The Character You Love To Hate
Oh, look, another impossible question. Sometimes I wonder why I get myself into these challenges with these kinds of questions. First I was like, I already love to hate all the characters I hate! I really do enjoy hating. It makes me feel warm and cozy inside to loathe Padmé and Yoda and Jocasta Nu. So I thought, this can’t possibly be what the question means. Then I started doing some internet research on what people mean when they say “love to hate,” because, looking for inspiration, I tried to think of things I love to hate outside of Star Wars and I thought, “But if I hate something, I hate it!” Finally hit onto the Wiki explaining “love-hate relationship,” one containing equal parts love and hate, and I went ah ha! I knew there was a reason I didn’t put Palpatine in earlier!
Of course I love to hate Palpatine. Richard III, Maleficent, Imhotep, Dracula, Jadis, even Cain (House of Amber) — my favorite villains are littered with what I’ve termed “Machiavellian murderers,” killers who, without conscience, use and murder people as though they were no more than fuel to get them to their end goal — which is occasionally immortality for its own sake, but sometimes living quietly and privately off the blood of humanity isn’t enough — then they simply crave POWER. (Read more.)
Apart from the sheer satisfaction saying the word “emperor” provides — try it, emp-per-ror, the way it slides over your tongue, so much purring in on word, like an ice cream sundae for your speech processor — Emperor Palpatine is what I consider the greatest villain in fiction. Vader barely qualifies as evil; he is manipulated, a hollow, tragic shell of a pitiful fallen hero. But as Vader falls, Palpatine rises. He is intriguing and horrifying.
Canonical sources for his first name suggest Cos. His origin suggests he was the eldest born of his parents, that he had five younger siblings, and that the House of Palpatine was a very well known and wealthy house on Naboo. It is also suggested that he murdered his entire family with their bodyguards in a supposed hyperspace accident. Later, he trained under Darth Plageius as a Sith apprentice and took on the name Sidious.
All Sidious wants is power — “Unlimited power!” Which desire — that is, the desire to be God — puts him on par with Milton’s Satan, one of the greatest antiheroes of literature. This pursuit of power leads him to orchestrate a grandly sweeping plan for complete domination of the galaxy, creation of the first galactic empire, dissolution of the senate, etc. As occasionally happens when a Machiavellian villain seeks power at all costs, the typical citizenry of the realm don’t suffer all that much. (Notice that the Rebellion was formed by former senators ousted by the new regime, whose instinctive helpless cry was “democracy! democracy!” even though the system had failed in an epic way, even before being taken over and abused by the tyrant who instilled stricter law enforcement and better citizens’ rights throughout the galaxy . . . Listen, democracy cannot work over an enormous territory — 120,000 lightyears and a population of more than 100 quadrillion beings of more than 20 million distinct species is indisputably huge — in that un-homogenous population, giving “everyone a say,” the founding tenant of democracy, will create chaos and an absolute halt of rulership; Imperial Russia was a microcosm of this. Frankly, nothing this huge is meant to be ruled by a single entity, but an empire is going to do it better than some trumpy republic.) Of course the people who cross him suffer, but the Jedi — also invested in keeping their own jobs — are pretty vague about what “the tyranny of the Sith” even is.
Sorry, rabbit trail. I was talking about the evil of Palpatine. Here is a rare person whose evil may be seen, felt, sensed, understood in a graphic way. He has so distorted himself with use of the unnatural Force (called “the dark side”) that his own body is disintegrating around him. Immortality is also, inevitably his goal — the goal of a man who wants to be the galaxy’s only god and also a man who killed his own master — and he seeks a variety of methods of unnaturally prolonging his life. I think, without letting dogma interfere, one may nearly call him “ageless” by ROTJ. If Vader is more machine than man, Palpatine is more dark side than creature, for his death creates an explosion of the dark side unmatched by anything.
Sometimes I have to admire the dazzling intelligence of pure evil. This is not really a sign of something suspicious in my own character; instead you should ask why media consistently make intelligence synonymous with evil. In any event, I admire Palpatine’s shrewd logic, cold calculating, crystal cunning . . . and I have been known to shout advice to him at the end of ROTJ, it’s true. (“NO! Don’t laugh now!! SHUT UP! You almost won! SHUT UP, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU HAD HIM! YOU HAD HIM! NO!”) But in the end, he is well defeated, a symbol of great, boundless evil, a creature of absolute darkness. And I really do love and hate him.