Do Rey and Kylo Ren bust up Darth Vader's old mask together in an attempt to kill Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? As confirmed in the very first trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, Ian McDiarmid will be making his grand return to the Star Wars franchise as the evil Emperor Palpatine, otherwise known as Darth Sidious. The infamous wrinkled Sith lord masterminded the rise of the original Empire in George Lucas' classic Star Wars trilogy, but was killed by Anakin Skywalker, who finally shed the mantle of Darth Vader and turned away from the dark teachings that had corrupted him.
It now appears that reports of Palpatine's demise were somewhat premature, and the villain is set for a comeback in The Rise of Skywalker, where he will almost certainly be revealed as the puppet-master of the First Order, pulling strings from behind the scenes under the cover of death and slowly building towards a glorious resurgence. It remains to be seen in what form Palpatine will return to Star Wars and how he'll manage to pull the feat off, but the final trailer for The Rise of Skywalker seems to depict a genuine, physical revival for the Emperor, rather than the rumored Force Ghost route.
That same trailer potentially also teases how Palpatine might eventually be defeated, or at least how The Rise of Skywalker's protagonists think he can be defeated. Has the answer been hiding in plain sight ever since The Force Awakens?
Rey & Kylo Ren Team Up To Destroy Vader's Mask
Ever since the beginning of the modern Star Wars trilogy, Rey and Kylo have had a strangely balanced, somewhat symbiotic relationship to each other, and this storyline was developed greatly in The Last Jedi. Luke Skywalker likened Rey's formidable affinity with the Force to the latent power he felt while training Ben Solo, and the duo also shared a series of visions that allowed them to communicate remotely. Rey and Kylo even teamed up to take down Snoke's personal guard, but differing goals drove a wedge between them once again.
The latest trailer for The Rise of Skywalker shows Rey teaming up with her bitter rival a second time, and the most prominent shot of this partnership appears to show the duo destroying Darth Vader's mask. There's some debate as to what the black structure Rey and Kylo strike down could be, but the best guess is perhaps a plinth on which Vader's mask is displayed. Certainly, other footage has confirmed that Vader's mask will feature in the trilogy's final episode in some capacity.
Assuming that the notoriously secretive J. J. Abrams still has plenty of surprises left up his sleeve for The Rise of Skywalker, it's safe to assume that this scene will come midway through the film, rather than during its climax. The trailers released thus far have shown Rey and Kylo Ren both as allies and as opponents, but the presence of Emperor Palpatine should unite them at a relatively early stage in order for the returning villain's presence to be properly utilized. Furthermore, it's unlikely that Disney's marketing would be so open about the team-up if the partnership wasn't forged reasonably quickly.
It's clear from the trailer footage that Kylo Ren and Rey destroy the mask with purpose and passion, but is this moment just symbolic, or does it serve a greater purpose?
Palpatine Could've Possessed Vader's Mask
Darth Vader's mangled mask is first reintroduced into the Star Wars story in The Force Awakens, in which Kylo Ren uses the recovered item almost as a relic of worship. Idealizing the values of his grandfather, Darth Vader, Kylo is desperate to finish the work his predecessor started and rigidly adheres to the values Anakin preached while entrenched in the ways of the Sith. Even at this early stage, some fans had started to theorize that the significance of Vader's mask may be more practical than spiritual, and the confirmation of Palpatine's return has only served to stoke that belief.
As seen at the end of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader betrays his master and hurls the Emperor down into the bowels of the second Death Star before removing his mask to signify the reversion from Vader back to Anakin. In the Star Wars prequels, however, Palpatine teased the possibility of cheating death with the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, who happened to be the Emperor's own Sith master. If Plagueis taught his evil protege a way of allowing the spirit to live on after one's physical form had been destroyed (similar to how the Jedi utilize Force Ghosts) then Vader's discarded mask would be the most suitable item laying nearby that could potentially be used as a vessel for Palpatine's spirit.
Both the Legacy section of Star Wars canon and Disney's revised continuity feature examples of Sith souls either transferring into masks or imbuing them with dark influence, setting a precedent for Palpatine to pull the same trick. Contained within his pupil's dark helmet, Palpatine might have been whispering dark influences to a young Ben Solo from the very start, nurturing him into the warrior known as Kylo Ren. Perhaps the only reason Palpatine desperately coveted Anakin Skywalker was so that he be used in the corruption of a Sith with even greater potential in the years to come - namely, Kylo Ren. Discovering this truth would give a strong, clear motivation for Kylo to turn on the Dark Side and join Rey in The Rise of Skywalker.
Destroying The Mask Is How To Beat Palpatine
If Palpatine's soul is clinging onto the real world via Darth Vader's mask, it's logical to assume destroying the item would sever that link and consign the Sith Lord to the afterlife once and for all. This is a well-trodden route to defeating arch villains in popular mainstream franchises, and is perhaps most commonly associated with Harry Potter and its Horcruxes. In the wizarding world of J. K. Rowling, Potter and his pals needed to destroy a series of relics from Voldemort's life before the villain could be confronted and defeated in direct combat.
A similar setup could apply to Palpatine. Like Voldemort, the Sith is a powerful, resurrected enemy plagued by a nagging skin condition, and has somehow come back from the brink of death to trouble the good guys once more. Since the scene is included in The Rise of Skywalker's trailer, it's highly unlikely that destroying the Vader mask is all Rey and Kylo need to do to kill Palpatine, but the relic's destruction could absolutely be one step in the process. At risk of going full-Potter, there may even be other items or people that must be dispatched before the final battle can take place. This theory would also tie in neatly with the Sith dagger Rey can be seen wielding in the final The Rise of Skywalker trailer.
Another possibility is that Palpatine has used Vader's mask as a conduit to commune and influence Kylo Ren, but the item is not intrinsically linked to his resurrection, with the Emperor finding other means to revive himself. This context would perhaps make the most sense in accounting for why Rey and Kylo destroy the mask, without borrowing the Horcrux trope wholesale. Should Kylo discover that the whispers he receives from the mask emanate from Palpatine and not his grandfather, and he teams with Rey as a direct result, a joint smashing of Vader's mask would be a great first step in taking down their mutual enemy and a metaphorical confirmation of their new alliance in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019