After 1983's Return of the Jedi, most people believed Emperor Palpatine met his fate when Anakin Skywalker threw him down a large shaft on the second Death Star. Around ten years later, a new comic book series titled Dark Empire offered a new story set after these events, in which the Emperor was able to cheat death utilizing clones of his former body. Once Disney took over the franchise, however, they did not consider this a part of their new "canon," eliminating almost all chances of seeing the character again. That was until Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hit theaters; it was in this film fans witnessed the return of the late Emperor, as well as his final defeat at the hands of his granddaughter. At least, what they think was his "final defeat."
The novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was only recently released, but readers have already started digging into the material that didn't make it into the final cut of the film. A new post on the Star Was Leaks subreddit from the account u/CirUmeUela has pointed out a particular line from the novel that might suggest Palpatine is still alive and could possibly return. The line reads:
"General Leia thought they'd destroyed the Emperor at the Battle of Endor," Poe said. "But he came back. More powerful than ever."
"You think he might come back again," Finn said.
"Maybe," Poe said, staring off in Zorii's direction. Of course Poe would worry about that. He was acting general now, and like any good general he was anticipating what fight still lay ahead. "Or some other evil will rise. Evil always rises."
"Naw," said Finn. "Not for a long time, anyway."
WHAT THIS MEANS
Even if Poe isn't specifically referencing Palpatine, it still sounds like there may be a future story to tell. Never put it past Palpatine to find some other contingency plan to put in place. The film and novel make it seem like Rey truly destroyed that version of the vicious Emperor, but maybe there was more happening on Exegol or elsewhere that was remained undisclosed to audience members. This excerpt raises the question: Are there more clones of Palpatine scattered across the galaxy? As mentioned in The Direct's predictions regarding the 2022 Star Wars film, it's not likely the next movie will take place after the Skywalker saga, but this particular quote could be a set-up for a larger story at play. The odds are extremely slim that Emperor Palpatine will make a future return to Star Wars in any way, but it cannot be put out of the realm of possibility.