Ian McDiarmid, the man who played Emperor Palpatine, wants you to know that the powerful Sith master is absolutely, positively “dead” heading into Episode IX. Whether or not you believe the man who played one of the most devious traitors in movie history is up to you.
“Roll it again,” he croaked, illuminated by a spotlight at one corner of the stage.
And so they did, while thousands of fans in the audience watched it with new eyes. McDiarmid’s signature cackle come in at the end of the spot, leaving many to believe that he’ll reprise his role as Palpatine in the conclusion to the now 40-plus-year-old franchise.
But, during a panel on the 20th anniversary of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, McDiarmid was exceptionally coy.
“After seeing your surprise appearance here at Celebration here on Friday,” asked the panel’s host, actor Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Willow), “I do have to ask: Do you have anything to tell us?”
After the crowd finished roaring, McDiarmid demurred.
“I just happened to be in the area,” he said, rolling his eyes extravagantly, “so I thought I should just drop in for a laugh.”
But McDiarmid didn’t leave it at that. Multiple times during the panel he returned to conversations he had had with George Lucas over the years about the fate of Palpatine.
“‘Is he...?’ And before I could even finish the sentence,” McDiarmid recalled, imitating Lucas. “‘Dead, yes.’ ‘Well, couldn’t he perhaps...’ ‘No. He’s dead.’ ‘Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if...?’ ‘Forget it.’”
It’s likely that Palpatine’s return was part of Lucas’ plan all along. In the prequels, fans will recall that the senator’s big pitch on behalf of the Dark Side, made to Anakin Skywalker, was that it could help someone cheat death. Later, in Star Wars Rebels cartoons, Lucasfilm doubled down on that idea; a major part of its plotline included Palpatine’s quest for ancient artifacts that could grant him unusual powers.
“You know it is possible to change fate,” says Palpatine, voiced by none other than McDiarmid himself. “There are infinite paths and infinite possibilities. [...] So few have the choice to live the life they want. Why deny yourself?”
Sadly, the stage was crowded with stars and members of the production team behind The Phantom Menace, each of which deserved their time at the mic. So Davis was unable to prompt McDiarmid for any more hints as to the Emperor’s ultimate fate.
However, fans in attendance were treated to an opportunity to shamelessly celebrate Episode I, one of the most derided entries in the Star Wars catalog. Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, which seats more than 10,000 people, was full to bursting with nearly as many fans as showed up for last week’s Episode IX reveal.
The space was also filled with love, especially for actor Ahmed Best, the man who played Jar Jar Binks. Last year the actor revealed that he has struggled with depression following the fallout from his fateful role as the goofy gungan. This year, fans gifted him with a standing ovation.
The Rise of Skywalker, the final chapter in the Star Wars Skywalker saga, arrives in theaters on Dec. 20, 2019.