As you may expect based on the headline, there will be a ton of spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” here, as well as for several previous “Star Wars” movies.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a very weird movie. It really functioned as a reworking of the entire “Star Wars” saga rather than just the conclusion of the story as we knew it, what with the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and all the plot baggage that came with him. What we see in this movie changes basically everything we ever knew about that character, if you care to think about all the implications.
But the film doesn’t really flesh out any of the details. It just is kinda like, “Hey! The Emperor is back, and now he wants to put his soul into Rey’s body!” But it does not, at least not in the finished cut, grapple with all the ramifications of the story it tells. We were left to sift through the rubble on our own.
But things are different now with the release of the “Rise of Skywalker” novelization, which is actually dubbed the “Expanded Edition.” This book, authored by Rae Carson, takes some of the plausible implications of the events of the film and makes them text, as well as plugging in holes we didn’t even know were there, and in the process it actively changes the past movies in the Skywalker Saga. And I don’t just mean thematic changes, like how the Emperor’s survival alters the meaning of “Return of the Jedi.” I mean that what was going on in that final confrontation between Luke, Darth Vader and the Emperor was not at all what you thought it was.
It’s pretty weird, but that’s where we’re at now. For the record, this article is not intended as criticism of Rae Carson, who I think did the best should could with what she had to work with. She didn’t write the movie, after all, and so I think none of this is her fault.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the ways “The Rise of Skywalker” book retcons the previous movies.
1. The Emperor wanted Luke to kill him at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”
So in this novelization, there’s some extra dialogue from Palpatine when Rey (Daisy Ridley) first meets up with him. The Emperor gives his pitch about how Rey can become the heir to the Sith legacy by killing him and thus allowing his spirit to live on in her. Rey is not into this idea of course, since she is a good person and all that.
And then, in the book version of this scene, Palpatine says something weird: “I’ve made this very proposal before. But on that unfortunate day Luke Skywalker had his father to save him.”
So, uh, that’s different. What this means is that in “Return of the Jedi” the Emperor was not just trying to get Luke (Mark Hamill) angry so he’d turn to the dark side. Instead, he was actually, literally trying to get Luke to murder him. Which in turn means that when Luke did take a swing at Palpatine and Darth Vader prevented the blow from landing, Vader was actually going against his master’s wishes.
This is an impossible reading of that scene, and even with the recontextualization provided by “The Rise of Skywalker” you still just cannot watch that scene and in good faith interpret it that way. But apparently this is canon now.
Something else fun to consider about this is that, by extension, Vader was probably in on that plan. And maybe even when Vader tried to get Luke to team up with him to destroy the Emperor in “The Empire Strikes Back” he was suggesting that because he was trying to keep his son from becoming the Emperor’s literal meat puppet. We could keep digging into all the ways this revelation changes the original trilogy, but I’d honestly rather not.
2. Snoke actually had nothing to do with Rey and Kylo Ren’s weird Force connection
So in “The Rise of Skywalker” they keep talking about how Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey are a “Dyad in the Force” or whatever, but they never actually explain what that means or if it’s some kind of crazy rare thing. The novelization finally provides some crucial details.
Apparently this Dyad thing just kinda happens sometimes, but is very rare. It’s not necessarily a natural occurrence, however, because according to the book the Sith had something called the “doctrine of the Dyad” way back before the whole Rule of Two thing. But more on that in the next item.
So back in “The Last Jedi,” when the connection between Rey and Kylo first began to manifest in the form of their weird FaceTime-esque communications ability, Snoke actually took credit for it. “It was I who bridged your minds,” Snoke declares.
But the “Rise of Skywalker” book, on the other hand, includes a scene where Palpatine does that FaceTime thing with Kylo Ren, and ole Kylo is shocked by how powerful he must be to be able to initiate such a connection. “Not even Snoke had been able to do it,” he thinks to himself.
There’s been a lot of jokes about this movie undoing “The Last Jedi” ever since we saw that shot of Kylo Ren’s repaired helmet in the trailer, but that mostly manifested in ignored plot setups and shifting creative direction, like Rose being relegated to being a background character.
