After The Force Awakens, one of the primary questions that Star Wars fans had was this: who is Supreme Leader Snoke?
People had all sorts of theories, from the idea that he was Darth Plagueis to the idea that he was Palpatine reincarnate to other more reasonable hypotheses. I put together my own theory of Snoke, speculating based on evidence that he was a new character who had been around for a while in the Unknown Regions. But in the end, Rian Johnson rightly wasn’t interested in answering all of our questions about the mysterious Snoke… as instead, he killed him – and that was absolutely for the best.
But since this is Star Wars, I’m fully expecting that more of Snoke’s backstory will be fleshed out in the coming years in various media, so I do think we’ll be learning more about him as we move on (including an issue in the Age of Resistance comic coming later this year!). Even still, though, we’ve found out quite a bit of background information about him already, and certainly enough to understand the character in the films.
For the time being, though, I’ve gathered together everything we’ve learned about Supreme Leader Snoke so far. Hopefully this proves to be informative and helpful!
Not much at all is known about the origins of Snoke, but we do have a few tidbits that are important. Firstly, it seems that though he is a new character to audiences, he’s been around a while. Namely, Snoke was around to observe the Empire rising and falling. Consider this quote from The Force Awakens novelization (by Alan Dean Foster), of Snoke dialoging with Kylo Ren (emphasis mine):
“Kylo Ren, I watched the Galactic Empire rise, and then fall. The gullible prattle on about the triumph of truth and justice, of individualism and free will. As if such things were solid and real instead of simple subjective judgments. The historians have it all wrong. It was neither poor strategy nor arrogance that brought down the Empire. You know too well what did.”
Ren nodded once. “Sentiment.”
“Yes. Such a simple thing. Such a foolish error of judgment. A momentary lapse in an otherwise exemplary life. Had Lord Vader not succumbed to emotion at the crucial moment – had the father killed the son – the Empire would have prevailed. And there would be no threat of Skywalker’s return today.”
The key part of that extended quote is the first sentence: Snoke tells Kylo Ren that he watched the Empire rise and fall, which is the basis for his assessment of the cause of the Empire’s fall. But as long as Snoke is being honest (and there’s no reason to think otherwise at the moment), he was around before the Empire rose to power. That means that he was at least around before the end of the Clone Wars, and probably at least old enough to see what was going on.
There’s also a brief line in The Last Jedi novelization (by Jason Fry) that also seems to suggest that Snoke has been around for a while (emphasis mine):
“Interpreting visions of the future was a dangerous game. Whether Jedi, Sith, or some other sect less celebrated by history, all those who used the Force to explore possible timelines kept that uppermost in their minds. Those who didn’t died regretting that they hadn’t. Snoke had learned that lesson many years ago, when he was young and the galaxy was very different. These days, what struck him was how much visions of the future left out.”
The fact that this time is described as being many years ago when the galaxy was very different suggests that Snoke originates from a far different period of time, which would make sense if he was born during the era of the Galactic Republic. So what we know is that Snoke has been around for a while – long enough to observe the rise and fall of the Empire.
So what was he up to? We don’t know that. But although this article is about what we factually know about Snoke, I do think it’s appropriate here to mention this: the new Star Wars canon has repeatedly referenced, hinted, and alluded to knowledge, beings, and threats in the Unknown Regions. Palpatine himself was keenly aware of this, something Force-sensitive in the Unknown Regions, and he wanted to explore. “Aftermath: Empire’s End” by Chuck Wendig gets into that quite a bit, as does the more recent “Thrawn: Alliances” by Timothy Zahn (for some evidences of that taken from “Empire’s End,” head here). I think it’s fair to wonder whether Palpatine sensed Snoke, but at the very least I think we have the clear impression that Snoke originated from the Unknown Regions. That is, of course, where he found the First Order, and it seems he knows of the secrets the Unknown Regions contained which Palpatine sought. Again from TLJ novelization:
“Palpatine’s true identity as Darth Sidious, heir to the Sith, had been an even greater secret than the Contingency. And the Empire’s explorations into the Unknown Regions had served both aspects of its ruler. For Sidious knew that the galaxy’s knowledge of the Force had come from those long-abandoned, half-legendary star systems, and that great truths awaited rediscovery among them. Truths that Snoke had learned and made to serve his own ends.”
