Emperor Palpatine in 'Return of the Jedi'

Last week, the Force was disturbed by a Star Wars rumor so outlandish that it seemed to will itself into existence, kind of like the creepy dark side virgin-birth of Anakin Skywalker. After numerous outlets reported on a “leak” that suggested Emperor Palpatine himself would return at some point in Star Wars: Episode IX, even the most skeptical fans started saying “sure, why not?” Here’s the thing: there’s almost no way this rumor is true, but it could be accidentally right for a reason no one seems to have considered yet.

Reason 1: Mike Zeroh

The first reason why the Palpatine rumor is totally false is because it originates with a guy named Mike Zeroh, who has long been an enemy of nerd journalists trying to track down legitimate news about a galaxy far, far away. Back before many of us were on to him, we would get excited about his breathless descriptions of yet-to-be-released trailers for The Last Jedi. Yours truly was fooled by Zeroh’s “leaks” several times to the point that looking back on this stuff feels super embarrassing now.

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In February 2017, Zeroh’s description of a forthcoming trailer for The Last Jedi included a funeral procession for Han Solo, and Snoke delivering the line, “It’s time for a family reunion.”

Really! The rumor was that dumb! I mean, speculation about Han’s funeral made sense in early 2017, and there was a version of that scene in the Last Jedi novelization, but come on, “It’s time for a family reunion” has got to be the worst bit of made up Star Wars dialogue ever. It’s so bad, it’s even worse than some real Star Wars dialogue. (But it’s not worse/better than Anakin saying he hates sand in Episode II. That is the best/worst Star Wars line ever. Fight me.)

Reason 2: Too many ghosts

The second reason the Palpatine rumor doesn’t make sense is that it smacks of trying to shove too much stuff into Episode IX. If J.J. Abrams is going to bring any old Sith Lord back in this movie, it’s going to be Darth Vader not Darth Sidious (AKA Palps.) Search your feelings, you know this to be true. If some kind of Sith Ghost appears in Episode IX it’s going to be that hybrid Anakin/Vader ghost we heard so much about from The Force Awakens.

Yeah, that’s right, there was a huge idea to have Vader/Anakin’s ghost way back then, and it was so gnarly and cool there was even concept art created for the idea. The point is, if Abrams doubles-down on this idea, he’ll choose Vader over Palps to avoid crowding the movie with too many ghosts. We already know Luke will be a ghost so you do the math. The movie can only handle a finite number of ghosts before Abrams is forced to call it Star Wars Episode IX: The Haunting of Spaaaaaace.

Luke fights clone Palpatine in 'Dark Empire' (1991) Art by: Cam Kennedy
Luke fights clone Palpatine in 'Dark Empire' (1991) Art by: Cam Kennedy

Reason 3: They tried it already

Which brings us to the last reason the Palpatine rumor isn’t going to happen. Star Wars has done this before and it didn’t work. In the beloved 1991 comic book series Dark Empire it is revealed that Emperor Palpatine transferred his consciousness into a clone. In fact, it turns out, hopping from one clone body to another is kind of his jam, and at one point in the series he’s a young sort of Dracula-Palps who has a creepy lightsaber duel with Luke and threatens to pull a Rosemary’s Baby on Leia’s unborn child who is named Kylo Ren “Anakin Solo.” This was all great for Goth kids in the nineties, but this movie is being written by J.J. Abrams, not Neil Gaiman, so let’s leave any hopes of a Marilyn Manson-Palpatine in the past where he belongs.

The case for ghost Palpatine

Now, this isn’t to say the idea of Palpatine couldn’t crop up in Episode IX in some way, shape or form. After all, for hardcore fans, one of the craziest things that happened in The Last Jedi didn’t have anything to do with hyperspace jumps or Luke Skywalker astral projecting. Instead, Luke Skywalker saying “Darth Sidious” was pretty rowdy because it was some wicked-ass prequel lingo! (And then he said, “laser sword too!”)

The point is, Luke conjured up our image of Sidious/Palpatine without the character ever appearing. This could certainly happen again. And, it’s even conceivable that Episode IX could make it more than a verbal cameo. In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren mentions he has access to all the records of the Empire, which means, in addition to owning Darth Vader’s helmet, he could totally have a holographic recording of Emperor Palpatine, too.

Which, if we’re being honest, is the best possible way for Palpatine to appear in Episode IX. Just a scene of Kylo Ren in bed (shirtless) watching a static-filled old holo-recording of Palpatine on repeat. J.J. Abrams, please make this scene happen. You’re our only hope.

Star Wars: Episode IX is out in theaters on December 20, 2019.