The Star Wars canon has been setting up the possibility of Palpatine's return for years - and nobody noticed. The first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ended with a shocking twist. Luke Skywalker's words had seemed so very reassuring, as he reminded Rey - and, through her, viewers - that nobody is ever truly gone. But then things became a whole lot more sinister, as the screen went black and familiar laughter began to ring. It wasn't hard to guess what this meant; Emperor Palpatine has returned from the dead. Confirming this, the trailer was aired at Star Wars Celebration; when the lights went up again afterwards, delighted fans found that Ian McDiarmid himself had taken to the stage.
Nobody expected Emperor Palpatine to return. And yet, it's such a smart and satisfying way of concluding the Skywalker saga. It really does mean there's a continuous narrative running through the prequels, the original trilogy, and now through the sequels. They are all the story of how the light side of the Force battled against the greatest Sith Lord of all time. Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy confirmed that Palpatine had always been expected to return. In fact, there's some evidence that George Lucas himself may have intended this to happen at some point; there have been comments from people involved with the original trilogy that he'd envisioned the Emperor to be in Episode IX.
Palpatine's laugh may have taken viewers by surprise, but in truth Lucasfilm has been setting the scene for this resurrection for quite some time, from recent in-canon comics and novels to the concluding chapter of Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy.
- This Page: Palpatine Was Working To Prevent His Death Since The Star Wars Prequels
- Page 2: Evidence That Palpatine Survived (Somehow) After Return Of The Jedi
Revenge of the Sith Revealed That The Sith Can Survive After Death
The first, and unarguably the most important, clue is offered in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. In one crucial scene, Palpatine attempts to lure Anakin to the dark side with information that he claims has the potential to save his beloved Padmé from death. He tells Anakin what he calls a "Sith legend," the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis 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." According to Palpatine, Plagueis made the mistake of teaching his apprentice everything he knew, and his apprentice killed him in his sleep. "The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural," Palpatine observed. It wasn't long before Palpatine revealed that he was the apprentice, and that Darth Plagueis the Wise had been his master.
This quote establishes that the Sith can use the dark side of the Force to gain mastery of life and death - and that Palpatine was taught the method by Darth Plagueis. It gives no information as to the method, of course, beyond hinting that a Sith has to be conscious in order to use that ability; why else would Palpatine have chosen to kill Plagueis while his master slept? Viewed through this lens, the Emperor's tale sets the precedent for his own resurrection.
Palpatine Isn't The First Sith To Return From The Dead
Official tie-ins have strongly suggested that the Emperor continued to research ways of conquering death. Over in the comics, Charles Soule's Darth Vader series culminated in a clash between Darth Vader and the spirit of Darth Momin, a Sith heretic who'd been dead for millennia. Momin had died in a powerful conflagration of Dark Side energy, and his essence had been trapped within the mask he had worn. To be in the presence of Momin's mask was to fall under the influence of the dark side of the Force, driven to rage and bloodlust, while actually wearing the mask meant you were possessed by his spirit. Incredibly, Momin was able to tap into a reservoir of dark side power at Mustafar in order to resurrect himself. It didn't last long; he'd crossed paths with Darth Vader, after all, and for all his power was frankly outclassed. Still, again, this confirms that a Sith's spirit can survive death, and that a Sith can indeed return from the dead.
And here's the interesting thing; Palpatine had owned the mask of Lord Momin for years. Indeed, he freely admitted that he had learned many secrets of the Force from the mask, before giving it to Vader because he believed Momin would be helpful to his apprentice. While it's impossible to say whether or not Palpatine used Momin's technique, the fact remains that the Emperor was still learning lessons from those with the power to conquer death.
Palpatine Was Researching Resurrection Technology
Curiously, Soule's first Darth Vader run revealed that Palpatine didn't just look into methods using the Force. Vader learned that the Emperor had sponsored a scientist named Cylo, who had created a personality map that could be stored and downloaded into clone bodies. "Add memory banks and plug-in calculations, and I am an immortal system," Cylo explained. Cylo believed that the Force was limited, and could be surpassed by science; he was even responsible for simulating Force powers in order to create ceremonial apprentices who he thought could surpass Vader. Needless to say, Darth Vader was less than entertained by all this, and killed Cylo and destroyed his would-be apprentices.
Amusingly, the idea of a consciousness jumping into clone bodies is one that will be very familiar to Star Wars fans. In the old Expanded Universe, that was the very method Palpatine used to survive Return of the Jedi; he had clone bodies created, and his consciousness eventually found its way into one.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019