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[This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker]
Many Star Wars fans came out of The Rise of Skywalker baffled about Palpatine’s return, complaining that his master plan was illogical, inconsistent and maybe even a little convoluted. Luckily, The Hollywood Reporter contributors (and Star Wars experts) Andrew James Myers and Dan Gvozden are here to attempt to answer all the questions you have about what exactly J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm have been planning for years. This deep dive into Palpatine’s Final Order promises to clear everything up about how the Emperor’s whole plan actually makes total sense if you think really hard about it.
Let’s start from the beginning: how did Palpatine come back in The Rise of Skywalker? Didn’t he die in Return of the Jedi?
Well, you know, Sheev Palpatine always had a Plan B in the case that whole Galactic Empire thing didn’t work out. It turns out he ran a Sith cult on the hidden world of Exegol in the Unknown regions. His loyalists there, called the Sith Eternal, were ready and waiting to transfer his spirit into a reconstructed body in the case of his death. This contingency plan was triggered at the end of Return of the Jedi, when Vader betrayed Palpatine and threw him into a pit aboard the Second Death Star.
Wasn’t the Second Death Star already a Plan B? In case the first Death Star was destroyed.
Fine, this is Plan C.
Where did Palpatine get his powers to cheat death?
The Rise of Skywalker directly references a key line of dialogue from the prequel trilogy when Palpatine tells Kylo Ren, “the Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” According to Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, his master Darth Plagueis “had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” Palpatine learned everything his master knew, including this technique to cheat death, and then killed him in his sleep.
If Plagueis had the power over death, why did Plagueis not use it to come back to life?
Ah-ha, see, that was the one limitation of his power: “Ironic. He could save others from death, but not himself.”
So by that logic the technique Palpatine learned from Plagueis was how to save others from death, not himself. So that doesn’t explain at all how he came back.
Well he must have figured it out at some point then.
So we really have no clue how Palpatine came back, do we?
He probably just doesn’t like talking about it.
Has Palpatine been the one pulling the strings in the background of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi?
Of course. He’s been the phantom menace all along.
How did the big bad from the last two films, Supreme Leader Snoke, fit into Palpatine’s plans?
Palpatine’s Sith Eternal genetically engineered Snoke as an empty vessel that he could control like a puppet. Palpatine was actually the one leading the First Order, controlling every word and action of Snoke.
Why did Palpatine hide behind the persona of Snoke instead of ruling the First Order?
For safety, in case somebody tried to betray him again. Palpatine revealing himself as the true leader was the backup plan, in case Snoke was killed.
So we’re on Plan D now?
So Palpatine’s Plan D is that he’s going to personally re-assume the throne of Emperor of the entire galaxy, right?
No that’s plan F. Don’t jump ahead like that.
Then what is Plan D?
Rey Palpatine will join the Sith and be installed as Empress of the galaxy. There she will rule over the Final Order and its Sith fleet of Star Destroyers, each one equipped with a Death Star laser.
But that doesn’t work out, right?
Stop jumping ahead!
So, Plan D begins with Palpatine broadcasting to the galaxy that he’s back. Why announce that to everyone?
He wanted to draw Kylo Ren to him.
Couldn’t he have just spoken to Kylo Ren directly, as he did in the persona of Snoke?
Well, yeah. But this is the same guy who threw floating senate pods at Yoda as he was destroying the Republic. Subtlety isn’t his thing.
How did Palpatine procure a Sith fleet of thousands of Xyston-class Star Destroyers, each equipped with a Death Star laser?
He built it over the past several decades, utilizing the work of all his Sith Eternal cultists on Exegol.
But wouldn’t someone have noticed a fleet of that size, with that much firepower?
Not on a planet as remote as Exegol. Besides, even if they found their way to Exegol, there’s no way they’d find it hidden under the ice.
So, why even provide clues, in the form of wayfinders, for people to find? Wouldn’t that put the fleet at risk of being found?
Not if the wayfinders were nearly impossible to find.
Then, why have wayfinders at all?
Well, so that the Sith could travel through the dangerous and confusing Unknown Regions of space if they ever needed to find Exegol. They are like that map to Luke Skywalker from The Force Awakens.
How did Palpatine ensure that only Sith would find the wayfinders?
Well, he had the Sith Eternal hide them in places important to the Sith but dangerous to everyone else, like Mustafar and inside the ruins of the Second Death Star’s throne room. And then he had them make escape-room-type clues where you would have to translate an illegal language inscribed on a special protractor dagger with a silhouette puzzle.
