Like it or not, the Emperor is back. You can expect to see Sheev Palpatine’s wrinkly old face in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — unless this entire marketing campaign is a huge fakeout — but we still don’t know how the Resistance will defeat the Sith Lord once he returns. However, one intriguing new theory identifies a pattern in the way Lucasfilm has retconned the death of the galaxy’s greatest villains to reveal the only Jedi who can beat Palpatine in Episode IX.
Speculative spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker below.
Shared on Reddit by u/goodbeanz in a post titled, “Obi-Wan vs Maul can tell us something about the story for Ep. 9,” this theory makes a compelling argument that even when Star Wars brings a dead Sith back to life, the “impact of their original fight remains intact.” In other words, even if it turns out Emperor Palpatine didn’t die at the end of Return of the Jedi, the narrative payoff of Darth Vader betraying his master won’t be undone in The Rise of Skywalker.
The evidence? The death, rise, and death of Darth Maul. The Sith apprentice famously “died” at the end of Episode I the Phantom Menace only to survive his dismemberment and return in other Star Wars materials, leading to that surprise twist in Solo. Ultimately, Maul dies in a duel with an elderly Obi-Wan Kenobi in the canonical Star Wars cartoon Rebels.
So even if you only watched the core Star Wars movies, your understanding of how Darth Maul dies is still technically correct. Obi-Wan kills him either way, it’s just a question of when.
What does this mean for The Rise of Skywalker? Well, the same basic logic should apply to Palpatine. It’s okay if the Emperor didn’t actually die in Episode VI as long as Vader/Anakin still gets to kill him in Episode IX. Anything else would undo the impact of that original, epic conclusion.
“Similar to the Obi-Wan and Maul final fight, this “rematch” can thematically add to their original fight while ensuring the impact of the original fight remains intact,” u/goodbeanz writes.
Of course, this whole theory depends on Anakin Skywalker actually showing up in Star Wars: Episode IX. So far, Hayden Christensen hasn’t been confirmed for a role in the movie, though a few clues do suggest Lucasfilm is hiding a secret cameo.
Assuming that he does show up, we also don’t know whether it will be as a Force ghost or a physical being. The return of Anakin in the flesh seems unlikely, especially since he totally died and became a Force ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi. (We never actually saw Palpatine’s dead body, but we saw Vader’s.)
Still, even if Anakin Skywalker only returns as a Force ghost in The Rise of Skywalker, maybe his presence alone will be enough to motivate Rey and the Resistance to kill Emperor Palpatine one final time.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters on December 20.