Star Wars: Ian McDiarmid’s Return as Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker Was a “Total Surprise”

Star Wars veteran Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed Palpatine-slash-the Emperor in both the [...]

Star Wars veteran Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed Palpatine-slash-the Emperor in both the franchise's original and prequel trilogies, says an email from The Force Awakens writer-director J.J. Abrams inquiring about the return of the Emperor in Episode IX was a "total surprise." In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine is heard menacing both Dark Side acolyte Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Light Side user Rey (Daisy Ridley), who will learn her story in the conclusion of the nine-movie Skywalker Saga. Returning to the saga 14 years after 2005's Revenge of the Sith was "very unexpected," McDiarmid says in an interview recorded during filming on Rise of Skywalker.

"It was a total surprise when about a year ago I had an email from J.J. saying, 'Is there a good time to call you? And where should I call you?'" McDiarmid recalled. "So I emailed back and said, 'Such and such time, and this is the best phone number to get me.' And then he called me straight away and said, 'We're thinking of bringing back the Emperor. How do you feel?' So I controlled myself and said, 'Sounds like a great idea!' And I realized my voice had shot up there, and I thought, 'He won't be able to cast me if I speak like that.' I said, 'Well, that's wonderful.'"

McDiarmid continued, "And he said, 'Well, we're thinking about bringing him back, because it would be just great to round off those nine episodes sort of the way we began in terms of the Dark Side.' And that's where it started."

Original Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow never considered bringing back Palpatine, who only re-entered the story when Abrams developed the project with co-writer Chris Terrio.

"Well, when you look at this as nine chapters of a story, perhaps the weirder thing would be if Palpatine didn't return," Abrams previously told Uproxx, pointing to Palpatine's prominence in the preceding six films. "You just look at what he talks about, who he is, how important he is, what the story is — strangely, his absence entirely from the third trilogy would be conspicuous. It would be very weird."

Star Ridley insists answers behind Palpatine's sudden revival — he was overthrown and vanquished a returned Anakin Skywalker (Sebastian Shaw / David Prowse) in Return of the Jedi — will be revealed in full in Skywalker.

"He's the biggest baddie in Star Wars history. Now that we've done the story, I'm like, it couldn't have happened any other way," she told IGN. "It had to be that. But he's very instrumental to the plot of the film. It's not just like he appears again; it's all explained."

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens Dec. 20. Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.