When Vader tossed Palpatine into the pit, why did the Emperor apparently explode?

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    One possibility I've never seen suggested is that Palpatine carried an explosive with a dead man's switch. That way if he was killed the assassin would also die. Seems like a very Palpatine thing to do... – Stephen Collings Aug 13 '15 at 22:39
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    I always thought his body breached some energy containment field lower down not shielded against massive bodies (yes I know a pun). – Joshua Oct 22 '15 at 2:53
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    @StephenCollings I really like the deadman's switch idea but I feel like Joshua's explanation was probably more likely. My interpretation was that his force lightning damaged an energy containment field, causing and explosion. – Matthew Stevenson Nov 11 '15 at 10:13
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    Have you ever been so angry you thought you might explode? Well... – John Sensebe Mar 9 '16 at 18:36
  • Or he hit an ammunition storage depot on the way down. – RichS Dec 23 '16 at 5:55


No official explanation has ever been given as to exactly why Palpatine exploded.

The script provides no insight:

The Emperor's body spins helplessly into the void, arcing as it falls into the abyss. Finally, when the body is far down the shaft, it explodes, creating a rush of air through the room.


This was an example of Dark Side Burst, which Wookieepedia describes as

A burst of dark side energy occasionally occurred when a powerful Sith or Dark Jedi was killed. The resulting shockwave was sometimes very powerful, other times it was a simple dissolving of physical matter.

Unfortunately, not even C-Canon has ever really explained just what causes the Dark Side Burst.

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    Doesn't it seem likely that he exploded when he hit the power plant at the bottom of the shaft, at or near the center of the Death Star? – Craig Dec 7 '14 at 21:28
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    @Craig It's mentioned elsewhere that the distance from the throne room to the core of the Death Star is 400km. Even ignoring any increase in air pressure/density near the core, terminal velocity of a human in air is about 200km/h, so it would take the emperor somewhere on the order of 2 hours to reach the bottom. – bcrist Dec 8 '14 at 6:23
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    Star Wars Episode 6.5: The Fall of Palpatine – bcrist Dec 8 '14 at 6:29
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    @bcrist The Death Star II was 160km wide, so the core was no more than 80km away. And rather than thinking about increases in air pressure, I'd think about a lack of air in a shaft of a space station. No air, no air resistance, no terminal velocity. – user40790 Mar 9 '16 at 17:29
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    @Terriblefan If there would have been no air in that vertical shaft, breathing in that throne room would get difficult really fast (after it had been windy for a bit during which the pressure equalized) because the air would get pretty thin pretty quick. Unless there is a force field.... which might have been what Palpatine hit on the way down.... and poof (which sadly is not how magnetic shields to keep the air in usually work in Star Wars, since spacecraft can still get in and out, or this could be an answer). It is a tiny bit more than 80km though, it's 80km + hight of the tower. :P – BMWurm Dec 27 '16 at 10:20

The new Disney canon novelization Beware the Power of the Dark Side! suggests that the explosion was caused by the Emperor hitting the reactor:

When at last he reaches the open shaft he hurls the Emperor down into the reactor. It’s a long, long way down and the Emperor fires his lightning upward as he falls.

He might still have used his powers to save himself, but his hate is now so strong his only thought is to cause Vader more pain. So the lightning continues to flicker and flash even after the body is out of sight.

And then comes a great explosion when his body finally reaches the reactor and a poisonous wind races up the shaft, knocking Vader at last to the floor.

Beware the Power of the Dark Side!

While there’s some room to interpret this (for example, it’s possible that he died when he hit the reactor, and his body exploded for some Force-related reason, as was the case in Legends), the implication seems to be that his body hitting the reactor was what caused the explosion.


There hasn't really been a quite so scientific answer to this question. It's all a matter of interpretation. In my view of the explosion, it was caused by the fact that there weren't many force sensetive (Jedi, sith) left in the galaxy at that point, and the Emperor had consumed all the powers of the force that the galaxy had offered. His powers were fueled with the loss of the Jedi.

The Emperor never truly showed his power, and this could be seen in various other stories, such as the Clone Wars. When he fell into the energy of the Death Star II, he died and all his power was released from his failed body. All that power was then flown away with such power that it caused an explosion. You may even go further than that, and say that when it was released, the force was being binded to a random selection of newly created force sensetive people. Hence why there are more Jedi and Sith in the Expanded Universe. But that, is just how I view it.


Body incineration combines with Force energy in contact with major technology cylinders, etc? An explosive encounter.

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    I think I saw this written inside a fortune cookie once. – bcrist Mar 10 '16 at 3:16

First of all, he couldn't have hit the reactor because (in the original version at least, and therefore the first and most accurate) the Emperor could still be seen falling when he exploded. It would make sense that his lightning might have triggered an explosion, but a lot of my sources say that the blue fire was the 'power of the Dark Side.' Honestly, anything could have happened, but the most likely conclusion that can be reached that he died and exploded as he was enveloped by his own lighting and killed himself. Or Snoke really wanted to convince Luke that he had 'died.' ;) ;)

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    And "your sources" being...? :) – Jenayah Feb 13 '19 at 23:28
  • My sources... ;) – user111707 Mar 4 '19 at 21:18

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