Pablo Hidalgo’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The Visual Dictionary has been incredibly useful in providing salient information that wasn’t revealed on the big screen. Arguably the biggest criticism aimed at the latest Star Wars movie is that a rapid pace and erratic edit leave various plot points ambiguous, but the visual dictionary helps fill some of these gaps, one of which being the return of Palpatine. The Rise of Skywalker never explicitly accounts for Palpatine’s survival after Return of the Jedi – there’s an allusion towards the Sith magic of Darth Plaguesis, Beaumont Kin mentions cloning, and the Sith loyalists on Exegol have Palpatine hooked up to a giant machine, suggesting some kind of technological intervention. The exact mechanics of Palpatine’s continued existence are mostly glossed over, leaving the audience to fit the pieces together themselves.
Fortunately, The Rise of Skywalker‘s visual dictionary provides a helpful pointer. According to Hidalgo’s book, the ancient Sith of centuries prior dug massive fissures into the surface of Exegol in the belief that a “transportative vergence” existed deep within the planet. The exact nature of this power remains a mystery in the Star Wars world, but it might provide further insight into how Palpatine is kept alive, and would also explain why the villain is unable to leave Exegol. Perhaps the machines seen in The Rise of Skywalker connect Palpatine to one such vergence, allowing him to transcend the realm of death – potentially the unnatural process attributed to Darth Plaguesis.
The suggestion that Exegol might have inherent resurrection capabilities gives Ben Solo a route back into the Star Wars franchise, especially since his soul departed on that very planet.
It might already be outlandish to suggest that Ben Solo could be resurrected in future Star Wars movies, but it’s also possible the character was subtly killed and brought back to life in The Rise of Skywalker, right before the audience’s eyes. The Visual Dictionary‘s description of fissures on the surface of Exegol sounds eerily similar to the chasm Palpatine flings Ben Solo down during their climactic battle. As mentioned previously, Ben is sent off the edge of a crevasse and remains missing for most of the fight. Only when Rey has defeated Palpatine does Ben emerge, clambering his way up from the dark unknown.
Viewers naturally assume that Ben somehow managed to cling on to the rock face and slowly make his way back up the flat ground through sheer determination. Given the additional information provided by the Visual Dictionary, however, Ben might’ve been thrown into one of Exegol’s transportative vergences. There are several potential interpretations of how this would play out. Either Ben Solo dies from the fall and is resurrected by Exegol itself, or maybe the pit is a vergence but Ben manages to hang on and physically climb out via his own steam. It might also be significant that Ben only returns form the vergence once Palpatine is defeated, almost as if the planet stopped sustaining one figure, and moved straight onto another.