Friday, May 5, 2023

The Fall of Palpatine: 40 Years of Return of the Jedi

He saw the fall of the Jedi.

The fall of the Republic.

The fall of the Galactic Senate.

But as Emperor Sheev Palpatine raced toward the bottom of a reactor shaft aboard the second Death Star, he realized he hadn’t envisioned his own fall.

Not like this.


Accursed Skywalkers.


In the Force, past, present, and future collided. Sometimes, time slowed down.

He’d already hit the bottom of the shaft. Vader lifted him as wild lightning shot from his fingertips. He argued against the Trade Federation’s blockade before the Senate. Collected a grievously injured Anakin Skywalker from Mustafar. Watched an opera. Met a boy with unlimited, untapped Force potential. Learned life-extending secrets from Darth Plagueis.

Plans. Schemes.

Vader had outlived his usefulness; Palpatine knew it. He saw his apprentice’s plan to take his throne, his son ruling by his side. Too late, he glimpsed that unsettling remnant of light within him. The light from Anakin Skywalker went out with the death of Padme. Palpatine was certain of it.


There was no good left in Anakin Skywalker. The Emperor had cultivated the young man’s anger and fear, driven him to the darkness. Darkness was all-encompassing. There was no coming back. Generations of Sith teachings told him this, records stretching back to time immemorial.

“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

He immediately recognized the diction and voice. How had that little green annoyance reached him across time and space? Also, did he realize he’d been wrong? Palpatine took a miniscule amount of satisfaction in knowing Jedi masters could be just as wrong as Sith lords. Not that it mattered at the moment.

It wouldn’t be long until the Rebels blew up his precious Death Star.



Perhaps the late Grand Moff Tarkin had best outlined Palpatine’s vision for intergalactic dominance. Ruling by fear, by tightly controlling everything, was the only way to keep star systems in line. The Death Star became the tool of that control. Tarkin used it to destroy Alderaan, a problematic world dedicated to resisting. With a tool of such fear and destruction, the Empire could not lose.

Yet, the Empire lost.

Palpatine had plenty of blame to throw around. Krennic, for his vanity. Tarkin, for his arrogance. Vader, for his shortsightedness. Imperial personnel, for their ineptitude. Erso, for his betrayal. Rebel pilots, for their daring. Kenobi, for his persistence. The Son of Skywalker, for his faith.

So many elements conspired to destroy his legacy.

Everything was proceeding as he had foreseen it until, by fate, the Son of Skywalker met Kenobi. The Jedi Order, stamped out two decades before, threatened to rise again. That led to the boy meeting his sister—how hadn’t Palpatine felt that tremor in the Force?—which led to the plans being turned over to the Rebel Alliance, which led to the destruction of the greatest tool of terror and control the galaxy had ever known.

He’d seen some of it coming. His backup plan involved a larger, even more intimidating Death Star. This time, there would be no weaknesses. This time, he would end the Rebel Alliance once and for all. He’d let their leaders step into the light and defy him in public. He would allow irresistible morsels of information to leak into the intelligence community. The Bothan Spynet and Rebel Intelligence would take the bait to set up a high stakes battle near Endor’s Sanctuary Moon.

He kept the most important part of the plan to himself and a tiny group of loyal engineers: the second Death Star would be fully armed and operational. Once the Rebel fleet arrived, penned in by the might of his Imperial Star Destroyers, the Death Star would systematically destroy the Rebels’ largest capital ships.

At the same time, the battle for the galaxy’s soul raged in his throne room.

He saw this in many permutations.

In some, the Son of Skywalker defeated his father and took his place at Palpatine’s side. In others, Vader vanquished the boy and reinforced his desire to rule with Palpatine. Sometimes, the Skywalkers united to strike him down and take over the Empire themselves. In one glorious future, it resulted in a new Sith Empire and a 1,000-year reign. He reconstituted himself through the Force and provided counsel to Sith lords for fifty generations.

They named great halls and shrines after him.

He navigated the Force like a river, allowing it to take him on its many branching paths.

In one, he had the boy named Anakin Skywalker killed immediately. Without him, the Force remained unbalanced and the Sith ruled for generations before a new hope arose. In another, he brought young Skywalker into his fold immediately, freeing him from slavery on Mos Espa and making him his apprentice. The boy’s powers grew prodigiously as he became an adolescent and then a man. But without a fateful meeting with Padme, without that vulnerability to exploit, the goodness at his inner core ruined everything. He killed Palpatine’s apprentice, turned the would-be Emperor over to the Jedi, and strengthened the Order and the Republic for another millennium.

In another possible future, a future now well past, Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader but never met Padme. His rage, though significant, didn’t truly ignite, and though he killed Palpatine and forged a Galactic Empire of his own, it lasted only a handful of years before the Jedi overthrew him. There were no twins. No dyad in the Force.

