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‘Rise of Skywalker’ spoilers: Trailer may hint Emperor Palpatine never died

Emperor Sheev Palpatine returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and based on the trailer released Monday night, it’s starting to seem like rather than some kind of magical resurrection, the Sith Lord may have been alive this entire time.

“Long have I waited,” Palpatine says in the trailer as we watch a massive Star Destroyer rise from under the ground, “and now your coming together is your undoing.”

Either this is a deliberate fake-out — which Disney has done in previous Star Wars trailers — or we’re meant to draw a connection between Palpatine and his hidden Sith fleet, that they’ve both been in hiding all this time. The language here makes it seem like the latter is the case.

If Palpatine were truly dead, how would he be actively waiting around for anything? Before you assume he spent all those years as a Force ghost, think again: The Clone Wars established that the Sith, or any kind of Dark side Force user, cannot manifest themselves in spirit form. Only the good guys can do that.

Palpatine in 'Return of the Jedi'.Lucasfilm

The closest thing Dark side users can manage is to attach their essence to an object of great power and influence people who come into contact with it. As far as we know, an essence like this doesn’t really “exist” in the traditional sense unless it’s directly engaged, communicating directly with a living body and/or using it as a host.

The closest point of comparison is Lord Momin, who stored his essence in his helmet and resurrected himself centuries later by manipulating Darth Vader into building a monument that opened directly into the Force.

For all the times Sheev Palpatine waxed philosophical in the prequel trilogy about achieving immortality, it was always more about preserving and extending life than magical resurrection.

When he talks of Darth Plagueis, he says, “He had such a knowledge of the Dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” Palpatine also studied these Dark aspects of the Force and infused them with modern medical technology. Remember, this is the guy who thought harvesting Anakin’s maimed, charred body from the slopes of Mustafar was a good idea because he knew that he had the means to preserve his life.

Palpatine rescues Anakin's maimed body on the slopes of Mustafar.Lucasfilm

Think of Vader’s many physical limitations, however. He could barely breathe, and he often had to sit around in various containment units to heal some of the damage done to his body. We once saw Luke Skywalker survive a fall down a ventilation shaft in The Empire Strikes Back. We even saw Leia fly through space without a suit in The Last Jedi. For The Rise of Skywalker to retcon Palpatine’s apparent death at Vader’s hands from Return of the Jedi isn’t really that outlandish.

Still, Palpatine would be around 120 years old had he survived until the current trilogy, and assuming he took at least some physical damage from the fall, then he probably can’t do much these days. That brings us to what appears to be a hovering throne in the new Rise of Skywalker trailer or less likely, an anime-inspired mecha suit. Palpatine still wears a black hood, but he’s probably strapped into some kind of contraption that preserves his already artificial long life. Fusing Dark Force powers with metal and machinery has always been his bag, so why would he stop?

“Now your coming together is your undoing,” he also says during the trailer. The only possible explanation I can see of this is that Palpatine needed powerful Force users to rise so that he might harvest their power. That was probably part of his plan all along, and it could be an explanation for why Luke Skywalker cut himself off from the Force for all those years. He may have sensed Palpatine’s evil, even if he couldn’t identify him directly.

What if Rey and Kylo Ren team up against Palpatine in the end, but it turns out to be exactly what he wants? Together, they bring balance to the Force — and enough raw power that he can drain to finally grant him true eternal life. Then it would be their coming together that would lead to their undoing, or so Palpatine thinks.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be released in theaters December 20, 2019.

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