Snoke’s Death Forced Abrams’ Hand for Palpatine’s Return in The Rise of Skywalker
Chain reactions, they create alternate timelines from the path we’re on, taking us in directions we may not have otherwise gone. According to The Rise of Skywalker co-writer Chris Terrio, Snoke’s death in The Last Jedi left a void for a powerful overarching villain, and who better to take that place to complete the story of Palpatine/Skywalker than the one who has been seeking immortality from the beginning?
In an interview with Awards Daily, Chris Terrio talks about the chain of events and decision making that led to the return of Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. The first point, which caught me a bit off guard, was how involved Kathleen Kennedy and Michelle Rejwan (recently promoted Senior VP of live action development and production – Lucasfilm) were in the story’s endgame.
“Kathy Kennedy and Michelle Rejwan had a clear plan for where they wanted things to end. They had clear plans about certain narrative marks they wanted us to hit. They also gave us a lot of freedom within that. We knew that Rey and Ren were utterly key to this trilogy, but we also felt that there was no way that we were going to not find a path to redemption for Kylo Ren, the son of Han and Leia. We felt that right from the beginning, when J.J. established Kylo Ren in Episode VII, there was a war going on inside him and that he had been corrupted by something bigger than himself and had made bad choices along the way. J.J. and I felt we needed to find a way in which he could be redeemed…”
The redemption of Ben Solo was the core to which the story of Episode IX had to wrap itself around, in addition to Rey completing the journey of self discovery despite her dark lineage, of course. The death of Supreme Leader Snoke in The Last Jedi vaulted Kylo Ren as the trilogy’s new “big bad” which obviously made it a bit more difficult to turn him in Episode IX without another significant antagonist. Sure, they could have gone the way of The Rock and had Kylo Ren have a moment of realization that what he had done was wrong, but I think the idea of defeating another entity holds more weight. Terrio explains how Snoke’s death put the return of Palpatine (an idea Kathleen Kennedy was very interested in from the beginning of this trilogy) into overdrive.
“(redeeming Ben Solo) gets tricky at the end of Episode VIII because Snoke is gone. The biggest bad guy in the galaxy at that moment seemingly is Kylo Ren. There needed to be an antagonist that the good guys could be fighting, and that’s when we really tried to laser in on who had been the great source of evil behind all of this for so long. That’s when we really started aggressively pursuing this idea that there is old evil that didn’t die. The source of the evil in the galaxy is this dark spirit waiting for its revenge and biding its time. The entity known as Palpatine in this version – his body died in Return of the Jedi – is patient and has been waiting. He dug his fox hole and has been waiting for his chance to re-establish his total domination.”
Terrio explains the return in a simplistic way, which when you think about it, really makes a lot of logical sense. As I said before, you could have just had Kylo Ren be the lead villain and make a sacrifice or something at the end, putting a stop to what he was doing. But I think the return of Palpatine, the villain obsessed with power and immortality since the prequels, makes a lot of sense for the final chapter in this saga. He caused and created the grief stricken upon the Skywalker family from the onset, so why not one more round? Kathleen Kennedy seemed strongly held on tying these nine stories together, which always kept the return of Palpatine as a tempting and lingering thought.
“Well, I can’t speak to Kathy’s overall intent. That was certainly discussed and was discussed before I ever came on. Kathy had this overall vision that we had to be telling the same story for nine episodes. Although from the sleight of hand of Episode VII and Episode VIII, you wouldn’t necessarily know immediately that we were telling the same story. She thought it would be a very strong end for the ninth movie.”
I am sure there were plenty of discussions between Kennedy and Abrams that took place in how this could be achieved, and it wouldn’t work if Abrams wasn’t on board, though according to Terrio it sounds like Abrams embraced the challenge of returning to the most evil person in Star Wars history.
“This fits well with J.J. because he loves magic tricks. He will often talk in metaphors and magic tricks, and so in Episode VII and Episode VIII, you think you’re watching one thing but Episode IX tells you to watch more closely – you were actually watching something else. When you rewatch the earlier films, things start to make additional sense. Ren and his devotion to the idea of his grandfather. The voice that he’s always heard in his head. The certain similarities between Snoke and Palpatine. The intention was that, by the time you get to Episode IX, you realize there were real reasons this is all happening. It all shows how this story is being fought cyclically through the series.”
I have heard some say they should have just introduced a new threat, but you don’t attempt to end a nine story saga by all of a sudden tossing in a new big evil entity in the final chapter. The options were to have Kylo Ren go full evil as the main villain, have the entity of Palpatine return, or introduce a new main evil antagonist, and I think they made the right choice for the end they wanted, which was the return of Han and Leia’s son to the light.
While never explicitly stated, and there being no need to retroactively say “what I would have done”, it appears clear that J.J. Abrams probably wouldn’t have killed Snoke in Episode VIII had he written it. But it doesn’t matter. They had to finish a story based on what existed while trying to reach their desired destination, and that destination was redeeming Ben Solo.
I completely understand feeling like the return of Palpatine was a bit rushed or uninspired, I can see that and appreciate that point. To me it makes complete sense that the most evil villain in the history of the franchise returned for the final chapter in this saga, especially when immortality and cheating death for eternal power was his primary motivation since the beginning.
A fun little fact to close things out here, some of you may know that I have been poking fun about Matt Smith probably not being in The Rise of Skywalker for almost a year now, even though it was reported he was cast in a significant role. The truth is, I had heard a long time ago that he was involved as some iteration of Palpatine, but Abrams scrapped the idea and brought in McDiarmid in full, which I am eternally grateful for.
I hope everyone has a Happy New Year!