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In new canon novels, it is shown that Palpatine has contingency plans in the event of his own premature death at the hands of his enemies. In the case of the Rebel Alliance it comes in the form of Operation Cinder:

It is intended to be issued in the event of the Emperor's death - Imperial forces are to use climate-control tech like satellites etc to render countless worlds, including Rebel-sympathetic ones like Naboo, permanently inhospitable in retaliation to the Rebels' murder of the Emperor.

It is known that Palpatine is disappointed with how Vader's half-machine transformation at the end of RotS has significantly diminished his potential in the Force and suitability to be his successor. It is certainly the reason why he pressed on with plans to turn Luke to the dark side by defeating and killing Vader: Luke is essentially the same as the good old Anakin that Palpatine had wanted - the perfect apprentice that Vader no longer is.

All in all, Palpatine feels Vader is not infallible and is eventually disposable. Considering he has some form of contingency for the Empire's future in the event of his own death, I don't see how having one for the Sith's future is not even more crucial, especially considering his impression of Vader, his immediate successor. So, does Palpatine have plans for the Sith Order's survival in the event of his own death, whether to Vader in accordance to the Rule of Two or otherwise, or of both Sith Lords' deaths as has happened at the end of RotJ?

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    if he did have such a plan, in light of the absence of Sith in TFA, it didn't work. – zipquincy Jan 15 '16 at 20:18
  • out of the 30 or so SW books I have read, his only plan was to live forever. – Hatandboots Jan 22 '16 at 21:21
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In movie canon, we can't be sure yet - but signs certainly point to no.

We don't yet know if the First Order has any official connection to Sidious and his Empire (beyond inspirational connections), so we can't say for sure that they are not, in fact, a contingency plan in case the Empire fell.

Moreover, there are no overt hints of any confirmed sith throughout the movie -- and word of god was that Ren is not a Sith, though that can easily be changed by future writers or directors -- and it doesn't necessarily apply to his master, Snoke, as Ren is said to have not completed his training yet.

As current canon is all that is being asked for (by all means, add a Star Wars - Legends tag if you want more info on his plans in the EU), that is all that can currently be said.

A picture

  • FYI, you are not restricted to movie canon -- there are canon books, comic books, TV shows, etc. which you can draw from. – Null Jan 22 '16 at 22:40
  • @Null But are there any canon books set after TFA yet? – Slacklord the Terrible Jan 22 '16 at 23:16
  • Not that I am aware of, but canon media set within his lifetime might include statements/plans from him regarding a contingency plan for the Sith Order. – Null Jan 23 '16 at 2:12
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I have searched a variety of canon sources and Wookieepedia articles which might shed light on any contingency plans Palpatine may have had for the Sith Order. Palpatine does not seem to have had any contingency plans for the Sith Order upon his death, in large part because he was so confident that he would completely master the dark side of the Force and live forever.

Multiple sources attest to the fact that Palpatine thought his rule was secure and that he would gain immortality. For example:

But it was here that they would one day work together the way Sidious and Plagueis had to coax from the dark side its final secrets. In the intervening years he had actually come to appreciate Plagueis for the planner and prophet he had been. Such perilous machinations required two Sith, one to serve as bait for the dark side, the other to be the vessel. Success would grant them the power to harness the full powers of the dark side, and allow them to rule for ten thousand years.

Tarkin, p. 101

He also thought he would be able to reshape reality such that he would be immortal and omnipotent:

...he would not allow himself to be sidetracked from his goal of unlocking the secrets many of the Sith Masters before him had sought: the means to harness the powers of the dark side to reshape reality itself; in effect, to fashion a universe of his own creation. Not mere immortality of the sort Plagueis had lusted after, but influence of the ultimate sort. As his Empire swelled, bringing more and more of the outer systems into its fold, so too would his power unfurl, until every being in the galaxy was held captive in his dark embrace.

Tarkin, p. 242

One such attempt to gain immortality was Project Blackwing, which was a combination of Sith alchemy and science that ultimately failed and produced zombies instead. (In a sense, this could be considered a contingency plan to make sure the Sith Order would never be susceptible to the premature loss of its Master.)

Palpatine did know that Vader might one day challenge him and attempt to kill him. It would obviously be bad for Palpatine if Vader succeeded, but this is exactly what is supposed to happen under the Rule of Two:

Soon after destroying the Jedi, the Emperor had told Vader that he would one day be tempted to kill him. He’d said that the relationship between Sith apprentice and Master was symbiotic but in a delicate balance. An apprentice owed his Master loyalty. A Master owed his apprentice knowledge and must show only strength. But the obligations were reciprocal and contingent. Should either fail in his obligation, it was the duty of the other to destroy him.

Lords of the Sith, p. 27

Palpatine would require no contingency plan if Vader challenged and killed him because that's the natural succession from one Sith Master to the next: survival of the fittest.

The only reason Palpatine would require a contingency plan upon his death is if he was killed by someone other than his Sith apprentice. As previously mentioned, Palpatine was so confident that this wouldn't happen that he didn't really have such a plan. His confidence was warranted, too: almost no one knew he was a Sith Lord so no one would be prepared for a confrontation that had a reasonable chance to kill him. He rarely participated in battle once he became Emperor, so again he was in little danger.

