Ever since the first trailer for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker premiered, and fans heard that horrific, familiar cackle, we’ve known—The Emperor…Sheev Palpatine himself…was somehow back.
Ugh, that guy. How? How is this possible? According to J.J. Abrams, this was always part of the framework for the third Star Wars trilogy, so it’s not like they made a late game change. Which means that there’s a plan. Which means that The Emperor planned out how to circumvent his own overthrow, and even planned on how to cheat his own death.
And we’ve seen it happen in four different ways already.
The Contingency and The Rise of the First Order
This may come as a shock, but the building blocks of the First Order were already in place before the Empire’s fall. See, fans sometimes make the mistake of assuming that Palpatine trusted Darth Vader and put all his galactic dominion eggs in the Chosen Skywalker basket. But the Emperor was—is—a shrewd and calculating guy. Anakin Skywalker was a piece in a toolkit, a great big hammer among scalpels and pliers and live wires and daggers. He had several apprentices before Anakin, after all, and abandoned them each the instant it suited him. It’s a Sith Lord’s prerogative.
But that wasn’t all. Because Palpatine wasn’t just one hungry guy out for as much power as he could summon in life. The Emperor rigged his mighty Empire to collapse if he should die. He refused to share his throne with a successor because the Empire was never about leaving behind a legacy—it was about him having control of the galaxy.
In Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, we find that Palpatine recruited and trained an orphan boy from Jakku (yes, the same planet that Rey is from) named Gallius Rax, who was responsible for implementing this destructive plan on his death. Rax was to draw the New Republic and Imperial remnants into a giant battle that would kill off all but those essential to the rebirth of the Empire. Gallius Rax was the Emperor’s Contingency, and fashioned himself the title of Counselor, a mysterious but powerful position. He worked behind the scenes, manipulating the leftover military powers to initiate the Battle of Jakku. These events lead to the withdrawal of surviving Imperial forces to the far edges of the galaxy and the implementation of the child recruitment program for the First Order’s forces (this initiative was spearheaded by General Hux’s father).
This leads to an important shift in our understanding of the First Order. Namely, they’re not an offshoot of the Empire that rose up to take its place—they are literally Empire 2.0, designed by the Emperor himself. But to what end? In order to figure that out, we need to look at other schemes that Palpatine worked through in the past….
The Control of Force-Sensitives
Even with the Jedi Order eradicated, there would always be Force-sensitive beings in the galaxy. Emperor Palpatine knew this, and had his own plans for that tricky situation. During the Clone Wars, Palpatine (as Darth Sidious) attempted to kidnap Force-sensitive children that were meant to be recruited into the Jedi Order. He claims his intention is to create his own army of Sith spies that can take on the Jedi, but Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Mace Windu put a stop to the plan.
By Star Wars: Rebels, Palpatine has a group of dark side operatives known as the Inquisitorius. All of them were former Jedi and Jedi trainees, trained by Vader in the ways of the dark side. They went by code names, numbers attached to “Brother” or “Sister”. Their purpose was to find any Jedi who had escaped the Purge and kill them, but they also hunted down Force-sensitive infants. What became of those children? It’s probable that Palpatine intended on making these younglings the next generation of Inquisitors, but the group couldn’t sustain itself once the Rebellion picked up speed and the Empire had more pressing concerns.
The real question is, did the Empire dump those children once the Inquisitorius disbanded, or perhaps after the Empire fell? Or were they kept in reserve, indoctrinated into those Knights of Ren that we keep hearing about? It would make sense for the group to stop identifying as Sith agents; Palpatine always seemed intent on ignoring the Sith “Rule of Two”, equipped with multiple apprentices and operatives slinking around in the background from the very beginning. In essence, Palpatine has been working from the start to control the Force itself by controlling who uses it, making certain that those with abilities are loyal to him and only him.
So… why this obsession with cloning, then?
Fans of the old Legends canon know that there have always been plots connecting Palpatine to cloning—starting with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire Trilogy, which saw both the Emperor and Luke “Luuke” Skywalker cloned. But Palpatine’s canon involvement with cloning begins (as far as we know) with the clone army that the Kaminoans create for the Republic, mysteriously ordered by the dead Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. Finally explained in the Clone Wars series, the vague plot from Attack of the Clones comes clear: Darth Sidious and Count Dooku are the ones responsible for the creation of the army, a handy resource that the Republic is rushed into using to battle the Separatists (who are also being managed by Dooku and thus, Sidious). Still, there are many ways to fight a war… why clones?
