How Palpatine’s Past Resurrections Could Hint at his Return in The Rise of Skywalker
Along with a number of surprising (if not totally unexpected) reveals like the return of Luke’s lightsaber and Kylo Ren’s helmet, which were seemingly destroyed in The Last Jedi, the biggest twist in the first teaser trailer for Episode IX, now titled The Rise of Skywalker, was a line from Luke stating that ‘no one is ever truly gone’ followed by a very familiar evil cackle.
With that laughter and the subsequent confirmation, we know that Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine will be returning to the Star Wars saga in Episode IX, despite being killed in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. And yet, this is far from the first time that fans have seen the return of the scheming Sith Lord, in fact Palpatine has returned a number of times in the defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe (which was all but wiped clear after Disney bought Lucasfilm), which is now known as the alternate universe Star Wars Legends.
Emperor Palpatine’s rise to power is a long and evil one, that often centred around his quest for immortality. After a troubled youth as the son of a prominent political family on Naboo, Sheev Palpatine quickly became interested in the allure and power of the dark side of the Force, intent on becoming a Sith Lord himself. He eventually got his chance after meeting Darth Plaeugis, who inducted Palpatine into the ‘Rule of Two’ allowing him to be his apprentice.
The Rule of Two was a long-standing tradition amongst the Sith originally established by Darth Bane and was predicated around the idea that the power of the dark side should be shared between only two users, a master and an apprentice, directly opposing the teachings of both the Jedi and earlier Sith. After becoming Sidious, however, Palpatine quickly outgrew his master and despite Plagueis’ immense powers and control over midi-chlorians, Palpatine began to manipulate his master to suit his own plans.
Palpatine’s cunning and manipulation eventually led to the Clone Wars, a campaign he controlled on one side as Chancellor Palpatine of the Grand Republic, and on the other as Darth Sidious, the secret leader of the Separatist rebellion. The Clone Wars culminated in the near extinction of the Jedi Order, Palpatine’s ultimate victory for the Sith, and the beginning of his galactic empire, which he intended to rule alone, and forever.
By this point Palpatine had established a new twist on the Rule of Two, which became the ‘Rule of One’, and was based around the idea that only he had the real power but still intended to use apprentices such as Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Darth Vader, and other dark side acolytes as pawns, and an extension of his own power, but never a true apprentice to one day succeed him, as the Rule of Two allowed.
And yet despite his years of planning, and winning, eventually the Rebellion overthrew the Empire and Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker the ‘chosen one’, fulfilled the prophecy by killing the emperor and bringing ‘balance’ to the force. And yet it was far from the end for the emperor, who even if he hadn’t outright anticipated his own demise, was at the very least prepared for it, at least in terms of how he would avoid it.
With no real hierarchy for the Empire in place following Palpatine’s death, and of course his only clear second in command, Darth Vader, also dying with the destruction of the second Death Star, the Empire quickly crumbled, splitting into a number of distinct factions, each lead by various Moffs and Commanders, hoping to rebuild the empire under their own leadership.
And yet, at least in the Expanded Universe/Legends Timeline, Palpatine was never truly gone. His force spirit managed to manifest itself following his physical form’s death, and he then possessed Jeng Droga, the Emperor’s Hand. In Jeng’s body, Palpatine travelled to the planet Byss, where he had a number of clone bodies waiting for his spirit to inhabit them.
From as early as the Clone Wars we can see examples of Palpatine experimenting on Force Sensitive younglings, in an effort to create powerful dark side acolytes, but his genetic experimentation went much further in the expanded universe, with the reveal that he had successfully cloned himself a number of times.
Palpatine’s only real problem came in the sustainability of these clone bodies, each of which deteriorated very quickly as they couldn’t contain his ‘dark side-ness’. Despite this, he had plenty of clone bodies and was able to slowly rebuild his strength, and continue with his plans for galactic domination, this time set on a ‘Dark Empire’ which was solely controlled by him, with no Moffs or regional governors as the original Empire had.
The most prevalent leader quickly became Grand Admiral Thrawn, a ruthless and efficient leader from Palpatine’s Empire, who had been exploring the far reaches of the galaxy and exporting the Empire’s unique brand of dictatorship wherever possible. Upon his return, the fractured leaders quickly gathered around Thrawn in a large assault against the New Republic. But Thrawn died, thanks to his treacherous bodyguard Rukh, and the empire returned to it’s split-state without a clear leader (despite gaining control over nearly half of the galaxy under Thrawn’s control).
Palpatine eventually summoned a Dark Force Storm which transported Luke Skywalker to Byss, and revealed himself to Luke, once again displaying the power of the Dark Side. In an effort to take down the Sith from within, Luke Skywalker submitted to Palpatine, and like his father before him, became the Emperors’ latest apprentice.
Luke began to work against Palpatine almost straight away, but couldn’t help but become entangled with the Dark Side. Palpatine knew of Luke’s true allegiance but used this latest war between the new Republic and the resurgent Empire as a means to slowly corrupt the young Skywalker, much like he had done with the Clone Wars and Luke’s father Anakin years earlier. Eventually however Luke fully turns on the Emperor destroys the clones and with the help of Han and Leia defeats the Emperor – who by this point had gathered a large number of allies and planets under his control. The emperor is ironically killed by his own Force Storm, which he loses control of thanks to the combined strength and force powers of Luke, Leia, and her unborn baby Anakin.
Unfortunately for Luke, Leia, Han, and ‘the good guys’ this one again wasn’t the end for Palpatine, who managed to escape into yet another clone body. He again quickly amassed support and resources, but his form was even weaker than before, having been tampered with by Carnor Jax a seemingly loyal guard, who has his own plans and bribed Sidious’ physician to alter the clones genetics.
Palpatine travelled to Korriban, the ancient Sith homeworld, intent on asking the advice of the ancient Sith spirits. There he decides to take the body of Anakin Solo, a powerful force user who could sustain Palpatine, but only once Anakin was fully grown.
Luke, along with a number of new Jedi, tracked Palpatine down, which led to a battle that saw Han Solo shoot Palpatine dead. His spirit then heads for the young Anakin Solo, but a Jedi known as Empatojayos Brand jumps in the way of the Emperor, bonding his spirit with Palpatine’s, and taking him with him when he becomes one with the force. There the spirits of all deceased Jedi hold back Palpatine’s evil, intent on stopping him from ever returning.
And yet even after his ultimate end, Palpatine’s legacy lived on. A number of his former guards used images and recordings of him to perpetuate the idea he still lived, and the Telos Holocron was later discovered by Jedi Tionne Solusar, which Palpatine seemingly poured most of his plans and knowledge into, at some point between his first and last death.
Solusar, along with a number of others eventually came to the conclusion that the Palpatine clones were just that, clones who believed they were Palpatine, and not his actual spirit moving from one form to another. In fact, the only one to completely dispute this idea was Luke Skywalker himself, who, having spent a lot of time with Palpatine whilst his apprentice, was sure it was the original Palpatine.
How exactly Palpatine will return in The Rise of Skywalker is unclear, there is every chance that it’s simply through something like the Telos Holocron, a Force ghost, or even the more involved possibility of Snoke being one of Palpatine’s degrading clone bodies all along. And so Palpatine’s Star Wars story was far from over when he ‘died’ at the hands of Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, but it’s clear that his many contingency plans and just pre ‘evil-ness’ will surely play into the ultimate fate of characters like Rey, Kylo Ren, and even Luke Skywalker.