When fans saw the first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, they were shocked to learn of Emperor Palpatine's return, as he was seemingly killed during the events of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, but visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett confirms that director J.J. Abrams had previously wanted to bring the character back for Star Wars: The Force Awakens while also offering more information on how cloning techniques led to his return. In the finished film, there are teases that it was cloning technology that brought the character back, with these recent comments being the most concrete information yet about the character's return.
"[Actor] Ian [McDiarmid] was such a major part of the original films," Guyett shared with Cinefex [H/T Imgur]. "J.J. wanted to bring him back to reveal that Palpatine wasn't completely destroyed in [The Force Awakens]. He created a clone of himself and, with the help of Sith loyalists, rebuilt himself to a fragmented and unstable state. When Kylo meets him, Palpatine is not fully formed, and he relies on tubes and mechanics, moving around this Sith laboratory on a mechanism that Kevin Jenkins designed. He has the spirit of the Sith, but he's trapped inside a body that's incomplete."
It's unclear exactly why Palpatine didn't end up in the final version of The Force Awakens, though being introduced then, even in the slightest of capabilities, would have likely prepared audiences more appropriately for his full-fledged return in the final chapter of the saga. The Rise of Skywalker may have cut right to the chase by delivering Palpatine in the opening scenes, but the ambiguity of his existence still had audiences scratching their heads. The sequences on Exegol did include appearances from what looked like cloning devices, as we saw what appeared to be clones of Supreme Leader Snoke, but the amount of material that film had to cover prevented it from fully explaining his return.
In addition to this recent interview, the debut of the novelization of the movie this weekend adds more evidence to the cloning theory that fans conjured.
"All the vials were empty of liquid save one, which was nearly depleted," the book reads of the scene in which Kylo Ren meets Palpatine on Exegol. "Kylo peered closer. He'd seen this apparatus before, too, when he'd studied the Clone Wars as a boy. The liquid flowing into the living nightmare before him was fighting a losing battle to sustain the Emperor's putrid flesh."
The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novelization will officially hit shelves on March 17th, with copies having been sold at this weekend's C2E2. The film hits Digital HD on March 17th and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on March 31st.