Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker:

In the movie, Palpatine is shown alive. It is seemingly unexplained in the movie, unless I missed something. Is there any explanation in the movie or in other canon material how he could live now, given his apparent death in Return of the Jedi?

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    He waited a long time. – Adamant Dec 19 '19 at 2:35
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    The popular theory so far on reddit is that he possessed someone else, which doesn't explain his appearance or why he would need the medical devices attached to him. However, Darth Maul survived a similar fall and HE was cut in half... so it's not difficult to imagine the more powerful Palpatine surviving just the fall. Perhaps after the movie has been out a while and Disney releases more tie-in materials, we'll get a definitive answer. – Omegacron Dec 19 '19 at 3:10
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    @z0r, answers are not posted for points... Answers are posted to provide knowledge to someone that may not have it and so future people who have the same query can have a conclusive answer. – Edlothiad Dec 19 '19 at 15:28
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    Palpatine himself says that he didn’t survive. He says that he died. So he was presumably resurrected in some way — what way would be a separate question. – Mike Scott Dec 19 '19 at 20:59
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    @Edlothiad speak for yourself, I exclusively post for fake internet points. #FeedMeRep – Möoz Dec 28 '19 at 4:40

Cloning, probably

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? Darth Plagueis was a dark lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise, that he could influence the midichlorians to create...life. He had such such a knowledge of the dark side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.

The implication is that Palpatine used Sith secrets that he learned from his master, Darth Plagueis. When confronted by Kylo Ren about his survival, he claims that:

PALPATINE: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.

Presumably, this echoes his pronouncement in Revenge of the Sith about the ability to cheat death.

As to the nature of those abilities, in the scene where the Resistance discuss how he survived, one of them speculates about "dark science, cloning, secrets only the Sith know." Although, in-universe, they have no means of knowing what was behind Palpatine's survival, this provides an out-of-universe clue.

We see a further clue upon seeing that Palpatine had several copies of Snoke in cloning vats. This shows that he does in fact have a means of cloning, at the very least, suitable bodies for Force-sensitive people.

Further, Palpatine says that he did die, and it doesn't seem likely that even he could bodily survive the explosion of something like the Death Star if he were at the center of the explosion, not to mention floating in space for who knows how long afterwards. His body would be ash. And, again, reconstituting his body would be a Force power beyond what we have seen so far.

Further, he says to Rey "Kill me, and my spirit will pass to you." So Palpatine at this point is clearly capable of pulling shenanigans with transferring his soul.

All of this points to Palpatine having survived in a very similar way to the Legends universe. In Legends, he had several clone bodies, which his dark side essence would possess. His power caused them to deteriorate ahead of time, though, which when combined with the usual accelerated clone aging would certainly explain his appearance in the film.

One point against this idea: In the film, Palpatine is on life support and his hands show serious injuries, possibly consistent with being unable to fully protect himself from the burns caused by the Death Star explosion, and not so much with the cloning idea. However, his face seems almost the same as it was previously, except for what appears to be glaucoma, and one would probably expect much more serious damage.

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    +1 for pulling shenanigans with transferring his soul – L.T.Smash Dec 20 '19 at 13:51
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    This plot line echoes the Dark Empire comic series from 1991 to 1995, when Luke discovers the Emperor alive and residing in a clone body in a secret facility on Byss. Long-story short, the Emperor's dark side energy burns out his clone; when he runs out of clone bodies to move into, his attention turns to Han and Leia's son, Anakin... – jeffronicus Dec 20 '19 at 16:24
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    Palpatines attempt at perfecting cloning of powerful force users was also part of the second Force Unleashed game. So it seems to be an obsession of his. – emptyother Dec 22 '19 at 0:10
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    +1 for referencing Dark Empire series; the Resistance comments about "dark science" and "cloning", and the clone bodies of Snoke, all seem very similar to how Palpatine survived in said comic book series. – Sam Dec 24 '19 at 0:07

He created a clone body, then transferred his consciousness to it using Sith magics before he hit the reactor core.

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 new awareness in a new body—a painful one, a temporary one.

It was too soon. The secret place had not completed its preparations. The transfer was imperfect, and the cloned body wasn’t enough. Perhaps Plagueis was having the last laugh after all. Maybe his secret remained secret. Because Palpatine was trapped in a broken, dying form.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition

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