Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker features the mysterious return of Emperor Palpatine - and he could have survived by transforming himself into Force energy. The first Star Wars 9 trailer ended with a laugh that was both sinister and immediately recognizable. Since then, it's become clear that Darth Sidious will be returning with a vast armada behind him, a secret fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers armed with Death Star technology.
Star Wars canon has long confirmed that Palpatine has been obsessed with eternal life. The first clue was offered in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, when he told Anakin Skywalker the tale of Darth Plageuis the Wise. "Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith," Palpatine explained to the fascinated Anakin, "so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life... He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying." Since then, he's been shown collecting relics connected to Sith who had attempted to find a way to live forever.
Star Wars 9 writer/director JJ Abrams is well-known for his Mystery Box marketing approach. This time around, the greatest mystery is of course just how Palpatine has returned from the dead. Naturally, attentive viewers are poring through the various tie-ins in search of clues - and one recent novel, George Mann's Myths & Fables, may have just dropped a hint.
Sith Rituals Can Transform Living Beings From One State To Another
Star Wars: Myths & Fables is a collection of in-universe legends, and one of the most interesting is a story called "Gaze of Stone." This is set on the Sith homeworld of Moraband (sometimes named Korriban), and it reveals the secret of a mysterious stone statue that's situated on a clifftop. According to Star Wars: Myths & Fables, it's tied to a Twi'lek Force-user named Ry Nymbis. Strong in the Force, Ry Nymbis was chosen as an apprentice by the Sith Lord Darth Caldoth, and - as is common with the Sith - he began to dream of supplanting his master. Ry Nymbis began to pore over ancient secrets, learning forgotten Sith magics that he hoped would help him achieve his goal. One of these was a ritual that allowed him to transform flesh into matter, and he attempted to perform it upon his Master. Ironically, Darth Caldoth had known better than to trust his apprentice, and had sabotaged the ritual so it backfired upon Ry Nymbis. He was transformed into rock, fully conscious but forever imprisoned.
This raises the distinct possibility that Darth Sidious survived death by using a similar Sith enchantment. The Emperor's death in Return of the Jedi was accompanied by a massive burst of energy; viewers have traditionally assumed that this was simply a release of the dark side, but could it have actually been Palpatine himself? According to this theory, the Emperor deliberately constructed his throne rooms in such a way as to amplify his power and allow himself to transform into an energy state rather than die. Note that Star Wars tie-ins have confirmed that the Emperor built all his Throne Rooms to exactly the same specifications, perhaps for just this purpose.
How Could Palpatine Be "Enfleshed" Again?
The one problem with this strategy, though, is that Palpatine would be unable to turn himself back. He'd be trapped in an energy form, just as Ry Nymbis was forever turned into a living statue. The Emperor would need someone else to help him become a living being once again - and Star Wars has indeed suggested that may be the case. Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy featured a Sith cultist named Yupe Tashu, who had once been one of the Emperor's closest advisers. Viewed by many as a fraud and a fantasist, Tashu was absolutely convinced that the Emperor would return from the dead. In one key scene, another aide named Gallius Rax manipulated Tashu with his beliefs.
"Tashu gambols down in front of the artifacts, his fingertips dancing along their cases. He mutters to himself, and Rax sees that he's chewed his own lips bloody. "Are you ready?" he asks Palpatine's old adviser.
"I am," Tashu says, turning. His cheeks are wet with tears. His teeth slick with red. "Palpatine lives on. We will find him again out there in the dark. Everything has arranged itself as our Master foretold. All things move toward the grand design. The sacrifices have all been made."
Not all of them, Rax thinks.
"You must be clothed in the raiment of darkness," Rax says. "The mantle of the dark side is yours to wear, at least for a time. At least until we can find Palpatine and revivify him, bringing his soul back to flesh anew."
Tashu and Rax found another of the Emperor's Throne Rooms on the planet Jakku, and attempted to perform a mysterious ceremony that Tashu believed had the potential to "enflesh" Palpatine once again. The ceremony was interrupted - Rax wasn't a true believer, and he used the opportunity to kill Tashu - and so it wasn't completed. But Palpatine is nothing if not thorough; if he knew he needed someone to bring him back, he would have planted contingencies.
Of course, if this theory is correct, then Tashu was never going to succeed at Jakku anyway. The Emperor may have abandoned his physical body, but his energy form would have been somewhere around the Throne Room on the Death Star. Another of Star Wars 9's mysteries is just why the film returns to the wreckage of the Second Death Star, and this may neatly explain it; someone wants to bring Palpatine back, and they've figured out where they need to be to do it. This would explain why Palpatine has been completely unseen for all this time, and even why Palpatine's throne is initially shown empty in the Star Wars 9 trailer, but is later occupied by his physical form. The Emperor had planned for his return - but it was delayed, because none of his followers worked out where they needed to perform the ritual that would enflesh him anew. Until Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, when the greatest Sith Lord of all time finally returns.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019