Last week, Star Wars Celebration blew the roof off of the internet with the first look at Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. There is lots to talk about in the new teaser, but the most popular item is probably the return of Emperor Palpatine. The classic Star Wars baddie is making a comeback, and while we are left to wonder exactly how that’s possible, it’s not too surprising that Palpatine is back. When you think about it, there weren’t any other choices for a villain because, well, there’s no one else left.
The ominous laugh of Emperor Palpatine closes out The Rise of Skywalker teaser trailer, and director J.J. Abrams later confirmed that Palpatine is definitely back for the final installment of the trilogy. The news caught fans by surprise. Even though Palpatine’s return was a popular fan theory for years, it’s still nuts to see him actually coming back.
It’s an exciting way to close out the saga that began way back in 1977, but once the lights dim down, it becomes increasingly clear that Star Wars didn’t really have any other option but to bring Palpatine back.
For starters, the news isn’t all that surprising when you consider bringing back the familiar is J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars M.O. He directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which indulged in plenty of nostalgia. A popular criticism of that film is that it’s TOO similar to the Original Trilogy. After all, there’s basically another Death Star lead by a creepy old man who appears as a hologram to a masked servant who has family ties to the good guys.
Plus, Abrams is bringing back Lando in The Rise of Skywalker, so extending the invite to Palpatine is just giving the people more of what they want. Critics of this move might say that bringing Palpatine back isn’t too exciting and a sign that this new trilogy might not have had many fresh ideas left.
I don’t think I necessarily agree with all that, but I do think that this trilogy found itself in a bit of a hole, and the only way out was by resurrecting Palpatine.
To be fair, Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy have said that it was always the plan to bring Palpatine back at the end. The problem with that though is that it’s never been entirely clear how much was planned for the story of the three new films. Even though Abrams set up some mysteries, The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson said he was working with a blank slate and had total creative freedom. That doesn’t sound like much of a plan.
The Last Jedi, for all that it does right, put The Rise of Skywalker into a pickle because it wiped all the villains off the board. Fans hyped the crap out of Snoke, who turned out to be something of a red herring and killed off pretty easily. He just wasn’t that interesting to begin with, but he was the closest thing these films had to an overarching villain.
The other option is Kylo Ren, but he’s a circle trying to fit into a square hole. Ren’s arc is so tied up in whether or not he’ll be redeemed, he doesn’t feel like a true villain. He’s too conflicted to be the final boss. So, we’re left without any villain to take us to the homestretch, unless you want General Hux to get a major promotion.
It’s also too late to introduce a new villain. Since it’s the final movie, why should anybody care about a character who pops up out of nowhere? There isn’t enough for an audience to invest in. His connection to the main characters would be tenuous at best, and it’s tough to see any motivations that would be compelling enough to get attached to.
Palpatine, however, fixes all of those problems. He’s a familiar character, so people already know his whole deal, and the movie doesn’t have to waste time introducing him. Plus, he has the nostalgia factor, and it’s a lot more fun to talk about him than it is some new guy.
While Palpatine’s motivations are thin (he wants to rule the galaxy because he wants to), that works for him. Star Wars is pretty black and white, and Palpatine is meant to be the face of ultimate evil. He’s a cruel bastard and not much else, but that’s also the point. He’s not meant to be more than that, so it’s even easier to get on board with his return because it doesn’t come with a lot of complicated baggage.
Additionally, Palpatine is THE Star Wars bad guy. If The Rise of Skywalker is meant to close the book on these characters and the story we’ve come to know, it’s fitting that he’s the final obstacle. He’s technically been the main villain of two trilogies and he’s the architect of almost all the bad stuff that happens in Star Wars. Why not bring him back for one last go-around?
The whole mystery behind how Palpatine will factor into the movie can’t be undersold either. There are going to be tons of fan theories and discussions about this topic before the film arrives in December. The trailer has already drummed up a ton of buzz, and utilizing a familiar and beloved bad guy certainly doesn’t hurt in the marketing department either.
I suppose it’s not very hard to get excited for a new Star Wars movie, but Palpatine has been gone for a long time. There’s no shame in being excited that the villain will be back to laugh and shoot a bunch of lightning one last time.
I think that it’s too soon to say whether bringing back Palpatine is a good or bad decision. It’ll all depend on how he’s brought back and how he’s mixed into the plot. You can argue that it’s a lazy and safe decision, but I also think it was the only one the filmmakers could have made. Options are a lot more limited in the villain department after Snoke died and it’s too late to bring in a new bad guy. However, the advantage of Palpatine is that we at least have an idea of what to expect.