Subverting a classic relationship may prove for a fascinating Episode IX.
Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
During the two-year wait leading up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, few characters inspired as much speculation as the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke. The powerful new villain appeared only briefly as a hologram in The Force Awakens, leaving fans guessing at who he was, how he came to power, and what he even really looked like.
The Last Jedi finally reveals Snoke (Andy Serkis) in the flesh. He’s taller, though not as large as the hologram suggests. His face is disfigured, but that isn’t a hindrance to his power—as we saw in the trailers as he tortured Rey with apparent ease. It’s apparent Snoke is the “big bad” of this Star Wars story, manipulating his two protégés—Kylo Ren and General Armitage Hux—against one another.
But about two-thirds into The Last Jedi, fate throws Snoke—and the audieince—a huge curveball. Seeing that Rey would be of no use to him, Snoke orders Kylo Ren to execute her. Instead, using the Force, Kylo Ren slowly turns Rey’s lightsaber and slices Snoke in half.
The move stunned audiences. It eliminated the top villain with a single strike before giving us one of Star Wars’ best lightsaber battles. Those looking for any answers about Snoke left disappointed. It doesn’t matter who Snoke was because now he’s dead.
With what we saw in the rest of The Last Jedi and what might happen in Episode IX, it might be one of the boldest choices Star Wars could’ve made.
What we know about Supreme Leader Snoke
The mysterious Supreme Leader of the First Order loomed large in the new Star Wars trilogy for two years following his introduction. Snoke was intimidating, or at least as intimidating as one can be when appearing only as a hologram. He was so shrouded in mystery that even basic questions about his appearance came into question.
The Force Awakens novelization suggested that Snoke had been around for awhile; he witnessed the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire, and some of his relics reveal at least intellectual ties to three previous Sith Lords: Darth Vader, Darth Sidious (aka Emperor Palpatine), and Darth Plagueis (Sidious’s master, who he killed—and isn’t Snoke).
From his golden robe to his golden slippers, Snoke is a leader who seeks comfort; his body is frail so he usually gives orders from his throne.Before the film’s release, Serkis revealed that Snoke is 9 feet tall and his “body is kind of twisted up like a corkscrew.” He wears a Dwartii glyph-adorned ring containing obsidian from Mustafar, the volcanic planet that’s home to Darth Vader’s own fortress. He’s flagged by the Elite Praetorian Guard, eight fighters guard Snoke’s life and even try to avenge him after Snoke’s death.
He’s been keeping an eye on a young Ben Solo for nearly Ben’s entire life and took him under his wing in hopes the powerfully Force-sensitive boy (later known as Kylo Ren) would put an end to the Jedi. And if an article recently spotted in an official Lucasfilm magazine is any indication, Kylo Ren wasn’t Snoke’s only apprentice.
“The thing about Snoke is that he is extremely strong with the Force, the dark side of the Force,” Serkis told Entertainment Weekly in November. “He’s terribly powerful, of course. But he is also a very vulnerable and wounded character. 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.”
“Your Snoke theory sucks”
Apart from Rey’s parentage, Snoke’s identity was probably the biggest question that fans wanted The Last Jedi to answer, though director Rian Johnson attempted to adjust fans’ expectations by noting that we wouldn’t find out much about him because “a story is not a Wikipedia page.”
But fans had plenty of questions about Snoke. How tall was he, and how old was he? What happened to his face? How did he get the entire First Order to follow his command? How did he seduce Ben Solo to betray Luke Skywalker and his parents? Is he secretly Darth Plagueis (or even Jar Jar Binks) in disguise? The Snoke questions were such a presence during the hiatus between Star Wars saga movies that the phrase “Your Snoke theory sucks” caught on with Star Wars fans and employees alike (and even, in a strange sort of meta twist, sparked its own Snoke theory).
Why none of it matters
As much as The Force Awakens set up Snoke as a puzzle to be solved, he wasn’t—in hindsight—all that interesting. Some fans didn’t care about who Snoke was or his years or centuries of backstory because, in a way, we’ve seen it before.
