The Emperor in Episode 9

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: one writer has a bad feeling about The Rise of Skywalker…)

The Star Wars: Episode IX trailer just blew up the internet, revealing some kick-ass action scenes, a stunning visual aesthetic, and a somewhat clunky title (Rise of Skywalker). The trailer as a whole was wonderful…until the end. At the tail end of all the exciting footage, a very familiar laugh was heard: that of Emperor Palpatine. And in case there was some doubt about what you heard, Palpatine himself – Ian McDiarmid  – came out on stage during the Star Wars Celebration, and asked to roll the trailer again in his Emperor voice. The crowd went wild. Everyone seems to be okay with this idea!

Except me.

Look, I don’t want to be negative right out of the gate here. I know most people are still riding high after watching the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer. And for the record, I think the trailer is pretty darn thrilling. The shot of Rey kicking ass at the start, the moment where Rey and Leia hug, the scenes of our main characters together at last, Luke’s narration – all of that is solid.

And then we come to the end. “No one’s ever really gone,” Luke says, at which point a sinister laugh rings out. All Star Wars fans will know that laugh – it belongs to the Emperor. And that’s the moment where my heart sank.

It’s too early to tell exactly what this means. All we can gleam from today is that the Emperor – and actor Ian McDiarmid – will have some sort of presence in the film. How can that be? The Emperor is dead, killed by his own apprentice, Darth Vader. So how will the character return? Is he a Force Ghost? Has he been cloned? Did he fake his death? (We actually have an entire article talking about the possibilities.)

Whatever the answer is, I don’t like it. It smacks of fan fiction, and it strikes me as incredibly lazy. To me, this feels like J.J. Abrams felt the final film in the trilogy needed a big bad, and rather than go about creating a new one, he decided to just do something extremely familiar.

The thing is, the film didn’t need a new big bad. The Last Jedi had already established Kylo Ren as shrugging off any kind of redemption Rey had to offer, and embracing his new leadership role in the wake of the death of Snoke. Why not keep Kylo as the villain? Why throw the Emperor into the mix at all?

Online reaction to this Emperor reveal seems highly positive, and the crowd at the Star Wars Celebration cheered their heads off when McDiarmind appeared. It appears I’m in the minority here, and folks are a-okay with this idea. If you’re one of them, that’s fine. I’ll just be over here, sulking in the corner, wishing Abrams wasn’t so afraid to take risks and try something new.

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

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