“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” baffled moviegoers by bringing back Emperor Palpatine without explanation (the film begins and all the characters readily accept the Sith lord is alive), but the much-debated plot point of Palpatine’s resurrection gets an answer at long last in Rae Carson’s upcoming novelization, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Expanded Edition).” Copies of the book were available at Chicago’s C2E2 convention this weekend and a passage explaining Palpatine’s return went viral on social media (via ScreenRant). When Kylo Ren first visits Palpatine on Exegol at the start of the movie, he notices the device keeping Palpatine alive and makes the connection that this iteration of the Sith lord is a clone of the original.
“He’d seen this apparatus before, too, when he’d studied the Clone Wars as a boy,” the novel reads. “The liquid flowing into the living nightmare before him was fighting a losing battle to sustain the Emperor’s putrid flesh. Kylo could feel in his very bones that this clone body sheltered the Emperor’s actual spirit. It was an imperfect vessel, though, unable to contain his immense power. It couldn’t last much longer.”
It turns out Snoke — revealed to have been artificially created by Palpatine — was not the only clone in the new “Star Wars” trilogy. The Palpatine clone reveal was not included in J.J. Abrams’ “Rise of Skywalker” theatrical release, but fans familiar with the old “Star Wars” expanded universe (kicked out of canon in April 2014) probably won’t be too shocked by the novel’s confirmation. The answer to Palpatine’s return in “The Rise of Skywalker” was written nearly 30 years ago in Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s “Dark Empire” comic book series. The first six-issue comic book run ran from December 1991 to October 1992. In “Dark Empire,” Palpatine is revealed to have survived his apparent death in “Return of the Jedi” by transferring his soul into a clone of himself that he had developed and saved in case he needed to be resurrected. The only difference is that in “Dark Empire” Palpatine’s clone is strong enough to support his soul — he’s capable of wielding a lightsaber and being formidable in battle — while in “The Rise of Skywalker” there is an imbalance between the spirit and its host.
“Dark Empire” revealed Palpatine was strong enough to transfer his consciousness into a new host, and that is the element Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio make official canon in “The Rise of Skywalker.” Why the writers did not make this implicitly clear in “The Rise of Skywalker” theatrical release remains unclear. Palpatine’s plan in the film includes him trying to transfer his consciousness into Rey, so it would not have been nonsensical for the film to begin with the information that Palpatine had already achieved such a goal with his own clone. Palpatine’s mission to take over Rey’s body might have been felt more dangerous had the viewer known the Sith lord was already more than capable of such an act.
For what it’s worth, “Dark Empire” even includes a secret Sith world that Palpatine kept in reserve, seemingly cut off from the rest of the empire: in the comic it’s called Byss, while in the film it’s Exegol. Even his Final Order fleet, with its planet-destroying laser cannons, recalls a star destroyer in “Dark Empire” that also has a superlaser — though one that can just destroy a planet’s surface, rather than the whole celestial body. That ship was called the Eclipse. And it should be noted that Palpatine tried to transfer his soul into Leia’s unborn son, much as he tried to do with Rey. And in his final defeat, in the comic titled “Empire’s End” all the Jedi that have ever been agree to keep Palpatine’s soul trapped in the Netherworld of the Force forever, so that he can return no more. A similar bit of dialogue at the end of “The Rise of Skywalker” has Rey say, in defeating the clone of her grandfather, “And I am all of the Jedi.”
More unanswered questions from “The Rise of Skywalker” are expected to be revealed in Rae Carson’s novelization, which will be available to purchase beginning March 17.