“Your Snoke theory sucks.”
You’ve no doubt heard that saying, and for the most part, it’s true. Most of the Snoke theories do suck, but there are a couple of good ones. Hopefully, the one outlined in this article falls into the latter category, as I’m trying to read between the lines from what has already been established in the new canon. This isn’t 100% nailed down and could change, but I think the overall theme and plotline makes sense based on what we already know.
So let’s take a walk through a few relevant details from what we know so far. First of all, Pablo Hidalgo has provided a bit of clarity as to who Snoke is. What Pablo has revealed so far is that “Snoke is a new character,” that “Snoke is alive” (in response to a theory that he was a force ghost), that “Snoke is not Plagueis,” and that “Snoke is not in Rogue One.” All of that might seem obvious, but it does provide some guardrails within which to operate, which are important and helpful when it comes to the numerous Snoke theories that are out there.
Now let’s take a look at a couple of details from the already-established new canon that I think could be relevant.
The Unknown Regions
First is the mystery of the unknown regions, and this centers largely around two key figures: Emperor Sheev Palpatine and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Both men knew of something that was out there in the unknown regions.
From the final book of the Aftermath trilogy, Empire’s End:
“The Emperor was convinced that something waited for him out there – some origin of the Force, some dark presence formed of malevolent substance. He said he could feel the waves of it radiating out now that the way was clear. The Emperor called it a signal – conveniently one that only he could hear. Even his greatest enforcer, Vader, seemed oblivious to it, and Vader also claimed mastery over the dark Force, did he not? Rax believed Palpatine had gone mad. What he was “receiving” was nothing more than his own precious wishes broadcast back to himself – an echo of his own devising. He believed that something lay beyond, and so that became a singular obsession.” 
Within the context of the Aftermath narrative it is quite clear that Gallius Rax did not believe that Palpatine was correct in his sensing of something waiting in the unknown regions, perhaps an origin of the force, but that does not make Rax right – that is just the opinion of a non-force user in the wake of Palpatine’s death.
Similarly, in the Thrawn novel, it is clear that the Chiss understood the threat that loomed. When Thrawn was introduced to the Emperor, he was asked what he had to offer.
“As a start, I offer information,” Thrawn said. If he was offended, Eli couldn’t hear it in his voice. “There are threats lurking in the Unknown Regions, threats that will someday find your Empire. I am familiar with many of them.” 
So both Palpatine and Thrawn knew of something lurking in the unknown regions – something Thrawn described as threats. It should be pointed out that this is actually no different than in the old expanded universe, as both Palpatine and Thrawn knew of a looming threat: the Yuuzhan Vong.
Similarly, just like in the old expanded universe, the new canon has established that Thrawn was an essential part of Palpatine’s plan to explore the unknown regions. The new canon has also established that voyage into the unknown regions was incredibly dangerous and not many could do it – besides Thrawn, of course.
Once again from Empire’s End:
“For decades, these computers have been plotting a journey. Outside the known galaxy is an unexplored infinity, Palpatine explained, one closed off by a labyrinth of solar storms, rogue magnetospheres, black holes, gravity wells, and things far stranger. Any who tried to conquer the maze did not survive. The ships were obliterated, or returned to the galaxy devoid of travelers. Communications from those explorers were incomprehensible, either shot through with such static as to make the content useless, or filled with enough inane babble to serve as a perfectly clear sign that the explorer had gone utterly mad out there in isolation. But Palpatine had one in the navy who knew something of the Unknown Regions: Admiral Thrawn, an alien with ice-blue skin who came from beyond the borders of the known galaxy. Palpatine only kept that one around because of what he knew of traveling those deadly interstices. Much of what Thrawn knew went into the computations of this machine.” 
The context of this passage is told through the story of Gallius Rax on Jakku preparing for the final confrontation between the New Republic and the Empire. The book makes it clear that Jakku is far more interesting than was initially believed, as Jakku served as a staging ground of sorts for expeditions into the unknown regions as it contained the data and map the Empire had put together, and probably much more (it was one of the Observatories, some of which housed ancient Sith artifacts, some of which housed weapons or weapon designs, and some of which housed other things too).
As the Empire fell once and for all at Jakku, the remnant of the Empire, including Grand Admiral Sloane, Brendol Hux, and Armitage Hux, head out on the Imperialis to rendezvous with the Eclipse in the unknown regions. Once again it is explained that the journey through the unknown regions is harrowing, even with the coordinates that the Empire had – superstorms, strange creatures, lost power, magnetic bursts, and the like created for much trouble traveling. What’s more, Sloane didn’t know what awaited them even when they reached the Eclipse.
