How Much Is Emperor Palpatine Actually in 'Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker'?

It was the laugh heard round the world. Just after the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX revealed the official title — “The Rise of Skywalker” — we got an even bigger surprise: the all too familiar sound of Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s evil cackle. Palpatine actor Ian McDiarmid even showed up immediately afterward to confirm the big reveal, but how much of the Emperor will we actually see in The Rise of Skywalker? Interviews with director Star Wars: Episode IX director J.J. Abrams and McDiarmid himself may provide some clues.

The Emperor Offers Another Big Tease

Onstage at the Episode IX panel on Friday, McDiarmid didn’t reveal much, but in a Monday interview he divulged a bit more about his role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Specifically, he revealed that the laugh we all heard in the trailer wasn’t actually a new recording:

“I had no idea what the title was… but I have to tell you that that particular laugh was not specially recorded. They found it somewhere. Probably from one of the old movies or in a digital vault or maybe George’s iPhone.”

Watch the full interview here.

If the Emperor’s one line in the new trailer wasn’t actually recorded for The Rise of Skywalker, what does that say about his actual role in the movie? It’s not a great sign for Sheev fans, suggesting his involvement might be minimal, and a second quote from the actor only drives that point home:

In the same interview, McDiarmid recalled a conversation with George Lucas he had about the Emperor’s final scene in Return of the Jedi regarding whether his character was really dead. Here’s McDiarmid breakdown of how that discussion went:

McDiarmid: Is he…?

Lucas: Dead, yes.

McDiarmid: Well, couldn’t he perhaps…

Lucas: No. He’s dead.’

McDiarmid: Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if…?

Lucas: Forget it.

So, at least according to George Lucas, Palpatine really did die in Episode IV, which presumably means that we won’t learn he somehow miraculously survived to strike back yet again in The Rise of Skywalker.

Then again, maybe that’s no longer the case. After all, George Lucas isn’t calling the shots at Lucasfilm anymore…

J.J. Abrams Provides Some Much-Needed Clarity on Palpatine

Abrams has been pretty tightlipped about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — watching him dodge questions at the Episode IX panel was particularly painful— but in an interview with Empire Magazine, he spilled one very big detail.

Speaking to the publication, Abrams confirmed that McDiarmid was in fact on set during The Rise of Skywalker, all but confirming that he recorded new footage for Star Wars: Episode IX.

So we can probably expect some new footage of Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but whether that’s an actual in-the-melted-flesh return for the character or just some holographic footage played from beyond the grave remains to be seen.

We’ll just have to wait until Episode IX’s release (or McDiarmid’s next interview) to find out.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters in December 20, 2019.