Emperor Palpatine wanted to live forever in Star Wars, and after seemingly dying in Return of the Jedi, he may have achieved immortality in a more transhumanist way than most of us have theorized. Could Palpatine have uploaded his consciousness into some kind of artificial intelligence network before he died, and that’s how he returns in Episode IX? One fan thinks it’s possible, and their convincing new theory sounds like the stuff of nightmares.
“Imagine going into a derelict Death Star wreckage, with Sidious’ haunting the hallways by appearing on holograms, his voice everywhere, controlling the doors, security systems, machinery, etc.,” the theory from redditor u/MasterofFalafels reads, leading to an important question: “Could Palpatine be A.I.?”
During the official Rise of Skywalker trailer, Rey and her companions look out at the wreckage of a Death Star in the ocean (we don’t know if this is Yavin 4, Endor, or somewhere else entirely) and the screen turns black as we hear Sheev Palpatine’s laughter. So we know he’ll also return in some capacity. Most theories assume Palpatine’s essence still exists akin to Voldemort in Harry Potter, and he’s looking for a host body to possess.
This whole A.I. theory, however, presents an interesting alternative.
Could Palpatine have “survived by uploading his consciousness or essence into some dark side technology supercomputer inside Death Star II”? Sure. Why not?
In the Star Wars universe, the main use of A.I. software is in droids or smart computers like the one aboard the Millennium Falcon, but they often have restraints put upon them. With the exception of C-3PO and a few others, most droids talk using chirps and beeps and can only follow orders.
There’s another curious exception in L3-37, Lando Calrissian’s companion droid from Solo: A Star Wars Story who modified her own hardware and software. After she deactivated due to injuries, Lando uploaded her neural core directly to the Falcon.
Uploading a human brain to some kind of artificial intelligence network would be a very different process, but it’s interesting that Solo established this strange retcon as a precedent for A.I-based transhumanist ideas. Which is to say that Palpatine uploading himself into an A.I. network is far more believable in a universe where Solo’s big twist about the Millennium Falcon is already canon.
For fans who’ve only seen the movies, there’s another hugely important detail from the comics and Star Wars: Battlefront II video game that fits in nicely with this theory.
Shortly after the destruction of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, a large number of red Sentinel droids were activated and dispatched throughout the galaxy to select members of the Imperial forces with instructions for the Contingency, Palpatine’s plan to destabilize the galaxy and destroy the Empire so that it could one day be reborn.
These Sentinels first appeared in the Shattered Empire comic book series and later used again in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novels, but arguably the most important appearance is during the Star Wars: Battlefront II single-player story campaign. In the video at the top of this article, Imperial soldier Iden Versio receives orders directly from one of these Sentinels.
In most cases, these Sentinel droids function as simple messengers. They verify the identity of the intended recipient, play a pre-recorded message from Palpatine, and distribute other pertinent information like coordinates. They aren’t really capable of interacting on a more human level, and any attempts to communicate further usually results in error messages in a more droid-like voice.
Incorporating a legitimate Palpatine artificial intelligence hive mind into this network of droids would be a really compelling way to unify all these elements into something more interesting. Many leaks and theories about Palpatine assume that his essence is trapped in some kind of MacGuffin device but that he also possessed Snoke for a time to rule over the First Order.
The Rise of Skywalker could involve the Emperor’s search for a new host, which has interesting implications for this A.I. theory. Based on everything we’ve seen and know about the film so far, it seems like such a device would probably exist in the ruins of the second Death Star. That would explain why Rey and her friends gather at this location.
Whether or not what’s going on here is actually a kind of artificial intelligence rather than some kind of Harry Potter-inspired Force-powered Horcrux might not even matter. In Star Wars canon, Dark side users cannot manifest a Force ghost. Instead, their only alternative is to attach their essence to some kind of object.
Could this also give Palpatine the ability to control the derelict systems of a Death Star like some kind of Force-wielding poltergeist? If Yoda can burn a tree down using the Force even after death, then this seems like a strong possibility.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be released December 20, 2019.