One of the big questions that many people had after watching The Rise of Skywalker was this: how did Palpatine return?
What we knew from the film is that Palpatine actually did die (“I have died before,” he tells Kylo), and that Resistance historian Beaumont Kin mentions dark science and cloning as possibilities
And so, in that way, the movie actually did provide the answer for how Palpatine returned, just without stating it definitely. He was a clone.
The Rise of Skywalker novelization, written by Rae Carson, will be released on March 17 (accompanying the home release of the film), and like always with these novelizations it figures to fill in plenty of the gaps. Someone posted a section of the novel on the Star Wars Leaks subreddit that explains that Palpatine was a dwelling in a cloned body. Here’s what we read from the novel:
All the vials were empty of liquid save one, which was nearly depleted. Kylo peered closer. He’d seen this apparatus before, too, when he’d studied the Clone Wars as a boy. The liquid flowing into the living nightmare before him was fighting a losing battle to sustain the Emperor’s putrid flesh.
“What could you give me?” Kylo asked. Emperor Palpatine lived, after a fashion, and Kylo could feel in his very bones that this clone body sheltered the Emperor’s actual spirit. It was an imperfect vessel, though, unable to contain his immense power. It couldn’t last much longer.
“Everything,” Palpatine said. “A New Empire.”
I actually really like this explanation and think it’s the best of the possible options. This way, it ensures that Palpatine actually did die previously (protecting the importance of Anakin Skywalker’s actions) and that he didn’t just somehow miraculously survive. But it also makes a ton of sense narratively. The novel even says that Kylo Ren identified the equipment attached to Palpatine as being used in the Clone Wars (which he had studied). Knowing that Palpatine was a Sith Lord, it makes a ton of sense that he would have investigated cloning while overseeing the clone army of the Republic with a selfish motive in mind. We don’t know when he developed a clone body, but he did. And if the technology is there (and Star Wars has long established that it is), then of course Palpatine would desire to do it just in case, and of course Palpatine would have the resources to pursue that.
But I also really like the fact that Palpatine’s clone body can’t really contain his power. He is so powerful in the dark side of the Force that his clone body literally can’t contain his spirit and is thus breaking and withering away. This can’t be a permanent solution. I think that’s a fitting microcosm for the dark side, as any time darkness dwells inside a person it begins to break them and ultimately leads to death.
All of this could help us understand Palpatine’s motives in the film, too. He knows that his host body won’t last much longer, which must surely be part of why he tries to goad both Ben Solo and then Rey into taking his place… until he realizes that the power of the dyad could actually restore his broken body. So he drains life from Rey and Ben, using it to finally have a restored body, no longer reliant on the large apparatus to keep him alive.
While I think even a brief mention of this in the film would have helped clear up a lot of confusion, I do think it’s a great answer, and it was actually mentioned in the film, just as a possibility rather than the definitive answer. But I like the answer, and I think it makes sense both narratively and knowing what we do about Palpatine.