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Some people absorb unspeakable pain, then vow to spend the rest of their lives working and fighting to make sure no one else has to suffer as they did. Others endure the same agony but deal with it by magnifying that pain — and blasting it back upon the world.
Supreme Leader Snoke is one of the latter.
The enigmatic ruler of the First Order finally emerges from the darkness in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and actor Andy Serkis is revealing a little more about the villain’s origin and creation.
“This time you get to see him, as in his real presence,” says Serkis, who plays the towering Snoke via performance capture. “In the previous movie we saw him as this huge hologram and tele-presence, and you get to meet him in the flesh this time.”
Serkis describes a cruel master, a 9-foot-tall alien humanoid who disparages and dominates his two lieutenants: Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson.) He’s a predator who identifies weakness and exploits it, drawing the young and promising to his side with promises of power, then using and discarding his protégés when they are no longer of use.
He is seen here in hologram form in The Last Jedi, looking very Wizard of Oz as he bellows at Hux over some unspecified failure or disappointment. Serkis says much of that unhappiness will be directed at the former Ben Solo, however.
“His training of Kylo Ren is not yielding what he wants,” Serkis says. “Therefore his anger towards Kylo Ren is intensified because he can’t bear weakness in others. Part of the manipulation is goading him with Hux and playing them off against each other.”
Maybe the effect of that pairing has worn off, however. Snoke may need to start goading Kylo Ren with another disciple. (Watch yourself, Rey.)
Snoke has an abiding rage toward the Galactic Republic, which he devastated in The Force Awakens by annihilating its capital with a blast from Starkiller Base. And now that anger has shifted toward the wounded Republic’s military force — the Resistance.
“The thing about Snoke is that he is extremely strong with the Force, the dark side of the Force. He’s terribly powerful, of course. But he is also a very vulnerable and wounded character,” Serkis says. “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.”
The Last Jedi will reveal that the First Order is far stronger than anyone else in the galaxy realized. “Despite the fact that the Starkiller Base has been destroyed and the Resistance has been putting up a fight, we will discover that the First Order has limitless resources in this one,” Serkis says.
Exactly how Snoke suffered his deformity hasn’t yet been revealed, but we will learn more about it in this installment. At least, a little more.
“Similar to with Rey’s parentage, Snoke is here to serve a function in the story,” writer-director Rian Johnson says. “And, you know, a story is not a Wikipedia page.”
That means the film may not fill in all the blanks for the hardcore Snoke theorists.
“For example, in the original trilogy, we didn’t know anything about the Emperor except exactly what we needed to know, which is what Luke knew about him, that he’s the evil guy behind Vader,” Johnson says. “But then in the prequels, you knew everything about Palpatine because that his rise to power was the story. We’ll learn exactly as much about Snoke as we need to. But the really exciting for me is 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, and that guy is just a force of nature.”
Since Snoke only appeared as a hologram in The Force Awakens, the performance by Serkis was mainly in the villain’s face (what’s left of it). Now that we’ll be in his actual presence, we get the full breadth of his movement — and his damage.
“You witness his physicality,” Serkis says. “His body is kind of twisted up like a corkscrew, and so he has limited movement. His aggression and his anger is contained and restricted by that physicality.”
After playing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, Serkis is used to knotting his body for a performance, or adjusting to a simian gait to play Caesar in the Planet of the Apes films. But for Snoke, he adds one piece of restraint to his own body.
“The only thing I did use was across his jaw,” Serkis says. “His jaw is completely mangled and the left side of his face is mauled. So I had a way of taping down the lefthand side of my mouth to restrict the lip movement on that side.”
Snoke’s shattered skull and open jaw were also inspired by something real from our own world. “His deformity is very much based on injuries from the First World War, from the trenches,” Serkis says.
In that conflict, modern war machines ripped and gnarled human bodies like never before, but lifesaving contemporary medicine ensured the survival of men who otherwise would have died on the battlefield. They lived on carrying damage previously seen only on corpses.
Perhaps because he does suffer so much, Snoke also makes a point to indulge in the comfort and riches that power bestows. Unlike Emperor Palpatine, who was draped in the relatively humble black robe of a Sith monk, Snoke wraps himself in the kind of shimmering gold usually seen in the palaces of dictators or Las Vegas entertainers.
Revenge is only part of his motivation; greed is another.
“Oh, absolutely. He’s slightly oligarch,” Serkis says. “You know, he’s not afraid of showing his fineries. There is a luxury that’s native to him.”
You can see it in his throne room, and his scarlet-armored Praetorian Guard. “The way that his court is presented, he’s very totalitarian in that way and flamboyant,” Serkis says. “He enjoys that theatricality, I think.”