Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker features the shocking return of Emperor Palpatine, thought to have been killed in Return of the Jedi, but the villain's resurgence needn't ruin the ending of the original trilogy. Set for release at the end of the year, Star Wars 9 not only concludes the modern trilogy that began in 2015 with J. J. Abrams' The Force Awakens, but also the entire Skywalker saga and, according to some reports, the age-old Jedi and Sith conflict itself.
As expected, the Star Wars 9 plot is being kept largely under wraps at present, although a short trailer has revealed some key details. All of the main players are returning, including Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, with archive footage being used due to the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher. The trailer also highlighted the return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and ended with the protagonists bravely heading towards a destroyed Death Star.
But by far the biggest talking point from the trailer was an eerie, menacing laugh subtly featured at the very end. After Luke's voiceover ominously states "no one's ever really gone," the evil cackle of Emperor Palpatine can be distinctly heard, setting up the villain's unexpected return. Palpatine was thought killed at the end of 1983's Return of the Jedi during the original trilogy's dramatic final battle, so does his return now sour that conclusive victory? Not quite.
Star Wars 9 Risks Ruining Return Of The Jedi
In The Empire Strikes Back, Emperor Palpatine was established as the dark puppet master behind Darth Vader, and the duo's master and apprentice relationship was explored further in Return of the Jedi. That same film also sees the rise of Luke Skywalker as a true Jedi Knight and, knowing Vader to be his real father, the third act pits Luke against Vader with the Emperor watching on gleefully, hoping Luke will be tempted to the dark side. Luke plans some tempting of his own and manages to coax out the dormant virtue deep within his father, compelling Darth Vader to kill the Emperor in a noble act of self-sacrifice. Thus, the Empire is defeated and everyone lives happily ever after... until the rise of the First Order at least.
When Palpatine's return in Star Wars 9 first came to light, the overriding consensus among fans was one of excitement - especially after the demise of Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Snoke was originally positioned as the modern trilogy's answer to the Emperor, but was unceremoniously usurped by Kylo Ren before fans learned much of anything about his background. Abrams' decision to bring back Palpatine as a senior villain softens this blow.
However, some might suggest that Palpatine's survival, if indeed that's what's happening here and he's not a Force ghost, takes something away from Return of the Jedi's ending. After all, the Emperor's tumble into the vast Death Star reactor marked the end of both the Empire and the entire struggle chronicled throughout the original trilogy - the long-awaited climax of George Lucas' epic tale. Already we've seen the Empire's defeat lack finality with the rise of the First Order. Doesn't learning Palpatine ultimately lives to see another day further spoil that jubilant ending and render Vader's sacrifice, Luke's battle and the Rebels' victory entirely meaningless?
Why Rise Of Skywalker Maintains The Original Trilogy's Ending
It's an understandable assumption to make that Emperor Palpatine is the ultimate villain of the original Star Wars trilogy, since he's both the leader of the opposing force and the most powerful enemy in the franchise at that point. Ask a random selection of movie fans to name the main baddie of the old Star Wars films, however, and they'll likely give a different answer: Darth Vader.
Anyone who considers Palpatine the prime antagonist of the first three movies may well be irked at the Emperor's sudden return, but for the majority who would afford Vader that title (or even the Empire as an organization) the integrity of Return of the Jedi's ending remains intact in spite of Palpatine's big comeback. Palpatine's impending appearance in Star Wars 9 does not undo Vader's return to the Light, nor the Rebel Alliance overthrowing the mighty Empire. It could be argued that Vader's sacrifice now feels somewhat futile and that the First Order's rise undoes that greater victory, but the Emperor's return actually helps here; instead of Return of the Jedi being a false-end, it can be a key pivot, depending on how it's handled and explained by J. J. Abrams in Star Wars 9.
Despite the Emperor's power and position, it's Vader who was present from the very first episode, Vader's face on most of the merchandise and Vader's story that truly came to an end with Return of the Jedi. On the other hand, Palpatine's defeat at the end of the original trilogy is, from a certain point of view, just a consequence of Luke's real victory: rescuing his father. Just as the Star Wars trilogy evolved to be about Vader, so too can the story be more than just his master's downfall.
As well as not ruining Return of the Jedi, Palpatine's return also has the potential to enhance the prequel trilogy. In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine tells his young protege, an angry Anakin Skywalker, the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise - the only follower of the Sith known to use the Force to manipulate life and death. While Plagueis' story has been expanded upon in wider Star Wars media, Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm rendered those stories non-canon, paving the way for this enigmatic figure to play a role in future films. Whether Plagueis and Palpatine are revealed as the same person, master and apprentice or even if they're unconnected to each other entirely, Star Wars 9 has an opportunity to expand on a fascinating but untapped part of the prequel trilogy's lore.
How Star Wars 9 Can Finish What Darth Vader Started
Kylo Ren's unhealthy obsession with Darth Vader is no secret and the impetuous young Sith has previously spoke about finishing the work his grandfather started. The literal interpretation of this is, of course, ruling the galaxy. Kylo sees his grandfather's villainous deeds as incomplete and no doubt blames Vader's last-minute return to the Light on Luke Skywalker's mind-trickery or a failed attempt to seize the Empire as his own.
However, Kylo Ren's Star Wars 9 mission might not be quite as straightforward as it seems. Viewers are led to believe that Kylo idolizes Vader as a tyrant, but what if the real meaning behind finishing Vader's work means killing Palpatine once and for all. Even when he was known as Ben Solo, Kylo was a prodigious user of the Force and his uncanny abilities may have somehow revealed to Ben that Palpatine was still alive. Realizing his grandfather's heroic sacrifice was for naught, Kylo Ren's true raison d'etre may be to use the First Order to locate Palpatine and finish him off for good, with any collateral damage caused in pursuit of that goal deemed a necessary price to pay.
This theory would certainly require some narrative wrangling to fit neatly alongside the events of the past two films, but ever since his dramatic introduction in The Force Awakens, there have been several hints towards Kylo Ren's potential as a force for good and this would at least be a more novel twist than another last-minute change of heart in the trilogy's final act.
And that's to say nothing of Kylo Ren being an unwitting arbiter of good. He could genuinely believe himself evil while being locked into an undeniably good destiny. The ills of masters and twisted morality has become an increasingly dominant theme as Star Wars has grown, and could be the key to The Rise of Skywalker.
After mixed reactions to The Last Jedi and Solo, the Star Wars franchise undoubtedly needed something to set the fan base ablaze ahead of Star Wars 9, and the sound of Palpatine's iconic cackle did exactly that. More than just a savvy marketing technique, however, the Emperor's return opens up a raft of story possibilities and while bringing back deceased villains to a franchise does usually run the risk of spoiling their original death scenes, this isn't the case with Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019