Palpatine should have paid more attention to these various possibilities. For if he had, he would’ve realized every future with the offspring of Anakin Skywalker brought about his end. Most often, the Son of Skywalker triumphed over evil and brought down Palpatine’s New Order. And when he did fall to the Dark Side, he still defeated Palpatine. Sometimes the Empire survived for generations, sometimes it crumbled within years.

In his visions, he had never encountered the potent spirit of the Princess of Alderaan. The Son of Skywalker’s sister (he called her the Daughter of Skywalker) never existed. But now, as Palpatine fell and seconds stretched into lifetimes and lifetimes into milliseconds, new paths in the Force presented themselves.

Had he recognized that the young senator from Alderaan was the Daughter of Skywalker, he could’ve corrupted her. Their pairing would’ve borne fruit as she used her political will and influence—plus her newfound mastery in the Force—to dismantle the Galactic Senate from within. In his mind’s eye, he saw her Force-choking her meddlesome adoptive father, destroying Alderaan in a new and unfamiliar way that excited him.

He saw her confronting him aboard the second Death Star in the robes of a Jedi, professing her undying love for a father whose darkness nearly consumed the entire galaxy. He saw her mastery of the Force and lightsaber combat, a discipline that far exceeded her brother’s and a patience that allowed a father to redeem himself.

He cursed out loud, lightning still cascading from his fingertips.

Yes, there were futures in which the offspring of Vader aided Palpatine and brought generations of Sith rule to the galaxy.

But the strongest futures, the ones he tended to ignore, involved love, redemption, and defeat.

Accursed Skywalkers.

A family of do-gooders unworthy of their father’s legacy.

He found another current in the Force, this one deep and dark and tempting.

Interested, he followed.

The Daughter of Skywalker married the Rogue. Their union produced another heir to Skywalker line. Into this boy’s soul, a boy named after Vader’s mortal enemy, the Dark Side poured all of its hate and fear. It used the Son of Skywalker to bring out the worst in the boy. And out of the defeat of the New Order arose the First Order and, eventually, the Final Order.

Suddenly, a thousand-year reign seemed possible once more.

Palpatine saw himself in this future.

He lost the path.

Desperate to find it, he stumbled across more possibilities. Some good, some bad. Sometimes he lived for millennia. Sometimes he died in his sleep. Sometimes his apprentice poisoned him. Sometimes the Empire stationed a Death Star in each system. In one unfortunate future, he saw the error of his ways before an apprentice he didn’t recognize killed him and ruled the Empire for decades. The apprentice ended up destroying the galaxy with a superweapon, leaving nothing and no one behind to rule.

In fact, Palpatine’s many futures saw a number of superweapons, most of them designed to inflict destruction on a planet-wide basis. Some of them could even reach across star systems to destroy multiple planets at once. They had fearsome names: Darksaber, Sun Crusher, World Devastator, Galaxy Gun.

He’d built two Death Stars already. Why not a third? Or something even larger?

The path brought him back to his present. To the outside observer, it would appear a man who fell to his doom down a reactor shaft would have no future. But while the Force had shown Palpatine many possible futures and many possible successes, it had also lifted the veil on potential failures. In order to secure his legacy, he needed contingencies, and so he had ordered some of his most loyal commanders to keep his memory alive.

They would head beyond the Rim and raise an army of their own.

If the Rebel Alliance won, a good possibility given the penchant of Skywalkers to interfere with his plans, a “new era of peace and justice” would come to the galaxy. But could a Rebellion so used to fighting muster the political will and courage to rule? Would it, in dismantling its hated enemy and all its loathsome systems, end up weakening itself to the core?

Before the Battle of Endor, as Palpatine put his final plans into place, he glimpsed several futures in which the Rebellion became a victim of its own success, its dedication to “governance” corrupted into “rule,” its checks and balances failing on a large scale and leading to a disillusioned population. The force of “good,” it seemed, could turn into the very thing it hated most.

In other futures, cognizant of this danger, the New Republic became decentralized and weak, its leaders so hellbent on avoiding war that they were unprepared when conflicts inevitably broke out. Outgunned and burdened with a small and poorly trained peacekeeping force, they did not know how to handle acts of outright aggression. Tearing down the Imperial fleet left the galaxy vulnerable. Combine that with leaders in serious denial, and the Empire could rise once more.

Another possibility: a brilliant coalition of “reformed” Imperials fooled the New Republic into thinking they’d truly renounced the ways of the New Order. These Imperials, true agents of chaos with no allegiance to the new government’s democratic reforms, would simply act as sleeper agents who ascended to important places within the New Republic’s overburdened bureaucracy. They would gradually allow some of those reforms to fall by the wayside in the name of peace and security, convincing citizens to surrender certain rights for the common good. As they systematically chipped away at the New Republic’s institutions, they would consolidate power and stage a coup.

Palpatine loved good political machinations, but this plan as presented by the Force appeared too gradual for his taste. Truly galaxy-changing acts demanded shock and awe. They demanded grandeur and surprise. A decades-long takeover of the New Republic from within did not suit him, so he followed another one of the many future streams.

