In Star Wars Episode 3 : Revenge of the Sith

As Mace threatens Palpatine, the Sith unleashes a torrent of Force lightning. However, Mace deflects it with his blade, casting much of the energy back into Palpatine's body. He becomes disfigured and ends his assault.
Palpatine disfigurating
Palpatine disfigurating further
Palpatine disfigured

But, at the end of Star Wars Episode 6 : The Return of the Jedi :

On the Death Star, an enraged Palpatine declares that if Luke will not turn to the dark side, he will be destroyed, and uses Force lightning against the young Jedi. He slowly increases the intensity of the lightning, slowly torturing Luke.
Luke enduring force lightning

Since Luke had such long exposure to Force lightning, even longer the Emperor's exposure, why he didn't became disfigured as him?

  • 3
    Then Doku should be ugly as Sidious.
    – DavRob60
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 2:53
  • 2
    I forgot about that scene -- does that mean we need another question, "Why didn't Dooku become ugly when he used Force Lightning?" But, seriously, I don't think this is an answer, but maybe part of it was because that was at the time when Palpatine's plot was so close to completion he knew it couldn't be stopped, so all he finally let all his anger and hatred out. Maybe what we saw was just his veneer being stripped away. Either way, that's a good point.
    – Tango
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 3:01
  • 4
    The ROTJ fight happened on the metal catwalks in the Death Star. Luke was more grounded than the others.
    – user3421
    Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 15:44
  • 2
    @Tango perhaps because Sidious's lightening was directed back at him. Perhaps if Yoda had directed Dooku's lightening back, he (Dooku) would have been disfigured, too. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 22:15
  • 4
    On the other hand, have you seen a recent picture of Mark Hamill?
    – Dacio
    Commented Nov 21, 2013 at 22:37

14 Answers 14


There has been a lot of debate over this, but I've always sided with the 'Mask' theory. 'Mask' is a discipline of Sith Alchemy:

A Sith Alchemist could use the Mask to literally reshape an individual's appearance, altering a body at the molecular level. Very little was beyond this technique, limited only by the craftsmanship of the user. Features, age, disfigurations, even species could be concealed with the Mask (though the latter would require an incredible amount of skill to accomplish convincingly). Owing to its molecular nature, the technique lasted until altered, and even a thorough medical examination would not be likely to reveal anything out of place, unlike the tell-tale scars of surgical alterations.


The technique wasn't entirely without risk. The process itself could be incredibly painful, and complications from the procedure could result in serious injury or even death. There was also one rarely-encountered oddity with the Mask technique. As it was a product of the dark side of the Force, on rare occasions it would resonate when exposed to powerful blasts of dark side energy. If the subject was not careful, the Mask would literally melt away, horrifically disfiguring the individual and making further attempts at concealment (even with the Mask) difficult.

Now, this was invented for the Starwars Roleplaying game.... But it seems consistent with Lucas' vision; he was a nasty, evil, much-older-than-he-appeared villain, who hid his appearance under a pleasing facade to facilitate his political actions. One of his own evil tricks, reflected back at him, was able to dismiss his disguise.. But he turned this to his advantage by claiming the Jedi had 'disfigured' him.

(Note: The Role Playing Games story (but not stats) are considered 'C-canon.')

  • 19
    This is probably the best explanation, especially given Sidious's quote in Episode III after this event: "I shall miss the face of Palpatine, I think; but for our purpose, the face of Sidious will serve." It very clearly delineates the two separate appearances, in my opinion. Whether or not it's "Sith Alchemy" is incredibly debatable, but the concept seems to be very in-line with the quotations.
    – Reid
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 17:15
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    Some quotes from Ian McDiarmid that suggest that something like this was indeed Lucas' intention can be found on this page, note in particular the comment "The Emperor that you see in the last film looks the way he does because he's very old and very evil-it is what he always looked like. He just had this carapace of looking like a fairly ordinary looking guy", and also the part about how Lucas was at first undecided about whether Palpatine would "go back forth with his appearance" after his old & evil face was first revealed.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:24
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    On the other hand, this doesn't explain why Palpatine had aged makeup in Attack of the Clones, making him look a lot older than he did in The Phantom Menace, and then they reverted to his McDiarmid's natural appearance in Revenge of the Sith--if it was just a mask, shouldn't he have had the same appearance consistently before we saw his true face? I suspect Lucas just changed his mind on this, and when AotC was made his idea was that Palpatine was gradually aging into the form seen in Return of the Jedi.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:27
  • 5
    So the Jedi not only can't detect a Sith Lord standing right in front of them, but can't tell that he's wearing a Halloween mask as well? They deserved to be wiped out, the incompetents.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 17:19

The reason the Emperor becomes ugly is because the Emperor was using his force lightning to kill, as opposed to sparking an emotional response. He really just wanted Mace dead as opposed to Dooku or Luke. I think that the Emperor really wanted to take Luke as his apprentice as opposed to Vader, and used his force lightning as more torture to turn him as opposed to killing him out right.

However, he wasn't opposed to killing him because if he didn't turn he was not worthy.


Mace Windu, one of the few practitioners of the lightsaber form Vaapad, allowed his own dark nature into his fighting. In the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, it is at one time suggested that he allows the dark side to flow through him without embracing it. This intense internal struggle allows for a particularly powerful sword technique, but may have also had unintended consequences on the lightning strike.

When Dooku strikes at Yoda with lightning, we see the the master Jedi catch the power, calm and absorb it rather than let it harm him. It is possible, and my personal hypothesis, that when the lightning strike was aimed at Master Windu, he allowed the dark side power to flow through him and out again through his lightsaber as he normally does in his form. This focused energy could have easily had a magnified effect on the Emperor.