So we know that Snoke was around before the rise of the Empire, and it’s fair to speculate that he came from the Unknown Regions. Beyond that, we don’t know much about his history until we encounter him as the First Order’s Supreme Leader. But there are a few pieces we know.
First of all, Snoke’s disfigured appearance suggests that he had been injured at some point in time, though we don’t know how that happened. It’s possible that he has simply always looked that way, but the far more likely explanation is that he has suffered some grievous injury that has left him deformed – and that’s something that Andy Serkis, who portrays Snoke, has publicly said as well.
Second, Snoke is pretty evil. TLJ novelization says that Snoke “had his own legions of uncounted dead, their ranks filled by those who underestimate him.” We have no clue whether these people were part of the First Order or not, but at the very least we know he’s a bad dude who has killed many people that foolishly underestimated him.
Third, and most significantly, it seems that Snoke trained at least one other apprentice besides Kylo Ren. The Force Awakens Visual Dictonary (by Pablo Hidalgo) says that, “Kylo Ren is the most gifted apprentice of Supreme Leader Snoke,” which obviously implies that there are more than one. In TFA novelization, Snoke tells Kylo, “I have never had a student with such promise – before you.” That, again, gives the impression that he has had other students before Kylo. While it is technically allowable by the English language that these statements don’t have to be saying he has had past apprentices, they certainly give that strong impression. I think it is quite fair, therefore, to see these statements as hints that Snoke has previously trained apprentices – yet has never trained an apprentice as strong as Kylo Ren, which is why it’s totally understandable that Snoke’s attention would be wholly focused on this apprentice. That interpretation also fits a Lucasfilm magazine publication that released before The Last Jedi which states: “Snoke has trained Kylo Ren and at least one other apprentice.”
tl;dr: Snoke was around before the rise of the Empire, probably comes from the Unknown Regions, and trained other apprentice(s) besides Kylo Ren
Snoke saving the First Order
More information is known about Snoke and the First Order, since we of course meet him as its Supreme Leader. Put simply, Snoke saved the remnants of the Empire and turned them into the First Order under his command.
Following their defeat at the Battle of Jakku (thanks in part to Palpatine’s Contingency), the remnants of the shattered Empire retreated into the Unknown Regions to rebuild, under the leadership of Rae Sloane and Brendol Hux. This was all set up and provided for by Palpatine’s Contingency, but the Unknown Regions are full of dangers. Though the Empire had valuable information about the Unknown Regions hyperspace lanes from Thrawn, the remnants of the Empire still stood no chance and were almost destroyed… but were saved by Snoke. The details of their initial meeting are unknown, but what we do know is that Snoke saved them with his knowledge. As we read in TLJ novelization:
“But the Imperial refugees’ military preparations had been insufficient bulwarks against the terrors of the Unknown Regions. Grasping in the dark among strange stars, they had come perilously close to destruction, and it had not been military might that saved them. It had been knowledge – Snoke’s knowledge.”
This knowledge, it seems, was thanks in large part to Snoke’s myterious and mute purple-robed alien navigators. These navigators, we read in TLJ Visual Dictionary, had blazed ancient hyperspace trails, and it was the knowledge of these trails that saved the Imperial remnants – for the Visual Dictionary tells us that if it hadn’t been for them, the remnants certainly would have died. These mute navigators were part of Snoke’s entourage, and they would later develop and work the oculus in Snoke’s throne room aboard the Supremacy. It was the knowledge that they and Snoke brought that had saved the Empire.
And so, while others expected that the leadership of the First Order would be someone else – like Rae Sloane or Brendol Hux – it instead became Snoke. As we read once again in TLJ novelization:
“Snoke knew he himself was an unlikely fulcrum, just about the furthest thing from what the tattered remnants of Palpatine’s Empire had imagined as a leader. The admirals and generals who’d survived the fury of the Empire’s implosion and the New Republic’s wrath had envisioned being led by someone else, anyone else: pitiless, devious Gallius Rax; dutiful, cautious Rae Sloane; the slippery political fanatic Ormes Apolin; or even an unhinged but ambitious military architect such as Brendol Hux. All of those would-be leaders had been co-opted, sidelined, or destroyed, leaving only Armitage Hux, the mad son of a mad father. And that one was but a mouthpiece, a miscast tinkerer whose rantings could only persuade the sort of rabble who blindly worshipped rage and lunatic certainty. Though galactic history would record it differently – Snoke would see to that – the evolution of the First Order had been more improvisational than master plan. That was another element visions tended to miss.”