So why unveil the Sith fleet now and not during the Battle of Starkiller Base, just a year earlier, when the Resistance attacked the First Order’s largest superweapon?
He thought they’d be fine. The Sith fleet was his backup Plan D.
So why unveil the Sith fleet now and not during the Battle of Crait, just a year earlier, when the Resistance could have been wiped out in one shot?
Again, he thought they’d be fine. The Sith fleet was his backup Plan D.
Why not just make the Sith fleet Plan C?
Why go in with an axe when you can operate with a needle?
Palpatine is a man of refined tastes, like Mon Calamari opera. He knows just the right amount of giant space lasers necessary to create sportly drama. Besides, a few losses here and there is just the right thing to harden Kylo Ren.
Even still, it seems kind of like overkill for a backup plan. Were thousands of Star Destroyers with Death Star superlasers really necessary?
Yes. It’s not like all the thousands of Star Destroyers had Starkiller Base superweapons on them.
So, back to Palpatine himself, why does he want to pass the torch to a new ruler? Wouldn’t that mean he dies?
Palpatine is weak and barely kept alive through massive machinery and the corrosive magic of the Dark Side. He knows death is coming for him and has no way to prolong it any further.
Couldn’t he just do what he did before and recreate a new cloned body of himself using the unexplained resurrection powers that brought him back in the first place?
Has Palpatine accepted that he is going to die then?
Sort of, but he believes his spirit can live on by possessing the new Empress, in the same way that every other previous Sith currently possesses his body.
Wait, what? How does that work?
It’s part of the Rule of Two. Every Sith Apprentice kills their master, then absorbs their master’s spirit. Recursive possessions have accumulated over thousands of generations such that Palpatine is now literally “all the Sith.”
That seems like a big deal. Why hasn’t anyone ever mentioned Palpatine being “all the Sith” before?
Nobody ever asked.
So Palpatine’s Plan D is that he will be one of thousands of Sith spirits cramming into the body of Rey? That sounds less like a galactic dictator and more like a low-level bureaucrat.
Like it or not, that’s his plan. Immortality has its downsides.
How exactly does Palpatine intend to turn Rey into the Empress?
Though a long-established Sith ritual. If she kills him in anger, he will be able to enter her body and take control. It’s a well-established Sith rule — everybody on Exegol knows about it!
Why have we never been introduced to this important ritual until the very end of the nine-film saga?
That whole “strike me down” routine is actually what Palpatine was doing in Return of the Jedi, when he taunted Luke Skywalker to kill him in hatred. He wanted this to happen so that he could possess Luke’s body.
But when Luke tried to strike Palpatine, Darth Vader immediately stepped in to protect the Emperor. If the Emperor actually planned this as a Sith possession ritual, wouldn’t he have primed Vader ahead of time to let Luke go through with it?
Seems like a big missed opportunity for this master planner…
You know what? I remember. He didn’t want Vader to get any ideas and go through with the ritual himself. Right?
Too much competition. That’s why he had to get it right the next time, with no interlopers (well, other than thousands of Sith Eternal cultists).
If at first you don’t succeed, make more backup plans.
So, he’s going to try the same ritual sacrifice thing again with Rey now?
How long had Palpatine been planning to bring Rey to Exegol?
He had been searching for her ever since she was a little girl. He picked up the trail again when Kylo told Snoke/Palpatine about Rey in The Force Awakens.
He wanted to possess the body of a little girl?
Obviously. That didn’t work out though, so now he’s going to possess her as a 20-year-old woman.
Is that why he (as Snoke) connected Kylo and Rey through the Force in The Last Jedi?
Actually, no. He did that so that he could lure Rey into coming before him and Kylo. He knew that he could stoke Kylo’s anxieties about the Dark Side and trigger in Rey the idea that she could redeem him, just as Luke did for his father.
Wait, if Palpatine’s whole plan relied on Rey coming to Exegol, then why did Palpatine repeatedly tell Kylo Ren to kill her throughout Rise of Skywalker?
He knew Kylo’s intent. He was actually expecting Kylo to betray him and not kill her, as a way to lure her to Exegol.
So then back in The Last Jedi, why did Palpatine/Snoke specifically order Kylo Ren to execute Rey? Did he actually want to kill Rey then?
