The Rise of Skywalker
No One’s Ever Really Gone
A thought on the latest Star Wars teaser…
Warning 1: Some old Star Wars spoilers below, but if you’re at all up-to-date, they won’t be. Mostly just guesses/hypotheses.
Warning 2: This gets rather nerdy.
By now, it’s no secret what this means — the appearance by actor Ian McDiarmid at the end of the initial showing of the teaser all-but confirmed that Emperor Palpatine will be in the film. A character that died in Return of the Jedi, of course. So what does it mean?
There are some pretty elaborate theories steeped in deep knowledge of the Star Wars official (and unofficial) universe. But it seems to me that it could ultimately be pretty simple: this is an easy way for J.J. Abrams to truly bridge all three trilogies while perhaps also tidying up a fan-favorite loose end.
Palpatine is, of course, a major character in the prequels.² The prequels are, of course, mainly garbage. But there are a number of fun scenes here and there. And a few intriguing ones. One of them is the scene in Revenge of the Sith in which (then) Chancellor Palpatine tells Anakin Skywalker the story of “the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise” — the Sith Lord who taught himself the ability to create life and to even stop people from dying. Power which he passed on to his apprentice, who then killed him.
This apprentice, of course, was Darth Sidious — who, of course, is Palpatine. With that laugh in the teaser, I immediately thought back to that scene and one line in particular: “He could save others from death, but not himself.” Could that one scene and that one line be a key that ties together all three trilogies? Does Palpatine have a “one more thing” — which he revealed to Anakin all those years and sequels and prequels ago?
At the time of the Revenge of the Sith, this scene was meant to be a main plot point to help convince Anakin to switch sides, to ensure he could save Padme. But with the launch of The Force Awakens, it became a focal point for theories about Supreme Leader Snoke — notably, the most popular theory was that he was Plagueis, who perhaps actually did figure out how to cheat death himself.
But when Snoke was unceremoniously killed off in The Last Jedi without a slightest hint of who he was, this theory went out the window. And fans were pissed off, undoubtedly because so many had done a lot of legwork studying up on this Plagueis character or other theories,³ for what all seemed like a rather cruel MacGuffin.
But what if some of that work could pay off? What if that scene did matter, not for Snoke, but for Palpatine basically spelling out to Anakin that he would not make the same mistake as Plagueis, and knew how to save himself from death — even at the literal hands of Anakin, years later, as Darth Vader?
That would seem to be one way to please fans while at the same time not playing revisionist history with Rian Johnson’s vision and work.⁴
One more thing: what if all of this finally fills the plot hole of where Anakin/Vader came from. His apparent immaculate conception from the prequels was set up as important but never fully explained. But another part of that same scene also has long suggested that Palpatine explained it to both us and to Anakin himself: “He could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create… life.” Anakin, I am your father.
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