What is a villain, dear readers?
Some of you might claim that a ghostly-looking imperial overlord in a black cloak who cackles creepily and orders the deaths of countless people would qualify. But friends, who are we to judge Emperor Palpatine for what he’s done? Are we not all, at our cores, flawed human beings too? Why do the people not clamor to #SaveSheevPalpatine?
You see, we were all so focused on Kylo Ren’s redemption arc that nobody stopped to think about the glaringly obvious one being built right under our noses. Sheev Palpatine’s redemption has been forecast since Episode I, and just because Ian McDiarmid has never posed shirtless holding a sheep in a magazine spread, that doesn’t mean he should be ignored as the soon-to-be hero of the Skywalker Saga. You don’t need an eight-pack to be the brooding, conflicted, soulful bad boy heartthrob that we all know Emperor Palpatine is at heart.
Wookieepedia tells us that Sheev was born in about 84 BBY on the planet of Naboo, to an “influential family.” No doubt, a family with such prominence and influence would have little time to attend to their sensitive, troubled, bright young son, who needed their love and care desperately during his turbulent youth. When his family abandoned him, he had no choice but to turn to the Sith lord Darth Plagueis, who (and I can’t stress this enough) is canonically the only person who ever showed him any love. And what did Sheev do when Plagueis was overcome with his own power? He struck him down–the only father figure he had ever known, the only source of kindness and understanding he had ever encountered. This act of unselfish sacrifice split Sheev to the bone, and who among us could blame him? Who wouldn’t turn to the Dark Side after such a traumatizing experience?
Despite this, Sheev still pursued his passion for improving the Galaxy by entering galactic politics. There, he selflessly mentored and aided younger peers such as Wilhuff Tarkin, even as the trauma of Plagueis’s death made it harder and harder to maintain the moral backbone that defines his character. He also took time away from politics to mentor Force users such as Darth Maul and Count Dooku, training them to defend themselves against what he perceived to be a corrupt Jedi Order (of course, the experience of his tragic childhood and the unavoidable, practically accidental death of his literal father, Darth Plagueis, clouded his judgment, so we can’t blame him for his misguided views). However, at some point along the way, darkness took over Palpatine. His resentment for the very real problems with the Jedi and the Galactic Senate turned him to anger and hatred, and ultimately he turned fully to the Dark Side.
But even then, his redemption was foreshadowed. Sheev, whose trauma had left him unable to pursue love and family, created Anakin Skywalker (probably), a son he could care for in the way he never knew. Imagine his pain, watching his own child suffer under slavery, unable to come claim him, and then seeing him taken away by his very enemy and indoctrinated against him. In this sense, his singleminded pursuit of making Anakin his apprentice at all costs is proof of his inherent goodness. Sheev Palpatine, despite his darkness, is willing to move heaven and earth to keep his only son by his side. And when that son comes to him, in desperation, to save his wife from dying, what does Sheev do? He gives him the aid that a Jedi would not. He offers to help him when nobody else would. And how does Anakin repay him? By throwing him down a garbage chute like so many empty egg cartons or expired yogurt cups.
Now, fully weakened, betrayed by those he trusted most, Sheev returns in Episode IX to get his revenge. But even as he comes to wreak havoc, we know that at heart, he still loves his son Anakin, just as he loved his one and only biological father who sired and raised him, Darth Plagueis. And what is the most powerful redemptive force in the Star Wars films? That’s right–familial love.So what would be more fitting than Episode IX finally allowing Sheev to let go of his trauma and learn to love and forgive again? What would be more beautiful than the Dark side being defeated at long last, and Sheev Palpatine finally coming to his senses and tearfully embracing his family under the soft light of a binary sunset? I think we can all agree now that Star Wars, at its core, is the story of a sensitive, troubled man who seeks to build a better world, and in the process is (understandably) corrupted by darkness. No, not that one. Or the other one. Sheephen “Sheev” Palpatine.
I look forward to this–let’s be real–inevitable conclusion to the Skywalker saga, and the message of goodness and love it represents. Sheev Palpatine loves democracy. Sheev Palpatine loves the Republic. But more than anything, Sheev Palpatine loves his family. It’s time to let that love shine through.