The shocking debut of a sinister, dual-bladed lightsaber-wielding Rey in the closing moments of the new trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has ignited even more fan theories about the closing chapter of the saga, and the promised return of Palpatine. Among the most prominent is that the former galactic emperor will attempt to control Rey, or else has been doing so all along.
One of the oldest theories, which predates the new footage, is that Rey is a clone of Palpatine or else one designed by him that somehow ended up on Jakku. Palpatine loved a good clone army almost as much as he loved experimenting with the Force, so the idea of him trying to design a Force-sensitive super-soldier clone that he could activate at any time (like the infamous Order 66) isn’t that far-fetched, or that weird. Besides, the Battle of Jakku, which marked the defeat of the Empire, took place on the planet where Rey grew up.
The main issue with this theory is the timing doesn’t quite work: Rey was born at least 10 years after the Battle of Jakku, and in the flashback in which she was “sold for drinking money” on Jakku, she’s between 4 and 6 years old.
Rey could be corrupted by Palpatine. Snoke, essentially Palpatine's stand-in in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, was a powerful telepath who was able bond two people separated by a galaxy, one of whom he had never met. That Force bond lasted after his death, and the rumors of Kylo Ren and Rey dueling in Force Flash Fights isn't going anywhere, so what are the chances that someone like Palpatine could slip into that connection and slither his way into Rey’s thoughts?
The Emperor was the best emotional manipulator in the entire galaxy, both of masses and of individuals, and Rey’s weakness – her desire to protect everyone she loves – is similar to Anakin’s. But her devotion to a higher cause, her abandonment issues, her dislike of corruption of every shape and her Force bond with a “forbidden” person mirror Dooku’s journey from the Light into the Dark; both were Jedi-trained veterans and experienced in political intrigues, and yet he succeeded. Rey feels quite isolated
The Dark Rey we see in the Rise of Skywalker trailer could also be a vision sent by Palpatine to her – as a possible future, to entice her with promises of power, or to make her afraid of her darker instincts and potential for destruction. (“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the Dark Side.”)
She could also be a vision of Rey that the Emperor sent to someone else, probably Kylo Ren.
Finally, Rey could be possessed by Palpatine through the usual Sith possession protocol: A Sith dies, leaving his spirit attached to a physical object. Whenever a person touches the object, she can experience visions, the Sith ghost can talk to them, or they can become possessed by the malicious ghost.
There is a canon precedent for this: In Marvel's Darth Vader: Lord of the Sith comic series, the mask of Lord Momin possesses and uses the bodies of several members of Vader’s retinue and some of Mustafar’s inhabitants to complete a very spoilery project. The dark wall paneling, similar to obsidian, that is behind Dark Rey is suspiciously similar to Mustafar’s interior design, and if you look closely, she’s wearing a ring with a dark stone, similar to the one Snoke wore in The Last Jedi. It would be possible that, in own of her quests across the galaxy, Rey came into contact with an object haunted by Palpatine’s spirit (maybe the ring?), and that he was able to override her will.
There is one large obstacle to this theory, however, and it is stylistic: In the trailer, we have seen Rey rush through at least three different planets wearing the same practical white-and-tan outfit and a double belt that holds her lightsaber and blaster. The robes Dark Rey wears are elaborate, and the lightsaber is starkly different. Within the same action-packed movie, what are the chances Dark Rey will take the time to change into a set of perfectly tailored Sith robes? Even the best-prepared Emperor couldn’t have predicted her exact sizing specifications.
In any case, the Dark Rey scene might not be the moment when the Emperor tries to possess Rey, but a mere foreshadowing of his intentions… mostly because he, unlike Snoke, is dead and in sore need of both a warm body to take over and of a powerful apprentice to carry out his will.
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 on Dec. 20.