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Emperor Palpatine's Plan In The Rise Of Skywalker Explained

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a massive, ambitious film packed with major plot developments, characters, and story elements that we'll be talking about for years. The film is so jam-packed with ideas that a great many of them are only discussed briefly before the story moves on, but one key element sits at the core of it all: Emperor Palpatine's unexpected and very threatening return to the galaxy.

We knew Palpatine would be back for months before The Rise of Skywalker ever hit theaters, but what we didn't know was exactly how that return would happen. How was Palpatine still alive, if he was still alive at all? More importantly, what did he know about the state of the galaxy, and how did he hope to change it to suit his own will? Now that the film is finally out, we know the answers to a good many of these questions, but it takes a little bit of consideration to assemble all of that knowledge into a clear picture. This is Palpatine's plan in The Rise of Skywalker, explained.

SPOILERS AHEAD for The Rise of Skywalker

Palpatine's loyal followers

The Rise of Skywalker is a film with so much going on that, even with Palpatine's story at the core of it all, we're only given pieces of the full picture. That means we don't have any definitive answer as to how his return and his grand plan actually started after his death in Return of the Jedi. When we first meet him again, Palpatine is alive, but admits that he has been dead before, and his decrepit appearance suggests that he's spent years simply hanging on what to little life he has with the help of machines in his Exegol fortress.

What we do know, though, is that Palpatine owes a great deal of his revival, if not all of it, to the efforts of a small group of loyal followers who eventually grew to a rather hefty cult of Sith resurrectionists bent on enacting his will through any means necessary. Palpatine may have appeared as pure evil to a great many people in the galaxy, but to others he really was their one true leader, and many of those people were highly influential, resourceful people. Thanks to them, he was recovered from the Death Star, given some kind of new life, and brought to a legendary Sith world where he could build his own version of the future for the galaxy.

The dark science of the Sith

Just as we don't know exactly when Palpatine was resurrected by his followers, we also don't know exactly how he managed to make it back from the dead. In the build-up to The Rise of Skywalker's release, fans posited every theory from cloning to the "World Between Worlds" of Star Wars Rebels as possible explanations, but now the film is out, and we still have neither confirmation nor denial of any particular method.

What we do know is that Palpatine spends all of his time tended to by his followers, connected to a rather large piece of machinery that both carries him from place to place and pumps various liquids into (and possibly out of) his body as a means of keeping him alive. This would suggest some kind of dark scientific method of revival, but it's also possible that's only one part of a bigger picture. It's possible that other dark secrets, from Sith rituals to others pieces of magic, were used to jumpstart Palpatine's body again. Whatever the case, the Emperor's return to life serves a very specific purpose, and he does not expect to stay alive indefinitely.

Palpatine's puppet

With his body restored to some semblance of life, Palpatine began to contemplate a new plan that would restore control of the galaxy to his beloved Sith order, but he didn't feel that he could achieve this by simply announcing that he'd returned. Instead, he needed a puppet to function as a disruptor for the New Republic, as well as a powerful figure that would draw out a re-emergence of the Dark Side. Enter Supreme Leader Snoke.

When he meets Kylo Ren, Palpatine declares "I made Snoke," and then provides evidence in the form of a tank full of discarded Snoke bodies. So, the Supreme Leader of the First Order was, at some point, engineered and created by Palpatine himself to both serve as a puppet leader and draw the darkness out of Ben Solo. This part of the plan allowed Palpatine to craft some opposition to the Light Side while also keeping his larger ambitions secret for a few more years. It worked, because Kylo Ren did rise as a powerful Dark Side user, killing Snoke in the process.

Building the Final Order

Even as he helped to craft the First Order from afar (including genetically engineering its leader), Palpatine also began working on restoring his own brand of military might. After his defeat at the Battle of Endor, Palpatine no longer wanted to simply rule the galaxy. He wanted to impose a sense of fear in every single star system, and to do that he needed not just one planet killer, but dozens.

To do this, Palpatine and his many followers deployed their resources to create the military machinery of "The Final Order," a massive fleet of Star Destroyers that were each equipped with a planet-killing cannon on the underside. We saw "miniaturized Death Star tech" deployed by the First Order in The Last Jedi, and in The Rise of Skywalker it becomes clear that Palpatine and his followers have found a way to make those tools even more deadly. With the Final Order fleet, which also includes new "Sith Trooper" soldiers, Palpatine hopes to bend the galaxy to his will through sheer unchallengeable military might.

A voice from the dead

More than three decades passed between Palpatine's death in Return of the Jedi and the rise of Kylo Ren as the Supreme Leader of the First Order. In that time, Palpatine had come back to life, marshalled the tremendous resources of his followers, and created Snoke to act as a puppet to lure Darth Vader's grandson into a leadership position. With Ren in place as the most powerful Dark Side user in the known galaxy, Palpatine felt the time was right to make his move.

