Long time lurker, first time commenting.
I don’t think the Emperor is back per say. I think it’s one of two things though.
His Force essence is in someway hovering over or inside the submerged Death Star II and he will serve as a test for Rey and company to overcome as they seek a MacGuffin in the fight.
Palpatine is back but it’s actually Snoke controlling the strings and puppeting something far more fearful. What if Snoke survived his percieved demise and is projecting a Force Illusion of himself as Palpatine in a game of riddles and clue to play with both sides? He’s actually the true mastermind. Maybe he’s actually Darth Plagueis as mentioned in the opera scene during Revenge of the Sith?
How could this work and be?
A) In the comic re-telling for The Last Jedi he tells Kylo that he sees everything and saw the conflict in him as he tried to kill Han.
B) in Aftermath a dark presence tries to effect baby Ben in Leia’s womb.
C) Snoke saw everything when he read Rey’s mind. This means he saw her conversation with Luke and the perception she now has that it was only Darth Sidious that was responsible for the rise and fall of the Jedi, etc. Except in the Tarkin novel we have Palpatine state he is grateful to the prophet and planner his master had been. To me this implies he didn’t work alone in planning the subsequent events of the PT and OT. He could use this to toy with her.
D) How could it be Plagueis and fit? He could be the one who manipulated Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas to order the Clone Army and be responsible for the ‘Force striking back’ at him to create Anakin as was the case in Legends. The ‘Force striking back’ is stated in the canon novel Tarkin, but has not clearly been defined to what it means. Yet. There’s also a canon comic that has a surving Jedi Padawan named Ferren Barr find a file about Darth Plagueis that he found for those he sees as involved in the ‘clone crisis’ and why the Jedi fell so quickly. The events that saw the downfall of the Republic and birth of Anakin could be manipulated by master and apprentice in collaboration. This would ensure the legacy of Palpatine as a central main villain in the saga still stays in tack while also introducing us to the supreme intellect in the final act.
E) What was he doing during the PT and OT? Training the Acolytes of the Beyond from Aftermath who later become the Knights of Ren, a new order of Dark Side users bidding their time and waiting to strike revenge on both sides. This leads to a team up of the Resistance and First Order. You know know like the Naboo and Gungans and Ewoks and Rebel Alliance. As well as he has been searching for the key to immorality. This is why he’s looking for the perfect embodiment of the Light and Dark and must have something pure and unbreakable of which to work as he states in The Force Awakens novel to Kylo. He feels this is where his apprentice comes from while reminiscing.
F) Kylo says “Show me. Show me again, Grandfather…” Could Snoke have used Force Illusions before in the form of Vader and this planted the false seeds to young Ben of who he was meant to be?
G) Snoke’s guards name comes from the Atrisian Emperor, in Legends they ruled Atrisia. The 54th Emperor was famous for this often referemced quote.
“There are three ways to defeat your enemy. The first, and most obvious, is to better him in a trial of force. The best way is to have him destroy himself…The middle way is to destroy your enemy from within. Judicious application of the middle way shall make your blows more effective if you later take the way of force. From the middle way it is also possible to push your enemy onto the path of self-destruction.”
What does Snoke say to Kylo about Hux?
“You wonder why I keep such a rabid cur in such a place of power. A curs weakness properly manipulated can be a sharp tool.”
He’s trying to divide the First Order from the middle way and at the same time having them destroy the Resistance and New Republic.
I think Snoke is Plagueis and masking himself as the Emperor to ultimately reveal himself as the true supreme intellect. It ties the whole saga together. Ensuring The Phantom Menace through The Rise of Skywalker is a complete cycle of three trilogies and nine films. As Richard Marquand put it post Return of the Jedi, "If you follow the direction, and project into the final trilogy [i.e. Episode VII-IX], you realise that you’re going to meet the supreme intellect, and you think how is it possible to create a man who has such profound cunning that he can not only control Darth Vader, but the fate of Luke Skywalker? Control the destiny of the whole galaxy? You’ll be amazed!”
Remember, the Dark Side is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural and only one has discovered the secret to cheat death. And as Luke says to Palpatine “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” We see this twice. In the Throne Room on the Death Star II and when he thinks he’s killed Yoda in the Senate Chamber.
S - Sith
N - No
O - One
K - Knew
E - Existed
There’s even a Professor at University of Pittsburgh named David W. Snoke who wrote a paper on intellectual design. Who does this sound like in Star Wars context?
I don’t think these things are accidental.
I think this really ties the whole saga together beautifully and shows each generation is just as important as the one that came before it. Much like the fandom. We all love Star Wars. Some of us love all of it, while some of us only love a fraction of it. This ensures that every generation’s story has meaning, a legend and an interconnecting story that brings the Skywalker story to a meaningful close. It goes with what J.J. said too.
“You can’t assume anyone has sat and watched eight movies before this one, and yet I want a kid to be able to watch Episodes I through IX and see that one story.”