“Somehow, Palpatine returned.” With the dust long since settled on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, these might be the most contentious words in franchise history — more controversial even than “Whoa, yousa guys bombad!”
Recently, Lucasfilm Story Group member Emily Shkoukani penned a detailed look at Palpatine’s “Contingency Plan,” and how it all worked out, for StarWars.com, ever a reliable resource for those still tearing their hair out over the details of the Emperor’s improbable return.
Perhaps the most interesting revelation in this new piece of Star Wars canon is related to the moment of Palpatine’s resurrection — and made more sense in 1991, when depicted during the moody comic book series, Star Wars: Dark Empire. Here’s what you need to know about the return of the Emperor. Mild Palpatine spoilers ahead.
What we’ve learned about Palpatine’s return
Part of a series of in-canon explainers called “Star Wars Inside Intel,” this feature unites the different areas of canonical information about Palpatine post-Return of the Jedi into one very readable essay. From the Aftermath novels to the Battlefront games, to references in The Mandalorian and beyond, this piece by Shkoukani is clearly written and easy to follow.
Taken together with Kristen Baver’s Skywalker: A Family at War, the Lucasfilm Story Group appears to be pushing into pseudo-non-fiction about the Star Wars galaxy, which could yield plenty of revelations that will appeal to canon-obsessed fans.
But, what do we really learn about Palpatine’s TROS resurrection in this piece that we didn’t know already? Shkoukani’s focus on laying out clean details offers plenty of clarity, rather than a mind-blowing truth bomb. Here’s the most important paragraph:
“When Palpatine was killed on the second Death Star, his consciousness transferred to a clone of his own body on Exegol but the body was too weak to contain him. This led to Palpatine creating more clones and strand-casts of himself in the hopes that one would offer a more suitable vessel for him to inhabit. All of this effort ultimately culminated in Rey, the daughter of one of Palpatine’s strand-casts.”
According to this, Palpatine simply zipped his consciousness into a waiting clone body on Exegol the instant he died on the Death Star. Presumably, this means all the screaming as he fell down the reactor shaft was for the benefit of the legendary father-and-son duo who’d betrayed him.
Rey’s father was born in a laboratory, according to this explanation, but not as an exact clone of Palpatine. Instead, he was a “strand-cast,” a specific kind of clone cast from a DNA strand.
Dark Empire — reloaded
Although it’s not outright acknowledged in this new text, the non-canon (Legends) comic book series Dark Empire is very clearly the inspiration for the return of Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker.
For fans, this isn’t exactly news. But what this new essay spells out is pretty clear: Palpatine’s clone bodies were too weak to contain a being with his powers, and so he needed new bodies all the time. In Dark Empire, set six years after Return of the Jedi, Luke discovered Palpatine hiding on the planet Byss, which like Exegol, was hard to get to. When Luke finds Palpatine, he’s both surprised and not surprised. Luke asks how the Emperor returned, and he said:
“You see, my friend, flesh does not easily support this great power! For many years I have been under dire necessity! My body has decayed again and again...and each time I have needed to take another...a humble clone of the man I once was......the dying is painful and the transition is not an enjoyable experience. But the suffering is a small price to pay...for enteral life! After all, I live primarily as energy...formlessness...and power!”
Although the new “Inside Intel” piece alludes to the idea that Palpatine can exist outside of a physical body, the Dark Empire detail that Palpatine exists “primarily as energy” takes that to an entirely different level.
It’s also much simpler than the complex backstory fans have been forced to piece together involving midichlorian-enriched blood, which was presumably pumped into these various clone bodies. Shkoukani doesn’t mention midichlorians in the “Inside Intel” piece; of course, in 1991, Dark Empire writer Tom Veitch wasn’t aware of them, because they weren’t introduced until eight years later in The Phantom Menace.
Still, the idea that Palpatine could exist as a formless cloud of Dark Side energy is cool and feels like another potentially great concept The Rise of Skywalker left unexplored. The Jedi appear perfectly content to live on as ghosts, and apparently can even imbue their ghost powers into people’s bodies, as Rey at one point becomes all the Jedi.
The Rise of Skywalker establishes that Palpatine died on Exegol because Rey melted his face off using the Force. But Dark Empire presupposes is that Palpatine's body could live on after death. In fact, after Dark Empire ended in 1992, a sequel miniseries called Dark Empire II was published in 1995. And guess what: Palpatine comes back to life as a younger clone in that series, too. How? You guessed it: More clones!
Could Palpatine return again?
Because rules around the Force and cloning were less complex in the ‘90s than they are in the current canon, Palpatine’s comeback was once an easier concept for fans to swallow.
Dark Empire perfectly split the difference between explaining too much and not explaining enough. And while this left the door open for Palpatine to keep coming back, that was kind of the point.
These days, the Lucasfilm Story Group is working to fill in these gaping plot holes, but the truth is that Palpatine’s resurrection was much cooler and creepier back in the day. And, on top of all of that, Dark Empire gave us the one thing Rise of Skywalker didn’t: A Young Hot Evil Palpatine clone.
If Palpatine ever returns to actual Star Wars canon again, it seems like this would be the only way it could work. If the Emperor had a contingency plan, maybe he had a contingency for that contingency. And if that’s the case, then a young Palpatine clone could be lying in wait.
You can read more about Palpatine’s plan on StarWars.com right here.