[This article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens.]
From the moment the end credits rolled on Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, there was one question at the forefront of fans’ minds: who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and just how important is he? In short, he’s the commander of the Force-using Kylo Ren, and the secretive commander of The First Order – the newer, stronger, more ruthless remnants of the Galactic Empire.
But it was no sooner than fans started asking the question that theories, conspiracies, and entire fan sites erupted to explore the idea that Supreme Leader Snoke was an alias for an established character. Several theories have risen to the top – find a rundown of the top contenders here – but there’s one theory, one reveal that we’re surprised to see absent from the conversation. A figure who, if the theory is proven true, could bring one of the most surprising twists to the Star Wars franchise fans have ever seen (in the best way possible). Or at least give the actual reveal a standard to rise to.
But before we get to our theory, we thought it wise to give fans a breakdown of what we actually KNOW about Supreme Leader Snoke, and help make sense of the rumors that he may also be “The Operator” alluded to in the newest, canonical Star Wars novels.
Even if our final conclusion proves to be wrong (but still the kind of rumor or fan theory we want to see more of), listing what’s fact, assumption, and misdirection in Star Wars: The Force Awakens should help fans keep an even keel as the months (and years) of further rumors drag on. Without further ado, let’s get started…
What We’re Shown of ‘Supreme Leader Snoke’
Director J. J. Abrams and the rest of Lucasfilm’s upper echelon deserve extra praise for unveiling a brand new villain in the Star Wars universe, without actually making the movie about him. In a more immediate sense, it was Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who acted as antagonist, receiving his orders from a towering hologram of Supreme Leader Snoke, the mysterious new commander of The First Order forces. He may not be an ’emperor’ himself, but his unquestioned orders and choice of rank – “Supreme Leader” – definitely give the same impression.
On a physical level (or as physical as a hologram can be), Snoke’s appearance is at once human and distinctly… not. The asymmetrical face seems heavily injured, or possibly scarred, thereby obscuring most of his facial features. Since Andy Serkis was responsible for the motion capture performance behind Snoke, many assumed he would be an alien being. While a non-human heritage is possible (and required by those who suppose he is the former Emperor’s presumed-dead-master Darth Plagueis), his anatomy and British accent certainly imply that Snoke is human.
Assumptions aside, the apparent bias towards human officers in the Imperial ranks (noticeable in all of the films) is actually based on real prejudice. Emperor Palpatine’s preference for human beings above all other races may not be carried over into The First Order, but The Force Awakens seems to imply that it is. In other words: an Imperial leader (on film) is most likely human, unless otherwise stated.
It’s also been stated by those among the special effects crew that Snoke stands over seven feet tall, yet remains incredibly thin. Unfortunately, his height is impossible to actually gauge in the film, since his hologram makes him closer to seventy feet tall. When word of his size, and the claim that Snoke “couldn’t have been possible” without the use of CG first broke, fans expected to see a towering, alien creature. That’s obviously not what we’ve gotten, which makes it hard to pin down specifics at this point (and considering J. J. Abrams’ flare for misdirection in his villains, skepticism is always wise).
It’s also worth wondering just what’s concealed beneath Snoke’s robes. If the visible injuries are so devastating, it would appear the Supreme Leader required some extensive procedures to keep himself together. And the Star Wars story group has supplied evidence that cybernetics go well beyond the artifical limbs previously seen. In “Star Wars: A New Dawn,” for instance, the villain – who also rebuilt his empire under a presumed-false name – has defied illness and death by replacing his body with robotics. Not just replacing, but improving, augmenting his appearance (and possibly, height?) to better intimidate his rivals. Not saying it applies to Snoke, but it’s worth keeping in mind (read: robot legs).
