Palpatine’s Game of Chess

I was in the process of doing a Vader vs. Sidious showdown post when a thought struck me. Clearly Sidious would win, there’s no doubt. Then how come he didn’t?

The more I write on my blog, the more I realize how much of a master manipulator Palpatine really is. In simple terms: he maintained a double life as a Senator/Chancellor and evil Sith Lord. He slowly watched Anakin’s life progress, took on the role of a second mentor to him, and quietly fine-tuned all the proceedings of the Clone Wars so that he could reveal himself at the perfect moment. And, oh my goodness, so much could have gone wrong but it didn’t. He really knew the virtue of patience and played an amazing game of chess with the entire galaxy.

Hmmm, next move? Bringing the queen down.
Hmmm, next move? Becoming Chancellor, then Emperor.

Palpatine’s intelligence, ruthlessness, experience, Force sensitivity, and lightsaber combat are all near perfect marks. He was the perfect Sith Lord.

I guess I am struggling because I am confused on how he did not see that Vader could, perhaps, turn on him. It’s understandable that between the end of ROTS and all the way up to ESB, Vader was the apprentice he had worked so hard and long for. All his work was paying off as Vader went around killing all the remaining Jedi, helped establish the Empire, and became entrenched in the dark side. Padmé was dead and her child (or so Vader thought) died along with her.

But once you reach ESB, Vader knows his son is alive. Vader discusses his son with Palpatine in his hologram discussion:

What is thy bidding, my master?  

There is a great disturbance in the Force.                                               

I have felt it.                                     

We have a new enemy – Luke Skywalker.                                                

Yes, my master.                                           

He could destroy us.                                               

He’s just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.                                  

The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.            

If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.                                  

Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?                           

He will join us or die, my master.

palpatine hologramPalpatine is nervous about Luke. He senses that he could be strong enough to destroy both of them. And how does Vader react? He kind of waves his fear away. “Ohhh, he’s just a boy, why worry? And Obi-Wan is dead so it’s not like he’ll get far in his training.” So Palpatine reiterates that he doesn’t want him getting any stronger and Vader says, “Hey, why don’t we turn him to the dark side? He could be an ally?” Dude, you’re dumb. If that happened, Palpatine would take Luke as the new apprentice and you’d be dead (as we saw suggested in ROTJ). FINALLY at the end of the conversation, Vader says that if Luke won’t join them, he’ll kill him.

It just seems like in this entire conversation, Vader is evading the issue at hand and wanting to save Luke. It’s not until the end that he gives in and says he’ll kill him, but only if he can’t turn him to the dark side first.

Warning bells should be going off in Palpatine’s head right now. Either a) he is aware that Vader could be interested in keeping his son alive and is hoping he can trust him enough to do his bidding or b) he has no idea.

I just get this feeling that Palpatine did not sense things until it was too late. Luke does not turn to the dark side and also does not die. In ROTJ, Vader senses Luke is part of the strike force that goes to Endor to disable the shield generator. The Emperor, moving his pieces around on the chess game, knows all about this but does not sense Luke. I think this perturbs him that Vader is so finely attuned to his son (we saw hints of this at the end of ESB when he is calling to Luke and Luke is on the Falcon) that he has to say “I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader?” For someone so powerful in the Force, he should be digging deep into Vader’s psyche and soul to see if Vader feelings really are clear. But when Vader reassures him that everything is cool, he then goes to say Luke will come to Vader. All of a sudden, now that he knows about Luke, he knows what will happen next and his chess game is tweaked.

Why would he send Vader to Endor alone? I’ve always felt that the brief scene Luke and Vader had on the bridge was when the chisel started breaking into Vader’s commitment to the dark side. Palpatine should have sent Piett or someone else high enough but trustworthy to bring Luke in. Luke had his chance to start wheedling his way through Vader’s defenses, telling him that there is still good in him.

Luke and Vader

What I love about this whole scenario but what also makes me most confused is that Palpatine thought that Vader was completely turned to the dark side. Anakin was a complete raging river of emotions. Palpatine harnessed that and used it for rage and the dark side, but he should have been more alert when Luke was brought into the picture. I have issues with Anakin and Padmé’s relationship and how it was portrayed on screen, but he did love her a lot. So you’re going to think he’ll be fine when Luke is around? Don’t you remember that the first question out of Vader’s mouth (and he had already turned to the dark side) when he was in his iconic garb was, “Where is Padmé? Is she safe? Is she alright?” If he cared that much about Padmé, you can bet that he would care and love his son.

So the point of this whole rambling post is: how did Palpatine not factor in Vader’s possible love for his son in his plans? Someone as intelligent and organized as him would not have a backup plan at the very least? I understand that he was hoping Luke would kill Vader and take his place…but seriously, he should have factored in all possibilities. And one of those possibilities would be that Vader would not let him kill his son and would save him by killing Palpatine.

luke vader rotj


11 thoughts on “Palpatine’s Game of Chess

  1. Great analysis as always 🙂 As Luke himself says to the Emperor: “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” Also, I think Palpatine is a villain in the mold of Voldemort, someone who doesn’t understand Looooove.

    1. So I wonder if he just was so much like Voldemort and could not understand love, emotion, etc., that that is the reason he failed to put it into his plans? Maybe because he could not empathize at all and could not relate, he could not even account for it as existing and thinking Vader would be immune to it?

  2. This is a great question.

    The short answer is the one Mei-Mei gave: Palpatine was overconfident.

    Both Sith Lords wanted to take Luke on as their own apprentice and get rid of the other. Palpatine was disappointed with Vader because, as strong as Vader was in the Force, Vader was weakened by his defeat on Mustafar (for example, Vader could never use Force Lightning without destroying his own life support system). Palpatine thus had a clear motive to replace Vader with Luke as his apprentice — he’d get a strong Skywalker as apprentice, but Luke would not have Vader’s life support and prosthetic limitations. Vader wanted Luke to help him kill Palpatine so that Vader would become the Dark Lord and Luke his apprentice. Not only was this Vader’s directive under the Rule of Two, but Vader would rule the galaxy with his own son — a clear win-win, especially considering the only alternative would be to kill Luke. Moreover, Vader’s conversation with Luke on the forest moon of Endor makes it clear that Vader felt he was not Palpatine’s equal and therefore needed Luke’s help to defeat him:

    “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.”

    In all probability both Palpatine and Vader knew of the other’s plans, since their motives were fairly obvious. But Palpatine proved overconfident of his hold over Vader since he turned out to be wrong.

    1. Thank you for clarifying why Vader could not use Force Lightning. I actually just thought Palpatine was selfish and wanted to keep that power to himself, lol. I never bothered to look it up.

      I was also hoping you’d chime in on this, Null, because you do always have something great to say about the Sith. I actually don’t have much to say in return, alas, because I agree with everything you say.

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