Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker introduces new aspects to the Force that’ll forever change the way we think about the Jedi and the Sith. One of the biggest canonical changes that impacts the film’s climax retroactively makes us look at Darth Plageuis and the infamous “Rule of Two” in particular in a totally new light.
Huge spoilers follow for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
At the start of Episode IX, Palpatine lures Kylo Ren to Exegol and promises him the Sith fleet if he kills Rey, but by the end of the film this feels like either a flat-out lie or a bold piece of misdirection. Instead, after Rey defeats Kylo Ren and heads to Exegol to confront her grandfather Palpatine, the Emperor drops perhaps the biggest of all Star Wars retcons. Grandpappy Palps claims that all of the Sith live in him. He urges Rey to kill him so that his spirit can possess her, and she/they would then rule the galaxy as “Empress Palpatine.”
In a radical way, this retcons what we know about the Sith Rule of Two, the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, and some of the biggest moments in Star Wars history. Here’s how.
Created by the Ancient Sith Lord Darth Bane, the Rule of Two was a guiding philosophy for the Sith for a millennium. “Two there should be,” he said. “No more, no less. One to embody power, the other to crave it.” The Rule contextualizes the master and apprentice dynamic through a ritualistic act of murder, but why was it implemented in the first place?
After a period of infighting in ancient times, the Sith were all but wiped out in a conflict against the Jedi. Darth Bane established the Rule of Two so that only two Sith Lords could exist at one time with the aim that the apprentice would kill the master and take on their own apprentice to continue the cycle.
Not only did this allow the Sith to plot in secrecy, but it also theoretically limit the strength of the Jedi. After all, as we’ve learned in the new sequels trilogy, the Force will always act to balance out the powers of the Light and Dark sides. So more Sith might simply mean more Jedi.
However, The Rise of Skywalker adds another wrinkle to the Rule of Two. The old adage often says the student becomes the master, but Palpatine is implying that through some kind of Dark magic, this becomes a bit more literal.
Palpatine makes it seem like if Rey were to kill him, his spirit would possess her. Is this literal? Or would the act of hate trigger her irrevocable transition to the Dark side? And is this power exclusive to Palpatine or was the succession of power occurring over and over again since the time of Darth Bane? If so, it’s possible that Darth Bane went on to possess his apprentice in this same way and that the murderous process kept on going and going up through Darth Plagueis and then Palpatine.
If that’s the case, then is Palpatine essentially just a vessel for ancient evil power of Darth Bane? This would also explain why Dark side Force users cannot manifest as Force ghosts — it’s because rather than pass on to the next form of existence, they instead fuse into one cosmic force.
In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine says to Anakin Skywalker that Darth Plagueis was “so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life.” This is exactly what Palpatine did to create Anakin in Shmi Skywalker’s womb. Did Palpatine learn this power in the traditional sense from Plagueis, or did he know it innately because he is Plagueis?
Palpatine recruited many apprentices over the years to do his bidding. Darth Maul, Count Dooku, and even Darth Vader were all instruments he used to exert control over the galaxy. Assuming this Rule of Two power transference can apply to anyone, why didn’t Palpatine just have Darth Maul or Count Dooku kill him so he could then possess their body? They probably weren’t powerful enough. And by the time Anakin approached his peak power levels, Obi-Wan Kenobi had chopped him up and left his body cooking on a Mustafar hillside.
Possessing Anakin in such a way may have been Palpatine’s original plan, but why would he ever want to transfer his essence to Darth Vader’s horribly maimed body?
Palpatine’s next-best option then became Anakin’s offspring, which is why the entire original trilogy involves Luke gaining enough power to eventually confront the Emperor. What’s one of the biggest things that Palpatine says to Luke?
“Take your weapon, strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the Dark side will be complete,” Palpatine says.
He doesn’t want to die. He’s not just taunting Luke knowing full well that Vader will block the strike. Maybe he knows that should Luke succeed in killing Vader and him, then this ancient malevolent spirit could simply possess Luke.
Palpatine probably doesn’t care who he possesses, so long as they’re strong enough in the Force. That’s why he preferred to manipulate Kylo Ren into fighting Rey first. Either Kylo or Rey could have served as a vessel for all the Sith spirits stored in the Emperor. So the question remains: What happened to all those Sith ghosts when Palpatine explodes at the end of Episode IX?
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now in theaters.