  • 1
    But Palpy never let his dark side out when burning Luke?
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 19:26
  • @Oldcat it's not just about using the dark side. In this scenario Mace Windu channeling the dark side THROUGH himself and out again has magnified or focused the energy that was directed toward him. Since he's the only Jedi who uses that form it's difficult to point to any other examples of a similar effect and therefore my hypothesis is a total guess. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 2:21

Since these are the only two examples (that I'm aware of) of people taking damage from force lightning, I think it could be theorized that the lightsaber had some sort of an effect on it which resulted in the Emperor's disfigurement. Since the lightning that hit Luke was not affected by a lightsaber, he was not disfigured.

An alternate explanation could be that disfigurement only occurs when one is hit with their own force lightning.


Well, even in real life, some people who are hit by lightning become horribly disfigured, while some don't.


Darth Bane was hit by his own force lighting and did not get disfigured.

  • 2
    Can you expand a little more on your answer?
    – user366
    Commented Nov 10, 2011 at 7:05
  • I believe that was in Darth Bane: Rule of Two -- anyone got a copy to see if it says more about it?
    – K-H-W
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 5:59
  • It is definitely in Darth Bane - Rule of Two. Bane isn't disfigured, but his orbalisk armour is killed and in the process he is seriously injured by them releasing toxins into his blood.
    – Dakeyras
    Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 22:32

Arguably, Mace is a strong enemy: Palpatine has to put his all into the Force lightning if he is to have any hope of overcoming the Jedi. Therefore, he is channeling a lot of Dark side Force which is detrimental to the Force user himself. The same thing happens to Luke in the beginning of the Dark Nest crisis when he creates a powerful illusion using both Dark and Light side. For him the effect was temporary, so arguably Palpatine wanted the effect to last -- maybe for intimidation? -- or he pushed so far that he could not reverse it.


In the Plagueis book, Plagueis and Palpatine are able to hide their dark side corruption even from Jedi and holo-recordings. Palpatine simply let he disguise fade away to make it look like Windu was hurting him, and help sway Anakin to intervene on his behalf, thus isolating him form the Jedi, and allowing him to be manipulated into giving into the darkside of the force.


I agree with KHW. I added this explanation on another question I just answered about "Why did'nt Anaj Ventress use Force lighting". I was talking about how the continued use of the dark side makes you ugly in apperance as Palpatines true form was. His human looking kindly old man appearance in the prequels is realy a mask of dark side energy. Here is what I wrote below;

"As others mentioned too, there is the draining of that persons appearance, soul and life force or chi when using the dark side at all, not to mention when throwing force lightning. In other books, it was taught that any use of the dark side eventually casuses the splotching and bruising seen in the Emperors appearance. But in ROTS we saw that in palpatines case, it was because Mace was using Vapaad to repulse the dark side lightning and, along with his lightsaber, send it back towards Palpatine.

I personally thought that Palpatines entire human like appearance was a force mask, and that the lightning simply revealed his true visage. I'm not sure if I read that in ROTS or in another book, but I definitely remember that being a possible explanantion.

In other words, his current decrepit appearance IS his normal appearance through the decades of use of the dark side, and his human looking one was simply an illusion. Luke was also able to totally mask his appearance where others could not tell at all who he was. Only other high level force users were able to tell that Luke was using the force to hide his true form."


And another thing! Notice the emperor didn't steadily electrocute Luke! He shot some then made small rest periods! Even near the end he did it! Also ROTJ is older and the word 'sith' isn't used, so the emperor was supposed to be something special then.... Like a galactic wizard or something of that nature! Although he used the force to unlock Luke's hand cuffs, it was still not enough evidence at the time! The prequels were a good move by Lucasfilm!

  • 4
    This isn't a message board. Edit your original post instead of posting new answers unless you have multiple different theories that should be voted on separately.
    – phantom42
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:25

Emperor Palpatine wanted to take Luke on as his apprentice and, therefore, didn't want Luke dead, or words to that effect. But remember this. Luke refused to turn to the dark side. And, in response, Emperor Palpatine said, "If you will not be turned, then you will die." Maybe Luke's strong connection to the Force protected him?


It's quite simple: Mace Windu used a lightsaber to reflect the lightning at Sidious, but Sidious simply electrocuted Luke without a lightsaber reflecto or whatever. That's what I think.

  • 1
    Opinion based answers are generally not desirable on the site. Can you find some references to support your claim?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 9:11

ok there are three degrees of force lightning! Torture, Killing, and disfiguring, palpatine was in a bad situation and probably used it out of will of disfiguring because he was being shocked himself! That's my theory!

  • 3
    Do you have any examples of anyone specifically and intentionally using these three "degrees" of force lightning?
    – phantom42
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 5:06
  • @phantom42 KOTOR and The Old Republic video games have some examples of this, though I guess are not canon at this point. Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 18:03

Luke was just getting tortured he wasn't actually getting killed. The Emperor was just electrocuting him, so he wouldn't actually die he was just getting hurt terribly so luke could change his mind into joining the dark side.

  • 3
    This is not true. The Emperor's last words were "And now, young Skywalker, you will die", after whe continued to use Force-lightning on him.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 1:30
  • Also a bit of a nitpick, but electrocution, by definition, is death by electric shock. You can't be electrocuted and survive, so while the emporer's intent may have been to electrocute Luke in the end Luke doesn't die. Luke was in fact just shocked, not electrocuted.
    – Tuffwer
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 22:45

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