He's one of the most sinister villains in the history of cinema, the embodiment of evil in a black cloak, the ruthless leader of a tyrannical, murderous regime and, quite possibly, the devil incarnate. His name is Emperor Palpatine.
Palpatine, or Darth Sidious, has become a pop culture icon for all of the dubious qualities listed above. Even his voice drips with evil. More than just a legend, he was pretty much the only good thing about the second and third chapters of that prequel trilogy we all tried so hard to forget about.
And, amazingly, Palpatine almost became an antihero in a live-action Star Wars TV series that never actually made it to screen.
Details on the spin-off in question are pretty sketchy, but when God of War creative director Cory Barlog spoke with Venture Beat recently (having spent time working at LucasArts), he had nothing but glowing praise for the scripts he'd read:
When I was working at Lucas, I was allowed to go up to the ranch and read the scripts [for the live-action 'Star Wars' spin-off]. It was the most mind-blowing thing I’d ever experienced.
I cared about the Emperor. They made the Emperor a sympathetic figure who was wronged by this f***ing heartless woman. She’s this hardcore gangster, and she just totally destroyed him as a person. I almost cried while reading this. [I thought] that’s something magical.
The spin-off carried the rumored title Star Wars Underworld. If it was in development back in 2009 when Barlog was at LucasArts, it was presumably scrapped prior to Disney's purchase of Star Wars, meaning the chances of the world ever feasting eyes on a broken, sympathetic Palpatine are minimal at best.
Still, at a time when the heroes of superhero movies are under constant scrutiny, painted by their detractors as dangers to the very world they aim to protect (as in both Civil War and Batman v Superman) and the "worst of the worst" are put back into society to do some good (Suicide Squad), there exists a distinct grey area between the traditional definitions of what it means to be good or bad.
Consider also that Star Wars — perhaps more than any other franchise — has frequently toyed with the notion that bad guys are not inherently evil, but shaped instead by circumstance (some have suggested Rey, the almost-too pure heroine of The Force Awakens, might yet find herself drawn to the dark side). Suddenly, the idea of a younger Palpatine seen through a lens of tragedy and heartbreak doesn't actually seem that insane.
In particular, Netflix specializes in characters who tread the line between light and dark, perhaps none more so than Wilson Fisk, the inherently likable crime kingpin whose internal moral dilemmas made the first season of Daredevil such a knockout. Given that Netflix already has a strong working relationship with Marvel, the streaming service could be the ideal destination for a Palpatine spin-off, if Disney was open to the idea of allowing the canonical Star Wars Universe to spread its tentacles on the small screen.
That's probably a pipe dream, but the prospect of seeing one of the most notoriously Machiavellian supervillains of all time come unravelled at the hands of a "fucking heartless woman" is exceedingly delicious. Suddenly, that young Han Solo movie just feels like an annoyance.
You can read more from Barlog about the planned series at ScreenRant. The next Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, features another legendary force of evil, and hits theaters in a matter of months (December 16, to be precise). Check out the trailer above, and hope to the Gods those rumors of production troubles turn out to be unfounded.