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The Emperor watching Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker duel

The return of Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been a major point of excitement and speculation for Star Wars fans. We are all wondering in what capacity the Dark Lord of the Sith will return and what role he will play, questions that have only amplified by the new poster for the film released at D23, which shows the Emperor looming over a dueling Rey and Kylo Ren. When asked about this and who is the big bad of the film, director J.J. Abrams’ teased:

I will say that that's part of what the story is, and also, I will say that with the Emperor around, he's not going to be your, you know, the cuddly pal. I can't wait for you to see how that plays out, but he's in the poster for a reason.

Anyone who had their money on the Emperor fulfilling the cute and cuddly role previously held by Ewoks and Porgs is apparently in for a loss. This is Darth Sidious, and as J.J. Abrams told MTV News, he’s not going to be a friend to the heroes. He’s a bad guy, and whatever he’s doing in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, it sounds like it is not going to be good. Apparently death has done nothing to improve Palpatine’s mood.

What’s particularly interesting is that J.J. Abrams’ comments here about the Emperor came in response to a question about who the big bad of the movie is. According to J.J., who the big bad is will be part of the story of the film. If we are to speculate about that a little bit, that could be interpreted to mean that the big bad and what's really going on isn’t known to the heroes and possibly even the audience at the beginning of the movie.

Perhaps, much as he did in the prequel films, Sheev Palpatine is the Phantom Menace, pulling the strings behind the scenes and discovering that truth will be part of the heroes’ journey. It would certainly fit with the shot from the teaser of Rey, Poe, Finn, Chewbacca and the droids looking out at the remains of the Death Star. Whether the strings he is pulling have anything to do with Kylo Ren, Snoke or Rey’s own past remains to be seen.

I’m interpreting Emperor Palpatine’s role to be something of a mystery element in the film, but it does sound like he will play an important role. As J.J. Abrams indicates, he’s not on the poster by accident, and let’s be real, you don’t bring Sidious back just to have him offer a brief lesson in evil to Kylo and then bounce; he’s going to be instrumental.

After Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we all thought that Snoke would be the big bad of the Sequel Trilogy. That obviously didn’t happen, so now there is something of a vacuum that I don’t think many of us expect Kylo Ren to truly fill, as redemption has seemingly always been the direction for his character, whether you think he deserves it or not.

Emperor Palpatine looming over proceedings in the poster certainly positions him as the big bad, even if that raises major questions. It does make sense to a degree to have him be the overarching villain for the entire Skywalker Saga, the idea that this family fought for generations all to defeat this one villain is pretty cool.

You can hear J.J. Abrams talking about the Emperor as well as Kylo’s redemption and Dark Rey in the video below.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker blasts into theaters on December 20. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to see what movies you can look forward to before the end of the year.

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