- "Though I was seen at court, very few thought I was more than a bauble kept about to add something to the cityscape. What my master wished done was what I did. No questions. No regrets. Total devotion to duty. Those who guessed I was more to the Emperor learned to fear that I might be turned on them someday."
- — Mara Jade
An Emperor's Hand was a Force-sensitive operative recruited, trained, and employed by Emperor Palpatine and his successors to perform missions that were "impossible", secret, or both. Their counterparts included the Emperor's Reach, Emperor's Voice, and the Emperor's Eyes.
Prior to his ascent to Galactic Emperor, Palpatine used a number of assassins, spies and operatives to achieve his objectives as the Sith Lord Darth Sidious. It was his use of Darth Maul, trained specifically to kill Jedi, who proved effective at handling other tasks, that convinced Palpatine of the usefulness of extremely loyal, effective, and secretive agents. Thus he began developing the Emperor's Hands to create a group that were operatives, not apprentices.
During his reign, Palpatine used the Emperor's Hand to kill enemies where his more obvious tools, like Darth Vader or the Imperial Navy would be ineffective, too public, or inappropriate. Common targets included rogue governors, traitorous commanders, rebellious leaders or other internal or external concerns.
The exact number of agents is unknown, but following the death of Palpatine, many former Emperor's Hands went on to become independent menaces to the Alliance to Restore the Republic and New Republic.
The last known surviving Hand was Lara Grayson, an operative of Bacharan Valak. Her last appearance was on Corellia in 14 ABY, under the mantle of "Sinestra," where she worked with Danik Kreldin to battle Aurejin and retrieve valuable Jedi artifacts. It is unknown if Aleister Vadim employs any Hands.
Often targeted at infancy, potential Emperor's Hands were tracked with keen interest by Palpatine until they reached maturity. Preferring to begin their training after they had developed, which made them more pliable to his dark influence, Palpatine waited for a potential Hand to impress him. Some began as thieves, some as warriors, some as assassins, some as entertainers, but each managed to demonstrate their resourcefulness, skills and loyalty without incurring his wrath.
- "You may not realize that my early training consisted of much more than learning to harness the Force. Running, climbing, fighting, learning to move silently, swimming, zero-g fighting, and movement; everything could have been made easier by using the Force. I didn't allow that, though."
- — Mara Jade
After selection, an Emperor's Hand went through comprehensive training in varied combat techniques, intelligence gathering and assassination. Each Hand operated independently and was often under the false impression that he or she was the Emperor's Hand. During training, Palpatine cultivated the Hand's latent Force abilities, but avoided providing Jedi or Sith training. Thus, Hands who did not have any Force training prior to their training were not expressly dark side users. The most important of their abilities was a direct telepathic connection to Palpatine that allowed them to communicate across the Galaxy.
Once given the title of Emperor's Hand, the agent was granted almost unlimited access and authority to accomplish their missions. Without naming themselves as physical manifestations of the Emperor's will, Emperor's Hands could take command of military units, starships or weapons as necessary. To preserve their effectiveness, only the highest echelons of the Imperial command structure were aware of the Hands' existence. The methodology varied by agent and mission, with styles ranging from silent sniper strikes to destructive rampages. Regardless of their method, each Hand operated as a ghost; striking and vanishing, which elevated them to near mythic levels amongst those who dared cross the Emperor.
Unaware, unconvinced, or unconcerned of the Emperor's malicious intentions, the Hands performed their missions out of sheer loyalty to Palpatine. They viewed their killing as a way of defending the citizens of the Empire from its most dangerous enemies, although in many cases their targets were political enemies, rather than rogue commanders or governors. Many, if not all, of the Hands were under the impression that they alone held their particular position, and thus believed their relationship with the Emperor to be a special one. As a result of their extreme loyalty, and mental connection established through the Force, many Hands were deeply affected by his death.