Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Emperor Return Gives New Meaning to Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is finally here, giving fans the eagerly-anticipated conclusion of the Skywalker Saga and completing the cinematic journey began 42 years ago with Star Wars: A New Hope. It's a conclusion that ties up many story threads and answers a lot of questions, but it's also one that, looking back, adds new meaning to some of the things we've seen before. That's especially true for the return of Emperor Palpatine and what that means for The Phantom Menace.

Before we go much further, just a note that this piece will be full of spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. If you haven't yet seen the final chapter in the Skywalker Saga, you might want to stop reading here -- but be sure to circle back and continue once you've seen the film!

Going into Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker one of the biggest questions was how Emperor Palpatine returns and, connected to that, why. As fans know, the character infamously plummeted to his death at the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, killed by a redeemed Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker in order to spare Luke. Yet, as we discovered in Rise of Skywalker, the Emperor survived, but while it's not exactly explained how he survived that fall into the Death Star's reactor it soon becomes very clear that the Emperor has been playing a very long game -- one that pretty much started all the way back in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace when he manipulated his way into becoming the Chancellor of the Republic.

Rise of Skywalker doesn't fully break down every step of Palpatine's plan. There's no need thanks to the prequel trilogy showing his dark rise to power. What it does, though, is outline exactly how he's been pulling the strings since his death, revealing that he has been behind the First Order, Ben Solo's turn to the Dark side and evolution to Kylo Ren, all of it. He reveals that Snoke was his creation -- completely with a jar of Snoke parts for mood -- and that now the old Empire has moved through the First Order to its last evolution: the Final Order. Palpatine promises to make Kylo the new Emperor, but he just needs Kylo to find and kill Rey -- revealed to be Palpatine's own granddaughter -- first.

The Emperor is only partially being honest here. He doesn't want Rey killed. He knew that Kylo wouldn't kill her. He knew the whole thing. Instead, he wanted Rey to come to him so that she could kill him, and, in the process, the Emperor's spirit would transfer into her, making her Empress Palpatine and the Dark Lord of the Sith. No more Rebellion. No more Jedi. Just ultimate victory and the final outcome from Palpatine's original power grab back in The Phantom Menace.

Think about it. He put himself in a position of power in the Senate to be able to call the shots and establish the Empire and then literally spend an entire generation using that Empire and it's follow-up to wear down any form of resistance and rebellion to the point that it was hanging on by a thread while also waiting for the arrival of a younger, powerful vessel through which he could destroy the Jedi for all time and rule with the dark brutality of the Sith for seemingly all time.

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Knowing what we know now about the Emperor's plan, it all casts the events of The Phantom Menace in a new light. For most fans, the "phantom menace" of that film was always Palpatine, but now we know just how much bigger this endgame really was. It was never about Anakin or even Luke. It was, in a very real way, all about him making his way to the Final Order and the ultimate power in the Galaxy and it will be hard to ever see The Phantom Menace the same way again.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now.

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