If you have never cracked a Star Wars comic book published before the turn of the century, the notion of Emperor Sheev Palpatine’s return in all the trailers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may have seemed little ridiculous, but, old Palps pulled this off in 1991 in the comic book series Star Wars: Dark Empire — and that’s not the only detail this new movie and the classic Dark Horse comic have in common.
Is Rise of Skywalker just a Dark Empire rip-off? Is the whole Palpatine thing a coincidence? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle? Let’s break down the ways these two stories overlap, and also the ways they don’t.
Spoilers ahead for The Rise of Skywalker, and for the 1991 comic book miniseries Dark Empire.
⭐️ Here’s five big ways The Rise of Skywalker matches-up with Dark Empire.
5. The Emperor used cloning to come back
The Rise of Skywalker strongly hints that Palpatine used “cloning” to bring himself back to life. It’s never totally clear, but ole’ Palps is clearly doing some cloning at his hideout on Exegol, so this seems like a feasible explanation for his return.
Dark Empire makes things a lot more clear: Palpatine is back after reviving his spirit in a new clone body. Even worse, if someone manages to kill him, he can simply jump to another clone.
Was this how Palpatine survived in Rise of Skywalker? It’s as good an explanation as anything else we’ve heard so far.
4. A secret Sith planet is revealed
In The Rise of Skywalker, there’s a hidden Sith planet called Exegol located out in the Unknown Region where Palpatine has been hanging out. In Dark Empire, the Emperor is chilling on a creepy planet called Byss.
Now, Byss was not considered canon after Disney rebooted the canon in around 2014, but at least one game released for The Force Awakens included Byss on a hyperspace map. Meanwhile, Exegol is a totally new creation.
So if Byss is canon. Why didn’t J.J. Abrams just use it? Weird, right?
3. The Emperor announces his return with some kind of weird Force broadcast across the galaxy
The film’s open crawl starts by telling us the Emperor has sent out a spooky message to all the galaxy — a huge Force broadcast — in which he reveals his return and makes some sort of threat. He does something similar toward the end of Dark Empire, the difference being, there, he claims he doesn’t give a shit about the Alliance, he only cares about taking out the Skywalkers.
2. The Emperor’s plan to possess Rey/Leia
Toward the end of Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine says that if Rey kills him, he will live on inside of her. It’s an interesting twist that suggests the Sith’s “Rule of Two” is more complicated than we thought. Palps basically reveals that every time a Sith apprentice kills their master, all the previous Sith spirits pass into the killer. (It’s kind of like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but evil.)
This is kind of similar to what the Emperor says to Leia in Dark Empire. When Leia threatens to kill the Emperor in that comic, he says “Perhaps I’ll even live on in you.” So the idea of a dead Sith inhabiting the body of their murderer isn’t actually that new to Star Wars.
1. Luke turns to the Dark side/Rey is tempted by the Dark side
In Dark Empire, Luke straight-up turns to the Dark side because he wants to topple it from within. This is sort of similar to the idea that Rey has a vision of becoming the Sith Empress. Also, Luke’s entire persona in Dark Empire is pretty similar to Kylo Ren, and even some of his outfits are the same.
⭐️ Ok, there’s a lot of similarities, but here are five ways Rise of Skywalker is different from Dark Empire.
5. In Dark Empire, one of the Emperor’s Clones is young and hot
At one point in Rise of Skywalker, the Emperor sucks the life energy out of Rey and Kylo Ren to rejuvenate himself. However, in Dark Empire, one of the Emperor’s clone bodies is a 30-something youngish man who’s actually kind of attractive.
Maybe this was an idea Lucasfilm was kicking around? Could Matt Smith have been cast as the young Emperor at some point after all? Do his deleted scenes exist somewhere?
4. Dark Empire takes places only six years after Return of the Jedi
Obviously, the timeline is totally different. In Dark Empire, Luke and Leia are relatively young and the Rebel Alliance is still struggling to maintain the New Republic they establish after the fall of the Empire. By comparison, Rise of Skywalker takes place three decades after Return of the Jedi; the New Republic is gone and the First Order is gathering strength — until Palpatine shows up and takes control.
3. The good guys have a lot more resources in Dark Empire
Not only is the timeline difference, but the politics are too. The Rebel Alliance/New Republic has plenty of resources in Dark Empire, while the Resistance is scrappy and low on resources in Rise of Skywalker.
2. The Emperor’s superweapon in Dark Empire is way cooler than Rise of Skywalker
While The Rise of Skywalker has generic planet-killing weapons attached to the new/old-school Sith Fleet, in Dark Empire, the Emperor had something much cooler; the World Devastators.
These things didn’t blow-up planets outright. Instead, they kind of vacuumed up everything of value and then turned that stuff into weapons and ships it could use. So, imagine the Borg from Star Trek, but in this scenario, the ships can churn out self-driving robotic TIE Fighters in like three seconds.
World Devastators were scary, but they were also practical. They employed recycling as a way of making more Dark Side weapons. And, because a lot of those TIE Fighters were automated, it solved the pesky problem of figuring out where the Emperor quickly recruited so many new troops and followers.
1. Boba Fett is alive in Dark Empire
In Dark Empire, we learn that Boba Fett actually survived the Sarlacc pit. Sadly, Boba never shows up in Rise of Skywalker — but we still have hope he might turn up in The Mandalorian.
Would Rise of Skywalker be better as a straight adaptation of Dark Empire? Maybe, but sadly we’ll never know.
There’s enough unused stuff in Dark Empire to inspire a whole new Star Wars movie, or even a Disney+ show, but it seems unlikely we’ll get another story about Luke, Leia, and Palpatine anytime soon.
The Rise of Skywalker is out now. You can grab Dark Empire here.