Here's the deal with the new Force ability in The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian
Warning: Spoilers from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Disney+'s The Mandalorian are discussed in this article.
Barring Baby Yoda actually popping up in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, sipping/spilling tea (or rather soup), and snatching up frogs for midday snacks, a question lingered about whether The Mandalorian on Disney+, Lucasfilm's first Star Wars live-action series, would link to the final installment for the Skywalker Saga. After the film's premiere in theaters this past weekend, we know of at least one major carry-over.
It's called Force healing. In The Rise of Skywalker, Rey (Daisy Ridley) uses it to heal a sand worm on the desert planet Pasaana and again later on Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in the aftermath of their duel on the remains of the Death Star. In The Mandalorian, Mando's cutie patootie sidekick uses the same ability to heal Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) after their troupe are set upon by particularly vicious thugs of the avian variety. (And then he has to sit down because saving the day and being the cutest thing in four quadrants takes a lot out of you.) The Child tried to perform this multiple times before on Mando, but the lone warrior had always interrupted him.
This was just one of many aspects to The Rise of Skywalker left lingering as the end-credits rolled. What's the deal with this ability that we've never seen before used in the films, or in live-action generally? Where does it come from? Has anyone used it before? Star Wars lore provides some answers to these questions and the rest we have to speculate.
What is Force healing?
With the sand worm incident, Rey explains this ability to Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewie (Joonas Suotamo), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 as a Jedi using the Force to transfer a part of their life essence to another being in order to heal them. Rey's physical response after she does this suggests the use of this power takes a toll on the Jedi that performs it.
Multiple other instances occur in The Rise of Skywalker that suggest Force healing — more specifically, the life transfer part of it all — can be used in various ways. In her final act, General Leia (Carrie Fisher) seemingly transfers her last remaining life essence to her son from across the galaxy. Previously, we've seen this power used to heal physical wounds, but the moment marks a spiritual healing as Kylo Ren, tossing his lightsaber into the ocean and re-taking his birth name of Ben Solo, converts back to the side of good.
At the end of the film, after the final battle against Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) left Rey lifeless on the ground, Ben then holds her in his arms and appears to transfer his last remaining life essence to Rey to revive her. This ultimately kills him and his mother, since he carried her life essence within him.
Where have we seen this before?
Force healing was used largely in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, a.k.a. Star Wars Legends, a.k.a. all those books, comics, and videogames that predated Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm in 2014 that are now considered non-canonical. Many Star Wars creators — including Dave Filoni on Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and The Mandalorian — still pay tribute to Legends by borrowing certain aspects from those stories for the current Star Wars universe.
Various characters from Legends, such as Mara Jade, once demonstrated the ability to heal themselves through meditation, while Cade Skywalker from the Star Wars: Legacy comics was able to heal others from near death under specific circumstances, usually involving duress. Certain Sith in Legends also bore this ability, though it usually constituted healing their bodies through sheer force of hate.
Filoni seemingly tapped Force healing for The Clone Wars series for the 16th episode in season 3, "Altar of Mortis." While on the mission to Mortis, home world of the powerful Force users called The Ones, Anakin became a conduit for a life-essence transfer. The Daughter, one of The Ones, lay dying and he transferred the remainder of her life force to revive his deceased apprentice, Ahsoka Tano — not all that different to Ben's final effort in The Rise of Skywalker.
The dark side of the Force (healing)
The Rise of Skywalker doesn't explicitly lay out exactly how Palpatine was able to return, but the concept of Force healing and life transfers could hold the key. Being there's no definitive explanation given just yet, this is where the speculation comes in.
If someone, either Jedi or Sith, is able to transfer a portion of their life essence to heal another, what's stopping them from transferring their entire life and consciousness into the body of another? Well, they can. It's an ability seen and heard about only from those on the dark side of the Force, since it involves one consciousness invading another's body and expelling that consciousness from it so they can take over. A permanent possession, if you will. The practice was often dangerous and difficult to overwhelm a body that already had a spirit, so Sith began using clones to inhabit instead. Life transfers of this magnitude haven't been expounded upon in the current Star Wars canon but came up multiple times in Legends and expanded materials.
When Palpatine first tells Kylo Ren in the temple on the Sith home world of Exogol that he's always been the voice inside his head, Palpatine shifts between the tones of Darth Vader and Supreme Leader Snoke and mentions specifically that he created Snoke. Then we see what looks to be a cloning vessel containing Snoke's body. We're slowly learning more about Kylo Ren's mysterious master through The Rise of Kylo Ren comic books, but with life transference being such a prevalent part of the Star Wars mythology in The Rise of Skywalker, one might surmise that Snoke could've been a host body for Palpatine. In other words, cue the dramatic music, Snoke could've been Palpatine this. Whole. Time.
Another piece of evidence is what Palpatine tells Rey, his granddaughter, in the halls of Exogol. If she were to strike him down, he, as well as the spirits of all the Sith that came before him, would flow from Palpatine into Rey so that the Sith could live again in a new body. Life transference!
A Force dyad
The implications of such a simple ability as Force healing leads us to the final big mythology inclusion in The Rise of Skywalker: the Force dyad. None have seen one occur for generations. The first to appear in the age of the New Republic is the combined force of Rey and Ben.
According to the film's official Visual Dictionary, a compendium that continues to provide more answers to the Skywalker Saga than The Rise of Skywalker itself, a Force dyad is an occurrence in the Force wherein two Force-sensitive beings collectively share the powers of one individual. It's why Rey and Ben are so connected, able to speak with each other through vision states across galaxies and even transport objects between each other through the Force, as when Ben snatches Rey's necklace from Pasaana and Rey transfers a lightsaber to Ben in the final battle against Palpatine.
When the two stand before Palpatine together on Exogol, the Sith lord recognizes the Force dyad, which he says is powerful enough to resurrect himself to full power when all his past tricks have left him a shell of his former self. We then see the first instance of Palpatine forcibly transferring the life essence of another into himself against their will.
As they say in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's all connected. But now this leads us to new questions, some of which surround Baby Yoda. We know he's not really a baby Yoda, being that The Mandalorian takes place after the events of Return of the Jedi. But maybe, in a different sense, he is. With all these concepts surrounding cloning and life transference and the fallen Empire's need to retrieve the child, who is of the same species as Yoda and retains similar Force powers, could the dark side have cloned Jedi Master Yoda in seeking for a life essence powerful enough to restore Palpatine at this point in the timeline? Just saying. Suffice it to say, theories are multiplying faster than porgs on Ahch-to.