“The dead speak!” begins the opening crawl of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. “The dead” is Emperor Palpatine who returns once again. Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) return was revealed in official trailers and wasn’t much of a surprise. But many Star Wars fans came out of The Rise of Skywalker baffled about Palpatine’s return, complaining about how he managed to return since everyone was pretty sure he didn’t survive his fall and explosion in Return of the Jedi and also complaining that his master plan was illogical, inconsistent and maybe even a little convoluted.
Palpatine’s return in The Rise of Skywalker is never properly explained in the film itself. But thanks to a novelization of The Rise of Skywalker, written by Star Wars universe writer Rae Carson – inspired by the new expanded universe “Dark Empire” comic – we now know that the Emperor’s spirit was transferred into a clone of his body before Darth Vader throws him down a reactor shaft after the Emperor tortures his son Luke Skywalker.
Palpatine’s plan B was Exegol, home of the Sith Eternal — you know, those creepy cultist guys from the movie. When Palpatine was thrown down that big shaft in Episode XI, just before his moment of death, he sent his spirit to Exegol, into the most complete body that his cultists had managed to put together. So what you’re seeing in “The Rise of Skywalker” is either that clone body. While the novel certainly creates some new questions that may or may not be explored in the future, it also tries to recontextualize the entire film saga as it delves deep enough into Star Wars lore.
The novel reveals that Exegol isn’t just about the cultists, it provides more context about the place, specifying that they have a whole normal civilization there. As in, there were enough people living on Exegol to fully crew all those Star Destroyers, with each having a full complement of those red stormtroopers.
In the final moment for Palpatine, Rey is lying on the floor and been has been sent across the room to an uncertain fate. Palpatine fires enormously powerful force lightning on the Resistance fleet, Rey looks up and calls on her Jedi ancestors to be with her. They are, and hearing their voices gives Rey the strength to stand. The Emperor turns his Force lightning on her and she counters by crossing both lightsabers in front of her to deflect it. Palpatine declares that he is every Sith and Rey responds “And I am every Jedi,” before jettisoning his own lightning back at him, killing both him and herself in the process.
“Long have I waited…for my grandchild to come home.”
– Emperor Palpatine
Palpatine defeat seems definitive in The Rise of Skywalker since his body disintegrated by Rey and the Force energy of a thousand generations of Jedi before her. Unless he’s stashed some clones elsewhere, it looks like Palpatine has finally passed on to whatever this universe’s version of hell is. It’s hard to imagine it really gets any worse than Exegol, though.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) was produced, co-written, and directed by J. J. Abrams. It was produced by Lucasfilm and Abrams’s production company Bad Robot Productions and was distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film’s ensemble cast includes Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Ian McDiarmid, and Billy Dee Williams. It features the second posthumous film performance by Fisher, who died in 2016 and appears through the use of unused footage from The Force Awakens.