This is a follow-up to: Was it a spoiler that Palpatine was Darth Sidious?

In the prequel trilogy, Sidious is supposed to be disfigured by the dark side, even before the fight with Mace Windu, while he wears a magical mask when posing as Palpatine.

Looking at freeze frames from Episode I, it’s difficult to tell whether there is any modification besides the lighting (Sidious is lighted from below) and hologram distortions.

Palpatine vs Sidious

Is it known to what extent Ian McDiarmid’s face was modified for playing Sidious (or Palpatine)? For example, did he wear prosthetics or heavy make-up or was there any CGI modification?

Mind that the scope of this question is before the duel with Mace Windu. Afterwards, the answer is pretty clear.

3 Answers 3


This question does not necessarily have an unambiguous answer, because of the way Ian McDiarmid's makeup varies from scene to scene.

However, some aspects of the question can be dealt with straightforwardly. In some clips, such as this one,

we get a reasonably clear view of Darth Sidious's skin, at least on part of his lower face. There are no prosthetics; the texture of the actor's skin is clearly unmodified.

On the other hand, the skin tone appears different than in the well-lit scenes in which McDiarmid appears as Senator/Chancellor Palpatine. At some level, this is undoubtedly intentional, but it is not always possible to distinguish (even in theory) differences in makeup from differences in lighting. Especially in The Phantom Menace, Sidious's scenes tend to be either in very low light, or his image is being transmitted (in translucent blue) via a video communications link. These effects serve to give him a more sinister appearance, but filming with these different lighting patterns also means using a different makeup on the actor's face.

Screen actors essentially always wear heavy makeup; it's just standard procedure for filming. Moreover, the thickness and the coloration of the makeup will often depend on how a scene is going to be lit. So when McDiarmid was being filmed as Darth Sidious, in poor lighting and with his face mostly hooded, different makeup was required to generate match the effect of the lighting (and both the real studio lighting and the in-universe lighting whose effects are supposed to be shown are relevant). So there is no unambiguous answer to the question: Was the makeup for Darth Sidious different because the character appeared in different light, or because he was supposed to look different?

  • 1
    Note that the only sound evidence we seem to have for the idea that his physical disfiguration predates his fight with Mace Windu is a single comic series. It may be officially canon, but that doesn't mean it can't contain any continuity errors. Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 21:58
  • @HarryJohnston - there are statements from the production team while the prequels were being made, e.g. Ian McCaig, the concept artist on Episode II, is quoted as saying: "Palpatine's face is showing signs of the Emperor's facial markings. The idea is that the evil inside him is corrupting his flesh."
    – Jules
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 10:27
  • @HarryJohnston: I wouldn’t focus so much on what is canon and what isn’t but on what evidence we have about the creators’ intentions. Here, the comic series in question is much younger so not very relevant. However, some of the other pieces of evidence listed in that answer (novel, Clone Wars animated series) are.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 11:27
  • @Wrzlprmft, I believe that answer misinterprets the quote from the novel. Palpatine is speaking metaphorically, IMO. And it is very common for animation to take liberties with the source material for visual effect. Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 21:18
  • @Jules, but that's talking about a gradual change, not something that has already happened but is hidden by some sort of disguise. (And IMO it never reaches the point where it could reasonably be described as disfiguration.) Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 21:36

In the movies, Sidious is far less disfigured before the duel vs Windu

Sidious is distinguished by prominent chin cleft, but as we could see, before the duel vs Windu, his skin (neck area) is relatively healthy and not so wrinkled. Even in his Palpatine persona he has same chin cleft in Revenge of the Sith. After the duel, skin on his neck is completely wrinkled.

This of course stands in contrast with various Disney canon comics, even with the last episode of Rebels, but they already changed lot of original Lucas ideas.

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  • Shouldn’t this be an answer to this question or a completely new one? I fail to see how it answers mine.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 5:36
  • @Wrzlprmft Well, it answers your question - Ian McDiarmid didn't have any special makeup for Sidious scenes, as opposed to Palpatine's scenes. Reason for that is simple, idea of him wearing Sith mask came latter, after the movies were made.
    – rs.29
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 6:21

Apparently not, as you can see here:

But that was because he didn't need to. He was old enough and the hood already covered his face enough. It was only when we first saw Sidious' face for the first time in the prequel trilogy, during this scene in Revenge of the Sith that Ian needed makeup:

See my answer to this question for further information.

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