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Face-Off: Emperor Palpatine vs. Saruman the White

12.15.2015by: Brian Bitner
STAR WAAAAAAAARS!!!! The time has come as release week for THE FORCE AWAKENS is finally upon us. Whether you're already in line, have tickets for opening day, or are planning on waiting until the craze dies down, I expect most of you will be seeing this film at some point in the very near future. We've seen plenty of footage surrounding the heroes of the new film, but only bits and pieces of the opposition. Huge fantasy franchises like STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS have taught us that intriguing villains are just as important and celebrated as captivating heroes, so this week it's the battle of the undercover baddies as Emperor Palpatine takes on Saruman the White! Good, good...
Ian McDiarmid created an absolutely iconic character with his portrayal of the Emperor (or Darth Sidious, if you like (but you don't)). At times, though, his performance can feel a little too over the top, with his "no! NO!" being one of the most cringe-worthy moments in REVENGE OF THE SITH (yes, the prequels are fair game here).
Okay, I'm not going to say Saruman doesn't have his over the top moments, but the late, great Christopher Lee was just talented and mad enough to pull it off. It doesn't weigh in here, but it is nice that he was a massive fan of Tolkien's work and was the only LORD OF THE RINGS cast member to have actually met the man in person.
So, Darth Vader? The baddest villain in all of STAR WARS? This guy is that guy's superior. While the "political intrigue" aspect of the prequels wasn't very exciting and, to some, a major problem with the trilogy, it was still interesting to see someone in the public eye pulling the strings and bending both the Senate and Anakin Skywalker to his will.
"Sauron will use his puppet Saruman to destroy the people of Rohan." Since Sauron is a disembodied presence, Saruman has big boots to fill by personifying the evil side of Middle-Earth. That said, he is still a puppet obeying the orders of a greater power. Even Saruman's decision to side with Sauron seems to come from a place of we-can't-win cowardice.
"Good, good..."

"Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen."

"Let the hate flow through you."

"Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."

"The alliance will die. As will your friends. Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!"

"So be it... Jedi."

"And now, young Skywalker... you will die."

("Your overconfidence is your weakness.")
"Your faith in your friends is yours!"

"I love democracy."

("Is it possible to learn this power?")
"Not from a Jedi."

"Good, Anakin, good. Kill him. Kill him now. Do it!"
"Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh. You know of what I speak, Gandalf: a great Eye, lidless, wreathed in flame."

"Against the power of Mordor there can be no victory."

"I gave you the chance of aiding me willingly, but you have elected the way of pain!"

"Together, my lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-earth. The old world will burn in the fires of industry. Forests will fall. A new order will rise. We will drive the machine of war with the sword and the spear and the iron fist of the orc."

"There will be no dawn for men."

"A new power is rising. Its victory is at hand. This night the land will be stained with the blood of Rohan. March to Helm's Deep. Leave none alive. To war!"

"Something festers in the heart of Middle-Earth. Something that you have failed to see, but the Great Eye has seen it. Even now he presses his advantage. His attack will come soon. You're all going to die."
Lightsaber Skill (going toe to toe with Yoda, no less)

Telekinesis (including crazy flips and shit)

Force Lightning (more of this in the new movies, please)

Persuasion / Political Prowess (again, the execution here wasn't great, but the idea still makes for a more interesting villain)

NOTE: Hard to call a winner between these two, but force lightning is awesome, and pretty much single-handedly creating Darth Vader is no small task.
Speechcraft (calling an avalanche down on the Fellowship, possessing Theoden, and persuading others to his cause)

Staff powers (telekinesis and flame)

Sight (the Palantir and Crebain from Dunland)

Industry (the forging of armies and great armaments)

NOTE: To all my book bros, yes, Saruman has the power of the Istari which means more than listed above, but I'm keeping it to what we actually see in the films.
We don't see much of the Emperor's opposition. In the original trilogy, he commands the biggest force in the Empire and is only thwarted when his number two turns on him. In the prequels, he has to deal with Yoda, Mace Windu, and the Jedi Council, but we mostly see him dealing with problems from afar. A less goofy, cartoonish version of the Yoda duel would have been great to see, though.
Saruman's adversaries include Gandalf and the Fellowship, an army of Ents, and, while not directly, the assorted forces of Gondor and Rohan. As with the Emperor, Saruman also controls things from a secluded location, but we get to see his involvement a lot more. Funnily enough, Saruman also gets taken out by his second-in-command.
The Emperor's death is effectively the climax of the entire original STAR WARS trilogy. As the Emperor attempts to lightning the shit out of Luke Skywalker, Vader finally shows compassion and tosses the Sith master to his death. It's a bit of a silly way to go out, but the drama and intensity of the moment is key.
Unfortunately, Saruman kind of goes out like a bitch. Hiding on top of his tower, he tries to make peace with Theoden, fails to attack Gandalf, has his staff broken as a result, and gets stabbed in the back by Grima. It doesn't say much that this scene wasn't even included in the theatrical cut of THE RETURN OF THE KING.
The Emperor
The respective prequel trilogies make this an interesting Face-Off. While Saruman is more of the same in his prequels, the Emperor is a much more fleshed out character in his. On one hand, we see more of his manipulative side and more of his lightsaber, flipping, hucking Senate pods at Yoda side. On the other, the Emperor of RETURN OF THE JEDI was such a dark, mysterious badass, that seeing behind the curtain may have hurt his mystique for some. That said, I think the prequels did more good than bad for the Emperor and help secure his place as a more interesting, well-rounded, and dangerous villain than the OG White Wizard. Whichever your preference, I think we can all agree that Saruman would kick Count Dooku's ass in a Christopher Lee fantasy Face-Off.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].




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