Physiology aside, it’s Supreme Leader Snoke’s military prowess which matters the most going forward. The First Order may be shaped in the Galactic Empire’s image, but under Supreme Leader Snoke, it has become a more devout, determined, and deplorable force, capable of destroying the New Republic one system at a time (or at least they were, until Starkiller Base was destroyed itself). But Snoke survived, and it’s hard to believe that the man who managed to conquer and unite the remaining Imperial assets isn’t without a back-up plan… or two.
And with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) – the embodiment of The First Order’s military – just one of the two apprentices he’s seen ordering about, soldiers and superweapons may only be half of his plan.
Snoke Corrupted Ben Solo
It’s practically expected that a modern Star Wars story will begin with a black robed, shadowy figure ordering a similarly black robed, masked warrior on missions against the movie’s heroes. But as The Force Awakens progresses, it’s clear that the relationship between Snoke and Kylo Ren isn’t quite what fans are used to. Kylo Ren takes his orders from Snoke, but seems to get his own mission, faith, and resolve from a different source: his grandfather.
The significance may have been overlooked by some, but the division of Kylo Ren’s motives is testament to how fractured he truly is. Typically, it’s a faith or loyalty to one’s authorities or order that drives soldiers, be it Darth Vader or the Jedi. But for Kylo Ren, his meeting with Snoke carries a fraction of the weight seen when he prays aloud to the burnt remains of his grandfather’s helmet.
It’s odd that Kylo Ren should worship the symbol of his grandfather’s fall from the Light, since Anakin realized the error of his ways before the end. An answer is offered by his parents, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) when they reassure one another that it wasn’t them or Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who steered Ben to the Dark Side. Instead, it was Snoke, and Snoke alone.
Besides establishing Snoke as the prime mover among the villains in this new trilogy, the fact that he could, let alone did, sway, or in the words of his parents, “seduce” Ben Solo to the Dark over Light speaks volumes. How could one man convince Ben to take a new name, adopt his grandfather’s twisted mission, and turn on his own family while Luke Skywalker was training him to do the exact opposite?
It’s just one of several questions we hope to see answered, but it’s safe to assume Snoke must have some knowledge of Darth Vader, beyond his mere reputation. But an outsider or stranger would have a difficult time even acquiring the details needed to tempt Ben, let alone pull it off.
Even Serkis, the man beneath the digital wizardy of Snoke confirms that “he is aware of the past to a great degree.” It’s possible that any Imperial or well-connected figure could have kept up to date on Darth Vader, but hopefully, seducing Ben Solo with information so personal would only be possible by someone with intimate knowledge of the Skywalker clan. But Darth Vader isn’t typically afforded an abundance of friends…
Snoke May Not Be A Sith Lord – or Even a Force User
Whether Snoke was a colleague, ally, or passionate fan of Darth Vader, it’s important to pull one of the most widespread assumptions under the microscope: that Supreme Leader Snoke is a Sith Lord, or a notable Force user at all. The film and tie-in novels handle the idea with a surprisingly deft touch, relying on inference, assumption, and vague language. In the film itself, there’s no actual evidence that Snoke is “using The Force.”
Snoke makes an allusion to The Force when he tells Kylo Ren that “There has been an awakening… have you felt it?” Fan thoughts will automatically fill in the blanks, seeing it as Force sensitivity on Snoke’s part. But we would ask fans to examine where the line of omnipotence, clairvoyance, or Force ‘intuition’ ends, and a highly-informed, well-connected mastermind begins. The worse “sense” is dropped again when Kylo Ren confides in his grandfather, claiming that Snoke can “sense” his pupil being pulled to the light, and perhaps losing commitment to their cause. The implication is easy to detect – which is why theorists should remember to examine what’s actually offered.
When Han faces down his son aboard Starkiller Base, he dismisses the idea that he’s beyond saving, claiming that Snoke has planted lies in his head. Snoke’s true goal, according to Han (who has more information to go on than any audience member), is simply to “use Ben for his power,” sure to “crush” him once he’s achieved his goal. That in itself would sound like a tall order… if Kylo Ren was portrayed as a determined, composed, highly-skilled Dark Side warrior.
