Well, obviously, I wouldn’t be asking the question if I thought the answer was a straight or easy ‘yes’.
Obviously, it depends on the precise nature of Palpatine’s presence or involvement in Episode IX.
Although the general content of the Rise of Skywalker teaser trailer struck all the right notes with me, the one thing I was iffy about was the indication of Palpatine’s ‘return’ or presence in the story. Below, I will lay out some of the reasons why a full-on ‘return’ of Palpatine would be a bad idea.
To be blunt, I’m generally not a fan of bringing characters back who were meant to be dead. I didn’t like Darth Maul being brought into Solo: A Star Wars Story. In fact, I didn’t like Maul being brought into Clone Wars either – even though it led to some very good storytelling. For me, it undercut the potency of Maul’s death in Episode I and the potency of that Duel of the Fates finale.
With Palpatine – IF he was to be brought back in the flesh – it would be much worse than that. It would completely undercut the end of Return of the Jedi. It would undercut Darth Vader’s act of redemption: in doing so, it would undercut the entire story of Anakin Skywalker.
And, in doing that, it would undercut the very core of the entire Star Wars saga.
So, no – I absolutely don’t think having Palpatine come back in the flesh would be a good idea. If that’s how it goes, then Episode IX would be risking an even worse weakening of the existing ‘saga’ than The Last Jedi did.
All of that being said, I doubt that’s what we’re going to see in Episode IX.
In all likelihood, the role of Palpatine in the story is going to be relatively small: probably consisting of either a Force-ghost type presence or ‘echo’ or some form of clone or AI/hologram (both of which have been done already in various Extended Universe content, specifically relating to the post-ROTJ Palpatine).
And that would be fine. In that context, it would be great to see the Emperor back in the story. My suspicion at this point is that he was teased in the trailer just as a way to really hook people back in to the anticipation of what Episode IX is going to be: rather than an indication that Palpatine is necessarily going to be important in the plot.
I actually would hope it is more to do with AI or with his consciousness somehow being in a droid or something like that: and not the well-trodden idea of Palpatine having clones of himself.
Something more ethereal would be even better. Although I wouldn’t be comfortable with Palpatine as a Force Ghost either. Why? Well, one of the central points about the Force Ghosts was that those Jedi discovered that ability to survive death because they were atuned to the light side of the Living Force.
In fact, one of the most potent storytelling elements of Revenge of the Sith is something I haven’t really seen people talk about: specifically, that it was Palpatine/Sidious and Anakin/Vader who were actually, actively looking for a way to ‘cheat death’. And yet it was the Jedi – specifically Yoda, through Qui-Gon – who found the “path to immortality” in the very same film.
Being Sith – grounded in real-world power and greed – Palpatine and Plagueis failed to find the answer. Eventually, Palpatine gets tossed down the reactor shaft to his death, while the likes of Yoda, Obi-Wan and even Anakin are able to achieve a survival after death. It’s a theme that links Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi beautifully.
If it happens that Palpatine is now a Force-Ghost, all of that goes out of the window. It would mean a Dark Side user could just easily do what Qui-Gon or Yoda did: and that there’s nothing special about it. It would mean too that, even if Anakin had remained as Vader (and not redeemed himself by saving Luke), he could’ve still survived as a Force-Ghost (just a Dark Side Force Ghost).
In terms of the previous films (and trilogies), this would undermine some of the most important themes and ideas. Which is why I doubt it’s what will happen.
Without speculating too much on the Episode IX story or going into ‘theories’, even a limited ‘Force Presence’ style Palpatine cameo (but not full ‘Force Ghost’) could have all kinds of interesting possibilities, given the likelihood of Luke’s Force Presence or Force Ghost being involved in this story. We don’t know WHAT Luke’s state is going to be, post-TLJ. So there’s lot of fascinating new directions this could go in: and I hope J.J and co are bold enough to do something interesting and epic and not just play it safe.
With all of that being said, again I tend to suspect that both Palpatine and Lando were brought into Episode IX (as well as into the first teaser trailer) specifically as an act of fan-service and trying to salvage or sustain excitement after the TLJ backlash and Solo ‘boycott’.
Whatever they might say to the contrary, I’m sceptical that it was ‘the plan all along’ to feature Palpatine in this trilogy. I’m not even convinced Lando was always going to be appearing in Episode IX.
I still think Lando should’ve appeared in The Last Jedi (specifically at Canto Bight): but I suspect Billy Dee Williams was called on as an emergency measure for Episode IX, with Luke written out in TLJ, Han written out in TFA and Carrie no longer able to participate – they needed someone to provide the nostalgia fix and to represent the OT, with Billie Dee Williams being the only person left they could go to.
The fact that Lando’s name hasn’t even been mentioned in the previous two films testifies to this, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong though: I love Lando and will be really happy to see him back in the action.
Likewise, I don’t think Palpatine was originally going to be a fixture at all in these films: nothing in TFA or TLJ hinted at that in the least bit, all the focus being on Snoke. But Rian Johnson‘s decision (right or wrong) to kill off Snoke (NOT Darth Plagueis) in TLJ created a problem for J.J in Episode IX – and the fix may have been to summon the ghost of the Emperor in order to tie everything back to the previous trilogies instead of inventing a new villain just for the final film.
We know that there was no clearly defined story plan for these three films: but that the stories were written one at a time, with some degree of just ‘winging it’ involved. The return of Palpatine was almost certainly an idea that only came up after TLJ was already out there.
It looks though like all the talk of ‘letting the past die’, etc, has been thrown out of the window for this film. In teasing a Palpatine return, a cynic might perceive it as a tired admission on the part of the current Lucasfilm/Disney leadership that they haven’t really been able to establish enough new lore in these post-Lucas films – and that they felt they had to summon up the chief villain of the previous two trilogies again.
The question now remains: what form will this Palpatine presence in Episode IX take? Will their be any kind of ‘showdown’ between Palpatine and Luke? Or even Yoda and the other Force Ghosts? What about Anakin? How does Palpatine relate, if at all, to Rey?
So many questions.