I am a Star Wars fan. I’m not a junkie that has read every book and knows all the information about the “Extended Universe” (a name given to the details of the Star Wars world not depicted in the major films, but gained from books, animated series, etc), but I do know the movies inside and out. In 2005, George Lucas released the final movie of the prequel trilogy entitled, “Revenge of the Sith.” It is by far the best of the prequel films and give the original three (episodes 4-6) a run for their money. I just don’t have the time or space to bring everyone up to speed on the topic of this article, so if you know absolutely nothing about Star Wars, you may just want to stop now. I will provide a very brief intro to my above question in the paragraph below.
In episode 5 (The Empire Strikes Back), we are introduced to the Emperor (we only know him by the name Emperor at this point). He is the most powerful figure on the “dark side” of the force and the master of the Galactic Empire. He is one bad dude and can do things like throw “Force Lighting” which is essentially powerful lightening bolts from his fingertips. In the prequel movies, we learn that the Emperor is actually a senator from the system (planet) of Naboo who appears to be a humble public servant but is secretly a Sith Lord (really bad guys who have Jedi powers). At this point, there is a Master Jedi Order who is essentially led by Yoda, the small, green lovable character who is genuinely believed the most powerful Jedi and master of the Force, and the council is also led by a guy named Mace Windu (played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson). In Revenge of the Sith, Yoda is out on a distant planet when Mace learns that Palpatine is actually a Sith Lord. He takes three other Jedi and confronts Palpatine, ordering him to surrender. As you might expect, a lightsaber fight breaks out with Palpatine killing the other three Jedi in seriously about 10 seconds, leaving him face to face with Mace Windu. They begin fighting and much to the surprise of every Star Wars fan in the world (at least those who had no knowledge of the books or spoilers), Mace gets the upper hand and defeats the Emperor. Palpatine is saved only by an intruding Anakin Skywalker who decides to protect the Emperor, killing Mace in the process, and securing his turn to the dark side of the Force, becoming Darth Vader. Below is the fight between Mace Windu and Emperor Palpatine.
As soon as I left the theater in 2005, I was haunted by a question that still haunts me to this day: Did the Emperor let Mace Windu win so that Anakin would turn to the Dark Side? It seemed so incredibly amazing and just flat out impossible that Windu could defeat the Emperor. After all, this was the long time Sith Lord master who was the soon to be ruler of the Empire. The problem believing that Windu could defeat Palpatine comes from a couple of sources.
1. The biggie is that later in the film we get to enjoy an incredible lightsaber duel between Yoda and Emperor Palpatine. Yoda, as mentioned above, is considered to be the most powerful master of the Force and is referenced in Episode 2 by Obi Wan Kenobi – there Kenobi jokingly tells Anakin Skywalker that one day he might reach the same status as Yoda with a lightsaber, making it clear that when it comes to handling a lightsaber, Yoda is the man. Yet, Yoda is not able to defeat Emperor Palpatine in their duel. It becomes clear that it is a stalemate and Yoda opts to leave and go into exile. Watching the duel between Yoda and Palpatine makes it appear that Palpatine is just at another level than when he fought Windu, as if he was going at about 60% when he fought Mace but was going 100% when he battled Yoda. So, if Yoda was not able to defeat Palpatine, how in the world did Mace Windu?
2. When Kenobi and Yoda realize that Palpatine and Anakin must be defeated, Kenobi asks if he can go and fight the Emporer because he just can’t stand to face Anakin, the boy he trained to become a Jedi. Yoda forbids it and tells Kenobi that he is not strong enough to defeat Palpatine. Now, I have no problem believing that Windu is more powerful than Kenobi, but it still demonstrates that the Emperor is so strong that it seems only Yoda believes he can defeat him.
3. It’s the Emperor. I mean, come on. It would be like suggesting that a local high school baseball team could defeat a Major League team. Everyone just knows that the Emperor can’t be beat that easily.
So, based on those things, I have believed for a long time that Palpatine simply let Windu get the advantage so that Anakin would be forced to make a decision and turn to the Dark Side. That still very well may be the case. If Palpatine did not have Anakin’s skill on his side, his chances of overthrowing the Jedi and ruling the universe would be much more slim. He might be willing to put his life on the line to ensure that happens – it was getting to the point where Palpatine would no longer want to keep doing things the way he was doing and be “secretive.” It is possible he had just as soon die then not have Anakin’s power on his side and with it the possibility of ruling the galaxy.
But lately I am starting to reconsider. I believe it is possible that Mace Windu did get an upper hand and that Palpatine relinquished at the end because he saw Anakin enter the room. Let me explain:
1. One thing is for certain – every lightsaber battle is unique and heavily based on the circumstances surrounding the battle. Just like in any sport, sometimes a less skilled player or team can “upset” a better player or team because a myriad of reasons. We see this clearly in Star Wars. In Episode 2, Yoda is not able to destroy Count Dooku (partly because Dooku “cheats” and puts the lives of Anakin and Kenobi in jeopardy in order to escape), but still yet we see a great battle between Yoda and Dooku (maybe the best lightsaber duel of the franchise). However, in Episode 3, Anakin defeats Dooku fairly easily with a lightsaber. Do we deduce that Anakin is more powerful with a lightsaber than Yoda? Of course not. We clearly see that isn’t the case because Kenobi defeats Anakin at the end of Episode 3, and who would argue that Kenobi is stronger than Yoda? Thus, attitudes, circumstances, motivation, and a whole host of other facts can influence any specific lightsaber match-up.
Having said that, I believe Palpatine might have initially been taken off guard by Mace Windu’s skill. It seems that the Emperor believed he could handily defeat any Jedi at ease, with the exception of Yoda, whenever he wanted to. He demonstrates this by destroying the three other Jedi in a matter of seconds. When he turns to finish of Windu, it appears that Palpatine is genuinely taken aback that he is not able to kill him with two quick strokes of the lightsaber. So, at the beginning, Windu gets the upper hand because of Palpatine’s low expectations. At the point where he might have regrouped and “turned it on”, he sensed Anakin coming into the room and decided to do what Obi Wan Kenobi did in Episode 4 and “throw” the match.
2. Mace Windu has Vaapad and Shatterpoint abilities. I mentioned I wasn’t going to go into the “Extended Universe” but I will mention this quickly. Windu is one of only two Jedi to incorporate Vaapad powers and he constructed his lightsaber in this fashion. To make it very easy to understand, Vaapad is a way to “channel” ones own darkness into a positive form of aggressive energy (this is all Star Wars fictional language of course). This is seen with quick. powerful, aggressive fighting action with the lightsaber. Windu’s use of Vaapad is best seen when he fights Jango Fett in Episode 2 and quickly cuts of his head with a signature spin move (you will see Mace attempt this same move in the video above at 1:03 on the Emperor to no avail). Shatterpoint is the ability to sometimes sense an inner weakness in your opponent and capitalize on it. Concerning this gift, Windu said, “I can sometimes see the weak places in an opponent, shatterpoints where the unbreakable can be broken.”
So, here is my summary. Put Emperor Palpatine and Mace Windu in a room with no outside influence or ongoing circumstances and I believe Palpatine wins 99 times out of 100. However, in this encounter, I believe Palpatine may have been genuinely shocked by the power of Windu and lost the initial momentum in the fight. Then, before he had a chance to regroup and take over, he decided to relinquish control so that Anakin would be forced to decide between the Jedi and the Sith.
And now that I have come to that conclusion, I’m sure we will all rest easier tonight. 🙂