After every Star Wars film, fans are going to have questions. No matter how definitive a statement a film is intended to be, there are a lot of questions that still need considering.
After watching The Rise of Skywalker, most of the biggest questions revolve around the return of Darth Sidious himself, Sheev Palpatine. We’ll go through a few of them and offer scenarios that might explain how they’re possible as best we can. We’ll preface this by saying that this is all speculation based on previous mythology. None of the ancillary material has tackled this specifically yet, but we can make some best guesses and suppositions based on how Star Wars works.
**Spoiler Warnings: There are spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker below. Obviously.**
The first question right off the bat is how did Palpatine survive in the first place? It’s a fair question. The last time we saw him, he was falling down a reactor shaft, screaming in his last moments. How could he have survived?
Well, there are plenty of answers to that, especially in a universe where Maul survives being cut in half and falling down an equally long shaft. Fueled by hate, Maul survived and cobbled together bionic parts to regain the use of legs. If Palpatine’s apprentice can suffer through survival in this way, it stands to reason his master could (though he could not cobble together bionic fingers, it seems). Palpatine himself hints that he’s explored these methods of immortality when he relates the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. He vows to Anakin that together they will discover the secret to eternal life.
Ultimately, this is the lie of the Sith. Palpatine’s only way to cling to life is to decay and wither, literally sucking the life force from the next generations. In fact, that moment in The Rise of Skywalker when the evil, old, white oligarch, desperately clinging to power when the rest of the galaxy has moved on, sucks the life from the young millennials trying to make the galaxy a better place is a beautiful political statement for today’s world.
Anakin did discover a path to immortality, but it was through self-sacrifice, which is something a devotee of the Dark Side with no hint of light would not be capable of. It’s why the Sith don’t get Force ghosts. Its why Palpatine’s promise of the entirety of the Sith living in him was likely another lie.
But any Sith sufficiently fueled by greed and anger and hatred can cling to life, as Maul proved, but it’s all for naught in the face of the light.
For further viewing on this, I would recommend Revenge of the Sith, and Maul’s episodes of The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, culminating in the 20th episode of the third season of Rebels, “Twin Suns.”
The path has been paved for Palpatine’s survival for a long time.
One of the largest questions we have involves Rey’s father, who is allegedly Palpatine’s son.
When would Palpatine have had a son? Who would have been the mother? How does that work?
The more you think about Palpatine having some secret love interest, the less sense it makes. One defining characteristic of Palpatine is that he had no love in him. He couldn’t understand it. Much as Voldemort in the Harry Potter series is told, so is it true with Palpatine. So the idea that Palpatine would have fathered a child in a normal, loving relationship or forbidden love story like his most famous apprentice feels too far-fetched. If you think too hard about it, it gets more gross and weird with every passing second.
There’s every chance that he could have done something far worse in forcing himself on a woman in order to produce a child, but I think Star Wars would (and should) shy away from that.
For my money, I think the secret lies in the shots we saw of Snoke in a test tube on Exegol. In all of Palpatine’s experiments and work with cloning over the years, why wouldn’t he try cloning himself? Or at least taking his DNA and trying to spread it along in a test tube? I think this is our most likely answer.
But what happened to Palpatine’s son? If he was a disappointment, ol’ Sheev is the sort that would have just killed him. My guess is that he would have had to have been whisked away like Elora Danan in Willow, either as an infant or even still in a test tube. The secret child trope is what kept Luke and Leia safe for all those years, and since this feels to be an echo of that story, it stands to reason that’s how Palpatine’s son grew up with empathy. Because who could have been raised by Palpatine and not turned out like Sheev Palpatine Jr.?
Likely Sidious didn’t learn of this until it was too late to do anything about it and, as he consolidated his power on Exegol, he began to work to solve the problem as quickly as he could. That would explain why Rey was abandoned when she was, after her father discovered the secret of his own lineage.
This is all wild speculation, though. We have nothing in the canon or ancillary material that explores any of these ideas, and it might be a long time before we get there. In the meantime, all we have are best guesses, and I think my guess is as likely as anything.
How could Palpatine have manipulated Ben Solo for so long from so far away?
It’s a fair question, and I think the answer lies on Mortis and its connection to Exegol.
George Lucas once said of Star Wars that it’s all like poetry. It’s supposed to rhyme. When he set out to dive deeper into the mysteries of the Force in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, he created a template by which all things flow in what is referred to as the Mortis Arc (Clone Wars, Season 3, Episodes 15-17). I think these three episodes are vital to any understanding of the machinations of the Force.
Mortis is a nexus of the Force, a place where it is at its most powerful, through which all the Force flows. There are other nexuses like this, Dagobah, the Wellspring of Life, Ahch-To, the Sith planet of Malachor, and it’s reasonable to assume Exegol is one of those as well. Here the Force is more powerful, more focused, and time gets a little wibbly-wobbly. Force Ghosts are even able to interact more with the environment in these places.
This is likely how Palpatine was able to magnify his power for his main, sinister purposes. First, this likely aided in his ability to stay alive. Second, it likely amplified his ability to embed himself in the mind of the grandson of Skywalker and twist him into Kylo Ren. It makes one wonder if it was Palpatine that Luke sensed when he went to strike down Ben and that’s why his reaction to Ben was the way it was. No wonder he was confused enough to want to end the Jedi order.
But there's more. The story of Mortis has other, larger echos and ramifications.
On this Force planet, a story played out based on the choices of Anakin Skywalker and his refusal to accept his destiny as the Chosen One. This caused a great disturbance in the Force and led to a series of events that find themselves echoed over and over again throughout the history of Star Wars and the Skywalker saga. These events surround the Force gods known as Father, Son, and Daughter. Son represents the dark, Daughter the light. Father represents the balance between the two. The Father sacrifices his life with a dagger much like the one Rey finds in The Rise of Skywalker, in order to stop his son.
This has echoes of Leia’s sacrifice for Ben, to sever Palpatine’s twisted connection to her boy. Anakin uses his saber, the same one Rey uses to ultimately deflect Palpatine’s killing blow, to destroy the dark-side-wielding son once and for all.
Father, before his death, claims that this has brought balance and that Anakin truly was the Chosen One.
This is an idea that ripples throughout the entire Star Wars saga. We see it in Anakin’s decisions in the prequels, with his salvation in the classic trilogy, and his lines to Rey before she’s able to dispatch Palpatine. “Bring balance, as I did,” he tells Rey, echoing the words of Father on Mortis to him.
All of this has happened before. It may well happen again.
There will always be unanswered questions and explorations in the future of Star Wars, but hopefully this primer into three of the largest questions about Palpatine will aid in your enjoyment and understanding of The Rise of Skywalker, which hit theaters today.