The Emperor was defeated at the Battle of Endor, but does his return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker prove the loss was all part of a grand plan? In the original Star Wars trilogy, the villainous puppet master of the Empire is revealed to be Darth Vader's master, Emperor Palpatine, a devious old Sith Lord with powerful force abilities. The Emperor meets his demise in Return of the Jedi, when Vader regains his sense of morality and hoists the Sith Master into the bowels of the Death Star, saving his son, Luke Skywalker, in the process. This moment triggers the downfall of The Empire and the Rebel Alliance parties the night away with their furry new friends on Endor.
This iconic victory has now been given an entirely new meaning thanks to the upcoming Star Wars 9, which is confirmed to feature the return of Sheev Palpatine. The capacity in which Palpatine will feature in Star Wars 9 is not yet known, but since Sith can't usually become force ghosts, the most likely explanation is that the Emperor has either survived the events of Return of the Jedi or been brought back to life.
Most fans might naturally assume that the Emperor must've secretly developed a contingency plan or spent years in hiding, recuperating from his loss on Endor. However, one must also consider the possibility that this is all part of Palpatine's overall design and even though Return of the Jedi seemed like a huge defeat, it was actually paving the way for absolute victory further down the road.
Palpatine's Death Doesn't Make Sense In New Star Wars Canon
Ian McDiarmid played a major role in the trilogy of Star Wars prequels that began in 1999, greatly expanding the character of the Emperor and revealing exactly how he seized control of the senate and established dominance across the galaxy. The prequel trilogy presents Palpatine as a great schemer. He's so many steps ahead of all his opponents that by the time his plans have been discovered, it's already too late to halt them. As much as fans might've soured on The Phantom Menace's focus on trade routes and politics, the Emperor's plan to create a diplomatic crisis from the shadows and then swoop in as the legitimate savior is nothing short of genius. Meanwhile, Palpatine also managed to seize control of the clone army and organized the genocide of the entire Jedi order.
It is somewhat strange that a man capable of such long-term, intricate planning could fail to prepare for the conflict dwelling in the heart of his own apprentice. He at least might've had the foresight to not stand near a giant bottomless chasm.
There is a precedent for this in canon from the Star Wars: Darth Vader comic series where Vader discovers his son's survival and begins plotting against the Emperor even before Palpatine confirms it to be true during Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Palpatine could sense the growing resentment in Vader's intentions and feelings, so why would he not be able to repeat the trick in Return of the Jedi? Was the Emperor so wrapped up in electrocuting Luke Skywalker that he couldn't feel the lumbering dark shadow behind him?
Finally, one of the Emperor's most famous quotes is the line, "Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen." Taken in its immediate context, the Emperor certainly isn't wrong; the Death Star rebuild is underway and the Rebels are desperately on the run. However, it's possible that this foresight never stopped - that Luke meeting Vader and changing his alignment back the Light was not an unexpected turn of events for the Emperor.
Palpatine's Death Doesn't Seem Like His Plan B
With Palpatine confirmed to appear in Star Wars 9, the villain's survival could be interpreted as part of a backup plan in case the Endor mission went awry. Certainly, the Emperor is a man known to take precautions. However, there's perhaps more evidence to suggest that his apparent demise at the hands of Darth Vader was Palpatine's true goal and primary intention from a much earlier stage.
This is demonstrated by the Emperor laying the foundations for the First Order. Following the Battle of Endor, the Empire retreated to the Unknown Regions and rebuilding, with the First Order growing from its ashes. The Star Wars: The Last Jedi novelization reveals Palpatine had been sending supplies and building ships in the Unknown Regions for quite some time and the Aftermath novels by Chuck Wendig even reveal that Palpatine sent his personal Executor-class Star Dreadnought, the Eclipse, to the outskirts prior to his death (knowingly making it unavailable during Endor).
These measures are surely far too extreme to be considered "rainy day planning." While keeping enough resources in reserve to rebuild in case of an emergency is one thing, the Emperor sending his personal Super Star Destroyer to the Unknown Regions is quite another, and strongly suggests that he planned, or at least knew, that the Eclipse wouldn't be needed for some years.
Diving into Wendig's Aftermath series once again, some strange events on Jakku could indicate some sort of precursor to Palpatine's resurrection, put in place before the Battle of Endor. Firstly, Palpatine orchestrates his advisor, the Sith Cultist Yupe Tashu's fall into the core of Jakku to occur in almost identical fashion to his own tumble into the heart of the second Death Star - almost as if the Emperor could see the circumstances of his future demise. Tashu also conducts a series of strange rituals at Palpatine's behest, under the belief they were going to reunite with a resurrected Palpatine in the Unknown Regions, potentially indicating how the villain could've planned to avoid death.
Why Would Palpatine's Death Be Part Of His Plan?
As a man who sought and clung to power like a one-handed Luke Skywalker clung to the exterior of Cloud City, it is strange that Palpatine's master plan would include his own death. It's also not obvious whether dying was an unavoidable consequence of his scheme, or whether it was an intentional ploy designed to maneuver certain pieces into place.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker is shown to have spent years in isolation and developed powerful new abilities such as force projection. It's possible Palpatine has been following a similar path, but required the galaxy to believe him dead in order to complete his development. This would tie neatly into the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, which many fans believe is connected to Palpatine's survival. In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Palpatine tells a younger Anakin Skywalker of a Sith Master who discovered the power to cheat death. It's highly possible that, in order to also attain this ability, Palpatine would've had to allow himself to be killed.
Palpatine may also have needed to disappear in order to lure Ben Solo over to the Dark Side. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's made clear that Snoke was the one who turned Ben into Kylo Ren. Given Kylo's current position of power in the First Order, it's plausible Palpatine sensed the boy's potential (before his birth) but predicted that his presence in the galaxy during the boy's youth would galvanize him against a potential team-up. By appearing to die, Palpatine allowed Ben Solo to grow disenfranchised with his family, the galaxy's heroes, so Ben could turn to the dark side without the former Emperor's involvement, allowing him to make his glorious return in Star Wars 9: The Rise of Skywalker.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019