Those people mentioned made up the early First Order leadership. Rae Sloane was obviously one of the key leaders of the Imperial remnants who had helped lead them into the Unknown Regions after the Battle of Jakku (we read about her in the Aftermath books, among other places). Gallius Rax was seen as the leader of Palpatine’s Contingency (we read about him in the Aftermath books). Ormes Apolin was a New Republic Senator loyal to the First Order (we are introduced briefly to him in “Bloodline” by Claudia Gray). And Brendol Hux was a member of the Empire who would go on to help create the First Order’s military (we read about him in several places, in particular in the Aftermath books and “Phasma”). Yet none of these figures took over as the leader of the First Order, and TLJ novelization tells us all of them were dealt with in one way or another.
Gallius Rax was killed by Rae Sloane at the Battle of Jakku. We don’t know what happened to Sloane, but we do know that while she was a part of the First Order leadership early on, by the events of “Phasma” by Delilah Dawson (which takes place sometime before The Force Awakens), she is no longer around (as Armitage Hux makes clear). We don’t know what happened to Ormes Apolin, but we do know that he was still a New Republic Senator as of 28ABY (as mentioned in “Bloodline”). Brendol Hux created and led much of the First Order military and recruited Phasma to their cause, but ultimately Phasma and Armitage Hux (Brendol’s illegitimate son) conspired to kill him. What’s not clear is whether Snoke had anything to do with the demise of these people or not, though we should again note that quote mentioned earlier that he has left his dead behind who underestimated him. One way or another, any potential rivals to First Order leadership were removed.
So we don’t know whether Snoke actually took over as the Supreme Leader of the First Order right away or not. We know that it was his knowledge (and the knowledge of his alien navigators) that had saved the Imperial remnants, and we know that Snoke helped to craft the remnants into the mighty First Order. As TLJ novelization tells us:
“Snoke had shepherded the First Order through its years in the galactic wilds, transforming a band of Imperial refugees into a weapon forged to reclaim the galaxy. As such, he would always be remembered.”
It seems very clear, then, that no matter what the official leadership structure of the First Order was early on, Snoke was massively instrumental in its formation and was the one who essentially helped to create it. The First Order arose in the Unknown Regions, but TLJ Visual Dictionary makes it clear that Snoke had plans for galactic conquest and invasion of the known galaxy – he was just waiting for the right time. He rejected the notion of a home base for the First Order, as though they constructed the massive Starkiller Base he choose to keep his command mobile, aboard the Supremacy (TLJ Visual Dictionary). He did this because, as TLJ novelization tells us, he had bigger aspirations: he wanted to “restore all that had been stolen from the Empire, and then build upon that rebuilt foundation.”
Ultimately, by the time of the sequel trilogy, the First Order leadership was solidified under the Supreme Leadership of Snoke as they prepared to launch their long-awaited invasion and conquest. Snoke commanded all aspects of the First Order aboard the Supremacy, his apprentice Kylo Ren operated outside of the formal leadership ranks of the First Order (like Darth Vader had with the Empire), Armitage Hux as General of the First Order military forces and part of First Order High Command, and Captain Phasma as in charge of stormtrooper training and with significant military command. The trio of Ren, Hux, and Phasma made up the unofficial First Order leadership (since Snoke operated mostly in the shadows). Hux and Ren were in an especially rare position, as their ranks afforded them direct access to Snoke himself. The Supreme Leader chose to manifest himself as a larger-than-life hologram, but Hux and Ren had access to him – which technically made Hux of greater rank than even General, though Snoke didn’t grant him the rank of Grand Marshall, which Hux desired (TLJ Visual Dictionary).
tl;dr: Snoke’s knowledge saved the Imperial remnants in the Unknown Regions; he helped form the First Order and emerged as its leader; he was the Supreme Leader of the First Order
Snoke’s Relationship with Ben Solo
One of the most important things that we know about Snoke so far is that he was the master to Ben Solo – aka Kylo Ren – and that he had courted Solo from a young age.
