One of the things that we always knew about Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars is that he was a creepy old man with a deformed face that only added to the mystique behind his menacing and dark aura. Of course, we knew he wasn’t that way before the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith because his face wasn’t deformed. Then, in the duel against Mace Windu, his appearance suddenly changes to reveal the menacing look that Palpatine has always been associated with. So, why did Palpatine’s face change during the fight with Mace Windu?
Palpatine’s face changed and became deformed, not because the Force Lightning channeled back to him but because he had long been corrupted by the dark side of the Force and had undergone a drastic physical change. However, he used the dark side to mask his true appearance.
The common belief is that Palpatine’s Force Lightning was responsible for deforming his face and making him look uglier and more menacing. But the truth is that the dark side corrupts a person’s personality and appearance, and that’s why it is possible that Palpatine was already this ugly before the fight with Windu. With that said, let’s look at why Palpatine’s face changed after the duel with Mace Windu.
Palpatine’s Face Change Explained
When he was introduced as the looming figure behind the Empire during the events of the first Star Wars trilogy, Emperor Palpatine was a scary old man with a deformed face and a creepy aura that matched his power as a Sith Lord. Darth Sidious was an exceptionally powerful man in the Force and was responsible for the destruction of the Jedi Order.
The destruction of the Jedi Order was a long process of planning, scheming, and manipulating on the part of Sheev Palpatine, who spent decades consolidating power to himself as a senator that eventually became the chancellor of the Galactic Republic. He manipulated both the Republic and the Separatists during the Clone Wars to make sure that there was no way that his plan would fail. And while the Jedi and the Republic were victorious against the Separatists, Palpatine was still in the most powerful position in the galaxy.
Anakin Skywalker found out that the Sith Lord that had been evading the Jedi was actually the chancellor the entire time, and that was when he told Jedi Master Mace Windu that Palpatine might have been the one behind the entire war. Windu marched into Palpatine’s office with three other Jedi Masters to arrest him, and we all know that this resulted in the quick deaths of three Jedi Masters and a duel between the champion of the Jedi Order and the dark lord of the Sith.
Mace Windu channeled his anger into strength to best the Sith Lord called Darth Sidious in their duel as he was about to arrest him after disarming the chancellor. But before Windu could formally arrest Palpatine, the Sith Lord used his Force Lightning against the Jedi Master. Windu’s training and strength in the Force allowed him to block the attack and deflect the lightning back at Palpatine, whose face drastically changed in front of Anakin Skywalker, who had just arrived to try to make sure that the chancellor would not be killed.
Windu was convinced that Palpatine was too dangerous to take in alive, but Anakin tried his best to tell him it was not the Jedi way to kill a defeated adversary. But the truth was that Anakin just needed Palpatine to understand the secrets of the dark side and unlock the mystery behind saving Padme’s life. And as Windu was about to strike the final blow to a seemingly weakened chancellor, Anakin disarmed him, opening up the opportunity for Palpatine to strike with his Force Lightning again.
The Jedi Master was killed when Palpatine’s power forced him out of the window. It was clear that Palpatine, despite his deformed appearance after taking in the force of his deflected Force Lightning, wasn’t actually injured but still had the stamina to kill Windu and then walk out of the duel alive and well. He used his deformity to convince the Galactic Senate that the Jedi Order had betrayed the Republic and that it was important for him to re-organize the Republic into the Galactic Empire. And with Darth Vader by his side, Palpatine became a hooded figure that ruled the galaxy as the emperor.
Was Palpatine Already Deformed Before the Fight with Mace Windu?
As mentioned, Palpatine’s face changed drastically after Windu deflected the Force Lightning back at him. His transformation was seemingly gradual as we saw the lightning burning his skin and changing his appearance into the sinister and creepy look he had always associated with. But was Palpatine already deformed before the fight with Mace Windu?
Many people think that Palpatine’s own Force Lightning was responsible for deforming his appearance. However, there are a lot of things that need to be considered if that were the case. The first is that Darth Sidious was seemingly uninjured even after the attack deformed his face. In most cases, any Force user would have been too weak to stand up or even use the Force after taking in the full power of a deflected Force Lightning.
In Palpatine’s case, however, he seemingly faked his injury to convince Anakin to help him. So, after Anakin chopped off Windu’s hands, Sidious still had enough strength and power to take out the Jedi Master with another powerful blast of Force Lightning. So, if the deflected Force Lightning injured and deformed Sidious, he would have been too weak to attack the Jedi Master once more or to even stand up on his own two feet after such an ordeal.
This allows us to support the theory that Palpatine’s appearance was already deformed before the duel with Mace Windu. That’s because prolonged use of the dark side of the Force corrupts the person physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. The dark side takes a heavy toll on the person’s body, which is why most of those who turn to the dark side tend to undergo massive changes in their faces.
While it is yet to be canon, the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game allowed us to see that the dark side changes the person’s face due to its corruption. Even Anakin, after becoming a Sith Lord, had menacing eyes that were different from when he was still allied with the light side.
As such, it is more than possible that Palpatine’s face was already as ugly and deformed as before the fight with Windu due to his exposure to the dark side. Palpatine is one of the strongest users of the dark side of the Force, and his affinity with the dark side might have hastened the deformity of his face. But because Palpatine was also a scholar of the dark side, he might have mastered the art of concealing his true appearance, just as how he mastered the art of concealing his dark presence and aura from even the strongest Jedi Masters.
It is possible that the Force Lightning that was deflected toward Palpatine did not deform his face but merely “unmasked” it by undoing what he did to hide his true appearance. And because Palpatine no longer needed to hide his true nature from the entire galaxy and was trying to convince everyone that the Jedi Order was responsible for his deformity, he never had to conceal his deformed face again.