(This article, as you might expect from the topic, contains some major spoilers for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”)
There’s a lot to think about after viewing “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and there generally aren’t many answers out there for the questions that the movie sparks. And maybe the biggest questions we have all revolve around the return of Emperor Palpatine, who pops up out of nowhere, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, with “the biggest fleet the galaxy has ever seen.” It’s a weird thing, considering we all spent the last 37 years thinking he was super dead after “Return of the Jedi.
So if you’re gonna revive the Emperor, you gotta have a pretty good reason for doing it, and a pretty good explanation for how it was that he came back. And there have been any number of theories about it floating around since the first trailer ended with Palpatine cackling back in April.
The revelation that Emperor Palpatine would return in “The Rise of Skywalker” was definitely a big mystery of the type JJ Abrams loves — we’ve all been cracking jokes about his whole mystery box concept since the “Lost” days. And this one was a doozie because, again, we’ve all thought for the past several decades that Palpatine definitely for sure died at the end of “Return of the Jedi.” And as we learned in the prequels, it was extremely Anakin Skywalker’s destiny to kill him. So it was hard to guess how this would work, but it seemed like it would make the most sense for him to be a Force ghost who had been influencing events.
And now we’ve seen “The Rise of Skywalker,” and it turns out that, uh, I’m still not really sure how Emperor Palpatine ended up here. He’s not a ghost — he’s just still alive. And he claims that he “made” Snoke, as we see a shot of some cloning tubes containing more Snoke bodies. And he’s got a huge fleet of Star Destroyers that have been hidden under the Exegol ice. And each of those Star Destroyers, apparently, is equipped with a planet-killing Death Star superlaser.
None of this is explained in any way. I guess we’re just not supposed to think about it too much. I guess it wasn’t a mystery after all, because he simply is just in the movie because someone in our world decided he should be.
This is strange because back in “Return of the Jedi,” Palpatine was tossed into the Death Star’s reactor and appeared to actually explode. But even assuming he somehow survived that, just a few moments later the entire Death Star blew up, which seems like it would be a difficult thing to survive when you’re literally at the center of it. But as we see in “The Rise of Skywalker,” apparently folks who have talent with the Force can use it to do basically anything they want, no problem — including resurrection, which we saw Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) do for Rey (Daisy Ridley) at the very end of the movie. So anything and everything is possible if you think of it that way.
But he’s definitely still alive and not a ghost, though barely. The Emperor would be over 110 years old at this point, and it shows because he looks pretty gross, with his dead eyes and rotting fingers and all that stuff. And, of course, the whole point of his plan in this movie is to have Rey kill him, and she wouldn’t be able to kill him if he were presently dead.
So I have so many questions about this and no answers. I don’t know how he got a fleet of Death Star Destroyers or whatever you wanna call them. I don’t know why, when he was arranging for the rise of the First Order, he wouldn’t make use of some of them. Or why he would need the First Order at all when he has a fleet of Death Stars.
And I really don’t understand the Snoke thing. Since Snoke was literally a fake person, can we assume that everything he did can be attributed to Palpatine? If so, why would he direct the First Order to build Starkiller base instead — beating a dead horse here — using those Death Stars they already have? Or did he just let Snoke loose to do whatever and not really actively engage?
I also don’t understand what Luke knew or when he knew it about Palpatine. A couple decades before this new trilogy, Luke and Lando went searching for Exegol themselves. And in the present Luke and Leia both know about Rey’s family before she does, but we aren’t told how they know or when they learned it.
This is, I think, the big picture of why “The Rise of Skywalker” is so frustrating — crazy things happen, and there’s no way to figure out why those things happened just from watching the movie. Someday we will get answers, maybe from the finale of “The Mandalorian” next week, or from some novel or comic book. But right now, we have no meaningful answers.