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SYFY WIRE Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

Fan Theory Madness: It's Palpatine time, baby!

By James Grebey
Palpatine Fan Theories

Welcome to Fan Theory Madness, your guide to what fan theories, good and bad, are taking the internet by storm!

With so many fan theories floating around the web, it can be hard to know which ones to take seriously and which ones are wildly off the mark. Some theories are brilliant breakthroughs that reveal a whole new understanding of what a work of fiction means, or they're spot-on predictions about what's going to happen in the next installment. Others are specious bunk, deeply flawed theories that nevertheless get aggregated by some of the less scrupulous news sites.

It's all Palpatine this week, baby! We've got confirmation on two Emperor Palpatine fan theories — well, maybe not "fan theories" so much as "fan attempts to fill in the massive gaps in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker's narrative." Then we've got a new Palpatine theory that makes you question what the point of all this is.

Emperor Palpatine Rise of Skywalker


Somehow, Palpatine returned. That was all that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker offered the audience in terms of an explanation as to how the Emperor came back from the dead. Naturally, fans had questions about this extremely casual, creatively bankrupt resurrection. Many suspected that Palpatine was a clone, as that's how he returned in the now-non-canonical Expanded Universe comics.

Well, the novelization of the film, The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition, which came out earlier this week, confirms what the movie did not.

"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," an excerpt from Kylo and Palpatine's initial meeting reads. "It couldn't last much longer."

The novelization also reveals that Rey's father — believed to be Palpatine's son — was in fact a failed, semi-identical clone of the Emperor. This reveal wasn't quite as suspected, but it does mean that we don't have to think about Sheev Palpatine having sex.

This should go without saying, but it's Cool and Good that the explanations for the two major, controversial twists in the final entry of the Skywalker Saga were explained in a novelization that came out months after the movie. That's just efficient storytelling right there.

Emperor Palpatine Rise of Skywalker


The novelization did confirm two load-bearing fan theories, but there are still many parts of The Rise of Skywalker's plot that just don't add up, and so there are still wild fan theories attempting to fill the gaps. For instance, Palpatine's entire plan was to have Rey kill him so that he would be able to possess her. Instead, Rey defeats Palpatine ... by killing him? What if, this theory argues, Palpatine actually won? That montage of voices Rey heard encouraging her in her head could have been Palpatine. He did tell Kylo Ren that every voice he'd heard in his head had been Palpatine, so couldn't the same be true for Rey? This would mean that, at the end of the day, Palpatine won, and he actually did possess Rey.

Sounds plausible, except that nothing Rey did "after" she was possessed indicated that she was actually the Emperor, and also because that's not how storytelling works. Disney isn't going to make their star heroine lose and instead be forced into the Sunken Place while the evil old villain wins the day.

The Rise of Skywalker's many flaws shine a spotlight on some of the pitfalls of fan theorizing — and, more importantly, reporting on fan theories. The best fan theories, and certainly the ones that readers are best served by when news outlets aggregate them, are the ones that attempt to explain or predict upcoming events in a concrete, plausible way. Think about L+R=J from Game of Thrones, or even some of the theories that, while ultimately incorrect, made honest attempts to predict what was likely to happen. This Palpatine theory doesn't do that. Instead, it's attempting to retcon the events of the movie in a way that doesn't move the narrative forward so much as it rewrites it. Nobody is really served by a news outlet aggregating a clearly false theory that essentially boils down to "what you saw happen didn't actually happen." And yet, because The Rise of Skywalker was so half-baked and riddled with actual plot holes, these types of lesser theories are running rampant because the movie just doesn't make sense.

With The Rise of Skywalker, we're seeing the mess intersection between fan theories as fan expression, fan theories as narrative salvation, and fan theories as cheap viral content.