Star Wars veteran Ian McDiarmid, who returns as Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, was "totally surprised" when he learned J.J. Abrams wanted to resurrect the late Emperor when ending the Skywalker Saga. Palpatine's death was confirmed decades earlier by Star Wars creator George Lucas, who told the actor the Sith Lord perished for good aboard the Death Star II in Return of the Jedi, where he was vanquished by the tortured Anakin Skywalker (Sebastian Shaw) when the man formerly known as Darth Vader sacrificed himself to save Jedi son Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
"I thought I was dead! I thought he was dead," McDiarmid told Digital Spy. "Because when we did Return of the Jedi, and I was thrown down that shoot to Galactic Hell, [he was dead]. And I said, 'Oh, does he come back?' And [George] said, 'No, he's dead.' [Laughs] So I just accepted that. But then, of course, I didn't know I was going to be doing the prequels, so in a sense he wasn't dead, because we went back to revisit him when he was a young man. But I was totally surprised by this."
McDiarmid earlier revealed he was approached by Abrams via email, where the Force Awakens writer-director requested a meeting to pitch Palpatine's involvement in Episode IX. McDiarmid's voice "shot up" in surprise when he was invited back before telling Abrams the idea was "wonderful."
"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,'" the actor recalled. "And that's where it started."
Despite being under the impression Palpatine had no way to return after 1983's Jedi, McDiarmid predicted his involvement with another Star Wars in a 2017 interview with BBC Scotland:
"I suppose there must be a chance but I think you'd find out about it more quickly than I would," McDiarmid said when asked if the Emperor would return. "As far as the new films are concerned, I'm dead. There is no question about that."
Still, McDiarmid allowed, the actor suspected there was a chance he wasn't yet finished with the galaxy far, far away.
"But there is what they call the anthology series and actually the most recent one, Rogue One, was about the time when I was in charge. I was referred to a few times, Darth Vader popped up, but you did not see me," he said. "Maybe they are keeping me as a surprise for later but I have no idea. Of course, I don't want anyone else to play him."
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now playing.