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The Emperor was briefly mentioned in Star Wars: A New Hope. Was he at that point intended to be a Sith (or general Dark Side user, if the term "Sith" didn't exist then)? Or did that only emerge in The Empire Strikes Back, as a kind of early George Lucas retcon that we didn't even feel at the time?

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    +1 for your username. Oh yeah, and good question. – Praxis Sep 10 '15 at 0:13
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    No, he was once just an evil little baby Sith who made snarky, sarcastic remarks to all the other kids in his kindergarten class, and used Force Lightning on anyone who refused to hand over their juice boxes. – Wad Cheber Sep 10 '15 at 2:40
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    Simply by asking this question, you've given George Lucas all the justification he needs to go and make 3 rubbish prequel prequels. – Robert Grant Sep 10 '15 at 7:32
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    @RobertGrant: Episode -1: A Poo & Soap – Lightness Races in Orbit Sep 10 '15 at 11:09
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    I don't recall the Emporer being referred to as a Sith Lord in the original cut of Empire. In fact... I can't think of a time the word "Sith" appeared in the original release versions of any of episodes IV, V, or VI. It definitely appears in the novel Star Wars. I'm pretty sure the Sith was originally more of a secret society and not related to The Force. My brain (which sometimes gets confused) is saying Grand Moff Tarkin was also a Sith Lord in the original novel - I can't corraborate that memory at this time. – Todd Wilcox Sep 10 '15 at 14:49
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As Wookieepedia's article on Palpatine notes, the original conception of the Emperor was that he was not a Force-user (and thus not a Sith) and that he was weak-willed and controlled by the Imperial bureaucracy. This version of the Emperor was included in the Episode IV novelization. DVK's answer to another question quotes the novelization depicting the Emperor as weak:

Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic. Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears (George Lucas [Alan Dean Foster], Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (paperback; New York: Del Rey, 1976), p. 1, ISBN 0-345-26079-1.)

This description of the Emperor hardly sounds like a Sith Lord. It is a quote from the Journal of the Whills, an in-universe historical record; consequently, the reader is intended to interpret the description as coming from an in-universe historian who would presumably know whether the Emperor was a Sith Lord or not.

The novelization was released in December 1976, shortly before the film in 1977, so it's possible the Emperor was re-conceived by the time the film was actually released. Nonetheless, the novelization was credited to George Lucas (it was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster) so it's very likely that the Emperor was still intended by Lucas to be weak-willed and not a Force-user by the film's release.

The term "Sith" did exist in Episode IV -- Vader was described as the "Dark Lord of the Sith" in the Episode IV script. In fact, Vader's title suggests that he is the lord of all the Sith and does not have a master, further indicating that the Emperor was probably not intended to be a Sith Lord even at the time of the film's release. This early use of "Dark Lord of the Sith" for Vader despite the fact that Palpatine was his master has resulted in seemingly inconsistent use of the title among Legends authors.

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    @NaftuliTzviKay In the final storyline he was a Sith from the beginning. – kasperd Sep 10 '15 at 7:58
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    "Weak-willed and controlled by the bureaucrats" - Sounds like Chancellor Valorum from The Phantom Menace. – steenbergh Sep 10 '15 at 11:10
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    “This description of the Emperor hardly sounds like a Sith Lord” — it doesn’t, does it? You might even call it the perfect disguise for a Sith Lord!!! – Paul D. Waite Sep 10 '15 at 12:59
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    An in universe historian wouldn't necessarily know if the emperor is a sith disguised as a weak willed pupper or if he really is a weak willed puppet. A historian has no more access to the emperor's real person than some moisture farmer from Tatooine would have. – JRE Sep 10 '15 at 14:32
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    @corsiKa Whills was not a Jedi, but an order. And they were writing about 100 years after the Battle of Endor, reporting on information obtained from R2-D2. Palpatine would have been seen acting as a Sith Lord by the surviving Luke Skywalker, who would have relayed that information to R2-D2. – Null Sep 10 '15 at 19:56
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I believe that the novelization of Star Wars mentions in one place, "later corrupt emperors." Senator Palpatine became the first Emperor and later the Emperor in Star Wars: A New Hope would be one of his successors.

So when I read in the novelization of Return of the Jedi and read that the Emperor in the novel was Palpatine I was annoyed that they had changed their original idea and retconned the history to make the first emperor also the current one.

  • But Null's answer contradicts yours. The only thing retconned away was that Palpatine was controlled by others; everything else was already there when A New Hope came out. – Mr Lister Sep 10 '15 at 11:58
  • Mr. Lister - no, my answer says that the novelization of Star Wars mentions the "later corrupt emperors" after Palpatine, and thus implies that the current emperor who built the Death Star and dissolved the senate was not Palpatine but a later Emperor probably generations after Palpatine (though that made it difficult for Obi-wan to have fought for Leia's father at the fall of the Old Republic). So I was annoyed that the novelization of Return of the Jedi made the current emperor Palpatine and thus drastically shrunk the time since the foundation of the Empire and retconned history. – M. A. Golding Sep 11 '15 at 19:51
  • @MA.Golding I can't remember mention of later emperors in the novelization of Star Wars. What chapter was it in? – Mr Lister Sep 11 '15 at 21:10
  • Mr. Lister - I don't remember and don't have access to a copy. Possibly it was in the same passage which described Palpatine as the ambitious senator. – M. A. Golding Sep 12 '15 at 4:34
  • Mr Lister - I don't remember. Possibly it was in the same passage quoted by Null above originally quoted by DKV. Possibly it was in another passage in another chapter. – M. A. Golding Sep 12 '15 at 4:36

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