The First Order is built in the image of the Galactic Empire, and while it has the capability to surpass it by the end of The Last Jedi, it never quite leaves its shadow. Kylo Ren starts out as a wannabe Darth Vader with his own set of daddy and granddaddy issues; Rey even called Kylo Ren out for his fear that he’ll never be as powerful as Darth Vader. Snoke harkens back to the Emperor, the powerful and imposing leader of the Galactic Empire who we don’t meet in the flesh until The Return of the Jedi, except he comes off as a pale imitator (even though Serkis insisted that Snoke is the more powerful of the two). Like the Emperor, there’s little we know about him up until his death; director Johnson noted to the Los Angeles Times that we didn’t learn anything about the Emperor in the original trilogy—at least not until the prequels revealed his rise to power.
Snoke, too, is taken out by his own apprentice. Kylo Ren—who was ordered to execute Rey—instead turned Rey’s lightsaber on Snoke while Snoke’s focus was elsewhere. Darth Vader might have killed the Emperor to save his son, Luke, but Kylo Ren’s motivations are different—and more interesting.
Sure, Kylo Ren saved Rey’s life, and they were even on the same side as the two Force wielders, light and dark, took on Snoke’s Elite Praetorian Guard in a breathtaking fight. But he mostly did it for himself: By killing Snoke, Kylo Ren ascends to the throne of his former master. Kylo Ren offered Rey the chance to rule the galaxy at his side, telling her—as Snoke once did to him—that she was special. But Rey refuses him, and Kylo Ren lies to General Hux about Rey murdering Snoke.
Kylo Ren is one of the sequel trilogy’s most complex characters, one who’s in constant conflict with himself and—despite his advice to Rey—incapable of letting the past go. He’s a powerful, petulant child, something we haven’t really seen in a Star Wars villain. Nearly his entire life he’s been influenced by Snoke, the cold and calculating ruler hiding behind the curtain. Now, instead of Snoke, we get to explore Kylo Ren as a richer, more complex villain emerging from the shadow of his master to embrace the dark side. Even Vader never accomplished that.
“It was thinking about Kylo’s path, thinking about where I wanted him to be at the end of the movie to set him up for the next film,” Johnson told Slashfilm. “And thinking okay, that means we’re gonna clear away this slightly more familiar dynamic of the Emperor and the pupil. Clear the boards from that, and then that’s much more exciting going into [Episode IX], the notion of now we just have Kylo as the one that they have to deal with. You can no longer take a rational guess at how the Snoke-Kylo thing is gonna play out in the next movie.”
Right now, the main thing that matters is that Snoke is dead. He may have been the puppet master, but Kylo Ren no longer has any strings to hold him down.
There could still be a flicker of hope for Snoke fans
The Star Wars films are the pinnacle of canon, but they’re not the only place where factoids and shreds of evidence are casually dropped for fans to eat up.
We might learn more about Snoke and his inner thought process once the Last Jedi novelization is released next year. He might factor into a Star Wars-adjacent novel, have his name casually name-dropped in another film (such as, for example, Solo: A Star Wars Story). He might even get his own comic or novel in the lead-up to Episode IX like Captain Phasma did prior to The Last Jedi, though some fans thought her movie story once again fell short of the mark.
We’ve got two years until Episode IX is released with Abrams returning to direct and write the screenplay. Abrams has to pick up the pieces that Johnson scattered across the galaxy to complete the trilogy, and it’s always possible that he might dive into Snoke’s past. After being manipulated by him for so long, Kylo Ren and General Hux are in a position to reexamine what they know and believe now that the Supreme Leader is gone. (Is it possible for Snoke’s ghost to appear before Kylo Ren?)
What Snoke left behind might provide some vital tools or clues for the First Order or the Resistance. There’s also always the chance that Episode IX comes to a similar conclusion about Snoke that The Last Jedi did: The Supreme Leader was only important until Kylo Ren realized he no longer needed him.
But until then, we’ll always have those theories.