With two months to go until its wide theatrical release, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has released its eagerly anticipated final trailer teasing an epic battle for the galaxy between the Jedi and Sith, as the Resistance and First Order face each other.
After months of speculation, Ian McDiarmid has similarly been confirmed to reprise his role as the fiendish Sith Lord Darth Sidious -- perhaps better known as the villainous Emperor Palpatine who seemingly met his untimely end at the hands of Darth Vader in 1983's Return of the Jedi -- appearing on the official cast list on the upcoming sequel's poster. The Emperor's trademark sinister cackle appearing at the end of the first trailer had previously hinted his return from the grave. In the latest trailer, a new voiceover by Palpatine hints that the Sith Lord has secretly been observing things from behind-the-scenes for sometime, evidently plotting to destroy the Jedi and Resistance once and for all as they assemble for the coming climactic confrontation.
As the trailer reveals the classic characters getting ready for one last time, Rey is seen confronting what appears to be a hooded, black figure on the ice planet of Kijimi alone, likely finally facing the source of the resurgent Sith face-to-face for the first time. However, eagle-eyed fans may notice something appears off about the resurrected Palpatine this time around.
Palpatine appears wired to the extensive machinery behind him, making his usual throne more of a life support system than a simple chair. It is currently unknown if the need for medical apparatus is due to the character's extreme old age -- he was seen as a middle-aged man during the events of The Phantom Menace decades in the franchise's past, after all -- or as a necessary means to stay alive after being thrown down the second Death Star's reactor by Vader to save his son, Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Regardless of the impetus for Palpatine requiring life support, his teased appearance does mirror the fate of his greatest apprentice and man who would apparently kill him: Anakin Skywalker. Following Anakin's fiery duel with his former best friend and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi on the volcanic world of Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin had lost all his limbs to Obi-Wan's lightsaber and been engulfed in flames. Clinging to life, Anakin was recovered by Palpatine who used the best medical technology at the Galactic Empire's disposal to save his star pupil and mark his cybernetic rebirth as Darth Vader, a figure Obi-Wan would describe decades later as "more machine than man."
It is unclear how much Palpatine is hooked into his new throne, or if the Emperor of the Empire and orchestrator of the franchise's main conflicts is actually connected surgically into it at all. With the wreckage of a Death Star, along with fallen Star Destroyers seen throughout the trailers for Episode IX, perhaps Palpatine has furtively survived among the literal wreckage of his ruined Empire all along, a festering personification of the evil that had not been fully eradicated at the Battle of Endor all those years ago.
Also, the wreckage that Rey approaches to confront the Emperor could be fragments of the Death Star show prominently depicted in the final trailer. While not the throne where Luke's emotional duel with his father in Return of the Jedi took place -- though the ruined throne room is clearly displayed in the trailer -- Palpatine being located amongst the destroyed battle station could be a consequence of his apparent demise in Episode VI; potentially merged with the Empire's ruined legacy after being thrown into the reactor but kept alive by in his own insidious hatred fueling his deep connection to the Dark Side of the Force.
Heralded as the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga that has run through the eight previous main installments of the Star Wars franchise, including both the classic and prequel trilogies, The Rise of Skywalker features the return of the overarching antagonist to both previous trilogies, presumably back in his usual role as master manipulator. Given the franchise's love of narrative and visual symmetry, Palpatine's return echoes that of Darth Vader as a Sith Lord in need of life support but no less deadly. And from the wreckage of his greatest defeat, Palpatine has staged perhaps the most ambitious, evil comeback of all time as the legacy of the Skywalker family rests with the fate of the galaxy.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stars Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, with Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams. The film arrives on Dec. 20.