The upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novelisation has offered a revealing look at how Palpatine was able to return in Episode 9. Spoilers: it involves clones. Because of course it does.
With advanced copies of the book – due out officially on March 17 – now in some fans’ hands, attention has been drawn to a passage involving Kylo Ren’s first meeting with Emperor Palpatine on Exegol (H/T Screen Rant).
It reads: “All the vials were empty of liquid save one, which was nearly depleted. Kylo peered closer. He'd seen this apparatus before, too, when he'd studied the Clone Wars as a boy. The liquid flowing into the living nightmare before him was fighting a losing battle to sustain the Emperor's putrid flesh.
"'What could you give me?' Kylo asked. Emperor Palpatine lived, after a fashion, and Kylo could feel in his very bones that this clone body sheltered the Emperor's actual spirit. It was an imperfect vessel, though, unable to contain his immense power. It couldn't last much longer.”
So, it appears that Palpatine’s return can be explained away by the Emperor having a clone body ready and waiting for him after his demise at Darth Vader’s hands in Return of the Jedi. It also provides solid enough reasoning for why he couldn’t kill Rey outright at the movie’s climax – his body was failing him.
This, when coupled with a previous revelation from the movie’s Visual Dictionary that “technology and the occult” helped bring Palpatine back, helps flesh out a major plot point that Star Wars fans have had in the weeks following Rise of Skywalker’s release.
The answer to one of Rise of Skywalker's biggest questions follows on from a handful of other post-release responses from the creative team, including why Rey’s lightsaber was yellow during the movie’s ending, what Finn was meant to say to Rey on Pasaana, and even news that an upcoming Star Wars adaptation will feature deleted scenes from Episode 9.
Now, if we can figure out how Kylo Ren copied the Han Solo shrug perfectly then we’ll have a full set...
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