Obviously, we know very little about The Rise of Skywalker and what it entails for our heroes and villains. There have been some leaks and some guesses, but let’s face it: nobody managed to predict the title and nobody managed to predict the return of Sheev Palpatine.
The fandom, even the casual audience, is brimming with questions. Isn’t Palpatine dead? Where has he been for the last thirty years? Is he alive? A ghost? Something else? And most importantly, what is his connection to Snoke and Kylo Ren?
We have no answers yet, and I am not going to pretend that I’m any more enlightened than you are.
But I’m just as curious, and what does a writer do when they’re curious about something? Why, they write about it!
This is the first in my speculative analysis series on The Rise of Skywalker. The series will cover everything from the fate of the Jedi, to the Resistance, the First Order, the nature of the Force and of course all major characters. I chose to start with Palpatine because he is both the biggest surprise so far, and because he’s a fascinating character in his own right.
Join me under the cut!
The Dark Lord of the Sith
When A New Hope was released in 1977, it introduced audiences to a new term: Sith. At the time, it was only used in the context of Darth Vader and never explained in movie who or what the Sith were, or why Darth Vader was their Dark Lord.
It would not be until the nineties that an official explanation was given: the Sith were fallen Jedi, driven out by the Order for their use of the Dark Side of the Force. Even then, Darth Vader remained the face of these Dark Jedi.
Then, in 1999 The Phantom Menace was released, and we got a good look at the Sith Order. We had known since Return of the Jedi that Emperor Palpatine was a powerful master of the Dark Side and the only person Vader feared. Sure Tarkin could give him orders, but it was Palpatine who ultimately held Vader’s leash.
TPM, however, showed us just how evil Palpatine was. Pretending to be Padme’s friend, ordering the invasion of Naboo, throwing Valorum under the bus… Palpatine cemented his position as the greatest evil in the galaxy in the movie where he suffered the most defeats aside from ROTJ. He was cunning, patient, ruthless and surprisingly charming… right before he slit your throat.
Pretenders To The Throne
Palpatine wasn’t as invincible as he assumed, of course. The Jedi nearly caught him near the end of the war, and he suffered a surprisingly strong challenge to his reign in The Clone Wars: the return of Darth Maul.
Maul was the first pretender to the throne, and he probably had the most staying power. Staying in the shadows, Maul slowly built up a criminal empire with the intention of both slaying Obi-Wan… and getting his revenge on his former master. Palpatine tolerated Maul’s game for a while… but when it became inconvenient to his plans, Palpatine proved why he was the Dark Lord of the Sith. Maul, for all his savagery and power, for all that Savage Oppress helped, was outclassed by the wizened old man. Nothing could touch the Master of the Dark Side.
And for decades, nothing did. Dooku made some half-hearted attempts at rebellion, but was executed by Anakin Skywalker. Anakin then fell himself and made far greater effort at usurping Palpatine’s throne… but would not succeed until Luke came along and returned him to the light.
That’s it. It took Luke Skywalker, a devoted servant of the Light Side of the Force, to overthrow Palpatine, so strong was his command of the Dark Side.
But that wasn’t the end of pretenders to Palpatine’s throne, oh know. In the intervening decades another long-range schemer would come on to the screen to try for the title of Biggest Bad in Star Wars: Snoke.
The Pike-Man Cometh!
In retrospect, it’s painfully obvious that Snoke was another of Palpatine’s pawns. Just another time-bomb meant to sow discord and chaos throughout the galaxy.
However, that does not mean that pawns can’t be interesting. Anakin was a pawn, and his story sustained six movies. Dooku and Maul got their stories expanded and fleshed out in TCW.
Snoke, alas, did not get the character development he needed to be an interesting villain. In fact, he got bisected by his own apprentice in TLJ, forever dooming him to also-ran status.
Oh sure, Snoke had power. Oodles of it. He was able to forge a link between Rey and Kylo Ren, a power Palpatine never demonstrated. He levitates Rey off the floor and is confirmed to have been messing with Kylo’s mind since the beginning.
Aaaand none of it matters. Snoke displays all of Palpatine’s arrogance and none of his cunning. Had Vader tried that trick with the lightsaber, Palpatine would have turned him to dust.
Which leads us to our next pretender: Kylo Ren.
The Sad Sack of the Dark Side
I’m going to get more into Kylo Ren and what I think his role will be in a later post, so I’ll keep this brief.
The short version is, though, is that Kylo Ren isn’t a very good villain. He has tremendous power… and loses (or at best, draws) every fight he has with the heroes. In TFA, he at least puts up a good fight while heavily injured… and then in TLJ gets humiliated by Luke. He’s been beaten by two people with no lightsaber training, humiliated by an astral projection and only keeps the First Order military in line because TLJ made Hux into an even bigger loser than Kylo himself.
So, who cares about Kylo Ren? Well, nobody really. His ‘fans’ have their own creation in Ben Solo (an alleged good guy never seen in the film) and his anti’s have their own, equally exaggerated but on the villainous side, version. Actual, on film Kylo Ren, will almost never appear in a fan conversation. Because, quite honestly, film!Kylo is kind of… lame.
So with two spectacularly uninteresting villains, what does J.J. Abrams do?
Why, bring back the Master of course.
Palpatine Is Here To Zap Some Menace Back To The Dark Side.
Palpatine is back. This has been confirmed by both J.J. and Ian McDiarmid. But back in what form?
Here are the most common theories:
- As a Force Ghost
- Possessing something like the Death Star
- He’s not actually back, but appears as a holocron or something.
Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?
As A Force Ghost:
Nope! George Lucas has said that the Sith can’t come back as Force Ghosts because they’re too selfish, and given that he said that during the production of TCW, his word still stands.
Possibly? I think this runs a little too close to the Force Ghost thing, but they did have Mommin’s mask in the comics, so…
Almost certainly not. Dark Empire is… a controversial comic from the nineties wherein Palpatine comes back in a series of clone bodies.
I don’t care about the comic one way or the other, but a lot of Star Wars fans hate it. And, ostensibly, to avoid those sorts of storylines was why the new canon was created. So I can’t really see J.J. going back to this particular well.
As A Holocron Or Something
This, by far, makes the most sense to me. I believe that Palpatine left some of his knowledge behind, and the heroes and villains are in a race to find it.
Why does this make sense? Well:
- I’ve eaten sandwiches with more menace than Kylo Ren. He needs to find something to give him an edge, give him some sort of staying power. Palpatine’s secrets are a great shortcut, especially to a guy who is still conflicted about his path and has managed to isolate himself from anybody who ever cared about him.
- We see in the trailer that Rey and co. visit the Second Death Star. Why are they there? Well, trying to recover some of Palpatine’s secrets is a good reason.
- It’s a simple, straightforward plot that would be hard to fuck up.
- Ian McDiarmid’s age. Dude is old, and having only a few scenes won’t exhaust him.
- Easy to explain to the audience.
There we go, that’s my speculative analysis for Palpatine! I’ll see you guys next week.
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