palpatine in the rise of skywalker

The one major element giving me pause about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the unexpected return of Emperor Palpatine. The character has had zero presence in these new movies, and he was clearly very dead at the end of the original Star Wars trilogy. Yet sure enough, he’s back in some form, his voice popping-up in the trailers, and his big goofy face up on the poster. How? Why? We’ll have to wait to find out the full story, but for now, Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams is defending the decision.

Palpatine is back. That’s not a spoiler – his face is on the dang poster. We just don’t know how he’s back. Is he a ghost? Traditionally – at least in the live-action movies – there are no Sith Force Ghosts, but the always-handy Star Wars wiki does have some info on this:

Certain Sith Lords had also discovered similar techniques. Occasionally their bodies would fade as Jedi would, though like Jedi this was not a prerequisite for becoming a Force ghost. It was not uncommon for the spirits of Sith Lords to remain, bound to the living world through an object, location, or simply due to the force of their malice and hatred. Unlike the Jedi, however, the Sith found little peace in this form, instead existing for restless centuries, eventually driven insane by solitude, memories, or dark side inflicted madness

We know from the trailers that the main characters in The Rise of Skywalker end up at the ruins of the Death Star from Return of the Jedi at some point, so maybe that’s the answer right there – the object/location Palpatine’s ghost is bound to is the Death Star wreckage. So far, so good, I guess. But…why? In the new issue of Empire, J.J. Abrams offers a defense of and an explanation of sorts about Palpatine’s return:

“Some people feel like we shouldn’t revisit the idea of Palpatine, and I completely understand that. But if you’re looking at these nine films as one story, I don’t know many books where the last few chapters have nothing to do with those that have come before. If you look at the first eight films, all the set-ups of what we’re doing in IX are there in plain view.”

I get where Abrams is coming from here, but I don’t buy it. If there had been some hint of Palpatine lurking about in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, I’d be fine with all of this. But there really isn’t. Sure, I guess you could argue that Snoke (R.I.P.) could’ve been working with unseen forces. But it ultimately feels like a cheat to me. I’m willing to give Abrams the benefit of the doubt and see how it all plays out in the final film, but for now, I remain skeptical.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens December 20, 2019.

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