Here’s (Probably) Where Palpatine Was This Whole Time, Leading Into ‘The Rise of Skywalker’
The first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was a doozy. It gave a lot of fans the excitement they craved for the final installment of the Skywalker saga, and it also revealed a massive surprise. Palpatine’s laugh comes near the end of the trailer, which is a big deal. Darth Sidious died in Return of the Jedi after Darth Vader/Anakin threw him down a chute in the Death Star. This trailer begs the question: How did Palpatine survive the fall and last all this time in secret?
Why did the writers bring Palpatine back in the first place?
In an interview with Empire magazine, former director associated with The Rise of Skywalker Colin Trevorrow revealed that J.J. Abrams, the current director, brought Palpatine back. And Abrams told the magazine in a separate interview that it just made sense to have the Sith Lord return and conclude the story with someone from the beginning.
In a Dec. 6 interview with io9, producer Michelle Rejwan said that Palpatine’s return had to happen.
I think there was a feeling of inevitability that Palpatine had been a part of all three and in the biggest picture of nine movies, he has been there from the very beginning. And his presence in this movie, we will not spoil that, but when you see it it does feel to us, not only does it have the feeling of inevitability, but the ending of where we left him last, in Return of the Jedi, was very important to J.J. and Chris and to all of us. We discussed it at great length… I think it definitely feels as though it is in the DNA of the nine. And it felt appropriate to have his presence be in this movie.— io9
Palpatine didn’t die in ‘Return of the Jedi’ after all
It’s rather apparent that Emperor Palpatine survived the fall from Anakin’s throw. Anakin died because of it, but he did it to save his son, Luke, and was a heroic death for the former Jedi-turned-Sith-Lord. But even though you see an explosion after Palpatine is down the hatch, you never actually see his body on fire or destroyed.
While death seemed like a sure thing, it makes sense that the Emperor survived. Heck, Maul — the former Sith Lord who killed Qui-Gon Jinn — survived Kenobi’s attack that split in him two. Sith Lords can survive through many things, and it’s thanks to their use of hate and the Force. As much you might want to dislike the Dark Side, they know how to use their power to its fullest, and this allows them to overcome death in a way that Jedi can’t.
As Cinemablend points out, there are so many options outside of “he saved himself.” In canon, Sith’s can cling on to objects, almost like the Horcrux concept in Harry Potter. There’s also the possibility that he cloned himself, and Snoke could be an imperfect clone gone rogue.
‘Star Wars: Rebels’ might have a massive tie-in with ‘Episode IX’
The best theory, though, actually comes from Star Wars: Rebels, the DisneyXD show that involved Padawan Ezra and his master Kanan. In the Star Wars timeline, Rebels takes place post-Revenge of the Sith but ends right before A New Hope, chronologically.
The animated show holds a key factor: it confirms time travel in the Star Wars universe. In Season 4, Ezra decodes a painting at the Jedi Temple on Lothal and enters this portal leading to the World Between Worlds. This place holds all secrets of time and space, and he’s able to save Ahsoka Tano from her and Darth Vader’s fatal battle from Season 2. While in the world, they also encounter Palpatine, who’s trying to harness this area for his exploitation.
While they fend him off then, it’s possible that between this point in time and his “death” in Episode VI, he’s able to find a portal of his own. He might have disappeared through it in Return of the Jedi and went straight to The Rise of Skywalker. It could explain why he’s hanging out at the ruins of the Death Star he died in. He’s in the same place or spacecraft, just decades in the future.
These theories are, of course, all hypothetical. The exact cause for Palpatine’s survival won’t be revealed until The Rise of Skywalker. But if they go with the World Between Worlds, it would be a fantastic tie-in with the animated series.