Snoke's First Order in the Star Wars sequel trilogy could've theoretically taken direct inspiration from BioWare's acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic video game (including The Old Republic sequel MMO). Shortly after the fall of the Empire in the original Star Wars trilogy, specifically with the death of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, the galaxy came together once again to form the New Republic, which was spearheaded by Mon Mothma, one of the Rebellion's first leaders.
But it didn't take long for the Empire - or, at least, the remnants of the fallen Empire - to resurge in the wake of the new galactic governing body. Once Mon Mothma declared all Imperial officials to be war criminals, they fled to the Unknown Regions (an area of uncharted territory beyond the Outer Rim) in order to escape prosecution. One of the reasons no one had traveled into the Unknown Regions is because of how difficult it is to navigate through the storm clusters (think: Solo: A Star Wars Story's Kessel Run). But the Imperials discovered a map on Jakku that allowed them to flee there through a series of small hyperspace jumps.
Eventually, they returned to known space, ultimately annihilating the New Republic and bringing the Resistance down to its knees. Of course, there's more to the story, including how Snoke's unforeseen influence on rescuing the Empire's soldiers eventually led to his rise in power as the First Order's Supreme Leader. While it's been questioned how a seemingly crushed establishment could return to the fold with so much power - and so fast, for that matter - there are potential answers lying in the expansive backstory created in the Knights of the Old Republic game.
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How The First Order Became So Powerful So Fast
Early in the First Order's genesis, former Imperial commanders and officials used whatever knowledge and blueprints they had from their days in the Empire's military to breed a new armed force, one that was in vein of what the Empire's army (and Stormtrooper Corps, for that matter) was, but also somewhat removed from that ideology in order to be better. Combining their knowledge with technology from corrupt corporations, and establishing bases on the outskirts of the Outer Rim, the First Order was able to quickly rebuild the Empire's military might in just a few short years.
Sure, the First Order wasn't as galactically expansive as the Empire was in its heyday, but that didn't stop them from ultimately overcoming the New Republic. In addition to multiple successful operations, the First Order made a swift move towards victory over the New Republic by wiping out the Hosnian System in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which included the galactic senate's headquarters on Hosnian Prime. And they did that by using their unmatched superweapon on Starkiller Base.
Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first movie to introduce the First Order into canon as well as its Starkiller Base, there was a lot that remained unclear about its power and how it was able to harness dark energy and transform it into phantom energy to destroy planets on the other side of the galaxy almost instantaneously. While it's been explained that the First Order crafted Starkiller Base's superweapon by using old research from the Empire, perhaps a more logical and understandable reason is that it was Snoke's idea all along.
Snoke Became Supreme Leader Because Of His Influence (& Power)
It's revealed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi's visual dictionary that Snoke's Attendants were partly responsible for guiding the remaining Imperial officers into the Unknown Regions. Ever since then, he's had at least some amount of influence in their survival and rise as the First Order. But it all came to a head when he was named Supreme Leader. It took the First Order's leadership by surprise and not too much is known about how it all happened, but it's clear that his connection to the dark side of the Force was among the primary reasons for his ascension as Supreme Leader.
However, it's important to note that Snoke is not a Sith, but that doesn't mean he isn't well-versed in the ways of the dark side of the Force. Some of the powers that Snoke displayed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi were new to the Star Wars franchise, the key one being a play on Force Meld - particularly the ability to bridge two minds together from across the galaxy. That, coupled with the fact that he could perform abilities only previously displayed by Darth Sidious, means he was as (if not more) powerful than the Emperor in the eyes of the First Order.
Combining his knowledge of the dark side of the Force with his knowledge obtained from the Unknown Regions made him a strong candidate to lead the First Order. But what truly made the First Order a force to be reckoned with was Starkiller Base. If anyone knew how to draw power from a nearby star or planet, it would be Snoke. Looking beyond canon and into Star Wars Legends, particularly the Knights of the Old Republic video game, it's theoretically possible that Snoke obtained knowledge about the use of dark energy/phantom energy to power a superweapon like the one on Starkiller Base. Giving the First Order that much power would make him untouchable, too.
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- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019