This article contains spoilers for all nine movies, the clone wars, rebels, and the Darth Bane trilogy of books.
Before we go any further, The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) is not a perfect movie. Chief among its faults is the rushed reintroduction of Emperor Palpatine Aka Darth Sidious. However, it is also this concept that makes it work perfectly as an ending to the Saga. The return of Ol’ Palpy isn’t just the culmination of a nine movie arc, it is the culmination of the Sith knowledge and machinations that go well beyond the movies into the old days of the Expanded Universe (EU).
But the EU is no longer canon right?
Yes and no. Much of the EU was indeed wiped out. But, the bulk of that was the stuff that occurs after Return of the Jedi. Some stories in the EU go back 1,000s of years before The Battle of Yavin (the end of Episode IV: A New Hope). The status of those stories are “they aren’t canon, until they are.” It’s a gray area that Star Wars writers, like Dave Filoni, have played with for sometime. Grand Admiral Thrawn was one of the most beloved characters of the EU and was made the main antagonist of Star Wars: Rebels. So, if we look at some of the thematic and narrative elements of the Star Wars franchise the end of TROS starts to feel right.
So Much Cloning
The idea of clones has been around since the very first Star Wars movie in 1977. As soon as Obi Wan mentioned the Clone Wars, this was technology that was on the table. Writers like Timothy Zahn (who created Thrawn) and several comic book creators played with cloning in the early 90’s (before the prequels.) And the character who was most often cloned was? You guessed it, Emperor Palpatine.
Long term fans were already really familiar with this concept. It was a common fan theory of who the big bad would be in the sequel trilogy. So, when Palpatine returned, it was fairly obvious to most of us that he was a clone. This was confirmed with the seemingly throw away line “Cloning. Dark Magic.” And yes, it is a throw away line – worse it’s a lazy one. But, the elements behind it have been long established and covered well in the prequels and subsequent shows. Would it have been cool as hell to really delve into the dark arts of the Sith and see how Palpatine did this? Without question. Should it have happened? Yup. But was it necessary? Not really.
Ok so most of us understand the Cloning part, but what about the dark magic?
The Sith were more than just powerful force users, they were sorcerers. They found ways to twist and manipulate the force with spells and rituals that gave them more power. The Clone Wars and Rebels both explored this territory often. After surviving the events of The Phantom Menace and The Clone Wars, Darth Mauls tracked down ancient Sith artifacts in order to accumulate power. Other beings like the Nightsisters, used dark magic similar to the ancient Sith. While the movies never really went into this TROS does. The Sith Dagger and the comments that surround it imply it was used for dark rituals. Not unlike the Dagger or Mortis seen in The Clone Wars.
One of the dark powers the Sith discovered was the ability to steal another person’s body. Two force users are locked in a battle of wills, the winner gets a body the loser has their life force ripped away, never to return. This skill is an important plot point in the tale of Darth Bane.
Darth Bane and the Rule of Two
One EU tale that has a tenuous hold on post Disney Star Wars is that of Darth Bane and the Rule of Two. The Sith were once like the Jedi, a massive order that spanned the galaxy. They waged two great galactic wars in a bid for power. Yet, the nature of the dark side (namely the desire for power) always led to infighting, backstabbing, and the failure of the Sith. An up and coming Sith lord named Darth Bane saw this failure of his order and rectified it. He killed every member of the Sith and created The Rule of Two.
The Rule of Two is simple. There is a master whose job is to attain power and wisdom while maintaining anonymity. The Master must choose a worthy apprentice. The apprentice’s job is to learn everything, surpass the master, kill them, and repeat the cycle. That way with each new master the power of the Sith increases.
Darth Bane was shown in The Clone Wars episode “Sacrifice.” The Rule of Two was famously introduced in the prequel trilogy as well. So why is this important? The way Darth Bane met his end is directly related to the end of Palpatine in TROS.
Bane felt that his apprentice, Zahanna, was biding her time, waiting until he was too old to fight, to kill him. Such an act curropts the idea of The Rule of Two. The apprentice needs to prove their strength, that they are stronger than the master, in order to rightfully rule the Sith. So, Bane decides to steal her body using the Sith ritual. Bane loses this battle, his soul becoming forfeit as a result, and Zahanna goes on to become the master.
This means that this event, and the subsequent skills, by the nature of The Rule of Two would have been passed to Sheev Palpatine before he killed his master. So, when Palpy attempts to steal Rey’s body and fails, his rule is finally truly over. There is no coming back, it is a definitive ending for the true Dark Lord of Sith.
Did You Ever Heard the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?
Darth Bane wasn’t the only Sith Lord to seek out and find secrets to immortality in the dark magic of the Sith. Darth Plagueis learned how to manipulate and control life. As his apprentice Palpatine would therefore have learned multiple ways to extend his life.
