fact) until I changed it to "The Fall of Palpatine."

Some early namechecks: Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker; Orson Krennic, the true genius behind the Death Star; Galen Erso, okay, the true true genius behind the Death Star; Obi-Wan Kenobi; and Grand Moff Tarkin.

Yoda, never named, is simply “that little green annoyance.” Luke Skywalker, never named, is simply the “Son of Skywalker.” Leia, never named, is simply the “Daughter of Skywalker” (or the “Son of Skywalker’s sister”). I see this as Palpatine’s way of dehumanizing some of his most powerful antagonists.

A few of these stories build on each other, at least a little bit. “Many Bothans Lived,” “Turncoat,” and “The Fall of Palpatine” mention the Bothan Spynet and Palpatine’s plot to draw the Rebels out into a final conflict. “Terror Bears” and “An Older Code” give us the boots-on-the-ground view of the result. Only “A Whole Case of Trouble” is unrelated to the larger assault on Endor.

This story also serves as a prequel of sorts to another piece of fanfiction I wrote a couple years ago called "Gary the Sith Eternal," which details the process of bringing Palpatine back to life.

Though not explicitly stated, the Emperor paraphrases the infamous “Tarkin Doctrine,” established by the late grand moff. It basically states that fear was the only effective tool to keep star systems in line. Tarkin was a big fan of the Death Star.

One thing that nags at Palpatine—and really at many Star Wars fans—is his inability to detect Leia in the Force. This also applies to Vader, whom we know interacted directly with Leia in A New Hope. He sensed the Rebel pilot was strong in the Force while he pursued him in the Death Star trench yet didn't feel any connection with Leia? It’s just one of those things, I suppose, we’ll have to accept.

I love a good alternate universe. Heck, I love a bad alternate universe. It was fun coming up with some different possibilities for Star Wars. Most of them are vaguely defined, but it’s interesting to ponder what would’ve happened if Palpatine had done things differently. As a kid, I imagined an end to Return of the Jedi in which Anakin survived and wore a white version of his armor as he served the New Republic to atone for his many sins.

My brother and I also did a skit during a high school variety show called Return of the Really Clumsy Jedi in which Luke kept stepping on Vader’s hand at the end, leading to an argument between father and son that ended in a comedic chase. Like I said, I love a bad alternate universe.

One of the themes of these alternate outcomes is that Anakin, uncorrupted by Palpatine, had an inner light and goodness that foiled his plans. In another, Anakin never met Padme but still became Darth Vader. Though angry and dangerous, he couldn’t hold his own Galactic Empire together.

Again pondering Leia, Palpatine sees a future in which she took over the Galactic Senate. She Force-choked Bail Organa in that version of events. In another, Leia displays her mastery of the Force and arrives on Death Star II to confront Palpatine and Vader, replacing Luke.

Palpatine has visions of the First Order, the Final Order, and Ben Solo. It’s through Ben, named after Vader’s mortal enemy, that Palpatine glimpses his final victory. This is intended to set up the events of the sequel trilogy.

Can you imagine a universe full of Death Stars? The Emperor certainly can. I also like the comical future in which an apprentice kills Palpatine and destroys all of existence with a superweapon. Good lord, the Emperor and the Empire loved superweapons. Darksaber, the Sun Crusher, and World Devastators get a mention. I added the Galaxy Gun late while working on this very commentary.

I can’t believe I almost forgot about the ridiculous Galaxy Gun!

Can Palpatine envision something even larger? Oh, yeah. Starkiller Base.

Palpatine could’ve killed the New Republic from within. It would’ve made the most sense, right? But his vanity wouldn’t allow something like that to play out. He would prefer the quick and easy path, even if the quick and easy path meant, um, decades of perfecting clone bodies and finding ways to preserve his own Force essence.

Recent episodes of The Mandalorian informed some of this section about the faltering New Republic. It’s clear the New Republic can’t defend itself or its members. It has little idea of how to govern the galaxy it just liberated from the Empire. For fans disappointed in the way the sequel trilogy played out--that the "final" Rebel victory was anything but final--I feel like Lucasfilm is laying the groundwork to explain why. I think of it a little like the aftermath of World War I in that fledgling world governments didn't take strong enough measures to keep the peace, resulting in a second global conflict just a few decades later.

Palpatine sees an alternate future in which Grand Admiral Thrawn brings the new government to its knees. We may see a real version of this in the new canon, with Thrawn returning for Ahsoka. But the version the Emperor sees here is literally just the Heir to the Empire/Dark Force Rising/The Last Command trilogy from Timothy Zahn.

Pretty on-the-nose references in this part to Mara Jade, Luuke “Evil Clone” Skywalker, Thrawn, Joruus C’Baoth, and Captain Pellaeon.

The “little green annoyance” makes another return before Palpatine’s “next future,” which features events from Star Wars: Dark Empire, a ‘90s comic book story. In that six-issue series, a youthful clone of Palpatine turns Luke to the Dark Side, threatens the galaxy with World Devastators, and generally just Rise of Skywalkers everything.

I could not, absolutely could not, resist using the “Dark science. Cloning. Secrets only the Sith knew” line from Episode IX. If there’s a context in which that line makes sense, it’s this one.

The “new leader” his followers would craft is, of course, Supreme Leader Snoke, who turns out to be far more incompetent than Palpatine. Heck, Sheev appears in all three trilogies. The dude resurrected himself through the Force! Snoke got bisected by an emo kid's lightsaber.

I believe it was Jedi: Fallen Order in which we learned Ilum became Starkiller Base. Operation Cinder has been mentioned in books and Battlefront II. These are a couple new canon things I’m familiar with.

I figured Palpatine would've seen a vision of Rey at some point. He doesn’t pull on the thread long enough to realize it will end badly for him.

In the end, all that mattered was that he would return. Somehow.