By George Bate
“Have you ever heard the tragedy of Darth Plageuis the wise?” This infamous line and the tale that follows it have become key fixtures of Star Wars lore and even broader pop culture with memes, analytic videos, art, and more centered around Ian McDiarmid and Hayden Christensen’s conversation. As the Skywalker saga has concluded with its ninth installment, now more than ever seems like an appropriate time to revisit the importance of one of Star Wars’ most enthralling and tense scenes. Below are 5 of the main reasons this scene is integral to the Skywalker saga and the galaxy as a whole.
Reason #1: It Establishes Anakin’s Key Motivation to Turning to the Dark Side
Perhaps the most obvious note of importance in this scene is how it sets the stage for Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. Anakin’s vulnerabilities and dark side inclinations are on full display throughout key moments of the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars. From his slaughter of innocent Tusken Raiders, to his angry outbursts against Obi-Wan, to his impulsive actions in The Clone Wars, to his forbidden relationship with Padme in the first place, Anakin exhibited a number of vulnerabilities that laid the groundwork for Palpatine to exploit in order to fulfill his ultimate plan of galactic supremacy. And, despite a whole host of vulnerabilities, perhaps Anakin’s greatest ones were the visions of his mother Shmi dying and the trauma he experienced in failing to save her from the doomed future these visions prophesied. At his core, Anakin fundamentally changed after this event, plagued by the thoughts of his lost mother and, eventually, visions of the same thing happening to his wife. And, to Anakin, despite Master Yoda’s pleadings otherwise, if his visions came true before, why couldn’t they come true again? It is this key internal conflict that the opera scene explores more openly than ever. Palpatine knows that he can manipulate and exploit an already fractured, impulsive, frightened man’s deepest fears, especially given the father-son type bond they’ve cultivated over the years. Anakin’s deepest fear in this moment is helplessly losing Padme like he lost Shmi and, unlike Yoda who urges Anakin to let go of his fears and not do anything about the visions, Palpatine presents himself as the sole person in the galaxy offering him a way to proactively solve his problem. In this sense, Palpatine’s account of Plageuis, in particular the sentence, “He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying,” is vitally important to Anakin’s transformation. Up until this point, Anakin has lived in fear of what may happen to Padme and has a resentment over the Jedi for forbidding his attachment to her and not offering any solutions to his problem. This is the inverse of Palpatine’s stance on the matter as he is offering a seemingly legitimate way to ameliorate these fears. Without the opera scene, Anakin’s turn against the Jedi would be unjustified and unreasonable to the audience as unstable personality characteristics and a resentment over some Jedi values wouldn’t alone explain his mass slaughter of Jedi and continued reign alongside Darth Sidious for years.
Reason #2: It Offers Rare Insight Into Palpatine’s Origins.
For being the main antagonist of the entire Skywalker saga, Palpatine’s origins are mostly clouded in secrecy. While his political origins have been expanded upon in some canon books, Palpatine’s childhood and Sith training is fairly unknown to the audience. The opera scene, however, provided real insight into Palpatine’s Sith background. Not only does the audience get its most explicit mention of Palpatine being a Sith Lord yet in this scene, but it also is provided with some really interesting information about Palpatine’s rise to become the predominant Sith Lord in the galaxy at this time and the conniving, treacherous way in which he did it. Obviously, the Plageuis novel that is now Legends delves quite deeply into the Plageuis-Palpatine dynamic and it would be great to see more of Plageuis in canon, perhaps even in the High Republic era material.
Reason #3: It Provides Information About Sith Lore and Sith Apprentice-Master Dynamics.
In addition to setting the stage for Anakin’s fall by introducing the concept of dark side abilities being used to save loved ones from death, Palpatine’s discussion of Plageuis’ apprentice killing his master is particularly informative for broader Star Wars canon. While Jedi lore is built out substantially in the prequel trilogy, the Sith are intentionally shrouded in secrecy, with only a few brief scenes of Sidious discussing his plans with people like Maul, Dooku, or Grievous. In all, however, the Sith mainly serve as the antithesis of the Jedi, driven by fear and selfishness. One key aspect, however, of the Sith is revealed in the opera scene as Palpatine inadvertently confessed to killing his master. This is a theme that obviously dates back to Return of the Jedi, in which Vader fulfilled his prophecy as the Chosen One, slayed his master, and restored balance to the Force. But Revenge of the Sith, in particular this scene, sheds more light on the concept of Sith apprentices killing their masters. One would think the Rule of Two would bind the two Sith Lords together to such an extent that their loyalty and collaboration is a key part of what keeps them alive, and to an extent this is true. And, while Sith work toward a common insidious goal, Palpatine’s speech to Anakin in this scene really cements the concept of Sith apprentices always seeking to usurp their masters. This is a pattern seen in Charles Soule’s Vader comics, in which Vader resents Palpatine in a way and, going off his speech with Padme on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, thinks he can overthrow Palpatine. This is a pattern also seen in The Clone Wars in which Dooku is clearly thinking of overthrowing Palpatine, something the Sith master notices and attempts to quell by dispelling Asajj Ventress. This is also a pattern most recently seen with Kylo Ren’s killing of his master Snoke and, how The Rise of Skywalker visual dictionary confirms, this act was Kylo’s true test of his mettle as a Sith Lord. In other terms, betraying one’s master is a key barometer of being a true Sith, a concept introduced fully and explicitly in the opera scene.
Reason #4: It Sets the Stage for Palpatine’s Return
J.J. Abrams has spoken about his love for this scene, claiming it was the greatest setup for him to reintroduce Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. And, in looking back at the opera scene, it truly does feel like a great tease for an ominous event to come. Many fans have expressed their dismay at Palpatine’s return, claiming it invalidates the victory in the Battle of Endor and takes the opera scene in Revenge of the Sith too literally. But, in, listening to the scene’s dialogue, especially lines like, “Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life,” it really feels like great foreshadowing for what is to come in The Rise of Skywalker. Not only does this scene introduce the concept of saving people from death, but also the ability to create (or recreate life) itself. Palpatine’s line, “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural” explains to Anakin the ability to save Padme from death and outlines more broadly that the Sith are capable of many mysterious Force abilities related to the creation and maintenance of life, beyond what most people would consider normal. So, when Palpatine inevitably returns in The Rise of Skywalker, the opera scene has already laid the groundwork for phenomenon like revival, cloning, dark magic, etc.
Reason #5: It Sets the Stage for the Rey Palpatine Reveal.
Expanding upon the last point, the tale of Darth Plageuis also lays the groundwork for the reveal that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Following the logic from the previous point, Palpatine’s discussion of unnatural Force abilities pertaining to the creation of life aligns closely with the fact that Rey is the daughter of a failed Palpatine clone, as revealed in The Rise of Skywalker novelization. Without the opera scene, this reveal may have come across as more jarring for fans (and to many, this reveal still feels unearned and misplaced) without the previous context that the Sith and Palpatine have played around with ideas of creating life, cloning and dark magic. In this sense, the scene serves many purposes, one of which is providing some of the necessary context for explaining Rey’s true parentage.
Overall, the opera scene remains one of the most iconic and quotable scenes in the Star Wars saga. It’s surface level tension and suspense and plot importance are great, but there’s also a lot of depth to the tale spun by Palpatine and how his words harbor deeper meaning related to Anakin’s transformation into Vader, core issues of Sith master and apprentice relations, Rey’s parentage, and Palpatine’s origins and eventual return to power. In all, the scene is arguably the moment that ties all three trilogies together and affirms that the Skywalker saga is just as much about Palpatines as it is about Skywalkers.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney.