Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams says says it would have been “very weird” if the ninth and final installment of the Skywalker Saga didn’t bring back Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the mastermind villain behind both the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. In Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine has somehow returned despite his apparent defeat at the hands of a redeemed Anakin Skywalker (Sebastian Shaw) in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The death of Snoke (Andy Serkis) in the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi didn’t interfere with Abrams’ plans, according to the returning Force Awakens director, and Palpatine’s return was discussed by Abrams and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan when developing Episode VII.
“Well, when you look at this as nine chapters of a story, perhaps the weirder thing would be if Palpatine didn’t return,” Abrams told Uproxx. “You just look at what he talks about, who he is, how important he is, what the story is — strangely, his absence entirely from the third trilogy would be conspicuous. It would be very weird.”
Colin Trevorrow, who developed Episode IX before he was replaced by Abrams, “never considered” bringing back Palpatine as the final threat facing Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and the Resistance, as revealed by Trevorrow in a recent interview with Empire.
For Abrams, coming back to a galaxy far, far away meant an opportunity to repurpose early ideas born out of the creative process on The Force Awakens.
“That’s not to say there was a bible and we knew what happens at every step. But when Larry Kasdan and I worked on The Force Awakens, we didn’t do it in a vacuum,” he said. “We very purposely looked at what came before. We chose to tell a story that touches upon specific things and themes and ideas that we’ve seen before, to begin a new story. But we examined all that came before to ask where does this feel like it’s going? So there were discussions about that at the time.”
Because The Force Awakens was a new “beginning,” Abrams added, “you want to put the threads in, but you don’t want to necessarily be literal about everything.”
“And then when Rian was brought on to do The Last Jedi, we met and we talked about things and he wrote his story. And when I read it the script, I realized this didn’t get in the way of anything Larry and I talked about that I thought I’d get to,” he continued. “There were some very specific things we did get to do in this movie that we were laughing and going, ‘Oh my god, we’re finally doing that thing we talked about five years ago.’”
The art of The Force Awakens book showed the ruins of the Death Star, imagery which ultimately made its way into Rise of Skywalker in a new context — “There are things from that book that we came close to finally doing for sure,” Abrams noted — but when it came to the specifics of Palpatine, “I wasn’t supposed to do this movie. So I had a couple of years off. So when [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy called and I got back on that train, I started asking where does this go? So, suddenly, we were there having to do it. The rubber was hitting the road. So, we went back to the threads that were exciting to us and then we found new ones.”
Asked if moviegoers might have a better sense of who the murdered Snoke was by the end of Skywalker, Abrams hinted answers might come — in part.
“I will say, without giving anything away, knowing this movie is an ending is, for me infinitely more challenging than a beginning,” he said. “We knew we needed to provide answers. And while there may be some things that aren’t entirely demystified by the end of it, we wanted to make sure people left feeling that they were satisfied. So I hope, on a number of issues, people will leave and feel like that it’s a true ending and not an advertising ploy. We really are bringing it to an end.”
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens Dec. 20.
Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.