‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Isn’t the First Time Emperor Palpatine Has Returned; So Why Did Fans Complain?

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker received disappointing reviews and underperformed at the box office. But many fans point to the return of Emperor Palpatine as its story’s fatal flaw. However, the movie wasn’t the first time the Sith Lord had returned from the grave. So why did this Star Wars twist leave some fans unsatisfied?

'Star Wars' characters at the 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' premiere
‘Star Wars’ characters at the ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ premiere | Ian West/PA Wire

Ian McDiarmid’s return to ‘Star Wars’ initially shocked fans

Ian McDiarmid made his first appearance as Palpatine way back in Return of the Jedi. And since then, he reprised the role in later editions of The Empire Strikes Back as well as the prequel trilogy. But the actor was absent from the first two-thirds of the sequel trilogy. 

So Star Wars fans were more than a little shocked to hear his character’s familiar cackle at the end of The Rise of Skywalker’s first trailer. How could Palpatine have possibly survived his tumble down a reactor shaft on the second Death Star, which exploded soon thereafter?

As it turns out, “the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” That’s as much explanation as The Rise of Skywalker gives. Yet, rather than allowing Kylo Ren’s villainous trajectory to remain on track, the movie reverted to the ultimate Star Wars villain.

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But the saga has revived Emperor Palpatine in the past

Casual fans might have been left perplexed by Palpatine’s resurrection. But hardcore Star Wars fans know the Emperor has an affinity for immortality. In particular, the 1991 comic book series Dark Empire sees him similarly return, thanks to cloning.

That technology is not new to the saga, of course. A New Hope references the “Clone Wars,” a period that has been thoroughly expanded on since the prequels. And The Rise of Skywalker — as fans have since learned — once again turned to cloning to revive Palpatine in time for the grand finale.

Some The Rise of Skywalker haters believe it betrays George Lucas’ original vision. Yet, according to Games Radar, the decision to introduce a Palpatine clone in Dark Empire came directly from Lucas. Writer Tom Veitch once confirmed as much, claiming Lucas offered Palpatine as an alternative to putting another person in Darth Vader’s suit.

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What makes ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ different

As part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Dark Empire was stricken from the canon when Disney purchased Lucasfilm. Only Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the live-action movies have been spared from the “Legends” label. Still, the fan outrage at Palpatine’s return in The Rise of Skywalker begs the question why so many feel it doesn’t work.

Part of this response stems from the fact that the most fans remain unfamiliar with the Star Wars EU. For as many fans hold the movies dear, a relatively small percentage actually delved into the comics, novels, and games. So the notion of Palpatine’s return feels like a cheat to them, much like how Darth Maul’s Solo cameo took some by surprise.

But there’s a much more plausible reason why Palpatine’s return doesn’t have the desired impact. The previous two movies barely mention the character. After two trilogies culminating in his showdown with a young Jedi, fans — especially those committed to Kylo Ren’s arc — believed the saga repeated itself. Which, in fact, it does. From a certain point of view.