J.J. Abrams Justifies Palpatine’s Role In The Rise Of Skywalker

Palpatine attacking Yoda

The past few years have been very exciting for Star Wars fans. After Disney acquired Lucasfilm, plenty of new and exciting content has arrived to expand the galaxy far, far away. Both standalone films and main sequels movies have arrived in theaters, with J.J. Abrams' The Rise of Skywalker arriving in just a few months. Episode IX will end the current trilogy and nine-film Skywalker Saga, harkening back to A New Hope. The upcoming movie's first trailer revealed that Palpatine will somehow factor in, as his iconic laugh was heard as the screen faded to black. And now Abrams has explained this choice.

Palpatine's inclusion in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker threw the fans for a loop, as he seemingly perished in Return of the Jedi, and hasn't been seen since. It's unclear exactly how J.J. Abrams will utilize the iconic villain for his next blockbuster, but recently explained why he decided to bring Palpatine back for his second Star Wars blockbuster. He said:

Some people feel like we shouldn’t revisit the idea of Palatine, and I completely understand that. But if you’re looking at the nine films as one story, I don’t know many books where the last few chapters have nothing to do with those that have come before. If you look at the first eight films, all the set-ups of what we’re in IX are there in plain view.

Well, that's exciting. While Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will tell its own story, J.J. Abrams seems to understand the responsibility of wrapping up the long-running franchise's story. Which means that characters from George Lucas' original trilogy are going to be needed.

J.J. Abrams' comments to Empire help to illuminate the filmmaker's process, and hopefully indicates what care he's taking with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Because in addition to ending the story he began with 2015's The Force Awakens, Abrams will also have to end the story George Lucas started back with A New Hope. The filmmaker must link all three trilogies of movies, so the scope of the movie has to be much larger than his first outing in the franchise.

Related: Wild Star Wars Rumor Links Rey And Palpatine

There are a ton of questions heading into The Rise of Skywalker, and Palpatine is at the top of most fans' lists. Does his inclusion mean he somehow survived the destruction of the second Death Star? And if so, how exactly did he make it out alive? If Palpatine isn't physically alive during Episode IX, perhaps he'll be a Force Ghost. Sith have never been shown to have that ability, but perhaps J.J. Abrams will make a change to the canon to facilitate fallen characters.

In typical Star Wars fashion, trailers and information about The Rise of Skywalker has been limited, as Lucasfilm methodically releases new clips ahead of the film's release. We still have a few months left before the franchise returns to theaters, so cinephiles might have to sit tight until the studio decides to release more details about Episode IX.

Palpatine in the original trilogy

While Star Wars fans were collectively gobsmacked when Palpatine's laugh was heard at the end of the first Rise of Skywalker trailer, perhaps we should have seen it coming. After all, Sheev Palpatine was the overarching villain in both the original trilogy and George Lucas' prequel movies. While he was a mysterious figure in the original movies, the prequels really fleshed out the character, and revealed how the Sith mole rose to power in the Empire. Given how much time and stock has been put on The Emperor in the past, it stands to reason that he'd factor into the final story in the Skywalker Saga.

The Emperor made his first appearance in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. He appears solely as a hologram, giving orders for Darth Vader to seek and kill his son Luke. He eventually appears in the flesh for Return of the Jedi, continuing to manipulate Vader, and being present during the final lightsaber battle. Palpatine was seemingly killed by Vader in the masked icon's moments, redeeming himself and rescuing Luke in the process. But technically, we never saw The Emperor's body, so the door could be open for him to return. Although he had to escape the second Death Star before its destruction.

Palpatine returned in a major way for George Lucas' Star Wars prequels. He entered not as a deformed Sith Lord, but a seemingly well-intentioned galactic politician. But his intentions were more insidious, as he was pulling the strings in the Senate, instructing Darth Maul and Count Dooku, and throwing the Jedi Order off his trail. These efforts ultimately paid off, as he's given emergency power and ends democracy as a whole, ascending to become character we know as The Emperor.

This long-running villain wasn't mentioned or referenced in either of the last two Star Wars movies. Kylo Ren's path to villainy doesn't appear to be connected to Palpatine, as the young Force Sensitive man is largely inspired by his grandfather Darth Vader's legacy. He was originally manipulated in a Palpatine-esque way by Supreme Leader Snoke. But that character was unceremoniously killed off in The Last Jedi, with fans left wondering about Snoke's backstory.

While Snoke looks dead for good, J.J. Abrams could potentially expand the character's backstory during his upcoming blockbuster Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Abrams created the character in The Force Awakens, and likely had other plans for the mysterious villain. Perhaps he's another apprentice of Palpatine, and the character will return via a flashback. Or perhaps Kylo Ren's adeptness with the dark side of The Force will bring the The Emperer back as a Force Ghost.

It remains to be seen, but J.J. Abrams has a point regarding the character's link to the overall franchise, and why he needed to be included in The Rise of Skywalker. Only time will tell how he ultimately factors into the story.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will fly into theaters December 20th. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.