The long-anticipated first look at Star Wars: Episode IX, now officially titled The Rise of Skywalker, gave the franchise faithful plenty to chew over. However, nothing fans saw in the footage compares to what they heard as the screen turned to black: the familiar, ominous cackle of Emperor Palpatine, the Sith Lord also known as Darth Sidious.
The Emperor looms large over the first six Star Wars films, where he manipulated the Skywalker family's destiny for his own fiendish ends. Secretly orchestrating a trade war in The Phantom Menace as part of a convoluted plot to become chancellor of the Galactic Senate, Palpatine took aspiring Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker under his wing, and encouraged him to pursue his darker, emotional impulses to eventually shape him into his apprentice Darth Vader. Upon learning of Luke Skywalker's existence, he ordered Vader to bring his son to him in the hopes of turning him into his latest protege, only for Vader to sacrifice himself by flinging the Sith Lord to his presumed death. With the Emperor dead and gone for decades, how is he back for The Rise of Skywalker?
The narration for the teaser, delivered by Luke himself despite his character's death at the end of The Last Jedi, suggests legacy will be a major theme in Episode IX, even from beyond the grave. The concept of mentors having a literal presence in the lives of their students after death has existed since the first film, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi's voice guided Luke before he returned as a Force ghost in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. That concept was revisited most recently in The Last Jedi, in which Yoda appeared to Luke at a moment of crisis.
With that in mind, Rey is virtually guaranteed to be mentored by Luke after his death throughout The Rise of Skywalker.
So how does Palpatine figure in? The Force Awakens suggested Kylo Ren was not only inspired by his grandfather's legacy as Darth Vader, but by his own dark mentor figure, as the former Ben Solo asked Vader's old, burned helmet for guidance while he suffered a crisis of conscience. While that could have been dismissed as a delusional moment for the unbalanced villain, the Sith's strong connection to the Force leaves open the possibility that they could reappear in spectral form, just like the Jedi. And just as Luke saw multiple Force ghosts at the end of Return of the Jedi, Kylo may be visited by three Force ghosts, albeit with much more sinister agendas.
In addition to possibly communing with Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine could reappear to witness the resurgence of his villainous legacy. Supreme Leader Snoke could also potentially appear but, given that it was Kylo Ren who killed him during The Last Jedi, he may not be particularly amenable to seeing his former pupil. Palpatine studied ways for Sith to live forever in the writings of Darth Plagueis the Wise, and may have secretly achieved that as a Force ghost, not unlike how Qui-Gon Jinn learned how to become a Force ghost some time before his death in The Phantom Menace before imparting the lesson to Yoda and Obi-Wan.
As the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, Episode IX will focus heavily on the family's legacy through both its entanglements with the light and the dark. As Kylo Ren explores the literal Dark Side of his forbears through Vader and Palpatine, Rey will continue to seek guidance from the light through Skywalker siblings Luke and Leia. And given Darth Sidious' sinister cackle at the end of the teaser, whether the Skywalker family will be forever remembered as one of heroism or villainy will be at stake as the emotional core of the film.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Matt Smith, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher, with Naomi Ackie and Richard E. Grant. The film arrives December 20.