Emperor Palpatine returned from apparent death to threaten the galaxy one more time in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, but we never find out how he survived in Return of the Jedi or was somehow resurrected 30 years later. However, an official Star Wars book released in 2019 and set before the events of Episode I: The Phantom Menace may explain not only how Palps came back, but exactly when it happened.
The answer comes from an ancient Jedi prophecy uncovered by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn:
“When the righteous lose the light, evil once dead shall return.”
What does that mean? And what does it reveal about Emperor Palpatine’s timeline in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Read on to find out.
Spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker below.
The quote in question from from Master & Apprentice, an in-canon story published in April 2019. The book follows Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in the time before the prequels and reveals multiple prophecies that could illuminate the future of the Star Wars story. (Leave it to Qui-Gon to go deep on prophecies.)
One of those prophecies could even reveal the true nature of Baby Yoda in the Mandalorian, but today, we’re talking about what it means for the “evil once dead” to return — which, having seen Rise of Skywalker, seems like a pretty blatant reference to Palpatine.
So that part’s squared away, but what about the first half of the prophecy? What does “When the righteous lose the light” really mean?
On Reddit, where this prophecy was reshared over the weekend by redditor u/ThisWasTomorrow, fans chimed in with the comments to offer some interesting theories for what it could mean.
“Lost the light” suggests someone or a group of people turning away from the Light side — like Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. And the most obvious parallel here is Ben Solo’s transformation into Kylo Ren. If that’s what triggered Palpatine’s resurrection, then we know it happened a few years before The Force Awakens.
Overall, this makes sense, though it doesn’t explain how Palps could have influenced Kylo to turn to the Dark side in the first place — which the Emperor pretty blatantly claims to have done. However, there’s another option that ties these plot threads together even better.
What if the “righteous” losing their light that the prophecy refers to the entire New Republic? The government that sprung from the Rebellion after the fall of the Empire clearly had good intentions at some point, but it’s no secret that the New Republic quickly became just as imperfect as the Galactic Senate that ruled during the prequel trilogy.
In The Mandalorian, former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune even describes her disgust with working for the New Republic. In one poignant scene, she explains how her job changed from fighting the Empire to shutting down citizen riots before she eventually quit altogether.
It’s possible this could be the moment that the New Republic lost its light, allowing the prophecy to come to fruition and for Palpatine to return. In that case, ole’ Palps was only dead for a few years before everything went south and he came back, though he would have spent a few decades quietly plotting his revenge before revealing himself to the galaxy in Rise of Skywalker.
And if that’s the case and Palpatine is already back during The Mandalorian, maybe that explains why the remains of the Empire are so hellbent on getting their hands on Baby Yoda. That little green Force-user could play a key role in keeping a resurrected Palps alive while he plans his ultimate revenge.