“Good,” she said. Though she was not then, and is not now, sure how good it really is. What waits for them now remains a mystery. Who waits – and who will follow in their wake – is an even more troubling conundrum. And all that assumed they even make it.” 
They did indeed make it, but as the Eclipse came into view we once again see the uncertainty and the unknown that existed.
“To the sentinel droid piloting the Imperialis she says, “Take us in. It’s time to rejoin with those who came before.” She does not fully know who was sent ahead. Hux did not know himself. Is it the original crew of the Eclipse? Were the others hand-selected by Palpatine, or by Rax? She cannot say, and she is eager to solve that riddle – and worried about the answer.” 
Ultimately, this is the origin of the First Order. As Sloane says upon seeing the Eclipse:
“It’s time to start over,” she says to Hux. “This is our first order. To begin again. And to get it right, this time.” 
The idea of the unknown regions clearly plays an integral part in the new canon, and we are just beginning to find out details about what exactly that part is.
The other thing that I find very interesting in the new canon is what it has to say about what Luke Skywalker has been up to – and the details on this are sparse, to be sure. But what we do know is quite interesting in the grand scheme of Skywalker’s life as a Jedi.
From the time Skywalker began his Jedi training with Ben Kenobi on Tatooine, he was focused on growing as a Jedi, learning as much as he could, and recovering the history of the Jedi. After the events of A New Hope, Luke visisted the Jedi temples on Devaron, Nar Shaddaa, and Vrogas Vas, as well as visiting Kenobi’s hut on Tatooine where he found the old Jedi’s journal. Then of course Luke trained with Yoda on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back and also spoke with Yoda in The Return of the Jedi.
Shortly after the Battle of Endor, Luke went on a mission to recover a force tree from an Imperial research facility on Vetine. This was a tree that once resided in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant until the Empire removed it when they turned the Temple into the Imperial Palace. It turned out that there were two trees, so Luke took one and the other he gave to Shara Bey to plant on Yavin 4. From there, we don’t really have much concrete details about what Luke was up to, but we do know one thing: he was still interested in and seeking out Jedi lore. At some point after the Battle of Endor, Skywalker teamed up with Lor San Tekka, who according to the Star Wars Databank “helped Luke Skywalker recover secret Jedi lore that the Empire had tried to erase.”  The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary states that Lor San Tekka was an “old ally of Leia and here brother” and that “in his travels, [he] uncovered much of the history of the Jedi Knights that the Galactic Empire had tried so hard to erase.” 
It seems quite clear that Luke’s mission, even from the very early days of the New Republic, has been to search out Jedi lore, tradition, history, artifacts, and the like. The final Aftermath book, Empire’s End, explains that Han Solo is bored since all of his friends are busy, including the fact that “Luke’s searching the galaxy for old Jedi teachings.”  On Liberation Day, the very same day that Ben Solo was born, there was word going around that Luke might have been there: “Some say that the golden boy, Luke Skywalker, made an appearance and then was gone again, off on some untold mission.”  It’s unclear whether or not Luke actually was there on the day Ben was born, but what is more important is the fact that Luke was already off doing his own thing at that time – and his search was for the ancient teachings of the Jedi.
Bloodline, set six years before The Force Awakens, offers a bit more insight too.
“So much of the lore of the Jedi had been lost – but on Gatalenta, the old religion had remained strong. History had become legend, but some of the legends were still told. Gatalenta had been one of Luke’s first destinations when he began his research into the Jedi Knights of old.” 
Elsewhere, the book explains:
“Darth Vader was the father of Princess Leia. Of Luke Skywalker, too, but this detail was nearly irrelevant to Lady Carise. Skywalker had been so long away on his strange quest for the lore of the Jedi that he no longer had much influence outside his own acolytes. He was a figure of myth more than one of flesh and blood.” 
Later, when Lady Carise uses that knowledge of Leia’s true father to effectively destroy the senator’s political career, Carise mentions that, “Princess Leia spoke of her brother, the famous Luke Skywalker, who has been little seen in the public sphere for many years now.” Another senator, Tai-Lin Garr, stepped in to defend Luke, however, saying:
“‘I would first say to the honorable Senator Sindian of Arkanis that we have no reason to question Luke Skywalker.’ Tai-Lin let his grave tone, rather than his words, condemn Lady Carise’s insinuations. ‘Since the Rebellion, Skywalker has lived a private life. He has asked no more of the New Republic than any of its other citizens, nor have we just cause to ask more of him than the substantial service he has already given. As Senator Vicly of Lonera reminded us yesterday, the New Republic does not blame children for the sins of their parents, and this is no time to begin.'”
