Somehow, The Rise of Skywalker messed up Palpatine’s comeback – and the lethargy that has greeted fresh rumors of the villain’s survival proves it. As the overarching villain of Star Wars’ Skywalker saga, no one was hugely surprised when Ian McDiarmid returned as Sheev Palpatine in J.J. Abrams’ sequel trilogy closer, The Rise of Skywalker. Questions over whether Star Wars could resurrect Palpatine without negating Anakin Skywalker’s Return of the Jedi redemption were understandably asked, but in the right context, Palpatine’s presence in the sequel era could’ve been glorious. As it turned out, preserving Anakin’s sacrifice was the least of J.J. Abrams’ Palpatine problems.
Though Rey Palpawalker seemingly vanquished her wrinkly Sith grandfather forever in The Rise of Skywalker’s final battle, rumors of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Ian McDiarmid recently admitted to Metro that his Star Wars journey was probably over following The Rise of Skywalker, but pointed to Hayden Christensen’s Darth Vader reprisal in Obi-Wan Kenobi as proof Palpatine, “might be discovered once again skulking in the shadows.” McDiarmid’s suggestion (however lightly it was made) sparked fan debate over Palpatine’s potential survival – a conversation no doubt encouraged by the recent reports of a fresh Star Wars trilogy in Disney’s pipeline. Sadly, it’s this discourse that highlights just how gravely The Rise of Skywalker damaged Palpatine’s reputation.
Online reaction to the prospect of Palpatine in a future Star Wars project has been something of a collective groan. The cautious excitement and balanced skepticism that greeted McDiarmid’s The Rise of Skywalker casting has now been replaced by a total lack of appetite for more of the mad Emperor – but Star Wars’ main villain rearing his head again should not feel this unappealing. Palpatine was an integral character during Star Wars’ original trilogy, then became an iconic cinema villain following his full debut in Return of the Jedi. Shifty Sheev’s stock rose even further through the Star Wars prequel movies, which have enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, and animated appearances in The Clone Wars added even more shades to the Palpatine palette. Star Wars’ Emperor is a great villain with great history, played by a great actor. Support for Palpatine’s return shouldn’t be this low, surely?
While some would argue Palpatine should’ve stayed dead after Return of the Jedi, the rancor’s share of the blame for his plummeted stock lies with The Rise of Skywalker botching the villain so spectacularly. You’ve seen the memes. Evidently struggling to conjure a usable explanation for how Palpatine survived Anakin’s betrayal, The Rise of Skywalker ultimately chose not to explain it. There are vague allusions to cloning and the Sith Eternal, but The Rise of Skywalker avoids addressing Palpatine’s resurrection like a politician getting grilled by a news anchor. Palps’ problems only continue from there, with the Sith’s masterplan and motivations so muddled, they’re virtually impenetrable. Between the Rey/Ben Solo Force dyad, the ghosts of Sith-mas past, and Supreme Puppet Snoke, Palpatine’s The Rise of Skywalker arc tosses too many ingredients into the pot with too little foresight or coherence, completely sucking all life out of the villain’s long-awaited revival. Palpatine’s sequel trilogy woes are then worsened by the last-minute, mostly-irrelevant revelation that Rey is his granddaughter.
Between nonsensical machinations and nonexistent explanations, it’s hardly surprising Palpatine now joins Jar Jar Binks on the Star Wars’ “no entry” list. Even Ian McDiarmid’s suggestion of Palpatine “skulking in the shadows” speaks to The Rise of Skywalker’s failings. Had the Star Wars sequel trilogy done justice to Palpatine with a fitting and definitive ending, the actor might now be telling fans how he wouldn’t want to tarnish an epic final scene by coming back, rather than leaving the door ajar.