Emperor Palpatine’s sudden return in The Rise of Skywalker was one of the more groan-inducing aspects of the movie. It felt contrived at the time, attributed vaguely to a “pathway to many abilities some would consider unnatural.” This shoddy storytelling meant that it was left to the soon-to-be-released “expanded edition” novelization of the film to explain just how the hell it happened.
After Darth Vader threw Palpatine into the second Death Star’s reactor in Return of the Jedi, the “heretics of the Sith Eternal,” a cult of personality dedicated to the Dark Side, retrieved his body and spent years trying to create a vessel for his spirit. In other words, they tried to clone him.
But according to the book just “one genetic strandcast lived. Thrived even. A not-quite-identical clone. His ‘son.'” But there was one issue: the boy was “a useless, powerful failure.”
It continues: “Palpatine could not even bear to look upon such disappointing ordinariness. The boy’s only worth would lay in continuing the bloodline through more natural methods.” In other words, he could fuck, impregnating Rey’s mother — for what it’s worth, still a “nobody” — who eventually left their daughter on Jakku in an effort to hide her from Palpatine.
Palpatine dispatched the Sith assassin Ochi to find Rey, convinced that she would be a worthy successor to Darth Vader in the same way he thought Luke would be that successor in Return of the Jedi. Ochi didn’t find Rey, but he did find and kill her parents, as she sees when she grasps his dagger — the murder weapon — in The Rise of Skywalker.
OK, so what does this all mean? Well, it explains JJ Abrams’s complete retconning of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. Abrams went ahead and constructed an elaborate refutation of that film’s revelation that Rey’s parents were “nobodies.” Reasonable people can differ on which is the more satisfying explanation of her lineage, but the about-face from film to film is inarguably jarring.
Within the Star Wars universe, its real significance, besides clarifying Rey’s lineage, is confirming that it’s entirely possible that Palpatine died a virgin. The emperor does not fuck.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the dude until you remember, well, everything else about it.