We also learn that during the events of Bloodline, Leia is not in communication with either Luke or Ben, who is training with Luke, as they are off on some mission. So here’s what we know: as of six years before TFA, Luke was: 1) training Ben; 2) still searching for Jedi teachings and lore (and had visited Gatalenta very early on in that search); 3) largely out of the public sphere and more of a myth; and 4) has lived a private life since the days of the Rebellion. That latter point suggests that Skywalker resigned any commission from the New Republic and instead of getting involved in the politics of the new government instead went on his own private searches.
At some point after all of that, however, everything fell apart for Luke. He was “training a new generation of Jedi,” as Han Solo would later explain, but Ben rebelled against him. Ben, now named Kylo Ren, “betrayed the other Jedi students studying with Master Luke Skywalker, and is responsible for their destruction. He has well earned the nickname ‘Jedi Killer,’ whispered in the First Order ranks, as it was his deadly lightsaber skills that prevented the return of the Jedi Order.”  Kylo Ren betrayed Luke, his Master, and killed the other Jedi that Luke was training. With everything that Luke had tried to build (attempting to obey Yoda’s command to “pass on what you have learned”) now destroyed, he took off.
As Han Solo explained it in TFA, “He was training a new generation of Jedi. One boy, an apprentice, turned against him and destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible. He just walked away from everything.”
So what happened to Luke? Where did he go?
“A lot of rumors,” Solo answered. “Stories. People that knew him best think he went looking for the first Jedi Temple.”
That would certainly fit with what we know of Luke. Ever since his first introduction to the ways of the Jedi in ANH, Luke has been on a search for Jedi teaching, lore, and the like. He visited Jedi Temples and Ben’s hut in-between ANH and ESB, and then almost immediately after the Battle of Endor Luke resumed his quest. That quest involved acquiring the force trees, teaming up with Lor San Tekka, and continuing to visit Jedi Temples. He began to train a new generation of Jedi to bring about a new Jedi Order, and he trained Ben Solo – and the two of them seemed to continue Luke’s quest for old Jedi teachings and lore. At some point, however, Ben rebelled against Luke and destroyed this new Jedi Order. Luke felt that he was responsible for that and disappeared, going to search for the first Jedi Temple that he seemingly found at Ahch-To.
The map that the Resistance found, thanks to Lor San Tekka (think he might be important?), was quite simply a map to the first Jedi Temple. The First Order was able to recover most of the map from the archives of the Empire but lacked the one last missing piece, which the Resistance came in the possession of. As Admiral Statura explained in The Force Awakens novel adaptation, “The Empire would’ve been looking for the first Jedi temples. In destroying all the Jedi sanctuaries, they would have acquired a great deal of information.”  So the Empire had the map but was missing a piece of it – the piece that BB-8 and the Resistance had. R2-D2, meanwhile, woke up upon hearing of the map recovered from the archives of the Empire, as he had those archives backed up in his memory. So R2 was able to pull up the map that the Empire had of Jedi temples, and the missing piece provided by BB-8 led the way to the very first Jedi Temple, on Ahch-To, where Luke could be found.
So… What’s the Theory?
That’s a lot of words to have written without even having gotten to the theory about who Snoke is, but the relevant information that we have already looked at seems very pertinent to this discussion. Going off of the information that I have highlighted in two major areas – the unknown regions and Luke’s quest – here’s my take at reconciling the known information and providing a theory as to who Snoke is.
As we already looked at much earlier in the article from Pablo’s comments, Snoke is a new character and not Plagueis. But he’s also been around a while, as TFA novelization explains in a conversation between Snoke and Kylo Ren:
“‘Kylo Ren,’ [Snoke] went on, ‘I watched the Galactic Empire rise and fall. The historians have it wrong. It was neither poor strategy nor arrogance that brought down the Empire. You know, too well, what did.’ Ren spit out the answer as if it were poison. ‘Sentiment.’ ‘Yes. Sentiment,’ the Supreme Leader said. ‘Had Lord Vader not succumbed to emotion at that critical moment – had the father killed the son – there would be no threat of Skywalker’s return today.'” 
Snoke watched the rise and fall of the Empire? Now that’s very interesting. But that’s not the only thing he was watching – he was watching Ben Solo. That is made clear in TFA novelization conversation between Leia and Han.
