(*** major spoilers for The Last Jedi are ahead ***)
In 2015, The Force Awakens introduced us to the mysterious leader of the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke.
For the next two years, fans spent countless hours theorizing who he might actually be. Some said he was Darth Plagueis reincarnate, though Lucasfilm (particularly Pablo Hidalgo) repeatedly emphasized Snoke as a new character. I attempted to reconcile the available data into a theory about Snoke, suggesting that he’s an ancient force user. Regardless of what your theory was, you most likely had one.
While we weren’t exactly sure what would be revealed about Snoke in The Last Jedi, we knew that there would be much more of him, and actually in-the-flesh rather than a hologram. In that regard, the latest installment of the Star Wars saga delivered, showing us more of the Supreme Leader and showing why he’s intimidating – but the movie also introduced a huge shocking twist regarding Snoke that is worth discussing more.
Again, massive spoilers for The Last Jedi are ahead, so don’t read any further past the jump if you haven’t yet seen the movie.
There was a refrain that became popular amongst Star Wars fans, saying, “Your Snoke theory sucks.” Many of them did, and while others weren’t so bad, The Last Jedi went perhaps the most shocking route: it didn’t even try to address those theories. Rian Johnson didn’t come up with some elaborate backstory for Snoke that would be explained in a dramatic monologue (that was never realistic, by the way), nor did he attempt to answer the questions about the Supreme Leader. Rather than putting an end to the debate, Johnson did something bolder: he put an end to the character.
In one of the film’s most dramatic moments, Snoke calls on Kylo Ren to execute Rey, explaining in his arrogance that he cannot be betrayed, as he can see Kylo’s mind. That is true, as he sees Kylo turning the lightsaber and preparing to ignite it to kill his true enemy… but what Snoke didn’t see was that the lightsaber Kylo was turning was, with the force, the Skywalker saber sitting right beside Snoke. Kylo ignites the saber, impaling his master and slicing him in half, killing him. Kylo Ren is the First Order’s new Supreme Leader.
It was the most unexpected and shocking twist in a film full of them, and it’s one that has left some fans uncertain and upset. After all, for those who spent two years theorizing and for those who loved their own theories, Kylo’s move was as much a stab in the gut to them as it was to Snoke. But from a storytelling perspective, I think it’s a brilliant direction to take.
See, what we learned from The Last Jedi is that Snoke isn’t the villain Lucasfilm cared about developing. No, instead Kylo Ren is the main antagonist of this trilogy, and he’s a tremendously crafted villain, particularly in this latest installment. Rian Johnson, building off of the groundwork laid by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, gave us a version of Kylo Ren that’s conflicted, one in whom we see glimpses of both Kylo Ren and Ben Solo. It’s a rare feat for movies nowadays to have such a complex villain, but it’s one of the strongest things The Last Jedi has going for it (bolstered by Adam Driver’s phenomenal portrayal). The goal wasn’t to develop Snoke, it was to develop Kylo. And in order to do that more fully, the decision was made to kill off Snoke. In some ways, Snoke was there to distract us from Kylo Ren until we eventually realize what has been right under our noses the entire time: he’s the guy we should be focused on.
Some people will undoubtedly be upset that we didn’t get a full Wookieepedia article detailing Snoke’s entire history, tying him in dramatically to the rest of the universe. I’m sure we’ll get more background eventually, but I’m thrilled by the direction taken in The Last Jedi with his character. And in all honesty, think of what we knew about the Emperor in the original trilogy: he was the Emperor of the galaxy, and he was Darth Vader’s master, a figure to be greatly feared (someone even less forgiving than Vader?!?). That’s it. It wasn’t until years later with the prequels that we understood more about Sheev Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, who trained under Plagueis, killed him, and secretly manipulated things, rising from a humble Naboo senator to Galactic Chancellor, and swaying Anakin Skywalker to the dark side of the force. In other words, we knew just enough about the Emperor in the original trilogy to understand what’s going on with Luke and Vader. In the sequel trilogy, we similarly know just enough about Snoke to understand what’s going on with the main characters. The original trilogy wasn’t Palpatine’s story, just like the sequel trilogy isn’t Snoke’s story.
I think this move sets up an even more interesting Episode IX, which will begin filming next year and will be directed by J.J. Abrams. Kylo Ren is now the Supreme Leader of the First Order, and the crazy thing is that his motives aren’t as black-and-white as simply saying he’s a “bad guy.” Kylo wants to tear down the old – including Snoke, Luke, the Sith, and the Jedi – and establish a new order. In some ways, the audience can relate to those sentiments, realizing the failures of the past. We’ll have a Kylo Ren entrenched in the dark side of the force and commanding the dominant First Order with rule over much of the galaxy, though we nonetheless know that there are glimpses of Ben Solo still there. The opportunities available to Episode IX are really interesting as a result of Snoke’s death, and I think it was a terrific decision and a really well-executed shock by Rian Johnson.
Your Snoke theory didn’t suck… it just didn’t matter.