“If an Empire cannot protect its Emperor then that Empire must be deemed a failure. It collapses not only because its central figure is gone, but because it must not be allowed to remain!“
After Rise of Skywalker, several fans were not happy that Emperor Palpatine returned. However, after analyzing all the clues and Palpatine’s meticulous mindset, I think I have a complete overview of Palpatine’s machinations that led to his return. The plan makes perfect sense and was utterly brilliant when you analyze all the clues that can be found in the extended Canon. Palpatine was a man who always had plans within plans so it would make sense that he would have a plan for his eventual death as well.
Shortly after the original Expanded Universe of Star Wars was scrapped, we were introduced to Emperor Palpatine’s Contingency program. The Contingency was an insurance policy that would destroy the Galactic Empire if Palpatine died prematurely. In Palpatine’s mind, if the Empire could not protect him then it must be destroyed. Also, Palpatine was so greedy that he did not want anyone to succeed him as Emperor.
Thanks to the information provided by Grand Admiral Thrawn, Palpatine was able to map out a route through the previously unexplored Unknown Regions. Throughout his reign, Palpatine established shipyards and training facilities in key locations in the Unknown Regions. If anything were to happen to the Empire, only he and a select few would know the way to safety.
Thanks to the efforts of Palpatine’s protege Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax, the Galactic Empire imploded. However, only the weakest Imperials and the resources that were deemed unnecessary were wiped away. Those that were deemed strong and useful were spared. After the Battle of Jakku, whatever Imperials remained escaped into the Unknown Regions. Those Imperials would become the founding members of what would become the First Order. However, it was clear in Rise of Skywalker that not all the surviving Imperials went in the same direction in the Unknown Regions. While some surviving Imperials formed the First Order on Starkiller Base, others and members of the Acolytes of the Beyond formed the Sith Eternal and Final Order on Exegol.
As revealed by The Mandalorian, some Imperials such as Moff Gideon, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and their followers did not escape into the Unknown Regions. However, it was hinted that Moff Gideon’s Imperial remnant had ties to the First Order. This was revealed by what looked like failed attempts to create Supreme Leader Snoke floating in tanks. It has also been implied that Moff Gideon may have been using Grogu/Baby Yoda to help create Snoke. This was due to the fact that Moff Gideon was after Grogu’s midichlorians since the Force was strong with him. For all we know, they could have been trying to give Snoke an artificial connection to the Force by transplanting Grogu’s midichlorians into him. Either that or Moff Gideon needs Grogu’s midichlorians to help stabilize Palpatine’s imperfect clone body.
Now, we come to the core of Palpatine’s real plan. In the novelization of Rise of Skywalker, it was revealed how Darth Plagueis discovered the secret to cheat death. Unlike his Legends counterpart, Plagueis intended to transfer his essence into a clone body. Plagueis was even in the process of preparing his clone bodies, but Palpatine killed Plagueis in his sleep before he was ready to perform the ritual. Before Palpatine killed Plagueis, he seized his Master’s secret to cheat death for himself, which he later used when Anakin Skywalker killed him in Return of the Jedi. Also, Plagueis was a master at manipulating midichlorians to create life and Palpatine could have used that technique while creating Snoke and later Rey’s father.
Since the Galactic Empire was deemed a failure in Palpatine’s eyes, he resolved to create a newer and stronger Empire to take its place. Thanks to the revelations in Rise of Skywalker, we got a better idea of how he planned to do that. With Snoke as his puppet, Palpatine used the First Order as the vanguard to destroy the New Republic while Palpatine himself was safely hidden and prepared the last touches to the Final Order in the shadows. Thanks to decades of planning, Palpatine’s followers were able to refine and improve technology that was created during the reign of the Empire such as Death Star technology, which resulted in the creation of the Final Order’s fleet of Star Destroyers. The existence of this fleet would have ensured the long term continuation of Palpatine’s reign. Taking out one of those planet-killing Star Destroyers accomplishes nothing since there were thousands more in reserve. After the First Order fulfilled its function to wipe out the New Republic and make the wider galaxy vulnerable to invasion, Palpatine was ready to reveal himself to the galaxy, which was when he released his broadcast.
Unfortunately, despite Palpatine’s extensive planning for his return, he still needed one final piece to complete his scheme: a new body. Even though Palpatine was able to cheat death, the clone body his essence inhabited was imperfect and its composition was worsening due to his immense power in the dark side. If Palpatine was truly going to continue his reign, he needed a stronger and fitter body that would last a lot longer. That’s when he turned his attention to Kylo Ren, the grandson of his final apprentice, Darth Vader.
Through his puppet Snoke, Palpatine was able to orchestrate Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side and his transformation into Kylo Ren. Due to his own experience of killing his Master before he was ready to transfer his essence as well as his own death by Anakin’s hands, Palpatine did not want to train Kylo Ren himself. If Kylo Ren killed Palpatine before he was ready to transfer his essence, all of Palpatine’s plans would be ruined. Therefore, Palpatine used Snoke as his proxy to train Kylo Ren in the dark side. Eventually, Kylo Ren betrayed and killed Snoke and seized the mantle of Supreme Leader for himself. However, this was exactly what Palpatine wanted. Palpatine wanted Kylo Ren to develop the bloodlust and cunning necessary to strike down his Master. As revealed in Rise of Skywalker, the essence transfer ritual required Palpatine to be struck down and his essence would possess his killer. Since Kylo Ren proved able to strike down Snoke, he had the necessary instincts to initiate the ritual even if he was doing it unwittingly. Even though Palpatine said he was making Kylo Ren the new Emperor, but he was actually grooming him to become his eventual vessel. That was one of the reasons Palpatine released his broadcast to the galaxy: partly to spread confusion and fear to the wider galaxy and partly to make Kylo Ren come for him.
After Kylo Ren turned away from the dark side, Palpatine no longer considered him a suitable vessel to possess. This caused Palpatine to turn his attention to his granddaughter, Rey. Rey was selected as a potential vessel for two reasons: for her obvious blood ties to Palpatine himself and possessing her would end the Jedi. When she arrived on Exegol, Rey could feel Palpatine trying to influence her mind and she could see his thoughts and memories. When Rey refused to participate in Palpatine’s essence transfer ritual and sided with the redeemed Ben Solo, Palpatine no longer saw her as a viable vessel.
Palpatine tried to use Force Drain on Rey and Ben Solo, but he discovered that they were a dyad in the Force. As a dyad, Rey and Ben were two beings who were one and made more powerful through their bond. Palpatine quickly discovered that this dyad had the power to restore his ailing body to its full strength and drained Rey and Ben’s dyad. With his body and full power restored, Palpatine had achieved the final piece to his planned return and no longer needed to transfer to another body.
However, Palpatine’s successful return was short-lived as he was permanently destroyed by Rey and the combined strength of all the Jedi of the past. It is unknown if Palpatine managed to transfer his essence to another body before he was destroyed. Considering the only clone body he could inhabit after his first death was an imperfect one and Palpatine had thirty years to try and replace it and failed, it seems unlikely that Palpatine will be able to return this time. Also, the powerful army and fleet he spent decades to build was defeated by the combined strength of the Resistance and the Free Worlds fleet. In the end, Palpatine’s attempt to create a better and stronger Empire failed miserably.
Overall, Palpatine’s plan to cheat death and create a more powerful Empire was indeed brilliant and carefully planned out. It reveals the full extent and true nature of the Contingency program. It almost succeeded, but it was thwarted at the very last minute. One can only imagine how the galaxy would have turned out if Palpatine’s plan did succeed.