He saw the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn, a brilliant tactician who valued order above all. He envisioned the blue-skinned Chiss operating on the margins and hijacking the Republic’s Katana fleet, joining up with a Jedi master whose sanity appeared to be in question. In this version of the future, the Daughter of Skywalker and the Rogue had twins. He glimpsed two Sons of Skywalker and a powerful figure with red hair and a lightsaber.

He saw smugglers and Spaarti cylinders and fearsome alien commandos. He heard a word he did not recognize: Mal'ary'ush.

This future, though intriguing, appeared out of reach. Just as well, as it turned out, because Thrawn fell by his own bravado. Eventually, his capitulating second in command pushed the Imperial Remnant toward peace with the New Republic.

So many possible futures. Some of them triumphant, some of them hopeless.

How best to manage it all?

“Always in motion is the future.”

The wise words again came from the green annoyance who’d found him through the Force. Palpatine fought him once in the Senate chamber. He’d felt the irritating creature’s presence flicker away not all that long ago. Yet, to Palpatine, his essence felt just as strong as ever through the Force.

“How is this possible?” he yelled across time and space.

“Accessible to those who learn, the Netherworld of the Force is,” the green annoyance said. “One with the Force, you must become. On your side, time is not.”

Palpatine knew nothing could stop the Rebels now. His apprentice fully embraced the light, thanks to the Son of Skywalker. The energy shield protecting the Death Star had fallen, and Rebel starfighters would soon race into the superstructure and destroy it. Celebrations would commence on countless planets to mark the Empire’s defeat. People would toast to the deaths of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader.

The New Republic era would soon begin.

He surveyed other possible futures.

A young clone of himself lured the Son of Skywalker to the planet Byss and turned him to the Dark Side. Fearsome machines devastated planets, starting with Mon Calamari; he summoned Force storms and watched Imperial might rise once again. But the Son and Daughter of Skywalker disrupted his plans, drawing upon some ancient prophecy to turn the Force against him.

He saw a Jedi holocron. An immense ship he christened the Eclipse.

Yet another defeat. This future, he believed, could not sustain him. Clone bodies were notoriously fickle, he had learned in his many experiments.

But time was not on his side, as the little green annoyance had reminded him.

The future of Emperor Sheev Palpatine depended on genetics and Force transference. Dark science. Cloning. Secrets only the Sith knew.

What he saw next, was no ripple in the Force, no inaccessible timeline. He’d rediscovered the thread he’d lost an eternity ago.

He followed it.

On a dead world in the Unknown Regions, cultists raised an army. Loyal scientists perfected cloning technology to preserve Palpatine’s reign. He needed only to transfer his Force essence from the second Death Star to the faraway world. He had practiced forms of this before, appearing in two places at once, but this would stretch his powers far beyond anything he’d attempted.

Until Palpatine could fully take form, another figure would lead the Imperial Remnant. As Operation Cinder went into effect—he could think of no better way of harassing the New Republic than destroying as much as he could—his loyal servants would craft a new leader. This fearsome figure would become a tool of Palpatine’s will, with the Emperor able to manipulate him through the Force. Indeed, the first order of his resurrection would inform his final order.

Another superweapon would decimate the New Republic. He would send the Imperial Remnant to Ilum, a kyber-rich world on which they would engineer a fearsome new device capable of large-scale destruction. They would mine a planet once sacred to the Jedi and bend it to their terrifying will.

His plan required patience, even though that was not one of his strengths. But he had seen a future in which a Skywalker truly and finally fell to the Dark Side, driving a wedge between the Son, the Daughter, and the Rogue. Their happy ending would crumble before their eyes, setting the galaxy on an even darker path as a fanatical Imperial Remnant became an unstoppable force.

He would haunt them for the rest of their lives. He had foreseen it. The Force showed him this intractable path.

Just before he transferred his essence, Palpatine saw something else. His offspring would play a role in this chaos. A grandchild would return to him on the dead planet and become an Empress with the Fallen Skywalker ruling at her side. Together, the First Order would become the Final Order, and the galaxy would know, once and for all, that Emperor Sheev Palpatine had won.

A powerful Force dyad would bring about generations of Sith rule.

The Force had one more path to show him, but Palpatine’s time was not infinite. He would soon hit the bottom of the reactor shaft. He could wait no longer; he could not see this future, nor did he care about it.

He screamed as lightning poured from his fingertips and his corporeal body disintegrated.

His essence scrambled momentarily, but he managed to keep himself together. It would take some time for him to reach the dead planet. It would take even longer for his loyal servants to create a suitable, sustainable clone body. Sith Troopers would take time to train, and Star Destroyers would take time to build.

But with the fall of Palpatine complete, he knew one thing for certain.

Somehow, he would return.

Also, check out the Emperor's continuing story in Gary, the Sith Eternal