The wait is over - Chuck Wendig’s final Star Wars: Aftermath novel, Empire’s End, is now on shelves. Wendig’s trilogy, which focuses on the year following Return of the Jedi, has been the centerpiece of the new, canon Expanded Universe; not only does it tell a compelling and well-crafted story on its own, but it contains numerous easter eggs and clues for the coming chapters of the Skywalker saga. While it doesn’t explicitly give away any answers, it does shed some light on a few of the franchise’s biggest mysteries.
From a possible answer to where Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) comes from to hints about what Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been doing for the past thirty years, here are all the hints that the Aftermath trilogy has about Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Of course, since we don’t know much about The Last Jedi yet, some of this is pure speculation. For now, at least.
The Mystery of Supreme Leader Snoke
From Darth Plageuis to Jar Jar Binks, fans have been wondering who the enigmatic leader of the First Order is ever since the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Story group member Pablo Hidalgo has even created stickers that state “your Snoke theory sucks” to respond to the multitudes of theories tweeted at him on a daily basis. What we do know for sure, thanks to Hidalgo’s comments, is that Snoke is a humanoid alien and that Snoke is Snoke, and not a cover for a returning character.
The Aftermath trilogy introduced a character who some thought would be Snoke. Gallius Rax was a cunning Imperial who was a member of Palpatine’s inner circle, and was tasked with executing a contingency plan in the event of Palpatine’s demise. Following Rax’s introduction in Life Debt, the second book in the trilogy, fans flocked to message boards to debate why Rax might be Snoke. However, Empire’s End swiftly puts an end to that theory by ending with Rax’s death at the hands of Admiral Rae Sloane, leaving eager theorists back at square one.
However, just as one theory dies, another rises. As Wendig drops hints about the origins of the First Order and the Knights of Ren, he also weaves in a possible origin for Supreme Leader Snoke. In Empire’s End, Rax remarks that Palpatine, towards the end of his reign, became fixated on the Unknown Region. He was convinced that “something waited for him out there—some origin of the Force, some dark presence formed of malevolent substance.” Rax dismisses that as Palpatine going mad, which he very well could have been. But Palpatine is not the only one who is being called by a dark presence.
Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is also struggling with a dark force that seems to be focused on her unborn child, who readers know will grow up to be Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). She first senses the dark side concentrating on her child while meditating in Life Debt, and in Empire’s End has a horrific dream of something coming for her while she is still pregnant. This is not stated as being Snoke specifically, but since viewers know that in the future Leia will insist that Snoke has been manipulating her child, it’s easy to put one and two together. Snoke’s manipulations are present in the book, which means it’s likely that what Palpatine was hearing in the Unknown Regions were also real.
At the end of the trilogy, Sloane and the Hux family navigate the Unknown Regions based on coordinates that Palpatine’s computers generated, and finally find the Eclipse, a Star Destroyer hidden in the maze that is the Unknown Regions. Sloane remarks that she does not know what or who is onboard the ship waiting for them. Wendig frames this epilogue as the birth of the First Order, which means that the Supreme Leader is not far behind. Based off of Wendig’s book, one likely theory is that Snoke is a creature from the Unknown Regions, and is waiting for the right time to make himself known.
We’ve already written a feature on what the Unknown Regions mean for the future of the Star Wars saga, but what does it mean for The Last Jedi specifically? If Snoke is really some ancient creature tied to the beginnings of the Force, this will introduce new and fresh elements to the saga. Gone are the days of a mysterious yet ultimately mortal emperor. Instead, our heroes will have to face off against a more cosmic threat. While that sounds like something straight out of a Marvel or DC movie, having one of the major antagonists be a little more threatening than the human Palpatine will up the stakes as well as serve to differentiate Snoke from the villains who have come before him.
This will also tie into Luke’s journey to The Force Awakens, based on what we know he’s been up too...
Luke and the Quest for the First Temple
Much like Snoke, when it comes to Luke the Aftermath trilogy doesn’t offer much by way of specifics when it comes to what he’s been up to since we left him in Return of the Jedi. In fact, Wendig even dedicates Empire’s End to him— "To Luke S., wherever you are.” This is a smart move, as Lucasfilm no doubt wants to conceal what Luke has been up to until The Last Jedi arrives in theaters. As a result, Luke is absent for most of Life Debt and Empire’s End, only making a return for his nephew’s birth before vanishing again.
Still, though Luke is gone he is not forgotten. Both Han (Harrison Ford) and Leia reflect on Luke’s absence throughout both Life Debt and Empire's End. Leia, especially, misses her brother, and thinks on his journey to find Jedi artifacts and lore from around the galaxy. Most notably, she has a dream in which she sees Luke “lost among the stars, searching for something and failing, never returning.” Leia might not be a Jedi, but as a child of Anakin Skywalker, she definitely has the Force. Her dream of Luke proves to be foreshadowing for his decision to flee to the first Jedi temple on Ahch-To. Still, the wording is curious. What exactly is Luke failing to find?
