Since it was announced that events in Rogue One would take place in the middle of the Star Wars timeline, and within touching distance of A New Hope, there has been an abundance of speculation on well-known characters who could return. Finally, the last few seconds of the latest trailer revealed an iconic addition in Darth Vader, but what about the man who seduced him to the dark side: Darth Sidious?
The Emperor, as he is also known, was at his evil peak around the time events in Rogue One take place. He used the seemingly humble public persona of Senator Palpatine to help manipulate events in his favor, while convincing the likes of Anakin Skywalker and Count Dooku to embrace evil.
Darth Vader's inclusion in Rogue One raised questions as to whether Darth Sidious could also feature. Such speculation was heightened by a mysterious cloaked figure in the trailer, who appears to be preparing to communicate with a hologram of the Emperor, compounded by the presence of Emperor's Royal Guard.
However, according to actor Ian McDiarmid — who played Sidious in Return of the Jedi, and later in the prequel trilogy — the character won't be returning to dictate evil deeds in Rogue One. In an interview with XGN at the Amsterdam Comic Con, he said:
“Rogue One’s on its way, when I was in charge of things – I mean the Emperor, not me. I am not featured in [the movie] myself, but I understand that Darth Vader may be making an appearance.”
The Lack Of Darth Sidious Could Benefit Rogue One
Before exploring why this could be a positive for Rogue One, it's worth noting that McDiarmid has only ruled himself out of playing the character, not the complete lack of all things Sidious.
However, considering Disney's allegiance to actors who have previously appears in the series (Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma, James Earl Jones as Darth Vader and Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa), it'd be a big surprise if someone else took over the role, so we can assume this is a definitive confirmation of the characters omission.
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So, how could this be a good thing? There's no doubt that Darth Sidious is a formidable villain, an evil mastermind behind most of the trouble the Jedi Knights have to face in the sci-fi saga. But he's a villain that belongs in that very saga. Rogue One, while close in proximity, is unlike any Star Wars story we've seen before; the protagonists of the Rebel Alliance are grounded, conflicted and don't have access to the Force.
A Villain With Grounded Qualities
On the flipside, that requires a villain with the same qualities. Step forward Orson Krennic, the Imperial Military Director who is tasked with protecting the construction of the Death Star and commands a collection of Death Troopers. But rather than a strong connection with the Force, Krennic is a careerist who fights his way to the upper echelons of the Galactic Empire.
Also, Rogue One will introduce a wealth of new characters, and it's important they get time to shine. While Darth Vader will feature, it's likely he'll take a back seat, giving Director Krennic the platform to express his own personality, and subsequent dark side. In short, it's not always worth pandering to the craving to see familiar faces in big franchises when it isn't beneficial to the film's narrative.
Ultimately, following McDiarmid's comments, there is one question that remains: If Darth Sidious isn't going to feature, then who was being protected by the Emperor's Royal Guard? Could it be the Emperor's assassin, Mara Jade? Or a new character completely?
Rogue One is released on December 16, 2016.
Who do you think the Emperor's Royal Guard are protecting?