We have to assume that Palpatine’s interest in cloning is personal. If he expected he might die, and planned to destroy the Empire and then rebuild it, then it’s very likely that Sheev Palpatine always planned to clone himself. But he wouldn’t want to do it too far ahead of time—having a few Palpatines wandering around could only lead to trouble. There have been rumors swirling since The Force Awakens that Supreme Leader Snoke was some kind of failed Emperor clone, or perhaps a deliberately half-done one. He has a lot of similarities, but lacks a certain gravitas. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but there’s an even more recent possibility that might have something to do with all this:
If you’ve been watching The Mandalorian, you’ve likely fallen under the spell of the tiny Yodaling that we’ve all come to love. Cuteness aside, we know there is more to this story than there seems. Dr. Pershing, who is tasked with examining the kid by his Imperial boss, has an emblem on his uniform worn by the clones on Kamino, which could mean that he works/worked for them at some point. It also means that Baby Yoda could be a clone. Of the Yoda. But why would the Empire want to clone the longest-standing Master on the Jedi Council? The Imperials aren’t keen on keeping the kid alive, so having a dark side-trained Yoda probably isn’t the gambit here.
I’ve got one much-maligned word for you: Midi-chlorians.
Give me a second to explain! Look, cloning is a weird and wooly discipline—even in space. While the body should come out relatively the same, the personality? Ideals? The nurture parts that nature can’t control? Cloning can’t pin that stuff down. It can’t make an exact replica or a photocopy. There are bound to be some things that don’t translate over in the cloning process, even with Kaminoan accelerated education programs.
What if Force powers are one of those things?
What if Palpatine wanted to clone Yoda—the most powerful Jedi of an age—to see if his midi-chlordan count would translate in that process? Because if Palpatine is planning to clone himself, that’s a piece of information he desperately needs. An Emperor clone with no connection to the Force will not be able to crush the galaxy in his lightning-shrouded fist. Cloning a Force-strong being as an experiment could easily be the first thing that Darth Sidious asked the Kaminoans to do for him, ahead of the order for the clone army. A test run, if you will.
No guarantees on that theory, certainly. But it would be a fascinating twist for the story to take if Palpatine does turn out to have cloned himself in Episode IX.
The Manipulation of Life, Death, and Time
And yet, there’s more to unearth here. Because even these schemes are too basic for the greatest threat to the known galaxy. Sheev Palpatine doesn’t just want an Empire at his disposal and the galactic citizenry crushed beneath his boot heel—he wants control over life, death, and time itself.
And he might already have these things in the bag. After all, if he is cloning himself, that makes him pretty hard to kill—so that’s death down. As far as life, Palpatine’s little speech to Anakin Skywalker about Darth Plagueis the Wise seems to cover that bit. He claims to have learned everything from the old man, including the ability to use the midi-chlorians to create life. Because of this, it has long been suspected that either Plagueis or Palpatine himself is responsible for the birth of Anakin Skywalker.
Notably, this scene between Anakin and Palpatine is director J.J. Abrams’s favorite segment in the prequels (no surprise, it’s a great scene). He’s also insisted that Episode IX still has more to say on Rey’s parentage, even though Kylo Ren told her that her parents were no one in The Last Jedi.
But hey, maybe Kylo was telling the truth. Maybe Rey’s parents were no one… the same way Anakin Skywalker’s parents were no one. After Vader didn’t work out, it’s entirely possible that Palpatine wanted another go at making the perfect lackey. The perfect hammer for the toolkit. Maybe Rey is another convergence of midi-chlorian energy?
And as for mastery over time itself… Palpatine’s been working on that one for ages. In Star Wars: Rebels, Ezra Bridger enters the Jedi Temple on Lothal using a different method than the front door—he accesses a special entrance, as communicated to him by ancient beings known as the Ones. Via this entrance, Ezra finds a sort of pocket dimension that exists outside time and space. From there, Ezra sees portals to different points in the space-time continuum. In essence, this realm makes it easy for a person to bend time to their will and use it however they see fit.
The Emperor was also looking for this place.
Unfortunately, Ezra’s entrance into the realm made it possible for the Emperor to find it. While Ezra (and Ahsoka Tano) managed to escape, it’s unclear if the Emperor was expelled from that plane altogether, or if he’d be able to find his way back. Either way, this plot twist makes it even more obvious as to what Palpatine has been working toward all this time: He wants control over the building blocks of the universe. He wants absolute power absolutely. And he’s uncomfortably close to getting what he wants.
Which means that the Resistance is in far more trouble than it realizes.