Recently an unnamed (aren’t they always?) source reported that actor Ian McDiarmid was set to reprise the role of Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious in JJ Abrams’ still untitled Star Wars: Episode VII. McDiarmid’s cackling, black-robed personification of the dark side of the Force remains one of the lone bright spots—acting wise—of the Prequel trilogy, so another appearance as the ultra-powerful Sith Lord would lend a familiar, veteran presence to what is sure to be the most scrutinized genre film of the last 20 or so years.
But wait – didn’t this guy get thrown down the reactor shaft of the second Death Star, exploding into a storm of blue energy, never to be seen again? Well, yes, but this is sci-fi/fantasy after all – a genre where anything is possible, and there are several ways in which the “big bad” of the Star Wars universe could return from the grave to menace the Skywalker family once more. Here are four possibilities:[divider]
4.) Transference Into A Clone Body
Since cloning is a major aspect of the Star Wars saga, this is probably the first and most obvious method one could think of when conjuring up a potential return for Emperor Palpatine. The problem is, it’s been done before and the results were pretty lame. In 1994’s Dark Horse Comics miniseries Dark Empire, the Emperor’s “essence” was transferred into one of several waiting clone bodies that ol’ Palpy kept in a secluded corner of the galaxy as a contingency plan should he ever be chucked down a reactor shaft by an ungrateful apprentice.
The good news for Palaptine was that this new clone body was young and virile. The bad news was that he was so evilllll, the bodies quickly decayed and withered, so his ultimate plan was to ape Vigo’s strategy from Ghostbusters II and permanently transfer his spirit to a new body – in this case, Leia’s unborn baby.
Odds of this method happening? 500-1: Thankfully, this new Star Wars film trilogy will ignore the awfulness of the Expanded Universe stories, so clone transference is still a viable option if they go a different route with it. But it seems unlikely that Lucas’ outlines and Michael Arndt’s screenplay will recycle a narrative from a comic book series.[divider]
3.) Spirit Inhabiting a Skywalker
Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be a great idea to go the “cloned body” route, but what if you expanded on the idea of soul transference to an unborn baby from the Dark Empire story? What if Palpatine—who supposedly learned many of the secrets of life and death from his master, Darth Plagueis—was able to “imprint” his consciousness onto one of Luke or Leia’s children in the womb, therefore becoming a Skywalker?
And what if this Skywalker child grew to adulthood, all the while manipulating events within a new Jedi Order that Luke established in the years after Palaptine’s defeat? It would be a horrible, shocking reveal—not to mention a brutal betrayal—if a child born from Princess Leia (or a woman Luke marries) suddenly reveals 20 years later that he was Palpatine all along.
Odds of this method happening? 100-1: Well, this concept might be a little too creepy and horror movie-esque for a Star Wars adventure. I’m sure these are dark times for the galaxy and that JJ Abrams will want to inject a more Empire Strikes Back-like tone to the proceedings, but this may be overdoing it.[divider]
2.) He Never Actually Died
This is the most contrived way the Emperor could make a return in Episode VII, but with some finagling, you could convince an audience that he didn’t really die at the end of Return of the Jedi. Remember how Luke let go of the railing in Empire Strikes Back, choosing to fall into the abyss rather than turn to the dark side or believe that Darth Vader was his father? And remember how he was suddenly sucked into a maintenance port, then slid down a tube that led to the bowels of Cloud City?
Well, who’s to say the Death Star reactor shaft wasn’t built with the same type of maintenance tubeways? Perhaps the Emperor got sucked into one of these and ended up in a hangar bay, where he skittered aboard a shuttle and got the hell out of dodge before Lando and the rebel fleet blew it up? And that storm of blue energy? Well, Palpatine may have just been lashing out, throwing lightning as he died, rupturing a power coupling or something. (Hey, it’s not my job to come up with this stuff, let Michael Arndt worry about it!)
Odds of this method happening? 20-1: Getting closer, but if a schmuck like me thinks this is too contrived, then I’m certain Lucas and Arndt do too.[divider]
1.) Force Ghost
At the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Yoda reveals to Obi-Wan that—for the first time—a Jedi Master had figured out a way to maintain his identity after merging with the Force, becoming a shimmering blue “Force Ghost,” able to communicate with living beings from beyond the grave. That master was Qui-Gon Jinn, and he instructed both Yoda and Obi-Wan the secret of this mystical technique.
In the universe of the films (key word here being “films”), no dark side user or Sith lord had mastered this ability, but it’s highly probable that with sheer evil willpower—combined with Darth Plagueis’ teachings—Palapatine also found a way to maintain his identity after becoming one with the dark side of the Force and becomes the first “Sith Ghost.” Who knows what horrific and malevolent powers a dark side spirt would have? Regardless, Palpatine’s spirit returning to the galaxy and perhaps training a new apprentice would spell major trouble for the Skywalker family.
Odds of this method happening? Even: If I had anything to wager, I’d double down on this being the way that Palpatine has a presence in Episode VII, if the casting rumors are true. It makes the most sense story-wise, and wouldn’t require much suspension of disbelief from the fans.