Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker speculation, and therefore possible spoilers, lie ahead.

In the newly released trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, we hear a familiar laugh. Sheev Palpatine. And was that the second Death Star? How could something like this happen? How is this even possible?

Well, we’ve compiled all the scenarios, from least likely to most likely, just so you have the analysis you need.

palpatine in episode 9

A Clone on the Second Death Star

There’s every chance that this laughing could belong to a clone of Palpatine. This is such well-trod territory from the Legends universe, but there are clues that could be twisted to support it in the current canon. For one, Palpatine put a lot of resources into the unknown parts of the galaxy: money, materiel, and people. It’s not inconceivable to think that he was the power behind SNoke, stockpiling an army out there on his own.

As for the cloning, there’s certainly a precedent for cloning, that’s what the entire war that Palpatine gained his power in was fought for. But as far as transferring his intelligence, there’s precedent for that, too. Doctor Cylo in the Marvel comics was able to create a memory matrix that transferred his consciousness from one cloned body to another every time his previous body was killed. He made it to at least six of these jumps before Darth Vader put a permanent end to those shenanigans. There was also the consciousness of Rur, an ancient Jedi who had his thoughts implanted into a crystal in the Doctor Aphra comics.

Verdict: Highly Unlikely – This is something that’s not impossible in the canon, but it’s familiar territory across the life of the project and Disney has been pretty hell-bent on giving us something new and unexpected.

A World Between Worlds

In Star Wars Rebels, Ezra Bridger found a nexus of the Force that showed a number of windows into the past through the Force. This place was found through a portal in the Jedi temple on Lothal. Palpatine knew of these portals and was seeking to subvert them to his wills, but Ezra Bridger foiled those plans after saving the life of Ahsoka Tano in the past.

Palpatine recreated one of these portals in the hangar bay of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Star Destroyer Chimaera, but he still needed a user of the light side to manipulate it. He seemed to have no way to access it. If one of these portals had been leftover, there’s a chance that Palpatine could be reaching through time.

Verdict: Unlikely – Both portals we saw originated on Lothal and were both destroyed. And the time travel wasn’t time travel. They were closed loops where no paradoxes occurred because what happened in the past always happened in the past.

A Fan Re-creation

Kylo Ren as the ultimate Sith fanboy is another possibility. In the canon, there are stand-ins of Palpatine that exist. Called Sentinels, there are robotic servants of Palpatine who were programmed to carry out orders with his final wishes should he die. They look very much like the Praetorian guards that guarded Snoke, but with viewscreens for heads that gave Palpatine a very Madame Leota sort of feel. They were first introduced in Battlefront II, which has already had elements of it incorporated into the films (like Luke’s compass from The Last Jedi) so this seems like it could be valid. We know that Kylo Ren collected his grandfathers helmet from the funeral pyre on Endor, why not other artifacts of the Empire like this?

Verdict: Possible – This is a sensible way to get this bit of imagery and sound into the film without doing a lot of backflips. And it would certainly fit in with the pattern of misdirection in marketing that JJ Abrams is so fond of. “Palpatine’s alive?!” we say after the trailer. Then after the movie we go, “Oh, it was just a robot in a fan-designed bedroom.”

Ian McDiarmid

Theatre of the Mind

To my mind, the most likely possibility is that this sequence is something playing out in the minds of both Kylo Ren and Rey. Or even just one of them.

To my mind, the most likely possibility is that this sequence is something playing out in the minds of both Kylo Ren and Rey. Or even just one of them.

The precedent set that could take us here is a combination of elements from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. In The Force Awakens, Rey is transported back to iconic battles through the Force as soon as she touches the Skywalker lightsaber. This is something that we’d never seen or heard before and could have been a hint at why we might see and hear things like we did in the trailer. This would fit with George Lucas’s original blueprint for Star Wars, too. In a 1983 interview, George Lucas told an interviewer about his future plans for Star Wars. “The [prequel] trilogy is social and political,” he said. “The second [classic] trilogy is more about personal growth and self-realization, and the third [sequel trilogy] deals with moral and philosophical problems. The sequel is about Jedi Knighthood, justice, confrontation and passing on what you have learned.”

We’ve seen much of this play out in Rian Johnson’s brilliant The Last Jedi, but theatre of the mind in this fashion would put the icing on that cake.

Verdict: Likely – I think this is the one that fits the most with what we’ve seen before and what the intentions for these movies were. But, as anything, we won’t know for sure until the film actually comes out.

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