The knowledge that Luke is looking for Jedi lore is not exactly a revelation. In The Force Awakens, Han says that Luke went looking for the first Jedi temple after the fall of Kylo Ren. In the comic series Shattered Empire, Luke is on a mission to find branches of a Force sensitive tree with Shara Bey, the mother of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). What is interesting is how often those writing the new canon, Wendig especially, remind us that this is what Luke is off doing. Whatever he’s seeking, it’s a powerful enough lure to pull him from his friends’ sides, even after Leia has just given birth. Fans of the saga know that Luke’s loyalty to his friends is one of his defining traits. Whatever he’s looking for out there, it is important enough to cause him to seek his own path.
If Snoke is an ancient creature tied to the origins of the Force, as I posited above, then Luke’s search for artifacts and lore about the Force could be tied to him sensing a threat forming just on the edge of the galaxy. His search for the first Jedi temple could be him searching for a way to defeat Snoke. Now, this is purely speculation—there are no concrete details that outline Luke’s motivation. However, if Snoke has ties to the origin of the Force, then it would make sense that the last Jedi would want to find out as much as he can to stop the evil rising to take the Empire’s place.
Why Does Everyone Want to Go Back to Jakku?
Everyone remembers that Jakku is the home of scavenger-turned-possible-Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley). The desert planet might seem like it holds no secrets, but by the time Empire’s End concludes, the likelihood that Rey was left there by accident seems slim.
Jakku is the site of the final battle between the Empire and the New Republic. As part of Palpatine’s contingency plan, the planet is home to an Observatory where routes through the Unknown Region were mapped. The Observatory also contains a well dug to the core of the planet. Rax assassinates one of Palpatine’s former advisors, Yupe Tashu, by pushing him down the well while he holds numerous Sith artifacts. The ensuing reaction nearly destroys the planet, and both the Imperial and New Republic fleets along with it. Grand Admiral Rae Sloane is somehow able to save the planet,
This is not the only mention of the Observatory in the new canon. In the children’s tie-in novel Rey’s Survival Guide, Rey describes an abandoned facility on Jakku that is rumored to have been used by the Emperor. The book does not go into many details but, tied into the set-up crafted by Wendig, points to a larger story centered on Jakku. The planet is near the edge of the known galaxy after all, putting it awfully close to the home of the First Order and Snoke’s possible point of origin.
Perhaps most importantly—and because it wouldn’t be a Star Wars speculation piece without discussing the most hotly debated question of the sequel trilogy—what does this mean for Rey, who was either left behind or abandoned on the planet as a child? It’s likely that whoever dropped her off knew about the importance of the planet, at least with regards to the end of the Galactic Civil War, which means that it was not just some random choice to abandon her there. And while the Aftermath trilogy doesn’t give us any hints as to who Rey’s parents might be, or who dropped her off, it does give support to a couple theories.
Several of the interludes in Aftermath, Life Debt, and Empire’s End focus on the mysterious Acolytes of the Beyond, a group focused on the Sith and other dark elements of the Force. We’ve dedicated a feature to them possibly becoming the Knights of Ren, but what if Rey’s parents were Acolytes of the Beyond, who either left or were forced to abandon their daughter on a planet with a strong tie to the dark side of the Force? Rey being a product of the dark side would provide a nice contract for Kylo, who came from the light. It would also be an easy way to explain why she was abandoned on Jakku of all places.
Of course, Jakku’s dark history could also account for a major plot hole in the Rey Skywalker theory as well. When Yupe Tashu is killed, he is holding multiple Sith artifacts, including a mask with kyber crystals and a Sith holocron. The massive burst of energy that follows him falling into the core is powerful enough to nearly destroy a planet; given the Force’s power, it most likely left a dark signature behind. If Rey is Luke’s child, hiding her on a planet shrouded in darkness might be the easiest way to ensure no one finds her, not even a powerful Jedi. And Leia herself dreams of Luke searching for something and failing to find it. This could refer to the lost Jedi artifacts, but it could also refer to Rey herself. Luke being unable to find and rescue his daughter as well as being unable to stop his nephew’s fall to the dark side might be enough to push him over the edge and cause him to go into self-imposed exile.
Either way, it is likely that Jakku will be seen again in the sequel trilogy, much to the dismay of Finn (John Boyega), who spent part of The Force Awakens wondering why everyone wanted to return to the planet. As it turns out, there are some pretty interesting reasons why everyone’s interested in Jakku.
As mentioned above, most of this is pure speculation. We know very little about The Last Jedi, and as a result only time will tell if these theories are right or if they’re as wrong as those who insisted that Domhnall Gleeson was playing Luke’s son in The Force Awakens. However, these are not just wild and baseless claims. Lucasfilm’s story group works closely with all writers to ensure the new Expanded Universe fits in with the stories they are trying to tell. The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson even gave inspiration to Claudia Grey, author of the Leia-centric novel Bloodline. While it is unlikely that Wendig knows exactly what will happen in The Last Jedi or Episode IX, it is likely that the story group guided him to plant clues in his novels for the upcoming movies.
There is still more to explore in the Aftermath universe, be it the return to Tatooine or the in-fighting of the New Republic. The novels leaves readers with as many questions as they do answers, which is probably what Lucasfilm was hoping it would do. Fans will get another tease with the Thrawn origins novel being released on April 11, but will have to wait until December to get any concrete answers about Rey, Luke, Snoke, and the fate of the galaxy.
Star Wars: Aftermath—Empire's End is on shelves now. Star Wars: Thrawn will be released on April 11, 2017.
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