Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker follow below.
If you’re curious just how much of Palpatine’s backstory J.J. Abrams worked out for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the answer is “quite a lot.” When Abrams was hired to take over directing and screenplay duties on the third and final film in the new Star Wars trilogy, he pitched the idea of bringing back Emperor Palpatine, an antagonist who played a crucial role in the previous two Star Wars trilogies. There was only one problem: Palpatine died quite dramatically in Return of the Jedi.
So how is Palpatine back in Rise of Skywalker? The film as it stands now is scant on details aside from the character referring to certain “unnatural abilities” granted to him by the Sith/Dark Side/Space Devil. It just kind of zooms past the “how” of Palpatine’s return and focuses on the “why,” which is that he wants his granddaughter—who, surprise, is Rey (Daisy Ridley)—to kill him so his power can be transferred and he can live forever. Again. Or something like that.
But an earlier cut of Rise of Skywalker actually explained how Palpatine returned, according to Abrams’ longtime editor Maryann Brandon, who edited the film alongside Stefan Grube. Speaking with Huffington Post, Brandon said they went back and forth in the editing process of how much Palpatine backstory they wanted to include in the film:
“It was kind of a delicate balance and went back and forth a lot about how much we wanted to reveal,” she said. “Some scenes changed quite a bit, the way that we wanted to present it to the audience. In the end, we ended up showing a lot less of it than we started with.”
Why? Well, according to Brandon, the film got a bit cluttered and Palpatine’s backstory was ultimately deemed inessential:
There was originally “a little more information about it, what was keeping [Palpatine] alive,” but, Brandon said, “it seemed to go off topic.”
“There was so much information in the film and so many characters that we wanted to have an audience concentrate on. I think we felt we didn’t want to clutter the film up with things you didn’t need to know,” she said.
It’s true that an expositional scene explaining how Palpatine returned probably would have robbed precious screentime from the other major characters, but that’s also one of the reasons bringing Palpatine back was a mistake in the first place. Instead of a finale intensely focused on the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), you get a conclusion that’s muddled by this massive antagonistic force whose presence just raises a ton of unnecessary questions. Perhaps those questions will be answered in some deleted scenes on the home video release.
But during the same interview, Brandon also referenced other changes made in the edit, including the fact that they went back and forth on whether or not to have Rey and Kylo kiss at the end of the movie:
“I always said, ‘The movie will tell us whether they should kiss or not. We will know by the time we get to the end of our process, if it should happen.’ And I felt it should, and [director J.J. Abrams] agreed with me, and other people who saw the film agreed.”
Another change shaped by the edit? The inclusion of those Snoke clones, which sounds like it was a story point added entirely in post-production:
“I just think that came up as a visual effect that we thought would be really fun for an audience, to create a visual that would tell that whole story,” she said. “I believe that’s successful. We didn’t have to change a lot of dialogue. You just see one shot […] and you kind of get it. I love stuff like that. We can just have a moment where you just see something in the background and you go, ‘OK, I totally get that.’”
It’s not unusual for changes like this to be made in the editing room, especially on Abrams’ films which are famously fluid, but the full interview over at Huffington Post does give some interesting insight into how this divisive final chapter in the Skywalker Saga came together.
For more on Rise of Skywalker, click here.