This much was abundantly clear to Leia Organa, Solo’s mother. In The Force Awakens, Han tells Leia that they lost their son, to which Leia responds, “No. It was Snoke. He seduced our son to the dark side. But we can still save him. Me. You.”
The Force Awakens novelization gives added detail to that conversation between husband and wife:
“[Han] had trouble believing what he was hearing. ‘So Snoke was watching our son.’ ‘Always,’ she told him. ‘From the shadows, in the beginning, even before I realized what was happening, he was manipulating everything, pulling our son toward the dark side.'”
Clearly, there are a couple of things of importance in that statement: (1) Leia was very aware of who Snoke is, and it seems that Han is familiar with Snoke’s identity but not with his manipulation; and (2) Leia knows Snoke seduced their son to the dark side.
Luke Skywalker further makes it clear that Leia blamed Snoke for Ben’s fall when, in The Last Jedi, he tells Rey:
“I went to confront him. And he turned on me. He must have thought I was dead. When I came to, the temple was burning. He had vanished with a handful of my students, and slaughtered the rest. Leia blamed Snoke, but… it was me. I failed. Because I was Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. A legend.”
Luke took the failure of his apprentice personally, but Leia saw it as Snoke’s luring and tempting and manipulating that had led Ben Solo to the dark side. And the impression that we get is that this had been happening pretty much Ben’s entire life. Leia says in that TFA novelization quote earlier that even before she realized what was happening, Snoke was manipulating Ben in the shadows. TLJ novelization tells us more:
“[Snoke] had seen his apprentice’s enormous potential when he was still a child – the latent power of the Skywalker bloodline was impossible to miss. And he had also seen how to exploit the boy’s feelings of inadequacy and abandonment, and his mother’s guilt and desperation to contain the darkness within her child.”
So at least since Ben Solo was a child, Snoke had his eyes on him. He stoked the embers of Ren’s conflicted spirit (to use his words from TLJ on a different matter) to drive the young Solo to the dark side of the Force. This was a large part of the reason why Luke took Ben to train him in the first place… but more on that later.
So it’s very clear that “Kylo has long been under the dark influence of Snoke, who fanned the embers of resentment and isolation in Ben Solo into white-hot anger” (TLJ Visual Dictionary). But it’s also very clear that Snoke thought very highly of his prospective pupil.
We already mentioned the quote from TFA Visual Dictionary that mentioned that Kylo Ren is the most gifted of Snoke’s apprentice, and that guide also tells us that Snoke “believes Ren to be the ideal embodiment of the Force, a focal point of both light and dark side ability.” This caused Snoke to, at least at one point, see Kylo “as the perfect student – a creation of both light and dark, with the strength of both aspects of the Force” (TLJ novelization). The Supreme Leader’s confidence in that had apparently begun to waver a bit as of TLJ, but regardless, Snoke viewed Kylo Ren as the perfect embodiment of the Force, as that which “all masters live to see. Raw, untamed power. And beyond that, something truly special. The potential of your bloodline. A new Vader.” (TLJ)
That part about Ben’s bloodline was apparently very important to Snoke as well, as TLJ Visual Dictionary tells us that, “Snoke took Ben Solo as his apprentice as he believed only someone of the Skywalker bloodline could destroy the last Jedi.” So in other words, there were multiple facets of Snoke’s attraction to Solo:
- Snoke saw Ben Solo as the perfect embodiment of the Force in that Solo was a perfect combination of both the light and the dark.
- Snoke saw Ben Solo’s bloodline as essential, since he believed that only a Skywalker could defeat Luke Skywalker and end the Jedi.
- Snoke saw the conflicted nature of Ben Solo – due in large part to his “feelings of inadequacy and abandonment” – and used that to lure him toward the dark side.