The illustration of a student/master relationship offered by Han – taking advantage of a young apprentice only to cast them aside once they’ve outlived their usefulness – isn’t the model of the Sith that fans have come to know. The Sith ‘Rule of Two’ states that an apprentice will learn all they can from the master, slay them, and take an apprentice of their own (just as Darth Vader did in Return of the Jedi). That means that if Snoke is a Sith Lord, he’s breaking the rules established in-universe. Not to mention that the ‘Rule of Two’ wouldn’t easily allow for a ‘new’ Sith Lord to emerge (they’re all dead, or so we’re told).
There’s no actual evidence directly stating that either man is a Sith, or as stated above, that Snoke is trained in use of the Force. Kylo Ren doesn’t refer to Snoke as “Lord” or “Master,” only “Supreme Leader”; a term that sounds more like a political or governmental title than even a military one (or, as the film shows, both). It’s not even possible to call Kylo Ren “Snoke’s right hand man,” since General Hux seems to be of equal rank, snidely warning Kylo Ren to remember they both serve the Supreme Leader’s orders to the letter.
Finally, if Kylo Ren is truly a Sith apprentice, or even the pupil of a skilled, evil Force user… he’s not a very good one. Lacking the discipline and lightsaber skills of any Sith previously seen, Kylo Ren is matched by a stormtrooper (albeit a potentially Force-sensitive Stormtrooper) in combat. It could even be argued that Kylo’s skills – sensitivity to The Force, granting him the ability to read emotions, mental images, and sense his family – should all be expected of any Skywalker child.
In fact, Rey (Daisy Ridley) seems to be more adept in The Force after a single conversation with Maz Kanata (Lupita Ny’ongo) than Kylo Ren after years of tutelage from Snoke. If Rey is also a Skywalker as some suspect, then it’s hard to believe Kylo Ren has had any formal training, quickly outmatched by Rey in nearly every way. Even if Rey was trained, and had her memories ‘wiped,’ at the very least she’d be a little rusty – compared to Kylo Ren (who has been wielding the Force for years). If Rey isn’t a Skywalker, then Snoke’s guidance has hampered Kylo Ren’s development, not helped it.
But assume Snoke’s power doesn’t hail from The Force. The questioning of Kylo Ren – “have you felt an awakening?” – could be, as Han suggests, an attempt to use his skills to glean intel. It would also explain why finding Luke Skywalker (a mission Kylo Ren is perfect for) is so important: Snoke can handle the Resistance, but a single Jedi poses an even bigger threat. It also explains why he would seek to seduce Ben Solo in the first place, hoping to gain a Force sensitive attack dog.
Most of all, Snoke having more familiarity or knowledge of The Force than skill in wielding it – like the knowledge gained by knowing, or knowing of Darth Vader’s methods or origins – would explain Kylo Ren’s emotional, undisciplined, and tortured demeanor. The Force Awakens comes to a close with a promise that Kylo Ren will “complete his training” once brought to Snoke, so it’s possible he has kept all the important Force lessons to himself to this point.
But… we’ll probably take Han Solo’s word on this: Snoke needs Kylo Ren’s power. And with one Force user hard enough to keep in check, it would also explain Snoke’s interest in having Rey brought to him – particularly before she realized just how “powerful” she truly is.
The ‘Operator’ Theory – A Former Imperial Admiral
Assuming that most Star Wars fans haven’t had the time or interest to read every canonical novel bearing the “Star Wars” name, then the sudden emergence of “The Operator” among Snoke theorists would be confusing. But the shadowy figure could be the biggest hint at the origins of Supreme Leader Snoke that the Lucasfilm story group has offered. Even if he isn’t, “The Operator” is still one of the most interesting Star Wars characters in recent memory.
