, he was slammed for playing it too safe. But with, Abrams is set to close this new trilogy by taking a massive risk that could bring the 42-year saga to a highly satisfying finish or unravel it completely. Im talking, of course, about the reintroduction of Emperor Palpatine.
After the emperor plummeted to his apparent death in a Death Star that subsequently blew up inReturn of the Jedi, Palpatines return was barely on anyStar Warsfans radar until the teaser forThe Rise of Skywalkerended with his cackle. The bombshell reveal made for an effective trailer, but bringing Palpatine back into theStar Warsnarrative could easily go terribly wrong.
For one, Palpatines return runs the risk of playing out as an unearned twist that comes out of left field without the proper setup. How long ago this plot point was decided upon is somewhat unclear, as Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedyhas saidPalpatines return was always the plan, yet Colin Trevorrow, who was originally set to helm the ninth episode, says itwasnt actually in place for his version. Writer-director Rian Johnsonhas also explainedthere was no mapped story beyondThe Force Awakenswhen he came on board to directTheLast Jedi.
Either way, aside from some extremely minor potential hints in books, comics, and video games, the story of the new trilogy never seemed headed for a Palpatine resurrection, especially seeing asThe Force AwakensandThe Last Jedigave us Supreme Leader Snoke, who appeared to be assuming the same narrative role as the emperor. If Palpatine was going to come back anyway, what was the point of Snoke? And if Palpatine has been around all this time, why not bring him back earlier rather than introduce such a massive plot point requiring tons of explanation at the absolute last minute, long after it seems relevant?
A recent promotional clip suggeststhe films solution may be to reveal that Palpatine was actually behind the events of the sequel trilogy all along, and perhaps even that he and Snoke were one and the same. Still, if thats the case, it remains to be seen ifThe Rise of Skywalkercan convincingly pull off such a twist in a way that retroactively feels inevitable. Otherwise it might feel a lot like Leia turning out to be Lukes sister inReturn of the Jediafter they kissed inThe Empire Strikes Back.
Another risk with Palpatines return is thatThe Rise of Skywalkercould suffer some of the same criticism asThe Force Awakens, which was that it relied too heavily on the first trilogys plot. WithThe Last Jedi, Johnson seemed to hope killing off Snoke would shake up the dynamic for the final episode, since it presumably wouldnt end with Kylo Ren redeeming himself by rebelling against Snoke the exact same way the original trilogy ended with Anakin redeeming himself by rebelling against Palpatine.
But Snokes early demise may have actually had the opposite effect, teeing up a movie thats evenmoresimilar to the original trilogy. Now, Kylo wouldnt just kill a new version of an old character; he would kill the same old character. Depending on the execution, that might not just be boring. It could retroactively undermine the ending ofReturn of the Jedi, which saw Anakin die while taking down Palpatine. For years that sacrifice stood as the sagas cathartic conclusion.
Chronologically, the series first six movies tell the story of the Jedi Order putting their faith in a boy they believe will bring balance to the Force. They conclude their prophecy must have been misinterpreted when he turns to the Dark Side, but decades later, Anakin is saved by his son, who never gave up hope that there was still good in him. By killing Palpatine, Anakin proves himself to be the chosen one after all, ridding the galaxy of the Sith Lord and restoring its balance.
The sequel trilogy was once thought to be a sort of epilogue to that story, focusing on the legacy of the original characters while keeping their actual personal victories intact. But to have Palpatine return inThe Rise of Skywalker, or reveal that his apparent death was just one move in his long game of 3D chess, could significantly reduce Anakins accomplishment and potentially even imply he was no chosen one at all.
If Palpatine were to return in non-corporeal form and be defeated by Kylo, itmightwork. Since Anakin would have really killed Palpatine inReturn of the Jediand his grandson would finish the job, hed remain integral to the saga. When the prophecy mentions that balance in the Force will be restored through the chosen one, that could still refer to Anakin, with balance restored through his bloodline. Rey defeating Palpatine could potentially work as well, as long as the importance of Anakins actions inJediis acknowledged. Still, theres a real danger of the film clumsily stripping away the significance of this crucial character and undermining the plot line of the first six movies.
Given Palpatines presence in both the original trilogy and the prequels, his return also presents an opportunity forStar Wars. If Abrams pulls it off, this could wind up being an ingenious way to tie the whole saga together and retroactively transform it into one cohesive story. If he doesnt, though,The Rise of Skywalkercould devolve into a poorly setup ending thats not only an uninspired rehash but also messes up one of the series main arcs.
The stakes for theStar Warssaga couldnt be higher.
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