Are 'Star Wars' Fans Overthinking Villainous 'Rise of Skywalker's Reveal?

Audiences have known what kind of story 'Star Wars' has been all along.

The current trilogy of Star Wars movies — newly christened the “Age of Resistance” era — is a story filled with ghosts, both figuratively and literally. But does the fact that it’s been established that ghosts exist in the Star Wars universe provide the key to the seeming mystery surrounding the promotion of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?

Both April's teaser and Saturday's D23 footage feature narration from characters who have died in earlier installments of the series, underscoring the importance of ghosts in the franchise as we head towards the home stretch. What Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells the audience in the first teaser makes it explicit: “We’ll always be with you. No one’s ever really gone.”

Characters returning to offer guidance from beyond the grave are a staple of Star Wars, and have been since the original 1977 movie, which wastes no time in letting Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi offer some helpful words after he’s been killed by Darth Vader. By the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, we see that Obi-Wan wasn’t alone in his post-mortem mentor position, as he’s joined by Yoda and Anakin Skywalker, restored to humanity after Darth Vader had a last-minute change of heart. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) brought the idea back to the fore when Yoda once again showed up to gently berate Luke Skywalker one more time. Death may not be meaningless in a galaxy far, far away, but it’s far from the end.

All of which makes speculation about how Emperor Palpatine has returned from the dead in Rise of Skywalker all the more confusing, if not utterly meaningless. The “special look” video doubles down on the laugh at the end of the teaser trailer, with Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine addressing some unknown character — and the audience — by saying, “Your journey nears its end.” Palpatine is, it seems, back.

(At least, he certainly says the last three words; for some reason, my ears tell me that they can hear traces of Hamill in “your journey,” as strange as that seems. It’s worth remembering that some people thought that Palpatine’s laugh in the teaser was actually Hamill; is there something here, or simply that a lot of us need to listen more carefully?)

The thing is, Palpatine being back shouldn’t really be a surprise. It’s not simply that he’s the Big Bad of six of the eight movies in the Skywalker Saga to date — and a more effective one than Supreme Leader Snoke from The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, let’s be honest — but also the fact that… why would anyone assume that Palpatine wasn’t a threat when we know that ghosts are a thing? Especially ghosts that like to manipulate — I mean, “mentor,” of course — powerful Force users for their own ends?

Sure, there are those who would argue that we’ve only seen good-guy ghosts to date, which might suggest that the Force only lets Jedi, not Sith, return — that’s a reading that’s arguably supported by the text so far, but one that ignores that the Jedi were also pretty problematic in their own way; it’s also an argument that can be answered easily with the simple reveal that we just haven’t seen the bad-guy ghosts until now.

Since the release of the Rise of Skywalker teaser, fans have speculated that the pic will see Palpatine resurrected, cloned, possessing another character — that the groundwork for such an eventuality, whatever it is, has already been laid in place by earlier movies, novels and cartoons. But there’s really no need for any of that. He could, simply, be a very powerful ghost, in the same way that we've seen Obi-Wan, Yoda and even Darth Vader be powerful ghosts. Star Wars has always been, in part, a ghost story. What better way for the Skywalker Saga to end than to deal with the reveal of the biggest, scariest ghost of them all?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is set to be released Dec. 20.