Regardless of whether or not “The Operator” is actually the man who becomes Snoke (and the fan community seems particularly suspicious that this is the case), he’s important enough to the film series for fans to read up on. As fans long suspected, and The Force Awakens confirmed, the Empire and its forces didn’t just “go away” after the Battle of Endor saw Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the second Death Star destroyed. The power vacuum was as much an opportunity as a blow, and the more strategic Imperial officers set to work.
Among them is Admiral Rae Sloane, left as the highest ranking officer in Endor’s orbit as comander of the Star Destroyer Vigilance. Sloane’s story is told in both “Star Wars: A New Dawn” and “Star Wars: Aftermath,” with the latter novel containing the information relevant here. To keep things short, Sloane organizes a meeting of the remaining, scattered Imperial officers. The plan is to re-organize the Empire’s leadership and consolidate assets. But when a high-ranking source known only as “The Operator” tips off the New Republic, the Rebels spring a trap instead.
The meeting turns into the Battle of Akiva, one of the biggest blows to the Empire since Endor, and only the latest crucial detail leaked to the Republic by this mysterious “Operator.” In the course of the story, it’s revealed that Sloane is holding cards of her own, suspected to have gained control of the Ravager, the last remaining Super Star Destroyer (after Darth Vader’s was also destroyed at Endor).
Unsurprisingly, Sloane manages to escape the ambush, leaving her free to return to the Ravager’s secret locations, and report to her commanding officer. The officer? An unnamed fleet admiral presumed dead, using the Republic to eliminate his competition by tipping them off under the alias of “The Operator.” It’s not a new tactic, either, with it possible that the mystery man was herding both Imperial and Rebel forces long before the Death Star was destroyed.
What kind of Imperial fleet admiral would arrange the destruction of Imperial ships, officers, and crew, just to leave himself behind to lead it? And what would he have thought of the Emperor’s vision? We’ll let the man himself answer, with the following taken right from “Star Wars: Aftermath”:
“The Empire became this… ugly, inelegant machine. Crude and inefficient. We needed to be broken into pieces. We needed to get rid of those who want to see that old machine churning ineluctably forward. It’s time for something better. Something new. An Empire worthy of the galaxy it will rule.”
It’s the Empire that will be created by The First Order that the unnamed admiral is, presumably, describing, which means he’s a brilliant, ruthless tactician on a level that nobody in the Star Wars galaxy has known. He’s also a fan of classical music… which is just about all that’s known of him.
The Force Awakens bears some evidence of his machinations, since the Ravager – planned to be the flagship of the fleet admiral’s new Imperial Navy – wound up taking heavy damage in the Battle of Jakku, eventually crashing into the sands of the desert planet (pictured above). Undeterred, “The Operator” continues his plotting. Which is why fans have come to suspect that “The Operator,” who is also the unnamed fleet admiral presumed dead before his return, may have taken the title of Supreme Leader Snoke by the time Episode VII begins.
He’s spent the last thirty years since pulling Sloane and the “worthy” assets to his side constructing The First Order, along with a weapon “worthy” of the Empire it would help create. But if he is Snoke, then what’s known about his origin story could help shed some light on Snoke’s own identity.
At this point, we’ll remind readers that there’s no actual evidence or official word that “The Operator” even survives to Episode VII. Although, given his characterization, it would be odd for the mastermind of The First Order to suddenly disappear. After all, the plot of “Aftermath” is coming from the same story group constructing and overseeing all Star Wars stories for the immediate future.
So, now that we’ve gotten the evidence, along with some inferences/deductions out of the way, it’s time to pose another theory of our own. Sure, it’s a long shot. But if Supreme Leader Snoke’s identity is a twist at all – one that would hopefully enrich, not just retcon the Star Wars saga – then there’s one man who fits the bill that we’re crossing our fingers to see. Forget Plagueis. Forget an unknown Sith. Why not go back to where this whole franchise began…
Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin
That’s right, the same Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin who was shown “holding Darth Vader’s leash” in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. It’s at this point you may be thinking: ‘this twist would be impossible, since Grand Moff Tarkin was shown dying aboard the Death Star when Luke Skywalker’s proton torpedoes found their way to the station’s reactors.’