This luring apparently began in the shadows unbeknownst to Leia, but the impression is that by the end it was quite clear what was happening. Leia, Han, and Luke obviously are well aware of who Snoke is and what influence he had on Ben Solo, which means that there must have been more direct involvement later on – but we don’t know about that yet. The main point, though, is that Snoke saw Ben Solo as the ideal apprentice and from a very early age lured the young boy toward the dark side… and he did this at least in part for one major reason.
tl;dr: Snoke lured Ben Solo from a young age; Snoke saw Solo as the perfect apprentice; Leia, Han, and Luke were aware of Snoke’s presence and manipulation
Snoke and Skywalker
Nothing is known currently as to whether Snoke and Luke Skywalker ever met or knew each other. We know that they both know of each other, but not whether they ever had any personal interactions.
Nonetheless we do know that Snoke was aware of Skywalker’s power and presence, and so Snoke’s plan all along was to manipulate Skywalker into action and in doing so remove him from the game, which would allow the First Order to invade the galaxy.
TLJ novelization gives us some interesting details to this end:
“One obstacle had stood in [Snoke’s] way – Skywalker. Who had been wise enough not to rebuild the Jedi Order, dismissing it as the sclerotic, self-perpetuating debating society it had become in its death throes. Instead, the last Jedi had sought to understand the origins of the faith, and the larger truths behind it. Like his father, Skywalker had been a favored instrument of the will of the Cosmic Force. That made it essential to watch him. And once Skywalker endangered Snoke’s design, it had become essential to act. And so Snoke had drawn upon his vast store of knowledge, parceling it out to confuse Skywalker’s path, ensnare his family, and harness Ben Solo’s powers to ensure both Skywalker’s destruction and Snoke’s triumph. Now the endgame he had forseen was at hand.”
A few pages later, we read:
“And indeed, Ben Solo had performed the role Snoke had envisioned for him perfectly. The combination of his potential and the danger he posed had lured Skywalker into seeking to rebuild the Jedi. His power had then destroyed all Skywalker had built and sent the failed Jedi Master into exile, removing him from the board just as the game entered a critical phase.”
So here’s what I find so interesting: Snoke needed to remove Skywalker from the game, and that’s at least part of the reason for him luring Ben Solo. I’ll break this down into a few important notes:
- Skywalker was Snoke’s last obstacle – The one thing standing in Snoke’s way was Luke Skywalker. And part of the reason why Luke stood in Snoke’s way was because he didn’t restart the Jedi Order but instead explored the Force – something that we’ve known Luke doing in the post-ROTJ world in many canon stories. So in this novelization, we read that Snoke monitored Skywalker closely until he decided that Skywalker posed a threat to his plans. The question we don’t have the answer to is this: how did Skywalker pose a threat to Snoke? Hopefully we’ll find that out eventually.
- Snoke needed Skywalker to rebuild the Jedi – Snoke obviously thinks that Luke was right in not attempting to rebuild the Jedi right away, and when Snoke decides that Luke is a threat to him, Snoke decides that he must force Luke to rebuild the Jedi. Why was that Snoke’s conclusion? I think that we can speculate as to why, based on all we know from The Last Jedi about the legacy of the Jedi, and that seems to be Snoke’s thought process as well. The Jedi were pretty screwed up, so he wants Luke to return to that rather than learning more about the ways and nature of the Force.
- Snoke used Ben Solo to remove Skywalker – It seems that Snoke’s influence on Ben Solo was actually the result of Snoke wanting to remove Luke Skywalker from the equation – or at least that’s certainly the way it’s portrayed in this novelization. He had to act, and so he struck at Luke’s family, luring Solo toward the dark side and forcing Skywalker to try to train the next generation of Jedi. Luke even admits in TLJ that it was Ben Solo who caused him to start his temple, as he tells Rey, “For many years there was balance. And then I saw Ben. My nephew. With that mighty Skywalker blood, and in my hubris I thought I could train him, I could pass on my strengths.” It wasn’t until Luke saw Ben Solo – with such potential for both light and darkness – that he decided to train new students and rebuild the Jedi. And that’s precisely what Snoke wanted to do, so he was manipulating it to happen through Ben.
