J.J. Abrams is a fan of the past. The director made an homage to Steven Spielberg with Super 8, revitalized Star Trek for the modern age, and took a trip down nostalgia lane with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He’s far from done with the past, though, going as far as to bring back a presumed-to-be-dead villain, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the big bad of the Star Wars franchise. The trailer revealed his return with his signature sinister laugh, and according to Abrams, his comeback from the dead was his game plan from the beginning.

Like the Goonies, Emperor Palpatine will “never say die.” The size and exact nature of his role are unknown, as the trailer was only teased of his return. The reveal was divisive in some corners of Star Wars fandom, but as we learned from the toxic reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, nobody can please everybody. 

The Dead Don’t Die 

Whether the choice to resurrect the dead, which the series does with its ghost Jedi masters anyway, pays off, audiences will find out when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters December 20th. In Abrams’ opinion, as he told Uproxx, it would’ve been stranger to leave Palpatine out of the bigger picture than to include him:

“Well, when you look at this as nine chapters of a story, perhaps the weirder thing would be if Palpatine didn’t return. You just look at what he talks about, who he is, how important he is, what the story is — strangely, his absence entirely from the third trilogy would be conspicuous. It would be very weird.”

J.J. Abrams

Old and New Stories 

Abrams feels obligated to stay reverent to the past of the series. He resurrected the creepy Sith overlord with the man who helped kill him to begin with — screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. Together, according to Abrams, they had to look into the past to look into the future of the franchise:

“When Larry Kasdan and I worked on The Force Awakens, we didn’t do it in a vacuum. We very purposely looked at what came before. We chose to tell a story that touches upon specific things and themes and ideas that we’ve seen before, to begin a new story. But we examined all that came before to ask where does this feel like it’s going?”

J.J. Abrams

None of the ambitious but polarizing choices writer-director Rian Johnson made with Star Wars: The Last Jedi changed Abrams’ vision for the end of the franchise, even though he originally wasn’t going to direct the ninth chapter; Colin Trevorrow was attached before splitting ways with Lucasfilm over creative differences. 

Reportedly, George Lucas is disappointed with the new Star Wars chapters, almost like a kid unhappy to see someone else playing with their fancy toys, but Abrams continues to express his love for Lucas’ world regardless. He loves Lucas’ characters enough to bring one back from the grave, after all. 

Can’t We Leave the Past in the Past?

The last two Star Wars sequels were still as much about the old characters as the new ones, to the point where the young cast doesn’t always get to stand on their own two feet and forge their own journey. Maybe fans wouldn’t want to see this trilogy without their old favorites, front and center, including Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian. The only question is, will they continue to serve a far greater purpose than nostalgia? Too soon to say, but Abrams hasn’t always risen above hitting nostalgic beats in his work.