One of the most controversial decisions J.J. Abrams made in crafting Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was in bringing back Emperor Palpatine. Abrams defended his choice previously by noting that Rise of Skywalker was intended to conclude not just this new sequel trilogy of Star Wars movies, but the entire Skywalker Saga. To that end, he argued, Palpatine had a presence in the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy, so it stood to reason he should have a place in this new trilogy—even if it’s tacked on at the end.
But for those wondering about George Lucas’ original plans, it sounds like bringing Palpatine back from the dead wasn’t ever in the cards. Ian McDiarmid, who plays Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars franchise, told Digital Spy (via IndieWire) that Lucas specifically told him his character was dead as a doornail at the end of Return of the Jedi:
“I thought I was dead! I thought he was dead. Because when we did Return of the Jedi, and I was thrown down that chute to Galactic Hell, he was dead. And I said, ‘Oh, does he come back?’ And [George] said, ‘No, he’s dead.’ So I just accepted that. But then, of course, I didn’t know I was going to be doing the prequels, so in a sense he wasn’t dead, because we went back to revisit him when he was a young man. But I was totally surprised by this.”
And he had good reason to be surprised, because bringing back Palpatine is kinda dumb and completely erases the stakes of the movie. If Palpatine can be brought back from being thrown down an electrified shaft and then exploded, who’s to say he won’t be brought back again when Rey defeats him at the end of Rise of Skywalker? What is even the point of fighting him if he apparently just has clones everywhere? And this is to say nothing of the fact that bringing back Palpatine completely muddles Kylo Ren’s redemption arc in the film.
Colin Trevorrow, who was originally attached to write and direct Episode IX, has already gone on record saying he didn’t intend to bring Palpatine back, so this story point is a 100% J.J. Abrams original. And while I was ready to withhold judgment before seeing the film, having now seen Rise of Skywalker twice there really was no good reason to bring this guy back from the dead. Alas…
For more on Rise of Skywalker, check out our articles on the ways it denigrates The Last Jedi and what it means for the future of the Star Wars franchise.