Speaking exclusively to SciFiNow to promote his appearance at this year’s Star Wars Celebration Europe, held 26-28 July 2013 in Essen, Germany, Ian McDiarmid, who played Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi, and Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious in the prequel trilogy, admitted that while he doesn’t keep on top of Palpatine’s place in the Expanded Universe (“because I have a busy life as an actor and I’m on stage a lot”), he is keen to see the character live on in any potential spin-off movies or TV shows, but for obvious reasons a role in JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII is fairly unlikely.
“Yes, I’m sort of interested in any future development he might have,” admits McDiarmid. “Unfortunately, as you probably know, he died at the end of Episode VI, Vader sent him to cosmic hell so he’s not going to feature in any of the new Disney ones, I don’t think.
“On the other hand they’ve got lots of exciting ideas for spin-offs about separate characters and so on, and then there is the television series which George has talked about and decided to make into being for a number of years, and that takes place between Episodes III and IV when the Emperor is very much alive. So I think he probably does have a future.
“But I did see the most recent book [Darth Plagueis by James Luceno] that was written about him and his background, I was given a copy in fact when I was at the last celebration, so I read that and that’s fascinating. And it’s interesting to think that this character, who I thought had no backstory at all, I thought he was just born in evil and died in evil apparently could have.”
With the fullness of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader’s character arc revealed across the prequels, there’s perhaps scope for Palpatine to have his own hubristic, Shakespearean fall from grave.
“Yes,” agrees McDiarmid. “Well, I mean that was certainly Vader’s story, it was the tragedy of a fallen man.
“A man who had everything really, he had looks, talent, the ability to defend himself and so on and then it all went horribly wrong. Probably because of what happened to him when he was very young, and that often happens with people. And that story, the story of Episodes I, II and III, subsequently, is a sort of tragic arc, and you could call that Shakesperean too.
“But as I said to you earlier, I didn’t imagine that that would be true of Palpatine. I thought Sith were just somehow born evil, that’s what they were. But I’ve… with reference to a few things that George has said, I realised that that’s not true. He might well have a tragic arc too, but I don’t know. And even if he does I’m not sure we’ll ever see it. But obviously, if we did and if it happened it would be something that would be completely fascinating to do and it would be like building a Shakespearean character.
“Also the great thing about these movies is that George doesn’t give much away in advance to anybody,” McDiarmid continues, “which is good because that’s what a good storyteller should do, you should really want to know what’s going to happen next or how it all started.”
“And that’s all there in George’s head, and he’s released it, I suppose, in one way or another over the last few years. And although, of course, Disney now owns the franchise, George is there very much as a creative consultant and I’m sure they’ll be very grateful for that. And those storylines will still continue to emerge from that sort of databank, that extraordinary databank which is his brain.
“The reason I think that the films work as well as they do is not just because that they’re wonderfully made and they’re always pushing the boundaries of film itself, but because it’s rooted in a strong mythological story and that’s what hooks people, they really want to know about the trajectories of interesting characters and the regular fascination that we all have between the dark and the light side.”
McDiarmid is one of the blessed handful of actors to have straddled both trilogies, despite the two decades between them, and so he’s uniquely positioned to compare the sense of excitement and anxiety that surrounds the promise of any new Star Wars.
“Well, I think it has the same kind of feeling,” he acknowledges, “although I think there’s even more excitement around now because it’s not just that the saga is going to continue, which I think a lot of people are excited about, it’s now going to be renewed, with George’s blessing and his creative consultantship.
“This is typical of George, though, I saw him not so long ago in Chicago, and he didn’t tell me about the Disney films, obviously not because it was still being discussed, but he did say it was time for him to pass on to other people Lucasfilm and so on, and he’s always, of course, welcomed other people’s ideas and been inspired by them and fed off them.
“His attitude to casting is like that, he’ll see somebody that he thinks is right, he will guess that they can go through the process of making the film and then he will give them a…He will tell them ‘I’ve employed you to act, that’s what you do, I have complete confidence in the fact you can do it, so let’s see if we can take off together’. And that’s what I think is going to happen with him and the Disney franchise. And the names in fact that are being talked about and confirmed, I think, like JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt and so on, really ensure that these films will once again be reinvented and reimagined.
“But I’m sure the story of whatever happens, and I don’t know anything about it any more than you do, has always been there in George’s head and that will be the springboard, that will mean that these films will continue to live and be reinvented for each new generation.”
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