To be exact, it’s assumed Tarkin was killed. And as strongly as we may feel that Peter Cushing’s cold, calculating ‘Governor Tarkin’ getting just one appearance is a massive waste, it isn’t wishful thinking on our part (not just, anyway). The fact that Snoke appears to be an old, frail, British-accented man is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s likely that Force Awakens viewers paying close attention to Supreme Leader Snoke noticed that his scars were far more than the word would suggest. It’s possible, given what we see of the character in hologram, that most if not all of his body is severely burned. But worse than the burns is the skull cracked in half, the disfiguring facial bone breaks, and the skin and tissue torn and pulled across his neck, head and face.
In a VFX reel for the film that recently surfaced online, full character models of Snoke show the extent of his injuries.
It’s here where our theory begins: instead of guessing which characters, accidents, diseases or attempted murders are being shown (admittedly a ton of fun), let’s start simple. Does the Star Wars film series feature a character of Snoke’s talents, who may have also undergone a catastrophic injury, requiring his broken body to be literally pulled back together (and who knows how many body parts replaced by robotic substitutes)?
It’s our opinion that Grand Moff Tarkin fits the bill – in more ways than the emaciated frame, wounds, and one-of-a-kind cheekbones alone.
His Military Experience
The authority of Grand Moff Tarkin is taken for granted in the first Star Wars, entrusted by the Emperor personally to oversee use of the Death Star. In fact, with Tarkin giving orders directly to Darth Vader (ending Vader’s Force Choking of another officer with a short command), the distinct impression given is that, at least in terms of the Empire’s military might, it’s Tarkin who sits at the Emperor’s hand, not Vader.
Of course, Tarkin is soon done away with, and Vader is left to take that position all by himself (considering how things turn out, an unwise move on the Emperor’s part). Considering that Tarkin was willing to destroy an entire populated planet just to show the power of the Death Star, it’s best for the galaxy as a whole that he never made it off of the exploding space station. Who knows, he might have had the drive and knowledge to build an even bigger one, capable of wiping out entire systems.
Force Awakens jokes aside, it’s clear that someone of Tarkin’s record and experience, at least, has the potential to organize a cold, calculating, and rigid empire built on fear and intimidation. The First Order is an embodiment of that thinking, but the Star Wars story group offered another hint. When the Expanded Universe was rendered non-canonical “Legends” overnight, the group had three new, canonical novels to announce were coming soon, all presumed to flesh out the story they were preparing to tell.
Since Tarkin was so unforgettable and malevolent a character, the chance to read his origin story was too good to pass up. But those fans who thought they knew Wilhuff Tarkin were in for a surprise. Not only was his reputation as the Emperor’s top officer confirmed, but his reputation as a ruthless extremist seeking to annihilate, not defeat his enemies was hard to stomach. In fact, Tarkin was so willing to slaughter insurgents and innocents alike, Palpatine had no choice but to reassign him to the Death Star just to limit the exposure of his atrocities.
But Palpatine saw the potential for much, much more. The official foreword of “Tarkin” speaks so highly of the Grand Moff, it’s hard to believe he would stay subservient to the Emperor for long:
“Where resentment has boiled over into acts of sedition, the Empire has been quick to mete out punishment. But as confident as he is in his own and Vader’s dark side powers, the Emperor understands that only a supreme military, overseen by a commander with the will to be as merciless as he is, can secure an Empire that will endure for a thousand generations….”