The only reason Palpatine died at the Battle of Endor is that he deliberately used himself as bait to trap the Rebel fleet in a decisive battle (and either rid himself of the Jedi Luke, or gain Luke as a better Sith apprentice). Again, he was entirely confident that he would be victorious -- to the point that he was overconfident, as Luke observed:

Palpatine: I assure you we are quite safe from your friends here.

Luke: Your overconfidence is your weakness.

Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi

Palpatine had no contingency plans for the Sith Order upon his premature death because of his overconfidence in himself.


This leaves us to explain why Palpatine prepared for Operation: Cinder. As you correctly point out, the Sith Order is far more important to Palpatine than the Empire:

[Vader speaking] “For the Empire, Master.”

“The Empire?” Sidious repeated, miming surprise. “Since when do you put the needs of the Empire before our needs?”

Tarkin, p. 88

So why would Palpatine have contingency plans for the Empire but not the Sith Order? There are several possible explanations:

  1. It is possible for the Empire to go on without Palpatine (and thus he could devise a contingency plan for it), but the Sith Order is lost without Palpatine. As the Sith Master, Palpatine is the embodiment of the dark side of the Force and the Sith Order's power thus rests in him. If Palpatine was prematurely killed for any reason then the Sith Order would be irrevocably harmed. Even if Palpatine's Sith apprentice survived him, the fact that the apprentice had not killed Palpatine in a duel to the death would mean that the apprentice was not stronger than the master and not ready to take on the role of Sith Master. On the other hand, the Empire can go on without Palpatine -- indeed, remnants of the Empire in the form of the First Order still existed and proved to be a threat decades after Palpatine's death.
  2. Operation: Cinder was meant to be more of a threat than intended to be carried out. The Empire ruled through terror, and Operation: Cinder would have been only one terror weapon among many of the Empire's: Darth Vader, the Stormtrooper Corps, and of course the Death Stars. Wookieepedia's article on Palpatine notes that Queen Sosha Soruna of Naboo claimed that Palpatine left his homeworld untouched during his reign because he could torment the people of Naboo with the threat of destroying the planet's natural beauty. Operation: Cinder might have been a public threat to do just that in order to keep the populace in line and prevent anyone from even trying to assassinate him.1

(Out of universe, I think Disney screwed up and introduced a slight contradiction here. If Palpatine expected to live and rule forever and thus had no contingency plan for his beloved Sith Order, then I see no reason why he would care about a contingency plan for the Empire.)


1Arguing against this is the fact that Palpatine actually recorded a message to order the commencement of Operation: Cinder -- if Palpatine intended it to simply be a threat that he never planned to carry out, he went through a lot of trouble to prepare for actually executing the operation. Also, it's not clear that Operation: Cinder was publicized before Palpatine's death; if that's the case, then to paraphrase Dr. Strangelove: the whole point of Operation: Cinder is lost, if you keep it a secret!

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    I do believe Operation: Cinder is top secret - only its appointed executors know of the operation and its details. When it happened, the Queen of Naboo did not expect nor understand what was happening. Maybe the threats were public, but the means to execute them aren't - that would be so Palpatine. But yeah, if he would take such lengths to have posthumous plans for the Empire in place, there's no excuse for the Sith Order... – thegreatjedi Jan 29 '16 at 10:26
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It may be that, in the light of the fact that he had effectively destroyed the Jedi Order he felt that the rule of two was now redundant and that he kept Vader as his apprentice precisely because he wasn't strong enough to oppose him, while still being useful in rooting out any remaining Jedi. Indeed it would be a safe assumption that any active Jedi would go after Vader first, thus exposing themselves. Certainly when Luke confronts Vader and the Emperor he seems perfectly happy to encourage them to kill each other but whether he really wanted Luke as his apprentice or just wanted them both dead isn't clear. It could be that he felt that Vader had outlived his usefulness and perhaps even sensed on some level that he had not fully embraced the dark side.

Similarly, having gained absolute power, his long term plan may have been to ensure that he was the only trained force user in the Galaxy.

From a Dark Side perspective this makes a certain amount of sense. You can understand that, while in exile, Sith Lords may have grudgingly accepted an apprentice to continue the Sith line out of spite against the Jedi but having actually achieved galactic power and exterminated the Jedi it not longer makes sense for a Sith Lord to be training a potential rival.

There are also numerous references to Sith sites and artefacts, especially Sith Lord's tombs which have the potential to turn Jedi to the dark side so he may have considered these to be an adequate assurance of the Sith legacy without being a particular threat to his own power.

  • @ChrisJohns - I'm curious why you say "it would be a safe assumption that any active Jedi would go after Vader first". The old idiom of "cut the head off the snake" would seem (IMHO) to be the better plan by any Jedi that wanted to take down the Empire, unless you are assuming that the other Jedi are unaware of Palpatine's "Sithyness". Mace Windu went after Sidious in RotS with the (eventual) intention of destroying the "Master", but without consideration for the possibility of an "Apprentice". – G_Hosa_Phat Jan 27 '16 at 15:52

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