Did Palpatine Throw the Fight Against Windu in Star Wars Episode III?

Mace Windu confronts Emperor Palpatine
Mace Windu confronts Emperor Palpatine in Episode III. Lucasfilm Ltd.

Defending Palpatine/Darth Sidious against Mace Windu is a major turning point in Anakin's character. But did Windu actually defeat Darth Sidious, making Anakin's help necessary? Or was this all a ruse, part of Palpatine's evil plan to turn Anakin to the dark side?

Lightsaber Duel

After the Jedi realize that Chancellor Palpatine is really a Sith, Mace Windu and three other Jedi attempt to arrest him. Palpatine quickly slaughters the three Jedi, but Master Windu is a much more even match for his lightsaber skills.

Eventually, Windu disarms and corners Palpatine. The Sith tries to use Force lightning, but Windu deflects it back onto him. At this point, Windu realizes that Palpatine is too dangerous to take alive, and must be killed. Weakened, Palpatine cries to Anakin for help; Anakin cuts off Windu's hand, and Palpatine kills Windu with Force lightning.

The Expanded Universe -- particularly the Revenge of the Sith novelization -- provides some more insight on the duel and on Mace Windu's fighting style. Windu is the master of vaapad, a dangerous form of combat in which a Jedi channels his opponent's hatred and dark side energy to use against him. This is how Windu was able to turn Palpatine's Force lightning back on him, disfiguring him with the dark side.

A Thrown Match?

At the end of the duel, it's clear that Palpatine is stronger than he appears. In seconds, he goes from whimpering and pleading to frying Mace Windu while crying, "Unlimited power!" If he was playing possum then, is it possible that he threw the entire match?

It is certainly an important moment in Palpatine's plan for Anakin -- perhaps too important to leave entirely to chance. Although Anakin has touched the dark side before, killing in anger and revenge, this is the first time he has fought the Jedi Council in more than words. When he helps kill Mace Windu to protect a Sith Lord, there is no turning back.

But if Palpatine had killed Mace Windu right away, as he killed the other Jedi, Anakin would not have been motivated to protect him. In fact, it could have worked against Palpatine: seeing someone you trust standing over the bodies of Jedi is much different than seeing him helpless on the ground, threatened by a Jedi weapon.

Planning and Improvising

We see in the Original Trilogy that Palpatine is both a master of long-term planning and of altering his plans when necessary. For example, he intends to capture Luke before he is trained and mold him into a Sith -- but when Luke won't turn to the dark side, he devises another use for him, as part of a trap for the Rebel Alliance.

On the one hand, it's unlikely that Palpatine didn't plan the duel in some fashion. The way it works out, with Anakin sensing him in danger and arriving at the most opportune time, is simply too convenient. The two are so evenly matched that Palpatine could have taken the upper hand instead of Windu -- but that would not have prompted Anakin to turn against the Jedi.

But while Palpatine may have taken a fall, does that mean he purposely disfigured himself? Seeing the Force lightning is what prompts Windu to kill Palpatine instead of capturing him, and seeing Palpatine disfigured and apparently near death is what prompts Anakin to act. In addition, Palpatine uses his scars as proof of a Jedi attack, to gain sympathy from the Senate. But turning his dark side energy on himself would be a risky move. It's more probable that he didn't fully understand how Windu used the Force when he attacked with Force lightning, and then quickly found a way to use the situation to his advantage.


Anakin's role in Palpatine's duel with Mace Windu is far too convenient for it all to have happened by chance; on the other hand, the events are far too complex to have all been planned out. Although there's been no official answer, the truth is probably a balance between the two: Palpatine, an expert manipulator, set up a situation to his advantage, then reacted to the unpredictable elements with excellent fighting skills and quick thinking.