How does that make any sense? Snoke gave Kylo a direct order to kill her, because she had “the spirit of a true Jedi,” and she was the most powerful obstacle to the Dark Side’s victory.
He was playing mind games. He knew that Kylo wouldn’t go through with it. Snoke even says “I see his mind, I see his every intent.”
But the whole point is that Snoke can’t see Kylo’s intent. Right before that, Snoke says “I cannot be betrayed, I cannot be beaten.” And then Kylo surprises him and kills him.
He was bluffing bluffing bluffing. Palpatine actually knew Snoke was going to die.
But why was he bluffing?
To make Kylo think he was betraying Snoke, which was all part of his master plan.
Why did he need Kylo to think he was betraying Snoke?
This is an easy one. So that Kylo would be primed to think he can betray Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker! And that would set in motion the events to bring Rey to Exegol.
So Kylo doesn’t betray Palpatine?
He does betray Palpatine, but that’s exactly what Palpatine wanted!
Why doesn’t Palpatine just ask for what he wants, instead of asking for the opposite and getting fake-betrayed?
You just don’t appreciate master plans.
But he could have just said “Hey Kylo, take Rey to Exegol for this special Sith Ritual thing.”
But what if Kylo had betrayed him and not done that?
See! Sometimes reverse psychology is the only way to get the job done.
But wait, Kylo went to Exegol to kill Palpatine. Why not just let Kylo kill you and be done with it?
He’s been grooming this guy for two whole movies as the heir apparent to the Empire. He tells him he’ll be the next Emperor. He even got him to do what Luke couldn’t and kill his own father. What better vessel for his soul?
Rey is better.
Cause she’s a Palpatine.
Why not his own adult son?
He had him killed.
Because he wouldn’t bring Rey to him.
So Palpatine’s son betrayed him.
Wouldn’t he have expected to be betrayed by his son, if Palpatine is so good at predicting that?
Maybe he did and this is his backup plan.
So this whole trilogy, ever since Snoke/Palpatine discovered his granddaughter was awakened to the Force in The Force Awakens, he’s been trying to bring Rey back to him to possess her body? Even though nobody mentions anything about this until Rey gets to Exegol?
Exactly! Now you’re getting it.
That plan blows up pretty fast, doesn’t it? Rey pretends like she’s going to kill him and then she doesn’t.
Yeah. She teams up with Kylo. That’s why he goes to Plan E.
What’s Plan E?
Kill Rey and Ben Skywalker with force lightning.
That’s it? Wasn’t Rey his best shot at immortality? Couldn’t he, like, stick Rey in a torture chamber until she turns to the Dark Side?
Nobody’s got time for that. It’s just like on the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Once Palpatine realizes Luke’s not gonna turn to the Dark Side, it’s time to take out the trash.
How long does the plan to kill Rey and Ben last?
About four seconds. When he hits them with force lightning, instead of frying them, he’s hit with a jolt of healing energy that mends his decaying hands. Onto Plan F.
So what’s Plan F?
Palpatine comes up with this one on the spot. He realizes that Rey and Ben’s supernatural connection has made them a Force Dyad, a wellspring of the Living Force that he can slurp up to completely restore his body to full health. Now he doesn’t have to bother with making Rey the next Empress — he can rule the galaxy again himself as the one true Emperor!
Sounds like he’s had a lot of random options at his disposal the whole time!
The Force works in mysterious ways. If he had known there was a Force Dyad, this probably would have been Plan D and not Plan F.
Wait, it’s starting to make sense! The Last Jedi reveal that Palpatine/Snoke is the one who joined Ben and Rey’s minds to create the Force Dyad in the first place! So was this his plan all along to heal himself?
Nope. Just a lucky side effect. Palpatine doesn’t realize this is possible until he tries killing them.
Well as we all know, Plan F fails. Why?
After Palpatine sucks the life force out of them, he doesn’t need Rey and Ben anymore. So he tosses Ben in the pit, and then starts force-lightning-ing Rey to death. Palpatine couldn’t have known that would backfire so spectacularly. Turns out two lightsabers and the weight of all the Jedi beats all the Sith.
But what about when Mace Windu did the exact same thing to him in Revenge of the Sith?
Whoops. Fool me once…
So Palpatine died again and — spoiler alert — we saw his body disintegrate. Couldn’t there be a Plan G where his soul is zapped into another body somewhere else with another backup fleet waiting?
No one would believe a scheme that convoluted.
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