Although Andy Serkis and Lucasfilm had worked out an origin for Supreme Leader Snoke, Star Wars: The Last Jedi didn't even try to provide any backstory to the First Order leader before his unceremonious death. However, Episode VIII's novelization may make up for it; while Jason Fry doesn't deviate too heavily from the released film in his expanded edition, he does provide several clues that do resolve a lot of the mystery surrounding the character.
Set up in The Force Awakens as the Sequel Trilogy's Emperor parallel, Snoke was taken in a totally unexpected direction by Rian Johnson; he was, essentially, a living plot device, an object to be destroyed by Kylo Ren as part of his own self-destructive arc. The director had made clear months before release that The Last Jedi wouldn't be explaining where Snoke came from - "a story is not a Wikipedia page" - but the shock twist seemed to close the door on Star Wars providing any proper elaboration: by the time Luke Skywalker too left the mortal coil, it was clear this story was all about Rey and Ben Solo.
The question of when we'll find out Snoke's backstory remains, with Serkis suggesting Lucasfilm are holding specific details back for use down the line. This has people theorizing about a tell-all book or a part to play in one of the many upcoming TV shows, although both options aren't looking hard enough. With The Last Jedi's novelization, Lucasfilm not only clarifies subtle elements of the movie and confirms several fan theories, they also reveal a few new details about the Supreme Leader that make him considerably less mysterious. Putting it all together, we get a very compelling narrative.
This Page: Snoke's Origins In The Unknown Regions
Snoke's Origins In The Unknown Regions & Creation of the First Order
Thanks to a peppering of allusions in various Star Wars books - especially The Last Jedi's Visual Dictionary - it's already been accepted as highly likely that Snoke comes from the Unknown Regions, a massive part of the galaxy that's uncharted and full of abstract horrors. The novelization backs this up and provides some more hints at how he was pulled into the galactic fray.
The Unknown Regions were where the remnants of the Empire ran after their ultimate defeat at the Battle of Jakku as part of the Emperor's contingency plan. The book suggests that Sidious learned that all knowledge of the Force began in the Unknown Regions, making it not just an escape plan but a research mission. Existing there, Snoke had already learned the great truths and secrets of the light and dark side here, and used them to serve his own ends.
Snoke and the First Order's rise appears to be more improvisational than anything approaching great masterplan. The Emperor's contingency had been in development for decades, with the Palpatine sending scouts to the Unknown Regions and seeding it with shipyards, labs, and storehouses. However, this did nothing to prepare the Imperial refugees who fled there after Jakku for the "terrors" within. Snoke used his knowledge to save them, positioning himself as Supreme Leader and warping the Empire into the First Order. The novel makes clear that Snoke’s ultimate goal is to reclaim what the Empire lost and build upon that foundation: essentially, galactic domination. At the time of The Last Jedi, the First Order has no home planet, with the Supremacy serving as the creation for all armor, ships etc.
There's a strong suggestion that some Imperials were not initially happy with this turn. Snoke is not the leader many of the runaways had in mind, with Gallius Rax, Rae Sloane and Brendol Hux all named as desired successors. The former two were central figures in the Aftermath trilogy which charted the fall at Jakku, while the latter is - obviously - the father of future First Order General Hux. The desired Imperial plan is almost in line with what happened in Legends, with the Remnant forming in the Emperor's memory and headed up by risen officers like Grand Admiral Thrawn. Even General Hux has skepticism in the book itself, believing neither Kylo nor Snoke is the leader the First Order needs for the future. As already alluded to in the film by his attempted murder of Ben Solo, he aspires to be Supreme Leader Hux.
None of this is unexpected, but the overall collection of confirmation greatly reduces ambiguity around Snoke: his motivations are clearer and his involvement in the galaxy's past more tangential, perhaps even an accident. Although when you look at his connections to the Skywalkers, there's definitely more to explore.
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