OK, What the Hell is Going On With Star Wars?
Every day we find out more about the Emperor's sex life.
Or lack thereof...
Buckle up everyone for an excellent case study of the idea that less is more.
In 1983 Return of the Jedi was released, and in the then final chapter of Star Wars, the evil character of the Emperor was finally revealed to audiences in full after having a brief appearance in the prior film Empire Strikes Back.
The Emperor really chewed the scenery in Return of the Jedi. He was the clear 'big bad' and was ultimately defeated by Darth Vader during Vader's dramatic turn to hero.
Audiences probably knew all of that. Regardless, what's happened since 1983 is that the character of 'The Emperor' has become something far bigger, starred in many more Star Wars films, and along the way his evil and meaning have been diluted. It's really a lesson in 'less is more', and the power of minimal backstory. It's a case study in characters serving plot and not vice versa.
All of that brings us to the last few months of Star Wars storytelling, where through a variety of platforms, mediums, and releases we've learned things about the Emperor we never needed to know. Truly.
Back to the idea of less is more:
JJ Abrams, who directed the recent Star Wars movie Rise of Skywalker certainly knows this. He's made a career around the idea of the mystery box. But he really had his come to Jesus moment with Rise of Skywalker when he was asked to deliver not just an ending, but THE ending to a 30-year-old franchise worth BILLIONS of dollars with legions of religiously fanatical fans of all ages.
That would be a tall order for anyone.
The movie itself resurrected the Emperor. Who is no longer just "the Emperor" that he was back in 1983.
In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, fans would only know Palpatine was his last name through the novelizations. Then later we found out he had a first name: Sheev.
In George Lucas' prequel trilogy we found out all sorts of things about him. What he looked like as a young man, how he grew old and ended up scarred and monster-y looking. How he tricked the entire galaxy via trade agreements and clone armies. How he turned Anakin into Darth Vader.
But the fact remained, and it's a core fact to Star Wars in general: he would eventually die at the hands of Darth Vader.
This is where recent history starts to muddle what was once so clear.
In The Rise of Skywalker Emperor Sheev Palpatine is alive... and not well. He's a rotting corpse now on life support in a cave. He's still trying to take over the galaxy by using giant death rays. Some people never change.
The big twist in the movie is that Rey, the heroine of the new trilogy, is actually his granddaughter.
This meant he had kids. Which surprised some fans. Mainly because it added a layer of humanity to a character that just seemed inhuman.
The film even featured a flashback that included his son and daughter in law.
Why are we recapping all of this?
Because going through the steps one by one, of how this character went from a mysterious menace(of the phantom variety) to an internet joke is worth exploration. Because of the notion of less is more.
Remember, this character was thrown into a chasm and vaporized before the chasm was vaporized back in 1983.
We don't know how any part of him is alive after this. We aren't told how in the movie either. We are also led to believe that at some point he had children.
This is where the idea of suspension of disbelief plays into things. Audiences can accept stretches of the truth in stories. They are watching a movie about laser swords, sentient robots, dogs who fly spaceships... and they love it.
Even a character dying and coming back to life is forgivable. After all, this is mythology.
So while the Emperor's return to life seems bizarre... it's possible this can just happen. Audiences didn't take too kindly to the lack of explanation. It became a meme.
Poor Oscar Isaac was given the line of dialogue, and when he delivered it, you could see the life drain from his face.
Internet memes and complaints about things like Star Wars are to be expected. Little did we know that eventually Star Wars/Disney/Lucasfilm would be addressing this issue...
Once again, a novelization would explain things we didn't really need. We learn the Emperor was, in fact, a clone. This cued a lot of internet eye rolls.
It seems more surprising to include this information anywhere rather than just letting it go at "somehow."
But there you have it. The Emperor we see in Rise of Skywalker is not the same old Sheev Palpatine, but rather a clone of said Sheev.
But it didn't stop there.
More additional information would come out. It turns out the son of the Emperor, who is Rey's father, is also a clone. Some weird kind of clone that... didn't work out.
Why do we need to know this? Who is telling us this? Why does it matter? What is going on?
All that we really get from knowing this last bit is that the character of Sheev Palpatine, once a mysteriously evil figure who we knew next to nothing about and was scary... didn't, in fact, go around having intercourse and siring children.
It all seems wholly unnecessary. The movie came and went, the character was always a bit mysterious, and mysterious often works better.
Is that all there is to this character? Or are there more depths to mine in subsequent releases?
There was also other odd retconning of the moments in Rise of Skywalker.
We are also told that the final kiss between Rey Palpatine and Ben Solo was platonic.
It doesn't seem platonic. But more importantly: why do we need to know?
When it comes to the backstory and meaning of the events in Rise of Skywaker... another gif seems appropriate:
The important thing here, the lesson, is that the character of the Emperor circa 1983 was a function of plot. He was a piece of the greater mythology.
If you read Return of the Jedi as a metaphor, like all good Campbell style quests, you could see the character of the emperor as evil manifest in a physical being. Where he was born and how many kids he has doesn't matter- nor should it. It's not a 'real world' it's a metaphor for Darth Vader and Luke's father and son dynamic... and redemption. Darth Vader has been turned evil.
Imagine all the scenes with the Emperor in Return of the Jedi but with no Emperor present at all. What if it was just a force of evil, working inside both characters? A force of anger and hate, that urged Vader to darkness... and made Luke consider it?
The Emperor wasn't supposed to be put under the microscope. He wasn't supposed to have a first and last name. He wasn't supposed to have a clone. Or a son clone. Or a granddaughter... clone. Or anything like that.
This is actually why MAYBE audiences would have just gone along with the idea that the Emperor was back. It seems improbable and crazy... but we can accept improbable and crazy in the movies. It's called suspension of disbelief.
Sometimes less is more.