Emperor Palpatine’s resurrection in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hurt the sequel trilogy and Star Wars overall more than anything in the prequels ever did. The Star Wars sequel trilogy has proven divisive for a myriad of reasons; some audiences believed there wasn’t enough focus on the original heroes, particularly Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo, while others felt that new characters like Finn, Poe Dameron, and Rose Tico were unfairly sidelined. Many also agree that Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though it had promising potential, was a rehash of the original Star Wars film.
But despite these criticisms and countless others, one vital narrative decision harmed public perception of the Star Wars sequel trilogy more than anything else ever did, recontextualizing nearly the entire franchise in the process. Palpatine’s resurrection in The Rise of Skywalker changed everything. Now, newer Star Wars projects like The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and Charles Soule’s The Rise of Kylo Ren comic miniseries are being used to explain the sequel trilogy’s biggest and most surprising storyline, but to a certain extent, these clarifications have come too late. The damage was already done by the time these explanations arrived.
Palpatine’s Return Killed The Rise Of Skywalker (& The Sequel Trilogy)
“Somehow Palpatine returned,” said it all, really. The exasperation with which Poe spoke those words reflected how much of the Star Wars audience felt about this monumental narrative choice. Perhaps most egregiously of all, Palpatine’s resurrection in The Rise of Skywalker highlighted the lack of a cohesive plan where the Star Wars sequel trilogy was concerned. This was already quite apparent given the stark difference between The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but when The Rise of Skywalker premiered, Palpatine’s resurrection truly came out of nowhere. This was a storytelling move entirely reliant on nostalgia, one which would alter the past and determine the immediate future of the Star Wars franchise as a whole.
It also forced Rey and Kylo Ren’s character arcs in a certain direction. Before The Rise of Skywalker, they were each headed down an interesting path. Kylo rejected all attempts to redeem him throughout The Last Jedi, giving him the chance to break free from his grandfather’s legacy. Rey was shown to be someone entirely separate from the Skywalker family, proving that those with connections to the Force could still come from anywhere, be anyone. But Palpatine’s return meant that both of them needed to be involved in his plan, or his resurrection would have been even more confounding. As a result, Rey ended up being a Palpatine, and Kylo Ren was given a swift and somewhat unearned redemption arc.
The Prequels Never Had A Single Choice As Bad As Palpatine’s Return
When the Star Wars prequel trilogy was originally released, it garnered just as much criticism as the sequel trilogy did. There were plenty of missteps, some of which are still contentious points of discussion today. Jar Jar Binks was included too prominently, much of the dialogue felt off and wooden, and some audiences complained about Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker. Most of all, people derided Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; some claim to this day that it’s an unnecessary part of the saga, and the so-called “Machete” Star Wars watch order eliminates it entirely. And yet, none of these issues truly altered the overarching story of the prequel trilogy to the same extent as Palpatine’s resurrection did for the sequels.
The duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace highlights the exact moment the galaxy changed forever and Anakin’s fate was likely sealed. Jar Jar Binks may have been an irritating presence, but his character was fleshed out and given a more relatable role in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And, while some of the prequels’ dialogue may have been iffy – the infamous sand conversation comes to mind – none of that took away from the intensity of Anakin’s fall to the dark side, the trauma of Order 66, and the tragedy of Padmé Amidala’s death.
TROS’ Palpatine Mistake Shows 1 Big Way The Prequels Beat The Sequels
Every major event that happened in the prequel trilogy would eventually lead up to those defining moments. Nothing in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was ever building to Palpatine’s return. The prequels, no matter how one personally feels about them, were made with a singular purpose: explaining how the galaxy came to be as it was in A New Hope and beyond. That includes Darth Vader’s origin, how Palpatine became Emperor, how the Jedi were (nearly) wiped out, and why Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa didn’t grow up together. All of those things were achieved with the prequel trilogy because there was a unified narrative vision.
One could attribute that to the fact that these were prequel movies, stories being told with the explicit purpose of providing context for their predecessors, but the sequel trilogy could have just as easily planned its endgame long before the individual installments ever went into production. Instead, the filmmakers wrote their own stories and followed their own creative impulses, loosely working with what came before, but with their own future narrative visions in mind. This is why Finn never truly became a Jedi, and why Rey went from being a nobody to being a Palpatine. Palpatine’s return showed, more than anything else, that there was no unified vision for the sequel trilogy.
This remains a shame because certain elements of the Star Wars sequel trilogy surpass or improve on the prequels and the original trilogy. The way The Last Jedi explains the Force, for instance, or Force-ghost Yoda’s conversation with an older Luke Skywalker. The Rise of Skywalker’s idea of a Force dyad between Rey and Kylo Ren remains incredibly intriguing, and seeing Leia train to be a Jedi with Luke was fantastic. There are many more wonderful moments and ideas sprinkled throughout the Star Wars sequel trilogy, but they are marred by Palpatine’s return. After that happened, Star Wars officially became too attached to the past, when it should have been looking toward the future.
Though other Star Wars projects have been used in recent times to provide a proper explanation for Palpatine’s return, this trend finally seems to be coming to an end. With Grand Admiral Thrawn’s live-action introduction and the exciting prospect of the so-called Mandoverse’s grand crossover on the way, along with the success of the High Republic Era and the upcoming The Acolyte show, the future looks bright for Star Wars. None of these stories should be inherently reliant on Palpatine returning yet again. Even so, Palpatine’s shadow still looms over the franchise – especially where The Mandalorian and the New Republic era are concerned. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has forever tied the Skywalker saga’s timeline to Palpatine’s dark legacy.