Unlike Jedi, Sith do not come back as force ghosts. Not in the same way. So the only way for a SIth lord to live forever is through these dark arts. It is unclear if Palpatine truly learned the teachings of Plagueis. But he knew it was possible. Palpatine would have thus put all the resources at his disposal to figuring out a way to do this.
Palpatine Was the Ultimate Sith Lord
While every Sith after Bane saw the power in The Rule of Two, only Palpatine saw the real power in anonymity. It wasn’t just his ability with the force that made him formidable, it was his ability to plot and scheme. Palpatine is the Batman of the star Wars world, a master tactician who is almost invincible when given time to plan.
As a young man Palpatine saw the power that politics could provide. He eventually saw that as a way to attack the Jedi in ways no other Sith had in thousands of years.Anonymity wasn’t just a way to avoid being attacked, it was a way to confuse and attack your enemy from all angels. He began to lay the groundwork to control multiple civilizations and governments to do his bidding.
When Jedi Master Syfo Dias commissioned the Clone Army, it was Palpatine who saw the real power that existed there. The ability to manufacture a war and control both sides of it, ensuring that which everside one, he was in charge.
After manipulating the senate to elect him a supreeme chanecllor, then voting to extend his powers he defeats both the Jedi and the Separatists. He simultaneously uses his connections to obtain and commision the plans for the Death Star. He combines his knowledge of the force (light saber and Kyber crystals) with the technology at hand (The Death Star) to create a melding of the powers at his disposal. This does not sound like a man who would put all his eggs in one basket. Palpatine had back up plans for his back up plans.
The Empire was not his only regime. Palpatine always had two separate identities, only known to handful of people. There was Sheeve Palpatine, the rags to riches politician who created an Empire. And there was Darth Sideous Lord of the Sith who ruled the galaxy from the shadows.
In The Rise of Skywalker, we finally saw the other side of Palpatine’s power. While the Jedi had disciples and followers who were not force users themselves (as seen in Rogue One’s Chimwerete) the Sith too had theirs. For a 1,000 years the Sith had been working in the shadows and amassing power. In that time though, it seems it attracted followers. This is the power Palpatine controlled that allowed him to manipulate both sides in the Clone Wars. This was his real army.
Sideous had knowledge of all the old Sith secrets plus access to new technology and resources of the Empire. So he did what he did best. He made plans and worked every angle. As the Empire was building the Death Star and conquering worlds, the Sith army were making preparations for the next steps to total domination.
After the Death Star proved it could be successful with the destruction of Alderaan they would have continued researching and working on expanding that technology. Just like humans did with the atomic bomb. 30 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki our nuclear weaponry made Fat Man and Little Boy look like a child’s play thing. It is the same with the death star and the Planet Killing Star Destroyers.
Similarly they had 50 years to study clone technology. The Sith created clones of the Emperor. Empty vessels on the ready in case he was killed. Meaning Palpatine could transfer his essence to them using the sorcery of Darth Bane. This technology eventually allowed Palpatine to create phantom menaces like Snoke to distract and cripple his enemies while staying hidden, a trick he had mastered many years ago.Clearly this wasn’t as simple as just making a clone. It took time and there were failures along the way (one of them ultimately being Rey’s father.) Did midichlorians present problems with the cloning process? Is this why the remnants of the Empire (working with cloning scientists) are obsessed with getting their hands on The Child in the Mandalorian?
Darth Bane started the Sith down a path of ultimate power. The Rule of Two gave the Sith the power to make these things possible. Palpatine was the first Dark Lord smart enough and strong enough to wield this power.
Darkness Rises and the Light to Meet it.
Antagonists are, almost by definition, doomed to fail. They have some fatal flaw that they are blind to. Not unlike the The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine’s ultimate success and finale failures stem from the same source; his own plans.
Anakin Skywalker was the one who saved Palpatine from the Jedi, he is the one who helped bring the galaxy to his knees. But it was also Anakin and his children who are ultimately the ones that defeat the Emperor. They are the balance, the light that always resists and challenges him.
And when he discards a “failed” clone who fathers a child, it is the Skywalker lineage that trains her and teaches her the skills needed to defeat him. It is Rey, under the tutelage of the Skywalker children, that unites people in the Resistance. It is this adopted Skywalker who heals Ben Solo and undoes Darth Sideous most cruel attack on the Anakin’s family. In the end Palpatine’s undoing is all his own. AS always in Star Wars- evil will consume itself, and goodness will prevail.
The Rise of Skywalker isn’t just the culmination of the Skywalker Saga, it is the culmination of 1,000’s of years of Star Wars Mythology and the true end of the Sith…
Ok, so it’s probably NOT the end of the Sith. Star Wars is a legendary cash cow run by people who are too afraid to move beyond the past. We will undoubtedly see more retconnings, more exploring of past characters and events, and more fan service than you can shake a stick at. But until then, lets enjoy the rarest of things in Star Wars. An ending.