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
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.
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.
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.
Page 2 of 2: Evidence That Palpatine Survived (Somehow) After Return Of The Jedi
That brings us to Chuck Wendig’s “Aftermath” trilogy, some of the most important novels in the new Star Wars canon. They number among the few stories set between Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and they reveal the true story of how the Empire fell – as well as planting the seeds for the First Order. A key player in all this is Yupe Tashu, introduced as a Sith cultist who had been one of the Emperor’s closest advisers. Viewed by many as a fraud and a fantasist, Tashu was absolutely convinced that the Emperor would return from the dead. In one key scene in Aftermath: Empire’s End, Tashu and Gallius Rax – a close aide who planned to take over the Empire for himself – conducted a mystery ceremony. Whatever the purpose of this ceremony, which included a Sith mask and Holocron, the fact remains that both spoke of Palpatine’s return. Tashu believed in it; Rax did not, but viewed Tashu’s faith in Palpatine as a useful tool for manipulating him.
“Tashu gambols down in front of the artifacts, his fingertips dancing along their cases. He mutters to himself, and Rax sees that he’s chewed his own lips bloody. “Are you ready?” he asks Palpatine’s old adviser.
“I am,” Tashu says, turning. His cheeks are wet with tears. His teeth slick with red. “Palpatine lives on. We will find him again out there in the dark. Everything has arranged itself as our Master foretold. All things move toward the grand design. The sacrifices have all been made.”
Not all of them, Rax thinks.
“You must be clothed in the raiment of darkness,” Rax says. “The mantle of the dark side is yours to wear, at least for a time. At least until we can find Palpatine and revivify him, bringing his soul back to flesh anew.”
It’s impossible to say what the purpose of the ceremony is, but the fact remains that one of Palpatine’s closest aides, a historian who had studied the Sith on his behalf, was convinced that the Emperor would return. He believed that the Emperor was dead, but that his soul had survived, and would take on flesh once again.
Whatever this ceremony may have been, it formed a part of what Palpatine referred to as the Contingency. The Contingency was a plan the Emperor had set up in the event his apprentice, Darth Vader, betrayed him. The first step was known as Operation Cinder, and it’s the focus of the campaign mode in Star Wars: Battlefront II as well. Operation Cinder involved Palpatine’s most loyal troops razing former Imperial strongholds; as far as the Emperor was concerned, he saw no reason Darth Vader should profit from the Empire that Palpatine had built. The idea was that the Galactic Civil War would turn into chaos, with a final battle over the skies of Jakku. The planet had been rigged to detonate, an explosion that would have destroyed the fleets warring above its surface.
Meanwhile, from a hidden base at Jakku the Emperor had created a map of vast portions of the Unknown Regions. According to the novelization of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he had secured a secret power base out there, with vast tracts of war materiel secreted away. In the final moments of the Battle of Jakku, Palpatine’s most loyal assets were instructed to follow the maps from his observatory and jump out into the Unknown Regions. The planet would explode behind them, destroying everything they left behind them. It’s a stunning, vindictive strategy, but it’s rather odd; if the Emperor didn’t see why anyone else should be allowed to rule his Empire, why would he enable some of his closest, most trusted allies to escape? It only makes sense if Palpatine was assuming that he himself would return from the dead in order to claim the forces he had sent out to the Unknown Regions.
It’s unclear how the ceremony being conducted by Tashu and Rax fits into this, but it seems reasonable to assume that it was somehow tied to the Emperor’s resurrection. Certainly it involved both a Sith mask and a Sith Holocron, being used in an environment that sounds identical to the Emperor’s Throne-Room on the Second Death Star. Ironically, just as Darth Vader betrayed Palpatine on the Death Star, Rax betrayed Tashu on Jakku. He pushed Tashu down the chasm, where he fell to his death. Palpatine’s adviser died in the same kind of flare of blue light as his Master. This may simply be a narrative conceit, of course, with Tashu’s fate paralleling his beloved Master’s. Alternatively, it may be far more important; it may even explain why Palpatine was unable to take charge of the First Order straight away, with Snoke taking the power vacuum. Only time will tell.
It’s fascinating to see how carefully Lucasfilm has signposted the Emperor’s return. The Emperor has been shown to be consistently interested in resurrection, whether involving the Force or science. One of his closest advisers believed he was destined to return. And Palpatine’s Contingency included some sort of mystical ceremony that was surely intended to be tied to his resurrection. Lucasfilm has pulled off an amazing trick, setting the pieces in place without once revealing their strategy. Now, though, the cat’s out of the bag – and it means Star Wars fans will be revisiting every tie-in since Disney took over Lucasfilm, looking for any further clues.
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