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Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid Declined to Learn Palpatine’s Backstory

Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid Declined to Learn Palpatine’s Backstory

In George Lucas’ 1974 rough draft for the first “Star Wars,” there was a character named Cos Dashit. Dashit, a weak-willed, low-level politician, failed his way up the ranks until he became President of the Republic and eventually the Emperor. Initially, he was seen as nothing more than a puppet, controlled by the Empire’s bureaucrats like Tarkin, and he was neither a Force user nor a particularly clever individual.

It was only later that Palpatine evolved into the mastermind behind the entire saga, the puppeteer orchestrating every conflict in the galaxy. His character drew inspiration from real-world politicians like Richard Nixon and Dick Cheney. The final portrayal of Palpatine was anything but clownish. As McDiarmid remarked in 2002, the character “is more evil than the devil. At least Satan fell — he has a history, and it’s one of revenge. But the Emperor — well, I don’t know all the details, but who does of the Sith? — is an independent agent who just lives for the exercise of power. He doesn’t know what scruples are, let alone have any.”

The early concept of the Emperor as a puppet is intriguing. There are echoes of this idea in the “Star Wars” sequels, where characters like Armitage Hux serve the role of a patsy—a pawn in a position of power without much real agency. Even Supreme Leader Snoke in the trilogy is essentially a puppet, merely a placeholder until Palpatine somehow returned in “The Rise of Skywalker.”