Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine/Sidious

I recently went to see the latest Star Wars episode, Revenge of the Sith, as I’m sure a large segment of the world’s population also did. I decided to write a review. However, since so many other reviews have most certainly been written, I will not be reviewing the movie itself, but one character, and in particular the actor that portrays him – that being, Chancellor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious, as played by Ian McDiarmid. As such this review goes beyond the most recent episode.

Of all the acting throughout this entire series I have been most impressed by Ian McDiarmid. His delicious portrayal of the evil character Palpatine/Sidious, the way he used emotions as a tool to manipulate people, and how he oozed sympathy in a way that could make the most skeptical believe him, all aptly contributed to this awesome performance.

At times, rather than his words, it is his facial expressions that conveyed so much, such as that power-mad part scowl part warped smile of pleasure that radiated from his mouth when he zapped people with those lightning bolts. Revenge of the Sith animation director, Rob Coleman, had this to say about McDiarmid’s talents “What Ian does with his face just in real time would take my team months and months and months, and we still wouldn’t be able to do (it) . . . his face is just totally normal and then he just does things with his muscles . . . I’m amazed at what he can do as a trained actor. It’s incredible.”

In other reviews I’ve read, most of the focus – particularly as regards to evil – is on Anakin. They write about Anakin’s transformation into the evil Darth Vader. Frankly, I don’t see what all of the hoopla is about. Anakin is like a boy scout compared to Palpatine – even after he becomes Darth Vader. Anakin is a wuss. He can’t control his emotions and his judgment is too easily clouded. He allows Palpatine to manipulate him like a small naive child. Palpatine is in complete control, whereas Anakin is not. Palpatine is a true master of evil, while Anakin was corrupted, and it was because of his weaknesses that he was corrupted so easily.

Then there’s Count Dooku, who is also supposed to be this really evil Sith Lord. He is excellent with the light saber, but appears to lack something in the evil department. His evil appears to be all on the surface, rather than the calm, contained, treacherous scheming that you get with Sidious. After all, Dooku just quietly kneels there and allows himself to be sacrificed without even a whimper or a protest – even after he grasps what’s going to happen. What self-respecting, really evil dude is just going to sit by and let that happen? I mean, come on now! No wonder Sidious was replacing him. I guess it must have been hard to find really bad help those days.

A case in point is when Sidious is lying there, apparently at the mercy of Jedi Mace Windu. Does he just lie there and let Mace run him through. No, he turns on those manipulative emotions to lure a gullible Anakin to his aid. Now that’s what a truly evil guy is supposed to do.

In all fairness, Hayden Christensen did an admirable job of playing the part of Anakin, and Christopher Lee is a legend. Maybe it was meant to be part of the story for them not to be as evil. Because in this story Ian McDiarmid is the master at capturing the essence of the Sidious evil so well. Consider if you will that “Sidious” most likely derives from the word “insidious”, whose definitions are:

1. Working or spreading harmfully in a subtle or stealthy manner.
2. Intended to entrap; treacherous.
3. Beguiling but harmful; alluring.

If you ask me, Ian McDiarmid embodied these definitions in his performance remarkably well.

One particularly striking aspect of this portrayal of evil is its resemblance to the way some evil people behave in real life. Don’t for one minute believe that such people do not exist in real life. They most certainly do. Maybe, if you look back, you will think of somebody you knew whose actions bear a likeness to those of Palpatine/Sidious. In fact, there’s a scary similarity to some of the people who are in positions of power these days, considering some recent events in this new century.

It’s no surprise that Ian McDiarmid delivered such a magnificent performance when you consider his background. He was born in Tayside, Scotland, on 11 August, 1944. He attended the Royal Academy in Glasgow, where he received the prestigious gold medal for his work. He is a talented theatrical actor and director, having played leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal National Theatre, and the Royal Court Theatre in England. His honors include a London Critics’ Circle award for “Faith Healer” in 2001. Then from 1990 until his retirement in 2001 he was Joint Artistic Director of London’s Almeida Theatre in Islington.

All in all it was a great pleasure to witness such outstanding performances, starting with Return of the Jedi, where the Emperor attempted to manipulate Luke in much the same way as he did Anakin, and culminating in Revenge of the Sith, where comes to the forefront. I for one feel that he should be nominated for best supporting actor. I wonder if the ways of the dark side can influence the oscar awards.

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