The end of the Skywalker saga was also the end of the Palpatine saga. We all know that Star Wars: Episode IX concludes with a Palpatine by birth —Rey — becoming a Skywalker in spirit. But what if it didn’t have to end that way? What if another wrinkle had appeared in the Star Wars lineages?
A new podcast interview with Matt Smith teases strange details about his Star Wars role that “never quite got over the line.” Here’s the full context surrounding Smith’s new tidbits, and what it means for a part that could have radically altered the most controversial Star Wars movie of all time. Speculation ahead.
What Matt Smith said about Star Wars: Episode IX
Back in 2018 and 2019, rumors swirled that Matt Smith was playing a top-secret role in Episode IX. At some point, his name even showed up on IMDb pages for the film. Most fans theorized that Smith was playing some young version of Palpatine, either as a clone or in flashback.
Although the bulk of the interview was focused on Smith’s role in Edgar Wright’s new horror-thriller Last Night in Soho, the discussion eventually turned to some of Smith’s other work (at about the 20-minute mark). Matt Smith revealed that he had played “young Ralph Fiennes” in Martin McDonagh’s 2008 In Bruges, but that his performance didn’t “make the final cut.” Podcast host Horowitz joked that every actor has to be cut from “something” in their career, which led to the discussion about Smith’s role for The Rise of Skywalker, another film he was associated with but ended up not appearing in.
Smith never shot any scenes for Episode IX. Here’s the bulk of his quotes from the podcast:
“We were close to me being in it, but then it never quite happened. I think the thing they were thinking of me for, eventually the part become obsolete...”
When Horowitz asked if Smith was playing “Palpatine’s son,” Smith responded:
“I could not possibly say, but it was a pretty groovy thing. It was a pretty groovy part and concept. It was like a big story detail. Like a transformative Star Wars story detail...It was a big...shift in the history of the franchise.”
Smith also suggested that “maybe I could come back.”
So what does all that mean? Here are the most likely options:
Theory 1: Young Palpatine in a flashback
Because Horowitz and Smith were specifically talking about another occasion in which he played a younger version of an older actor, in In Bruges, their segue into discussing Star Wars indicates that situation was perhaps similar. Smith isn’t exactly a dead-ringer for Ian McDiarmid, but they look just similar enough that he could believably play young Palpatine. Smith suggested — with wild Matt Smith gesticulations — that this part would have represented a big shift; literally anything in Palpatine’s past qualifies as major, given the shocking nature of his return.
Considering that TROS was all about upending assumptions around various lineages, and that Smith says eventually the part was “obsolete,” it seems possible that the film may have established Palpatine as Anakin’s father, more formally. But given the direction that the film moved in, perhaps that’s why Smith’s part wasn’t necessary. Still, if there was ever another Palpatine flashback, then yes, Matt Smith could “come back.”
Theory 2: A younger clone of Palpatine
Although a young Palpatine flashback works with almost any fan theory about Rise of Skywalker, the idea that Matt Smith was playing a young clone of Palpatine feels most likely, only because there was a precedent set for this in Dark Empire. As many fans know, Rise of Skywalker cribbed extensively from the 1991 Dark Horse Comics series Dark Empire, specifically the notion of Palpatine creating various clones to live forever. Within the context of that story, Palpatine had a clone body that was considerably younger than the Palps we all know; when Luke and Leia defeated him in that comic, that Palpatine was young Palpatine.
So, there’s certainly a version of The Rise of Skywalker in which literally everything is the same, other than the fact we also get a young Palpatine. The idea that a young Palpatine clone had been manipulating various things throughout Star Wars history checks with Smith’s comment that this was a “transformative Star Wars story detail.” Correlatively, you could also maybe assume the events of Dark Empire could have retroactively been inserted into the pre-Force Awakens backstory.
In Rise of Skywalker, Leia isn’t surprised at all that Palpatine returned. Perhaps there’s a version of the story in which this isn’t the first time Palpatine returned. In this sense, Matt Smith as a young Palpatine clone could have occurred in the present tense of the film, as well as possibly in a flashback. In the final version of Rise of Skywalker, we got young Luke and Leia lightsaber training. Was there once some version of the story in which we saw young Luke and Leia fighting Clone Palpatine, à la Dark Empire?
Currently, nothing in the 9ABY Mandalorian timeline would prevent the notion of a Young Palpatine clone running around. In fact, when Smith said he could “come back,” the most logical timeline that could happen in would be during the Mando/Ahsoka/Book of Boba Fett era. Think about it. By Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine is super-old again. But Rise of Skywalker takes place in 35 ABY — 30 years after the Mando era and about forty years after Return of the Jedi.
If Palpatine is alive in the Mando era (which we know to be the case) then he could certainly be played by Smith, finally.
You can listen to the Happy Sad Confused podcast right here.