The new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novel offers another explanation of how Emperor Palpatine survived in Return of the Jedi after Darth Vader threw him down the Death Star shaft.
The book already revealed that the version of the character we saw in The Rise of Skywalker was a clone body that housed his spirt. But, how did his spirit continue to live on? We now have that answer, and it comes towards the end of the book during the part of the story where Rey is participating in the Sith Ritual. It’s during this sequence where Rey stars to have visions of Palpatine’s past, beginning with him falling down the Death Star shaft. The book’s author, Rae Carson, writes:
“Plagueis had not acted fast enough in his own moment of death. But Sidious, sensing the flickering light in his apprentice, had been ready for years. So the falling, dying Emperor called on all the dark power of the Force to thrust his consciousness far, far away, to a secret place he had been preparing. His body was dead, an empty vessel, long before it found the bottom of the shaft, and his mind jolted to a new awareness in a new body – a painful one, a temporary one.”
That clears up some more stuff. It’s a shame that they J.J. Abrams didn’t actually explain any of this stuff regarding Palpatine in the film. There was a lot of confusion by audiences regarding Palpatine’s return, after all, after he fell down the shaft the Death Star blew up. This all seems like pertinent information you’d want the audience to know. Oh well, what’s done is done.
It makes sense that Palpatine would be ready for this when the time came. He was always making dark and secret plans and was looking to stay ahead of his adversaries. So, as the Rebels celebrated their win against the Empire, Palpatine was still out there, preparing to return to wreak havoc.