Palpatine is a fictional character and the main antagonist of the Star Wars saga. Ian McDiarmid portrays the character in the feature films.
Palpatine first appeared as the Emperor of the Galactic Empire in the 1980 film Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. In this film and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, he is an aged, pale-faced figure who wears dark robes.
In the prequel trilogy, Palpatine is a middle-aged politician of the Republic who rises to power through deception and treachery. As the Senator of Naboo and later the Supreme Chancellor, he outwardly behaves like a well-intentioned and loyal public servant, yet underneath his affable public persona lurks his true identity: Darth Sidious, a Dark Lord of the Sith. As both Palpatine and Sidious, he sets into motion a series of events — including the Clone Wars — which ultimately destroys the Jedi Knights and cripples the Galactic Senate, allowing him to usher in the Galactic Empire, a brutal totalitarian regime.
Since the initial theatrical run of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Palpatine has become a symbol of evil and sinister deception in popular culture. Palpatine was ranked #3 greatest villain by Wizard magazine on its "100 Greatest Villains of All Time" list.
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Links: Wikipedia: Palpatine The Star Wars Wiki: Palpatine Starwars.com: Palpatine