That unmistakable laugh at the end of the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer can mean only one thing – the galaxy’s most feared enemy is set to return.
To the surprise of many, Emperor Palpatine is back in JJ Abrams’ new Star Wars movie, and this has really set the fan theories in motion. How did he survive at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi? Did he survive? And what role will he have to play in the closing chapter of the Skywalker saga? Let’s take a trip over to the dark side and find out…
The return of Emperor Palpatine…
Reprising the role he made his own in Return of the Jedi and the Star Wars prequel trilogy, (in which he played the sinister Senator – later Emperor – Palpatine), legendary actor Ian McDiarmid sent fans into a frenzy at the 2019 Star Wars celebration. In fact, he even took to the stage and – in character – demanded that the trailer for the latest episode in the Star Wars saga be rolled again.
The return of Palpatine was the last thing fans were expecting, and to see the original actor return to the role once again is just one of the many big reasons to be excited for Episode IX. The capacity in which this iconic character will return, however, is still very much open to debate…
Is Emperor Palpatine alive?
Well, this is where things get complicated. McDiarmid later revealed that the sinister laughter used in The Rise of Skywalker trailer was in fact taken from an archive recording, so the role the Emperor has to play is still under wraps.
As we have previously seen in the Star Wars saga, characters thought to be dead have returned, whether in body (the villainous Darth Maul returned in Solo: A Star Wars Story, played by original actor/stuntman Ray Park) or in spirit (Yoda appeared as a 'force ghost' in several films following his death, always voiced by the legendary Frank Oz).
So despite the apparent fiery death of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, we can expect the unexpected and we’re already dying to know if he survived, and if he did, then how? In body or in spirit, Palpatine poses a formidable threat to our heroes and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
What role does the Emperor play in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?
Fans have been speculating for decades about the character known as Darth Plagueis, about whom young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) – later Darth Vader – learns in Revenge of the Sith. Purportedly a Dark Lord so powerful that he could influence midichlorians to create life, we later learn that Plagueis is killed in his sleep by his apprentice, who is – you guessed it – Emperor Palpatine.
This has got fans thinking, perhaps Palpatine is able to utilise the techniques learned from his former master to bring himself back to life? It might seem like a long shot, but nothing can be ruled out at this stage.
Some fans are also going one step further in their theorizing and linking Plagueis, Palpatine and Snoke (Andy Serkis), the villain of The Force Awakens who we last saw meet a sticky end in The Last Jedi. The theory is that Darth Plagueis, in his attempts to create life, also figured out a way to cheat death by transferring his soul into a new host body and spread himself across the galaxy like a “plague” – the clue could be in the name.
Given that Palpatine killed Plagueis, it is possible that Palpatine’s body was then overtaken by Plagueis. Historically, the evil overseers in Star Wars lore have generally had an apprentice, so this theory would make some sense. Palpatine was training Vader to rule the galaxy alongside him and then after him, and even tried to get Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to switch over to the dark side, perhaps having him in mind as a possible host as well. Of course, following Vader’s redemption, Palpatine was defeated and his plan came to an end… or did it?
This brings us to The Rise of Skywalker and the return of Palpatine. It is possible that Snoke found Palpatine’s body in the wreckage of the Death Star and Snoke then became the host for Darth Plagueis. Of course, Snoke is no longer in the picture, but let’s not forget who killed him… Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). With Ren now having ascended to the role of the First Order’s leader, could it be that he is now Darth Plagueis?
There is certainly a lot to unpack here – and all of this just from a sinister laugh at the end of the trailer. Whatever comes to pass, we know that the reappearance of the Emperor is going to send shockwaves across the galaxy, and it is going to be one hell of a ride.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released on 19th December, so tweet us your Palpatine fan theories @Cineworld.
Sarah Buddery is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.