Anthony Breznican
August 09, 2017 AT 01:30 PM EDT

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Villains always have heroes of their own. But they’re not necessarily anyone you’d ever want to meet.

That’s not the case with Star Wars. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren will venture to the side of one of his malevolent icons, and fans will finally get their wish to see the enigmatic tyrant in the flesh.

Supreme Leader Snoke only appeared in The Force Awakens via hologram, but in the new film out Dec. 15, the towering character (performed via motion-capture by Andy Serkis) will finally emerge from hiding.

These will be his protectors – the Praetorian Guard, a variation on the crimson-cloaked Imperial guards who flanked the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.

ILM/© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd.

“The Emperor’s guards were very formal, and you always got the sense that they could fight, but they didn’t,” writer-director Rian Johnson tells EW. “They looked like they were more ceremonial, and you never really saw them in action. The Praetorians, my brief to [costume designer] Michael Kaplan was that those guys have to be more like samurai. They have to be built to move, and you have to believe that they could step forward and engage if they have to. They have to seem dangerous.”

The Praetorians get their name from our own true-life history and the elite special guard who protected ancient Roman emperors. “If we can get kids’ ears to perk up in history class a little bit when they hear that, that’d be a cool thing,” Johnson says.

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Since we’re seeing the galactic Praetorians up close, that means Adam Driver’s aspiring Sith will also bring us face-to-what’s-left-of-his-face with his Dark Side mentor.

“They’re his personal guards,” Johnson says. “They stick with [Snoke]. So they’re essentially bodyguards.”

The last time we saw Snoke in The Force Awakens (seen below), he was summoning Kylo Ren and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux back to his own sanctuary as the Resistance launched a crushing assault on the First Order’s planet-killing device, Starkiller Base.

Lucasfilm

Star Wars fans have exerted immense energy over the past few years creating Snoke theories aimed at unraveling the villain’s history. Johnson says The Last Jedi will reveal more about Snoke and his goals, but his history will remain somewhat murky.

“Similar to Rey’s parentage, Snoke is here to serve a function in the story. And a story is not a Wikipedia page,” the filmmaker says. “For example, in the original trilogy, we didn’t know anything about the Emperor except what Luke knew about him, that he’s the evil guy behind Vader. Then in the prequels, you knew everything about Palpatine because his rise to power was the story.”

In The Last Jedi, Johnson says, “we’ll learn exactly as much about Snoke as we need to.”

The good news for fans of the bad guy: “We will see more of him, and Andy Serkis will get to do much more in this film than he did in the last one,” Johnson says. “And that guy is just a force of nature.”

In the behind-the-scenes video released at Disney’s D23 Expo last month, there appeared to be a shot of Johnson looking up at a looming figure that many thought looked Snoke-like. Whether it is or not, we still don’t know. (It also looks like the horse-type creatures we’ll see in the casino city of Canto Bight.)

But practical effects have been a priority for the new Star Wars films, so will we see Snoke performed as a real-life puppet?

Star Wars/YouTube

“No, it’s entirely a mo-cap performance,” Johnson says. “[Creature designer] Neal Scanlan built a maquette that we had on set for lighting reference and to give the actors a sense of what it was going to feel like. And then we scanned that and [Industrial Light & Magic] used that in their renderings, but Snoke will be an entirely CG creation.”

Johnson says Serkis will deliver satisfying menace when we finally get up close and personal with the First Order’s ruler.

“I’d be sitting at the monitor just with my eyes as big as dinner plates,” Johnson says. “It’s one of those performances where after every line, I’d look over at whoever’s standing next to me with an expression on my face like, ‘Oh, my God, we just got that.”

Part 1 – Luke and Rey

Part 2 – Finn and Rose

Part 3 – Porgs and Caretakers

Part 4 – Snoke and the Praetorian Guard

Part 5 – Leia and Poe

Part 6 – Benicio Del Toro’s DJ

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