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Rumor report: Is this how Emperor Palpatine returns in Rise of Skywalker?

The most potent enemy of the Jedi Order is returning… but how?

A new rumor has surfaced around the return of Emperor Palpatine, AKA Darth Sidious, in the upcoming Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. It indicates that there won't be any arcane rituals or Sith trickery involved — rather, that the explanation for the Emperor's return will be an exceedingly simple one.

The Emperor seemed to have met a decisive end in his final screen appearance, but the first trailer for The Rise of Skywalker teased us with the sound of the villain's distinctive laugh. Since the spot's release, it's become public that Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed the character in all of his previous appearances, is involved with the new film — leading to fan speculation that Palpatine may appear in some kind of vision, or as a Force Ghost, or even as a clone.

According to our friends at We Got This Covered, however, the real explanation is quite a bit more mundane: the Emperor has actually been alive the whole time, recovering, biding his time, and waiting for the right moment to make his presence known once again.

Fans will remember that at the conclusion of 1983's Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Palpatine was thwarted in his plan to turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force and take the young Jedi on as his new apprentice. The Emperor almost succeeded, pitting Skywalker against his father, the Sith Lord Darth Vader, in a duel to the death — but at the last moment, Skywalker realized that he was being manipulated, and refused to continue the fight.

Enraged, the Emperor began torturing Luke with bolts of Force lightning, and he surely would have killed the Jedi if not for an abrupt heel turn by Vader. The former Anakin Skywalker was unexpectedly moved by Luke calling out to him, and in a stunning act of self-sacrifice, he seized the Emperor and threw him to his apparent death down a seemingly bottomless shaft, mortally wounding himself in the process. The redeeming act appeared to finally bring balance to the Force and restored Vader, in the final moments of his life, to his former self; unfortunately, after revealing his face to his son for the first time and offering his praise for saving him from the clutches of the Dark Side, Vader succumbed to his injuries.

It was a dramatic and stirring climax to the original Star Wars trilogy, but it certainly didn't seem to leave much leeway for the character of Palpatine to return. Of course, this wasn't an issue in 1983; it wasn't clear whether we'd ever get more Star Wars movies, let alone two more trilogies and a few spin-offs. But in choosing to bring the Emperor back for the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, the filmmakers apparently chose to forgo narrative hoop-jumping in favor of the simplest possible explanation… unless, of course, WGTC's sources are mistaken.

It's worth pointing out here, though, that these very same sources have been dead on with leaked info before, notably reporting that Ewan McGregor would be returning to his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the prequel films in a limited series for the upcoming streamer Disney+ months before it was confirmed. 

WGTC's sources went on to state that those killer-looking, red Sith Troopers that have been teased at conventions and in promotional materials leading up to the release of The Rise of Skywalker are part of a force assembled by none other than Palpatine himself. Said sources also weighed in on Palpatine's goal in the new flick: to attempt to lure Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side, in what would basically amount to a do-over of his failed plan to make a Sith apprentice out of Luke.

Seems legit… but as it turns out (brace yourself), this is far from the only rumor that has surfaced positing the circumstances of the Emperor's return. The most substantial of these actually build on elements from extended Star Wars canon, and have to do with devices called "Wayfinders" that can function much like horcruxes do in the Harry Potter world: a user of the Dark Side of the Force can use it to house their essence after death, and potentially (with a little help from a disciple or two) to return. 

A detailed plot synopsis for Rise of Skywalker involving a "Wayfinder" that brings about the return of Palpatine was recently leaked online, with many elements being independently confirmed by reliable fan sites Bespin Bulletin and Making Star Wars. (via Newsweek) Of course, this could also be bunk — but it's just one example, and the mere existence of totally contradictory reports from supposed inside sources illustrates that not all such sources are on the money.

We would also be remiss not to observe that the "he never died" scenario seems a little bit on the nose. The first film of the sequel trilogy, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, was a crowd-pleasing hit, and it made all of the money — but it also drew fire in some quarters for essentially being an elaborate retelling of the 1977 original film, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Bringing Palpatine back to basically get up to his same old tricks seems like it would invite the same kind of criticism, and to simply hand-wave the end of Return of the Jedi with the explanation "Oh, he survived that" would definitely add more fuel to that fire.

It's worth noting too that Disney and Lucasfilm have gone to a great deal of trouble to avoid spoilers of the type that have specifically to do with deceased Sith Lords. Recently, the House of Mouse brought the hammer down on a proposed Star Wars panel at the FanX convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, where McDiarmid and Hayden Christensen — who portrayed Anakin Skywalker in the prequel films — were scheduled to speak. They did so with the explicit threat of litigation if it were to continue, and it was made clear that this was done "for fear of leaks."

One might infer from this rather drastic action that the details of Palpatine's return, about which McDiarmid would have been grilled by the attendees up one side and down the other, may constitute more than just a simple spoiler. That they could, in fact, go a long way toward spoiling the entire plot of the film, which seems like it would require a slightly more complex scenario than the one WGTC's sources put forth.

Of course, we can't rule out the possibility that we're simply short a few key details which would flesh out that simplistic narrative. The report is seemingly bolstered by images of a sinister-looking, red lightsaber-wielding Rey that have surfaced in recent weeks — but it makes no mention, for example, of Rey's complicated relationship with current Dark Side torch-bearer Kylo Ren, or of what part Luke may still play in the Emperor's schemes, if any.

For the time being, we'll just have to wait to see how it all shakes out until Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker hits the big screen on December 20. We know one thing, though: if Palpatine does indeed return to entice Rey on over to the Dark Side, he'd better make sure to steer clear of any bottomless shafts, especially if Kylo Ren is anywhere in the vicinity. Those dark disciples can turn on you in a hurry.