NB: The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and copious speculation about The Last Jedi and beyond.
Both physically and metaphorically, Supreme Leader Snoke loomed large over Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His gravelly voice was the first thing we heard in the sequel’s teaser trailer (“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it…?”). In the movie itself, Snoke was the shadowy puppet master, the overlord of the First Order who seduced Kylo Ren to the Dark Side. Appearing as a hologram (and performed by Andy Serkis), Snoke towered over everyone else in the movie, a pale-skinned, seemingly ancient spectre who barely moved from his throne.
Among the mysteries opened up by The Force Awakens, Snoke’s identity is one that has led to a huge amount of theories and speculation. Does his ravaged appearance mean that he’s a character we’ve seen in earlier Star Wars stories? Why does he project such a huge hologram of himself when he holds video conferences with Kylo Ren and General Hux?
The following is an attempt to compare the various theories we’ve read online so far. While it isn’t a comprehensive list of every piece of speculation you’ll find, it’s an attempt to wade through the more convincing ideas and attempt to figure out which, if any, is the most convincing. So with our Jedi robes donned and our lightsabers handy, here’s an examination of Snoke and his possible identities…
What’s the theory? That Snoke is, in fact, Darth Plagueis the Wise, a character who was first discussed in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. As described by Palpatine, Plagueis was a Sith Lord whose power was such that he could “create life.” Palpatine goes on to explain to Anakin Skywalker that Plagueis met an untimely end at the hand of his apprentice, who killed him in his sleep. Anakin, controlled more by his hormones than his brain, doesn’t appear to realize that Palpatine was the very apprentice who murdered his own master.
The fan theory goes that Plagueis is far less dead than Palpatine thought he was. Perhaps using his power over midi-chlorians, Plagueis managed to revive himself and assume his place as Supreme Leader.
Evidence? In James Luceno’s 2012 novel Darth Plagueis, the previously obscure character was described as a Muun, a species of tall, gaunt humanoid aliens created by George Lucas in the Star Wars prequels. Snoke could certainly pass for a Muun, and the apparent injuries on Snoke’s body could be the aftermath of Palpatine’s assassination attempt.
Another piece of evidence offered in support of the Plagueis theory: the clear similarities between the musical motif John Williams composed for the character in Revenge of the Sith and the one he wrote for Snoke in The Force Awakens. The video below makes the parallels clear:
There are a few downsides to this theory, however. First, Luceno’s Darth Plagueis novel is no longer considered canon by Disney-Lucasfilm. That doesn’t mean that Plagueis is out of the Star Wars universe, since the mention of him in Revenge of the Sith means the character’s still recognized as part of the saga’s history, but the book’s description of him as a Muun and his other antics in the novel are likely to be ignored by the current Lucasfilm Story Group.
Speaking of which, the creative executive of that Story Group, Pablo Hidalgo, has been vocal about the Plagueis-Snoke theory on Twitter. In May this year, Hidalgo plainly stated that Plagueis died at the hands of Sidious (or Palpatine). He later added that Snoke and Plagueis are two separate characters, which, assuming Hidalgo isn’t telling a few white lies to protect the truth, rather seems to put this particular fan theory to bed.
What’s the theory? Simple: Snoke’s actually Palpatine, who didn’t really die when Darth Vader unceremoniously dumped him down a Death Star reactor shaft.
Evidence? Snoke’s great age and injuries could be taken as the marks of a man who survived a fall into a gigantic reactor and somehow came out the other side. The video linked above may also provide a tenuous connection between Palpatine and The Force Awakens‘ villain, with John William’s reprised motif designed to make us think of the old Emperor, not his Plagueis story.
Other than this, the evidence for Palpatine being Snoke is rather flimsy. Palpatine actor Ian McDiarmid said in 2014 that his evil Emperor really was dead, and that he had been for the past 30 years. “I can confirm that,” he told the crowd at the Anaheim Star Wars Celebration. “George [Lucas] was quite categorical.”
What’s the theory? If Palpatine’s physically dead, then here’s a rather far-fetched work-around: after the destruction of the Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi, Palpatine sent his spirit into the body of the deceased Darth Vader, using it as a new vessel for his wicked schemes.
Evidence? Some Star Wars fans have pointed out that Snoke’s facial scars are remarkably similar to the ones worn by actor Sebastian Shaw in Return of the Jedi. The problem is, we saw quite clearly that Vader (or Anakin) burned quite merrily on a funeral pyre. Was there really much of his body left for Palpatine to possess? We’re also left to ponder how Vader’s reanimated corpse could have gotten up out of the fire without anyone noticing.
Still, imagine how awesome the flashback could be in The Last Jedi if this theory is proven true: Luke Skywalker and the Ewoks all partying and playing drums, while a smoldering Vader – sans helmet, of course – sneaks off in the background, cackling.