The problem was that Palpatine couldn't just leave the medical necessities of his fortress on Exogol, and perhaps he didn't want to. After all, coming right out and simply making a public appearance after all those years might not have had the effect he wanted. Instead, he crafted a mysterious broadcast that went out to the galaxy, in which he vowed revenge for his defeat and death. Rumors of a resurrected Palpatine quickly swirled throughout numerous star systems, terrifying the Resistance and enraging Kylo Ren. Determined to prevent a new challenger from rising to take his throne, Ren went searching for the source of the signal, just as Palpatine knew he would. That's where we find them both at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker.

Luring Kylo Ren

Enraged by the idea that Palpatine (or a Palpatine impostor) could rise up and attempt to take his throne after all he'd been through, Kylo Ren hunts a down a Sith Wayfinder and seeks out Palpatine and his cult on Exegol. Ren arrives with the intention of killing Palpatine, but Palpatine reveals to him that he's already been resurrected from the dead at least once, and that he was the architect behind Snoke. He also makes Ren an offer of power that even he has never imagined before — if Ren will simply do as he asked, Palpatine will give him the Final Order fleet, and turn over leadership of a new Empire to him.

Entranced by such power, Ren accepts the offer and agrees to Palpatine's one condition: that Ren track down and kill the young Jedi known only as Rey. To help facilitate this, Palpatine also provides Ren with a key piece of information that helps explain why he wants her dead: Rey is Palpatine's granddaughter, and therefore strong in the Force and a major threat to his plans for the return of the Empire. Ren sets out from Exegol to hunt Rey down, but he's already forming an alternative plan in his head.

A loyal soldier

After making direct contact with Kylo Ren and sending him out into the galaxy to hunt down Rey, Palpatine begins reckoning with the other potential threats to his plan. A spy within the First Order, later revealed to be General Armitage Hux, leaks information about the Final Order fleet to what's left of the Resistance, and Resistance Commander Poe Dameron launches a covert operation with the hope of stopping the Final Order's launch before it starts.

Palpatine did not necessarily foresee the emergence of a spy within the First Order who would be willing to divulge his plan, but he does still have key allies even beyond Kylo Ren who are in a position to provide some help. In the Order's rise to power, Allegiant General Pryde has emerged as a Palpatine loyalist who'd fought with him in the Empire days and is eager to help him restore order. Pryde kills Hux for spying and assumes command of the Final Order fleet. Just to make sure the galaxy understands how high the stakes are, Palpatine commands Pryde to show what the Final Order is capable of by using a planet-killer cannon on Kijimi.

A secret desire

When Palpatine makes his deal with Kylo Ren, he makes sure to both tell Ren that he wants Rey dead and to explain exactly why: Rey is his granddaughter, and therefore a threat to both of them. What Ren doesn't understand, though, is that Palpatine knows that he wouldn't be able to kill the young scavenger, and that's exactly what the Sith Lord is counting on. 

Palpatine doesn't actually want Rey dead — he wants instead to bring her into the fold of both the Sith and the New Empire, to establish a new legacy of the Dark Side in his own bloodline by drawing her in and converting her. He tells Ren he wants her dead because he fully expects the Supreme Leader to seek out Rey with tremendous energy but prove unable to kill her. Instead, Ren leads Rey right to Palpatine, and Rey discovers new layers of her own inner darkness along the way. This theoretically puts Rey in a perfect position to receive Palpatine's Dark Side teachings.

Throne of the Sith

Palpatine spent the better part of three decades quietly planning his triumphant return. He created a puppet leader to serve in his stead, marshalled his followers, built a massive fleet with tremendous destructive capabilities, and then finally lured Darth Vader's grandson Kylo Ren to Exegol so he could launch his glorious return. The plan has many pieces, and also depends a great deal on understanding the emotional depths of his opponents.

Initially, everything seems to be going to plan, because Palpatine's estimation of how Kylo Ren would react to Rey was absolutely correct. What he had not counted on was his inability to fully draw Rey in, or Leia Organa's sacrifice in giving her own life and Force energy to help redeem her son. With Rey resistant and the now-redeemed Ben Solo ready to fight alongside her, Palpatine calls an audible and attempts to absorb all of the Force energy from both young Jedi to fully resurrect himself. It very nearly works, until Rey is able to call down the spirits of the generations of Jedi before her and kill Palpatine once and for all. A masterfully crafted plan ultimately fails because of kindness, determination, and a legacy that proves more powerful than Palpatine's own dark blood.