Major spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
By now, you probably know that Emperor Palpatine somehow survived his apparent death at the hands of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi; that much was given up in the official trailers for The Rise of Skywalker. But just how and why the nefarious Darth Sidious returned is something you’ll have to see the movie to find out … or you can continue reading this spoilery explanation of just what the saga’s ultimate villain planned all along.
Throughout the history of Star Wars, a battle has raged, not just among nations, planets, and star systems and their many disparate factions and political parties, but between the Light Side and Dark Side of the Force. Represented by the Jedi Order and the Sith Order respectively, the two sides have co-existed in a contentious struggle against each other for millennia. Once upon a time, the young Force-wielder Anakin Skywalker was thought to be the Chosen One destined to bring a balance to that struggle. How exactly that worked out is up for debate, but while Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side may have caused havoc throughout the galaxy, he also fathered Luke and Leia Skywalker, and became grandfather to Ben Solo, a.k.a. Kylo Ren.
That’s the story you know so far, so here’s where it gets spoilery; final warning.
It’s revealed in The Rise of Skywalker that Kylo Ren isn’t the only powerful Force-wielder with an equally powerful parentage: Rey, formerly the child of no one according to The Last Jedi, has been revealed to be the grandchild of none other than Sheev Palpatine, the Emperor and resurrected leader of the Sith. Yep. So however you feel about that retcon, Kylo Ren and Rey Palpatine are destined to clash as the last members of their respective orders. But what does that have to do with Grandpappy Palpatine himself?
Despite the fact that Palpatine orders Kylo Ren to kill Rey early in the movie, it seems that his ultimate plan is to bring the two together on a collision course. Whether he originally intended Kylo Ren to kill Rey and end the Jedi Order once and for all, or whether he intended to force Rey’s Dark Side tendencies to the surface so that she could strike him down and become Empress, well that’s up for debate and likely will be for years to come. What’s apparent, though, is that Palpatine was ultimately counting on the rare phenomenon of the Force Dyad regardless of how his other plans played out.
So what is the Force Dyad? Essentially, when two Force-sensitive beings come together, they can collectively share the power of one individual. In the case of Kylo Ren and Rey, two especially powerful Force-sensitives who have not only the benefit of a powerful parentage but also the unenviable position of being among the last Force-wielders in the known universe, their Force Dyad power was essentially as strong as the power of Life itself. Their bond was the first seen in the era of the New Republic and was the reason they were able to interact with each other across such vast distances. But that raw power was also the reason that Palpatine was able to siphon energy from the both of him and restore his own aged and malformed body to its relatively youthful state… for a time, anyway.
There’s more to this battle than just lifeforce siphoning though. In one of the oldest known legends of Star Wars lore exists the ethereal realm of Mortis. There, three very powerful Force-wielders known as the Father, the Son, and the Daughter were locked in an eternal struggle to maintain balance among each other. And while their story got decidedly complicated, there are shades of their struggle with Palpatine, Kylo Ren, and Rey, albeit a corrupted version of that trinity. Ultimately, on Mortis and on Exegol, a balance of sorts was restored to the Force. But in the case of the Emperor’s ultimately failed plan, that balance came about thanks to the Force Dyad between Ben and Rey.
For more on Rise of Skywalker check out Matt’s review right here, the video team’s spoiler-filled review, our breakdown of the ending, that Snoke reveal, what’s up with Rey’s lightsaber, and the whole Rey’s parents thing. Oh, and here’s Adam’s ranking of all the Star Wars movies. And be sure to let us know what you thought about the concluding chapter of the Skywalker Saga.