In many ways, then, Ben Solo can be viewed as little more than a pawn in Snoke’s plan to get rid of Skywalker. Sure, Snoke thought that the young boy was the perfect apprentice, but even then part of his reasoning was because of Ben’s Skywalker blood – which Snoke thought was necessary in defeating the last Jedi once and for all.
This all also explains why the First Order is so zealous in their efforts to find Skywalker and wipe him out, as Snoke tells Kylo in TFA that if Skywalker is found a new generation of Jedi will rise. So TLJ novelization tells us that Snoke and Ren “had hunted so avidly [trying to find Skywalker], at the expense of much else that needed doing.” In many ways, Snoke had long viewed Luke Skywalker as the last remaining obstacle to his plans, and he used Ben Solo as a pawn to bring about Skywalker’s demise and pave the way for the First Order to control the galaxy.
Ironically, not only did Snoke fail to ultimately and finally stop Skywalker, but he also missed that it was a different Skywalker who would bring about his own demise.
tl;dr: Snoke saw Luke Skywalker as a threat to his plans, so he manipulated Ben Solo in order to force Skywalker to rebuild the Jedi and remove him from the game board to pave the way for the First Order
Other Tidbits about Snoke
In wrapping things up, I wanted to mention a few other things we know about Snoke but that didn’t fit as naturally into the other sections of this lengthy article.
- Snoke is no Sith. TLJ Visual Dictionary tells us that Snoke is “powerful in the dark side of the Force, but he is no Sith.” To some, this might simply be an unnecessary haggling over particular terms, since Snoke is a powerful dark side user who essentially functions like a Sith. But it’s nonetheless an important distinction to make that Snoke is not a Sith (nor is Kylo Ren) but rather is just another dark side Force user.
- Snoke’s appearance. Snoke is described in TFA novelization as “humanoid but not human,” so while he looks much like a human, we know that he’s actually another species. Additionally, we know that he is deformed and disfigured, and that at least in part leads to Snoke to be secretive. TLJ Visual Dictionary tells us that “few have ever seen Snoke in the flesh” and that he often disguises his true nature, as evidenced in the projections of himself that are massive.
- Snoke’s powers. Multiple times in TLJ Visual Dictionary we read that Snoke’s physical powers are weak and faded since his body is broken, but that he is strong with the Force – including “his Force-aided abilities to persuade, manipulate, and perceive.” We see in TLJ that he has several significant powers: he can utilize Force lightning; he can expertly read peoples’ minds and take information he wants; he can bridge the minds of Rey and Kylo; he can use the Force to drag Hux and Rey across the floor; etc. He is incredibly powerful in the dark side of the Force.
- Snoke’s nature. In TLJ Visual Dictionary, Snoke is referred to as “unforgiving” and “cruel,” and he treats Kylo with “berating punishments.” He’s not a nice guy. And in TLJ novelization, Snoke is described from Rey’s point of view: “Snoke’s presence felt like a pit, empty and cold and dark – as if the dark-side cave beneath Ahch-To had gone on forever.”
- Snoke’s ring. One last tidbit to mention about Snoke is that he has a ring which contains “obsidian from catacombs beneath Darth Vader’s Mustafar castle” (TLJ Visual Dictionary). I’d definitely love to learn more about that, as we don’t know whether Snoke actually visited there himself or not.
There are many sources referenced both directly and indirectly in this article, but there are certainly some more prominent than others. While I have attempted to compile the information pertinent to Snoke, I strongly encourage you to check out these resources and more as you venture further into the post-ROTJ world.
The Force Awakens Novelization – by Alan Dean Foster
The Last Jedi Novelization – by Jason Fry
The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary – by Pablo Hidalgo
The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary – by Pablo Hidalgo
These first four mentioned are, as you probably could tell by the article, where the vast, vast majority of information about Supreme Leader Snoke outside of the films has come. So those four listed above are by far the most prominent resources to check out. But additional resources were mentioned and referenced in this article, and you can find those below as well:
“Aftermath” – by Chuck Wendig
“Aftermath: Life Debt” – by Chuck Wendig
“Aftermath: Empire’s End” – by Chuck Wendig
“Bloodline” – by Claudia Gray
“Phasma” – by Delilah S. Dawson