By destroying Palpatine, Rey insured that Anakin was the Chosen One who brought balance to the Force.
In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Rey faces and destroys her grandfather, Palpatine and the lineage of Sith that he embodied, restoring balance to the Force. But what of Anakin Skywalker? Was he not the Chosen One who would bring balance to the Force? Did he only serve to leave it in darkness as Obi-wan lamented during their duel on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith? Did the latter hero negate the sacrifice of the former?
To answer these questions, it’s useful to go back to the beginning of the saga and briefly review the state of affairs.
“You refer to the prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force? You believe it’s this boy?”
With these words by Mace Windu, the audience is first exposed to the idea that a prophecy exists in the galaxy of Star Wars. It’s never made clear exactly how the Force is out of balance nor how to bring it back into balance. All that’s known with certainty (despite Yoda’s misgivings) is that it’s Anakin Skywalker who is to restore (or achieve?) that balance. The generally accepted theory is that, by destroying the Emperor, Anakin fulfills the prophecy and his destiny. He could only achieve this thanks to the love of his son, Luke.
“I can’t do it, Ben. I can’t kill my own father.”
When they went into hiding at the start of the Dark Times, Obi-Wan and Yoda did so believing they were biding time. They would secretly watch over the twins of Anakin—Luke and Leia—and when the time was right, they would be trained as Jedi and destroy both Vader and the Emperor. They may even have assumed, according to Star Wars: Rebels, that Luke was the Chosen One, that he, not Anakin, would destroy the Sith and bring balance. It’s not clear how much of the prophecy Luke was aware, if at all, but he fully intended to kill Vader, believing he had murdered Anakin Skywalker. After Luke learned the truth on Cloud City, he realized that he could not, in good conscious, kill Vader and commit patricide. Obi-Wan, at least, maintained the belief that killing Vader was the only way, otherwise, “the Emperor has already won.” Luke stood firm and found a third option: he brought Anakin back from the Dark Side. Anakin saved his son, throwing the Emperor down the reactor shaft, destroying him.
“For many years, there was balance”
Palpatine was dead, but not finished. Thirty years later, his contingency plans, set in motion at some point during the Dark Times, came to fruition. Through his proxy Snoke, Palpatine set the pieces on the board to retake the galaxy from the Republic and the Jedi. Ben Solo was lured to the dark side, like his grandfather fifty years prior, the fledgling Jedi Order was destroyed and the heroes of the Galactic Civil War were broken down and scattered, save Leia. It’s at this time that a last hope emerges as the Force awakens: Rey.
And Rey, it is learned, is a Palpatine.
Rey answers the call to the light, following in the footsteps, not of her grandfather, but of Luke Skywalker. She redeems Ben Solo allowing her to vanquish Palpatine once and for all.
“Bring balance to the Force, as I did.”
So, how is there room for both Anakin and Rey?
Quite simply, Anakin destroyed the Emperor. Rey made certain he was dead.
It may sound glib, but it’s important to remember the dark side had control of the galaxy for almost thirty years, not including the ten years during which Palpatine was Chancellor and working to rot the Republic from within before igniting the Clone War. That’s over a generation of galactic dominance.
By comparison, the First Order (Palpatine’s contingency plan), only rules for about a year after the destruction of the Republic leadership in the Hosnian system. Up until then, a sort of Cold War existed between the Republic and the First Order, with most average citizens in the Galaxy not affected. Palpatine was not even able to declare himself publicly, so tenuous was his situation. Instead, he creates Snoke to rule in his stead until he can return. So, even though the planning had been in the works for another thirty years after the Battle of Endor, the actual return of Palpatine and his war machine is quite brief.
When seen through this lens, the Skywalkers succeeded in dislodging an evil that was in almost total control and entrenched in the very fabric of galactic life during the Civil War. Neither Padme nor Ahsoka, arguably Anakin’s two greatest loves after his mother, could bring him back from the dark side. It was only through the love of a father and son, that the shroud of the Sith could be broken in a way that it had not been since The Great Peace, a thousand years earlier.
Yet, Palpatine always has a contingency plan and his death at the hands of Anakin Skywalker was no different. With a military return strategy in place in the Unknown Regions, Palpatine was able to use a combination of Sith arcana and cloning technology to return from death – but barely.
“The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”
Decaying, perhaps blind, immobile and attached to a life support system, Palpatine’s clutch to life comes at a heavy price. As stated earlier, he cannot yet even rule directly. While a Jedi’s sense of immortal power involves shedding of the corporeal, the corporeal is all that matters to the Sith. They must be present on the physical plane of existence to enjoy power. This is the villain that Rey faces and it is only through Rey that Palpatine has any hope of fulfilling his return because it is only through another Palpatine that he can live fully realized.
“All you want is for me to hate, but I won’t. Not even you”
When Rey’s moment comes to face her destiny, it is to insure that the cycle broken by Anakin Skywalker thirty years prior, remains broken. As it was then, it is not through hate that evil will be defeated but through love. Love for Ben Solo. Love for something other than power and control. Love for something better for everyone. When Rey closes in on Palpatine, this time it is endgame for him – even a Palpatine has turned on him. Love of a Skywalker broke the back of the Sith bringing the Force into balance. Thirty years later, the love of a Palpatine made it final.