“‘So Snoke was always watching our son.’ ‘Always. From the shadows,’ Leia explained. ‘Even before I realized what was happening, he was manipulating everything, pulling our son toward the dark side.'” 
Snoke was always watching Ben from the shadows and manipulated him to the dark side, and Snoke was always watching the Empire, from its rise to its fall. That means that he has to have been around for a while.
So what if Snoke is actually an ancient force user? What if back in the early days of the Jedi and the Sith, Snoke was a very powerful force user who posed a threat, so the Jedi engaged in a battle against him – thus the reason for his scars – and defeated him. As punishment, they exiled him into the unknown regions. As we know, these unknown regions are incredibly tough and dangerous to travel, so perhaps Snoke could not manage to return to the galaxy because of these dangers and difficulties. So meanwhile, the Empire rises and Palpatine becomes the Emperor, with Darth Vader as his enforcer and apprentice. The Jedi were all but wiped out, but Palpatine could still sense something lurking out there in the unknown regions, and perhaps something strong with the force. Similarly, Thrawn knows there are threats looming in the unknown regions and wants to help fortify the Empire to protect from these threats. Grand Admiral Thrawn’s knowledge of the unknown regions – as one of the only known people to know how to travel that dangerous space – proved integral in the construction of a map of the unknown regions, which Grand Admiral Sloane used to journey to meet the Eclipse and begin a new First Order. Was it Thrawn on the Eclipse waiting for them? Maybe, or maybe not, but either way that’s not the purpose of this discussion.
Regardless, the beginnings of First Order take place in the unknown regions. So it would be entirely conceivable that the remnant of the Empire, equipped with knowledge of how to brave the difficult terrain of the unknown regions thanks to Thrawn, could have encountered Snoke. What if he agreed to help them in exchange for passage back to the galaxy?
The First Order then re-emerges a few years before the events of TFA and Snoke, who through the force has been observing Ben Solo, the grandson of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, lures Ben to the dark side. Ben destroys Luke’s new generation of Jedi and joins forces with Snoke.
We know that Leia and Han are both well aware of Snoke, which means that Luke very likely is too. And this is where Luke comes into the picture. The initial reaction to TFA could have been more disappointed when it comes to Luke’s storyline, with the possible impression that Luke just ran away from everything and was in hiding. That’s probably a part of it, but in this theory there’s something far more noble about Luke’s disappearance. All along he has been searching for ancient Jedi teachings, lore, and the like, probably attempting to figure out all he could about becoming strong with the force and becoming a stronger Jedi, as well as how to establish the new Jedi Order. After Ben rebells and turns to the dark side, however, Luke – aware of Snoke’s influence – flees not only because of his sense of failure but also because of his mission. It is, in fact, the same mission that Luke has been on for most of his life, but he has a more specific focus now. Given the threat of Snoke, a force user from long ago and from the days of the Old Republic, Luke must go back to the earliest Jedi Temple for hope that there is some secret contained in the history and tradition and teaching of the Jedi that would show him how to defeat the powerful Supreme Leader Snoke.
So the gist of the theory is this: Snoke is a force user from the days of the Old Republic but was defeated and exiled into the unknown regions. Palpatine and Thrawn knew of something/someone lurking out there and put together a map for expeditions into the unknown regions, where the remnant of the Empire goes. They meet up with Snoke, and provide him with a way back to the galaxy in exchange for his help. He lures Ben Solo to the dark side, and Ben then turns and destroys the new generation of Jedi. So Luke intensifies his search for Jedi lore with a much more specific focus: finding the very first Jedi Temple, thinking that there is something there that will help him know how to defeat Snoke.
So that’s a Snoke theory that, in my opinion, doesn’t suck. Or maybe it does. We’ll find out soon enough.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” pages 379-380.
 Timothy Zahn, “Thrawn,” page 35.
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” pages 378-379.
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” page 421.
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” page 423.
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” page 423.
 Pablo Hidalgo, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary,” pages 12-14.
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” page 29.
 Chuck Wendig, “Aftermath: Empire’s End,” page 409.
 Claudia Gray, “Bloodline,” page 129.
 Claudia Gray, “Bloodline,” page 203.
 Claudia Gray, “Bloodline,” pages 261-262.
 Pablo Hidalgo, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary,” page 26.
 Michael Kogge, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel,” page 181.
 Michael Kogge, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel,” page 99.
 Michael Kogge, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens: A Junior Novel,” page 138.