This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
The following contains major spoilers from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi from the outset.
Cast your mind back to the now distant year of 2014. After years of relative quiet, the Star Wars franchise captured imaginations again when the first teaser emerged for The Force Awakens – the first chapter in the franchise since Disney purchased Lucasfilm two years earlier.
And as a dark screen dissolved to a shot of the desert planet Jakku, the first voice we heard was one other than one Supreme Leader Snoke:
“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?”
Not everybody necessarily knew it back then, but this was our first brush with the all-CGI character voiced and acted by Andy Serkis. Snoke was billed as a shadowy figure who, in the new trilogy, would serve as its evil puppet master – not unlike Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine before him.
Snoke’s face was kept under wraps in The Force Awakens’ marketing – partly, it seems, because even director JJ Abrams couldn’t quite decide what the villain should look like. As Serkis said in interviews at the time, he was forced into the unusual position of playing a character without even seeing a picture of the role he was asked to inhabit. It was only later in post-production that Snoke’s ghoulish appearance was finally nailed down.
In the finished movie, Snoke cut such a phantom-like figure that he almost looked like something from a separate franchise. Shown exclusively as an unfeasibly tall hologram, his bald head, lined face and dreadful scars hinted at a long and violent history; indeed, everything about him seemed engineered to provoke debate. Was he really that big, or was he just projected that way? Where did he come from? What kind of name was Snoke anyway?
You hardly need us to repeat the assorted fan theories: Snoke’s Palpatine; no, Snoke’s Jar-Jar Binks, who was an evil fiend all along. No, you’re all wrong, it’s Mace Windu. And so on.
It also goes without saying that The Last Jedi put most of those theories to bed with the storytelling equivalent of a lump hammer. No, Snoke wasn’t really that tall, although he did still appear to be loftier than your average human. No, he wasn’t Palpatine, Jar-Jar, or Mace Windu. He was just a scheming, cackling, wizard-like humanoid who’d managed to take control of a galactic military junta, yet preferred to spend much of his time alone, in his throne room, wearing an expensive robe.
As written by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi also saw Kylo Ren dramatically overthrow Snoke’s tyranny; the old geezer may have had extraordinary powers, but his arrogance turned out to be his undoing. One swish of a Lightsaber later, and Snoke was left as a heap of cauterized body parts.
Reactions from fans were, perhaps understandably, mixed. But whether you think the death of Snoke was an ingenious rug-pull or a jarring disappointment, you’ll likely agree that the character leaves behind a wealth of unanswered questions. How did he and Kylo Ren meet? Where did he come from? What were all those scars about?
Now, it could be argued that, when Emperor Palpatine breathed his last in Return Of The Jedi, the hooded maniac left behind some mysteries of his own, at least in 1983 – before George Lucas’s prequels explained how he met Anakin Skywalker and why his face looks so darn strange.
There is, at least in this writer’s opinion, a subtle difference between the presentation of Emperor Palpatine as a villain in the Original Trilogy and Snoke in the sequels. With Palpatine, there was always a sense of “what you see is what you get”; like all the characters in the careworn Star Wars universe, he had an air of history about him, but it never felt as though the saga revolved around him in any meaningful sense. He was the master pulling Darth Vader’s strings, certainly, but there was never any doubt that the story of those original three movies belonged to Luke, Vader, Leia and Solo.
In The Force Awakens, meanwhile, Snoke seemed rather more pivotal to the story JJ Abrams helped establish. Unlike Palpatine, who was never really discussed by the major characters in the Original Trilogy, Snoke was a topic of conversation in The Force Awakens. Note how one of the few scenes between Han and Leia regards Snoke, and how he “seduced our son to the Dark Side.”
This, along with all the other aspects that make Snoke who he is as a character – his scars, his tendency to appear as a gigantic hologram – at least suggested we’d learn more about him, how he seduced Kylo Ren, and where he came from, in The Last Jedi. That Snoke generated such a huge number of YouTube videos and articles is a sign that, among fans at least, there was an expectation that the makers of Star Wars had a big reveal in store.
Writer-director Rian Johnson, of course, had other plans; he’s said elsewhere that he wanted to move the focus from the master-pupil dynamic of Snoke and Kylo Ren, and simply make Kylo the main villain:
“When I was working on the character of Kylo, I came to a place where I thought the most interesting thing would be to knock the shaky foundation out from under him at the beginning of this movie,” Johnson told Entertainment Weekly. “By the end of this film, he’s gone from being a wannabe Vader to someone who is standing on his own feet as a complex villain taking the reins.”
That’s fair enough, because Kylo Ren is undoubtedly the most compelling villain in the whole sequel trilogy. For his part, Mark Hamill – who hasn’t been exactly quiet about his initial reservations over The Last Jedi‘s plot – agreed with Johnson’s handling of Snoke:
“I was surprised everyone was so upset that they got rid of Snoke.” Hamill told Games Radar. “From Rian’s point of view, it was a big favorite for [Episode] 9 because he’s not important. It clears the deck to have the conflict between Kylo and Rey without him getting in the way and having to explain if he’s a clone or if he’s related to Palpatine… all that stuff”
While Johnson may have felt that Snoke was surplus to requirements, slaying him in his own boudoir hasn’t exactly stemmed the flow of fan theories. Head over to Facebook, and you’ll find all kinds of post–Last Jedi YouTube videos devoted to Snoke. Sure, most have given up on the idea that Snoke is Jar Jar Binks or Mace Windu, but they’re still picking over the theories that are left: one explores, in surprising depth, what Snoke’s scars mean and how he got them.
Another looks at the significance of some background details that may or may not imply that Snoke is the Prime Jedi. Supporters of this theory point to a page in the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary, in which we find an image of a mosaic featuring a figure sitting in a cross-legged position – much like the position Skywalker adopts during the dramatic finale. With its distinctive domed, bald head, the figure could certainly be interpreted as a stylized version of Snoke.
This leads some to ask the question: given that we know Snoke is hundreds of years old, could he be the first Jedi of them all – an ancient, mystical figure who’s slipped over to the Dark Side? We know from the Visual dictionary that he’s from the Unknown Regions, and that while he’s powerful, he’s not a Sith.
If this is all correct, then it may explain why Luke had become so disillusioned with the Jedi order; aside from the horror of seeing Ben Solo turn into Kylo Ren and blow up Luke’s Jedi college, he may have discovered that his entire religion was created by a ghoul in gold slippers.
That Snoke now rests in pieces might suggest that his story is over. But let’s face it, if Snoke is some kind of twisted Jedi, then death may not be the end; it’s possible he could appear as a dreadful Force ghost, haunting Kylo Ren for his treachery, or carrying on with his attempt to snuff out Rey – now truly the Last Jedi.
There’s also the possibility that Rey will discover more about Snoke just through a bit of detective work in her spare time. Lest we forget, she cunningly squirreled the sacred Jedi texts from Ahch-To; who knows what revelations she’ll find buried in there? If the theories are correct, then the truth of Snoke’s origins may lie in those dusty pages.