Star Wars Iconic Villain Originally Played By Opposite Gender

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

It’s officially impossible to imagine Star Wars without Emperor Palpatine: he is in six of the nine main saga films and (for better or for worse) was the final end boss of the Sequel Trilogy. It’s equally impossible to imagine Palpatine without thinking of Ian McDiarmid, the killer actor who brought the Emperor to life. But here’s something most fans could never imagine: the first person to play Emperor Palpatine was a woman.

Empoeror Palpatine Was Originally Played By Marjorie Eaton

Part of the reason most fans don’t know this is that George Lucas has done his best to hide this fact. In the original cut of The Empire Strikes Back (as seen above), Emperor Palpatine only appeared in holographic form and was played by veteran actress Marjorie Eaton. However, back when that film came out in 1980, she was never credited for the role.

Ian McDiarmid Replaces The Female Actress

Nearly two decades later, George Lucas unveiled the Special Editions of his movies featuring a host of changes intended to improve the Original Trilogy. Interestingly, Eaton was still portraying Emperor Palpatine in that version, but when the Special Editions came out on DVD, all of her scenes had been replaced with ones featuring Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Now, two decades after that, most fans have no idea anyone but McDiarmid ever stepped into the Emperor’s robes.

Marjorie Eaton Was Unrecognizable In The Role

Unsurprisingly, bringing the original portrayal of Emperor Palpatine to life was a group effort. Marjorie Eaton did a great job, but she mostly focused on physical acting because her lines were dubbed over by fellow actor Clive Revill. Eaton was also completely unrecognizable in the role because she was under very heavy makeup, and a chimpanzee’s eyes had been superimposed over her own in order to make Darth Vader’s boss seem that much more weird and inhuman.

Eaton’s Involvement Kept Secret For An Impressive Amount Of Time

Despite George Lucas taking countless security precautions, many major Star Wars story details leaked out to the press ahead of time, including both the revelation that Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father and Vader’s death at the end of Return of the Jedi. Given that, it’s downright impressive how long the secret of Marjorie Eaton playing Emperor Palpatine managed to last. Her role in Star Wars wasn’t officially confirmed until 2016, a full three decades after she died.Sadly, Eaton died due to a stroke in 1986. The actor was already 78 when she played Emperor Palpatine, meaning that she will forever occupy a place in Star Wars history. Specifically, she was born earlier (1901, to be precise) than anyone else to ever act onscreen in a galaxy far, far away.

The Other Woman

star wars force

While Marjorie Eaton and Clive Revill rightfully get most of the credit for this early portrayal of Emperor Palpatine, Elaine Baker (ex-wife of Star Wars makeup guru Kenny Baker) also donned the makeup and robes for test shots. This led to a lingering debate over whether it was actually Eaton or Baker we see onscreen, but Lucasfilm Story Group’s Pablo Hidalgo later clarified it was, indeed, Eaton in Empire Strikes Back. We doubt we’ll see much of Emperor Palpatine anymore since he died (again) in The Rise of Skywalker. If he does come back, though, we’ve got a simple request for Disney. Can you please bring back the chimpanzee eyes that used to give us older fans nightmares?