But this is a direct retcon of “The Last Jedi.” There’s no acknowledgement in this story that Snoke even knew about their connection. Because if Snoke was the Emperor’s puppet, and Snoke knew enough about their connection to call it out, then surely Palpatine would have known about it too. But no, when Rey and Kylo Ren confront the Emperor together he acts utterly shocked that they’re a Dyad.
Whether this is an intentional decision by JJ Abrams or just a matter of forgetfulness, I can’t say. But this is a weird deal.
3. Palpatine had tried to create a Dyad with Anakin
So in the scene where Palpatine is freaking out because he discovers the whole Dyad thing, we get a little bit of insight into what’s going through the Emperor’s head as he tries to process this development. We learn that prior to the “one master, one apprentice” Rule of Two, the Sith had the “doctrine of the Dyad,” which Palpatine believes was way better.
And while it’s not clear at all if these connections are naturally occurring or manufactured — or if either is possible — Palpatine at least thought it was a bond that could be forged on purpose. And the Emperor ruminates on how he tried and failed to create a Dyad with Anakin back in the day.
This is a particularly weird bit just because we know absolutely nothing about how the Dyad works and so it’s not clear how anything he did with Anakin was intended to create that kind of connection. So this strange declaration is impossible to parse. We just have to accept it, I guess.
4. How the Emperor survived “Return of the Jedi.”
So technically the “Rise of Skywalker” movie already did this retcon just by having the Emperor in it, but the book actually detailed how Palpatine made it out. And the answer is: he teleported his soul out of his body to this Sith lair on Exegol. He did this before he died, as he was falling down that shaft in the Death Star. Okay.
5. Darth Plagueis couldn’t possess Palpatine for reasons
This is sort of a case of the “Rise of Skywalker” book retconning the “Rise of Skywalker” retcon of “Revenge of the Sith,” so bear with me as I try to explain it.
Back in “Revenge of the Sith” we got the famously memed “tragedy of Dark Plagueis the Wise,” in which Chancellor Palpatine tells Anakin the story of this Sith lord Plagueis who had learned all sorts of crazy powers, like manipulating midichlorians to create life and extending the lives of those he cared about. But then his apprentice, after learning all these techniques, killed Plagueis in this sleep. “Ironic,” Palpatine says, “He could save others from death, but not himself.”
So obviously Palpatine himself was that apprentice. He’d tailored this story specifically to seduce Anakin, who had been plagued with nightmares about Padme dying. But apparently, according to “The Rise of Skywalker,” he could also apply those life-saving dark side magics to himself, not just others. So this new movie is basically providing an update to that old story.
But it adds a new weird wrinkle that we don’t really have enough info to parse. So Palpatine keeps trying to get Rey to kill him so he can take her body, but he was able to move his spirit into a clone body without that clone being the one who killed him — plus in that situation his spirit exited his body before he had actually died.
So he doesn’t need to actually die in order to move his soul out of his body. But maybe if somebody strikes him down in anger it opens them up to being possessed? In any case, the issue here is that Plagueis developed this technique that lets you possess the person who kills you, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen when Palpatine murdered Plagueis.
The issue may be that Plagueis was asleep when it happened. But the “Rise of Skywalker” book just says that “Plagueis had not acted fast enough in his own moment of death.” I don’t know what that means, but all of this adds up to a pretty big shift in what the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise is really about.
6. Allegiant General Pryde outranks General Hux
Allegiant General Pryde is one of the better pieces of “The Rise of Skywalker” just because Richard E. Grant is a great actor doing good work and the character isn’t annoying or anything. But Pryde is a weird character to add at this point in the trilogy, and he’s so ill-defined in the movie that it’s not really clear why he’s there beyond just having him as another First Order guy.
But the book gives us lots of new info about this dude, and it’s all bad news for people who like coherent stories. First, he outranks General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). This is an explicit retcon of “The Force Awakens,” which firmly established the First Order hierarchy as having Snoke at the top and Kylo Ren and Hux immediately below him. But despite not appearing or being referenced in the previous two movies, Pryde is apparently the highest ranking military officer in the First Order.
Then it also turns out that Pryde has been directly working for the Emperor for decades, regularly reporting news back to Exegol and receiving orders. I don’t have anything else to say about this. It’s just seems weird and pointless.
And that’s the story of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”