Fan Art by Allen Douglas Studio on DeviantArt
Knowing this – and knowing that the Star Wars story group wanted fans to know this – we can confidently say that if Tarkin was killed aboard the Death Star, it was good news for the Emperor. And when the Death Star was blown to pieces, the Emperor reacted swiftly, executing the top Imperial officers he deemed responsible. If Tarkin wasn’t killed (or was, and was reassembled into an unrecognizable, cybernetic ghoul), he would have reason to stay hidden, watching as Palpatine’s obsession with a new apprentice blinded him to the “unworthy” empire he was creating.
As skilled as Sheev Palpatine may have been at playing politics to get power, the films show his rule is surprisingly crude, relying on fear and little else to maintain it. Frankly, the theory that a wiser, more extreme underling would conspire to build a bigger, better empire would actually have human history on its side. And there is no doubt that the diabolical plotting of “The Operator” is exactly what we would expect from a man as resolved as Tarkin. Assuming he’s, you know, alive.
It doesn’t hurt that before commanding the Vigilance and serving “The Operator” – the highly skilled, presumed dead admiral – Rae Sloane served as Wilhuff Tarkin’s executive officer.
Familiarity With Darth Vader
As we stated before, the fact that Grand Moff Tarkin wasn’t just close to Darth Vader, but the only Imperial officer to openly command him (with the right to do so) would actually answer two questions about Snoke’s relationship with Kylo Ren. For starters, having known Anakin Skywalker prior to his turn to the Dark Side, and Darth Vader from the time of his new appointment as the Emperor’s apprentice, Tarkin would have known Vader as well as anyone in the Imperial power structure.
Should he have survived the Death Star’s destruction, seeing Luke Skywalker trumpeted as the hero of the Rebellion would lock in place a larger narrative few others would be aware of. And having been told of the power of the Dark Side (by Vader, likely dozens of times), Tarkin would know that even the brightest pupils – having witnessed Anakin’s leadership among the Jedi (in The Clone Wars) – can be seduced by such power.
He wouldn’t actually know how to use The Force, of course, having only the ability to research, or recall the anger and hatred that fueled Darth Vader (and perhaps take up Vader’s knack for meditation to gain some minor awareness of The Force). The ‘training’ that such skills would allow wouldn’t be a real discipline, most likely resulting in an unbalanced, brute Force soldier who would have to find his own painful path to the Dark Side.
Again, the simplest explanation may be the most believable: Tarkin – excuse us, “Snoke” would have learned from Vader that Luke Skywalker was the supreme threat, and would need a Force user to stay one step ahead, or remove him from the equation. That’s exactly what Han claimed Snoke was up to, and a Tarkin in disguise would be uniquely equipped to seduce Ben Solo, claiming to know the true mission and betrayal of Darth Vader.
Again, it’s just an entertaining theory on our part, and fans are more than able to punch holes – stating that it would be impossible for anyone to remain solid after the Death Star explosion, let alone scarred, or that cybernetics couldn’t keep Tarkin alive long enough (or tall enough). And until the Star Wars authorities reveal Snoke’s identity, one way or another, there’s no way to know who’s being honest, or just keeping fans off the trail.
But it’s still hard to resist the idea that to create a bigger, badder, more terrifying villain for the new trilogy, the Star Wars story group looked to the most underrated-but somehow-still-completely-unforgettable villain. And what if they decided to honor that fan-favorite character by crediting him with the Rebel victory, and the New Republic’s rise, all in service of making a more unstoppable Empire? Would fans be willing to accept that an assumed death wasn’t quite as it seemed?
It may not come to pass, and the actual reveal may be far more incredible or hard-to-believe. But there’s no question that if done right, this twist could actually add more weight and meaning to George Lucas’ original film. And that, as far as we’re concerned, would be a truly awesome feat.
That’s our analysis of what facts Star Wars fans may want to examine when considering not just Snoke’s ‘true identity,’ but his overall mission and methods. Our theory is meant to excite and entice, but if you’ve got a different answer, or think that we’re missing some key details, let us know in the comments! We’re as excited as you to see this mystery solved – whether we’re right or wrong.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.