Part 5 of 8: Details to read only after seeing the movie

By Anthony Breznican
December 17, 2017 at 12:00 PM EST

Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi

  • Movie

Who is Supreme Leader Snoke?

That question has vexed Star Wars fans for years, as many reached back into old novels and monologues from the prequels for possible answers.

One of the more popular guesses comes from a fable the Emperor told Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith about Darth Plagueis, the ancient Sith master said to have conquered death — only to be betrayed by his apprentice.

While the “Snoke is Plagueis” debate became faster and more intense, endless other possibilities arose. Steele Saunders, host of the Star Wars podcast Steele Wars, even came up with a T-shirt emblazoned in the old Kenner toys font: Your Snoke Theory Sucks.

The most plausible idea was a simple one: Snoke would just be Snoke — a new character with his own backstory, just one that hasn’t been told.

As part of a post-screening Q&A for The Last Jedi this weekend, I got a chance to ask writer-director Rian Johnson about the ominous villain (portrayed by Andy Serkis) and what the movie decided to do — and not do — with him.

To hide the spoiler, let’s hear from the filmmaker about Snoke’s surprising moments on the next page.

It turns out, your Snoke theory doesn’t necessarily suck. It’s just … not relevant.

We did not learn anything new about Snoke’s origin in The Last Jedi, but we did witness his grim ending.

As you know from seeing The Last Jedi (and if you haven’t, you should stop reading now), Snoke is carved in half like a malevolent birthday cake while goading Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to execute a trapped Rey (Daisy Ridley).

Snoke is so preoccupied with gloating and holding Rey aloft using his own Force powers he doesn’t notice that the Skywalker family lightsaber on the armrest of his throne turn has turned toward him. Only when it ignites, piercing his spine and bisecting him, does Snoke realize he has been both outwitted and betrayed.

But after that, instead of joining Rey, Kylo urges her to join him. He has no intention of turning “good.” He aspires to become the new supreme leader.


A Monster Falls, Another Rises

Writer-director Rian Johnson says he only knew one truth: It was time for Snoke to end. That felt like the only way to make Kylo Ren stronger and more formidable as the trilogy closes.

“When I was working on the character of Kylo, I came to a place where I thought the most interesting thing would be to knock the shaky foundation out from under him at the beginning of this movie,” Johnson said. “By the end of this film, he’s gone from being a wannabe Vader to someone who is standing on his own feet as a complex villain taking the reins.”

Johnson also thought it would be “a really good setup going into the next movie.”

“But then the question is: What place would Snoke have at the end of that?” Johnson said. “That made me realize the most interesting thing would be to eliminate that dynamic between the ‘emperor’ and pupil, so that all bets are off going into the next one. That also led to the possibility of this dramatic turn in the middle, which could also be a really powerful connection point between Kylo and Rey.”

Blank Slate

As for Snoke’s history, we don’t know much. But Johnson says fans of the original trilogy also knew next to nothing about the history of Emperor Palpatine.

While Serkis, who performs Snoke through motion capture, says he believes the villain’s injuries (and bitterness) stem from a long-ago conflict with the new Republic, we will have to wait for another story to explore that origin.

“I do think it’s interesting,” Johnson said. “I never want to poo-poo the fans coming up with theories. It’s part of the fun of being a Star Wars fan. If there is a place for it in another story, I hope it gets told.”

Telling it himself in The Last Jedi would have felt like he was shoehorning information on the audience that would have become a distraction. “It would have stopped any of these scenes dead cold if he had stopped and given a 30-second speech about how he’s Darth Plagueis,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter to Rey. If he had done that, Rey would have blinked and said, ‘Who?’ And the scene would have gone on.”

Before moving on himself, Johnson quickly added, “And I’m not saying he’s Darth Plagueis!”

More post-screening insights (these are heavy spoilers, but if you’ve read this far…)

Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Rian Johnson