Grand Moff Tarkin
What’s the theory? We never saw Tarkin actually die aboard the Death Star in A New Hope, so there’s a small possibility he could have survived, right?
Evidence? Well, Snoke certainly looks old. And his injuries might fit with a guy who’s managed to escape an exploding battle station by the skin of his teeth. Then again, Snoke appears to have some kind of Force sensitivity in The Force Awakens, even if it isn’t explicitly shown (“There’s been an awakening… have you felt it?”).
What’s the theory? Here’s one of the more recent – not to mention outlandish – fan theories we’ve encountered. As with the other ideas we’ve seen so far, it suggests that the character in question never died. In this instance, Samuel L. Jackson’s Jedi Master Mace Windu survived being flung out of a window by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. Instead, Windu emerged, scarred but alive. And evil. And white.
Evidence? Well, the video above suggests that Windu may have an axe to grind against the Skywalkers since Anakin cut off his arm and effectively betrayed him. Would Windu be so bent on revenge that he’d destroy half the galaxy to get it? And would he really put on an English accent while doing so? Hmm. We’re not convinced.
What’s the theory? In Star Wars Rebels, the Grand Inquisitor was one of the most imposing characters: a tall, gaunt, and merciless Jedi hunter. The story goes that, despite throwing himself into an exploding reactor shaft in the series, the Inquisitor somehow survived and became Snoke.
Evidence? The Grand Inquisitor certainly has the height and build of Snoke, and the absence of his facial tattoos could be explained away by that swan-dive into an explosion. Is the Grand Inquisitor a familiar enough character to warrant such secrecy, though?
He’s a New Character
There’s a problem or two with all the theories listed above – not to mention several other, even more far-fetched ones, such as “Snoke is Jar Jar Binks” and, get this, “Snoke is Princess Leia.” First, there’s Serkis’ insistence that Snoke is “a new character in this universe,” which he stated to EW in late 2015.
“It is very much a newly-introduced character,” Serkis also told EW. “He’s aware of what’s gone on, in the respect that he has been around and is aware of prior events. I think it’d be fair to say that he is aware of the past to a great degree.”
There’s more evidence to support the new character theory, too.
In the tie-in book The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we learn that the design of Snoke was still being decided until about eight weeks before the movie’s release. Indeed, Abrams was originally quite set on the idea that Snoke shouldn’t be another old man, since he wanted to distance him from comparisons to Emperor Palpatine. For a while, Snoke was even conceived as a female character, before Abrams and his team finally went for the wizened male we saw in the finished picture. If Snoke were based on a pre-existing character, would Abrams really have taken so long to decide his look or even his gender?
“Ah,” you may be saying by now. “But Snoke appears as a hologram throughout The Force Awakens. Couldn’t this be a disguise of some sort? Might Snoke be revealed as an entirely different-looking character in later films?”
This is certainly a possibility, and creature designer Neal Scanlan said himself that Snoke is closer to seven-feet-tall in reality. But stop and think about the dramatic implications of revealing Snoke as an entirely different character for a moment. A pair of curtains are pulled back and show us that Snoke is in fact – gasp – Moff Tarkin, brought to life with CGI. Or Anakin Skywalker possessed by the spirit of Emperor Palpatine. Or Jar Jar Binks, who’s somehow managed to hide his accent. Would you be impressed by this revelation, or slightly deflated? We’d wager it would be the latter.
This, ultimately, is the problem with all the elaborate theories surrounding Snoke: while it’s fun to speculate, they all come with a drawback, which is that any reveal is likely to be either anticlimactic or plain confusing. Revealing that Snoke is Plagueis, or a Grand Inquisitor, or a character from a novel is likely to confuse as many movie-goers as it thrills.
Just a few days before the release of The Last Jedi, Serkis told Empire that Snoke wasn’t a Sith.
“[Snoke is] definitely not a Sith, but he’s certainly at the darker end of the Force,” said Serkis. “Without giving too much away, that begins to unfold a little in this one.”
Serkis’ revelation blows a hole through most of the above theories, although what we might get instead is something more organic. Hearing Serkis describe his villain, it sounds like Snoke is directly reacting to something that was done to him by the New Republic and the Resistance.
“The thing about Snoke is that he is extremely strong with the Force, the dark side of the Force. He’s terribly powerful, of course. But he is also a very vulnerable and wounded character,” Serkis told EW. “He has suffered and he has suffered injury. The way that his malevolence comes out is in reaction to that. His hatred of the Resistance is fueled by what’s happened to him personally.”
What was done to the heavily-scarred Snoke that made him hate the Resistance so much? Whatever it was, there’s a chance we’ll learn about it at some point in The Last Jedi.
The Star Wars saga has long been one of family connections and hidden puppet masters controlling events from behind the scenes. Maybe the next two episode in the trilogy will contain revelations about the Supreme Leader that even the most imaginative fan theories haven’t predicted.