The dead speak! On the official Star Wars website in fact! In a new blog post on the site today, Lucasfilm Story Group member Emily Shkoukani explained “The Contingency” — the canon name for exactly how Emperor Palpatine died, came back to life, and returned to power in Star Wars. A plan that was, according to the site, in place long before Luke Skywalker threw him down a shaft on the second Death Star.
If this all sounds sort of familiar, that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s bad because, well, this is all crucial information that hasn’t really been collected in one place (until now) that would’ve made the huge question of “How did Palpatine come back?” at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker understandable. However, if it is familiar, maybe you read about it on this very website, where James Whitbrook had previously dug deep into Palpatine’s plan — something that was teased throughout multiple novels, TV shows, comics, video games, and more, culminating in his Episode IX return.
The whole story is told in the excellent column Star Wars Inside Intel, which you can and should read at this link. There you get the beat by beat breakdown of Palpatine’s “Contingency.” But we’ll give you the TL:DR summary. As we know from the three movies where he rose to power and the three where he tried to keep and extend that power, Palpatine was always been a complicated planner with a penchant for evil. So that he had a plan for resurrection in the event of his death isn’t really that much of a stretch.
That plan involved his consciousness being transfered to a clone on Exegol, where he’d long been doing cloning experiments when alive, and enlisting a few key people in the Empire to wipe out the old ways and bring in the new. Pieces like Operation: Cinder, which gets named-dropped all across modern Star Wars canon.
Meanwhile, as plans were being executed to wipe out the old Empire, Palpatine himself — in a weak clone body on Exegol — did a few things. First, he began to build a new army (the Final Order) and searched for a worthy vessel in which to be reborn. Eventually, he found one in his granddaughter, Rey. Her parents did their best to hide her but, eventually, she found herself drawn back into the story.
It began with her grandfather’s clone (Snoke) — which, through Luke, Kylo Ren, etc., set the wheels in motion for a confrontation with her grandfather. (It’s unclear if all of that was part of the plan or just the Force or something; this story isn’t a Swiss watch.) Rey could have joined up with the Sith Lord, becoming the “Dark Rey” we glimpse in the movie and resulting in Palpatine’s return, but instead she uses the Force and the Jedi to kill him once and for all. End of Contingency.
Or so we think. This is an interesting story to be sure but it all feels very, very much like putting a square peg in a round hole. Like Lucasfilm had half the pieces to a puzzle and just glued them all together in a way that kind of makes sense, but kind of doesn’t. Huge holes in the story remain unanswered including a brand new one: did Palpatine’s Contingency have its own Contingency? As it stands right now, the answer is probably no. But if another filmmaker comes up with an idea? Anything is possible. Bringing Palpatine back to life at all has taught us that.