Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced the galaxy to its latest threat: Supreme Leader Snoke. The leader of the First Order, he corrupted Ben Solo (better known as Kylo Ren) right under the nose of one of the most powerful Jedis in the known universe, his uncle, Luke Skywalker. Clearly, Snoke is no pushover. However, despite his Darth Sidious-like manipulation of the Force, as well as the galaxy at large, Snoke actor Andy Serkis recently affirmed he isn’t a member of the Sith Order.
An ancient enemy of the Jedi, the Sith used the Force as a means to power (as opposed to the Jedi, who sought peaceful coexistence with the universe through it). A millennium before the movies, Darth Bane established the Rule of Two, a doctrine which asserted there can only be a master and an apprentice – a dogma followed by Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, presumed to be the last of the Order. But just because the Supreme Leader isn't a Sith doesn't mean he's slouch; as Serkis asserted he's more powerful than Vader and his master – although he might mean politically rather than in the Force (a bold statement either way).
If Snoke is a potent dark side user and isn’t a Sith Lord, what exactly is he?
A Sith Cultist or Offshoot
The Sith roamed the galaxy from end to end over thousands of years, always expanding their influence. Their teachings hung around, too, despite the Jedi Order's best efforts, especially in remote and lightly traveled regions like the Outer Rim and the Unknown Regions – a relatively unexplored region of the galaxy beyond the Outer Rim. At least in the EU, this meant there were more than a handful of splinter groups and cults hiding in the hyperspace shadows. If Snoke isn’t a Sith, he could have fallen out with the Order, or he might have belonged to a fragment, such as Legends’ cultists the Sorcerers of Tund. They weren’t true dark siders but did worship mystified version of the Force known as “The Unity.”
Another possibility: Snoke could have ties to a group like the Prophets of the Dark Side, who split with the Sith after Darth Bane instituted the Rule of Two. These dark side acolytes fled to the Outer Rim and could have easily spread into the Unknown Regions over the years. Curiously, Emperor Palpatine eventually brought them into his fold.
Read More: Is Snoke From The Unknown Regions?
It's also possible Snoke had once allied himself with a group like the One Sith from the EU comic storyline Star Wars: Legends. As with the Prophets, they disagreed with Bane's Rule of Two. With a dark side fraternal order, the Knights of Ren, Snoke clearly isn’t into limiting his followers. This happened around the same time period in the Legends continuity as Snoke rose in the official canon, so at the very least it's a cool parallel.
There are deeper echoes than that too. During the same era as the One Sith, a Sith/Jedi adept named Vergere also changed the course of galactic history. Although clouded by her dark side tendencies, she believed the Force as a continuum, rather than static like the Jedi or Sith. She corrupted a young Jedi named Jacen Solo, leading to his eventual conversion to the dark side; a strong Kylo Ren analog. Obviously, these are two separate continuities, but the storyline’s deeper examination of the Force echoes the sequel trilogy’s grayer sentiments.
Still, a Sith splinter group might too close to home for Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm, who are trying (to a degree) to differentiate the original and sequel trilogies.
A Dark Side Adept
Chuck Wendig’s post-Return of the Jedi trilogy of novels, Aftermath, suggested Darth Sidious believed the vast, mysterious region contained the very source of the dark side. As a result, he expended countless resources exploring it, even building an observatory on the Rim planet of Jakku – where Empire’s last stand took place. The books also make it quite clear that the First Order rebuilt itself in these wilds, suggesting this is where Snoke took the reigns as well and in turn making it a good place to explore his potential origins.
A popular Star Wars trope has been introducing ever more dark side factions dwelled beyond the Outer Rim. Of particular interest is the nihilistic band known as the Sorcerers of Rhand. These dark siders believed that the only true power was the ability to destroy. Of specific curiosity is their Darksight, which allowed them to divine possible outcomes and pick the most useful one (which would help Snoke plan a reborn Empire and sense Force awakenings).
While sects like Rhand don’t have an official canon presence, a number of elements relating to the Unknown Regions were returned to canon, including Grand Admiral Thrawn, his race, the Chiss, and the planets Ilum and Rakata Prime (first introduced in the game Star War: Knights of the Old Republic and partially canonized by Rebels). Shows like The Clone Wars, as well as Marvel’s run of comics and countless novels and short stories, have only begun to flesh out the Force’s nuances, but they've already included or sanctioned a number of fascinating concepts like the Force Priestesses, the Bendu, the Force-aspects beings of Mortis, Darth Bane, and the Nightsisters of Dathomir.
In the end, Snoke probably isn't related to any familiar dark side cultists, such as the Nightsisters, but he could be affiliated with an unknown (or reintroduced) group. Or, Snoke could be something far more powerful and dangerous...
A Dark Side Abomination
In the contentious The Phantom Menace, George Lucas established the “virgin” Force birth of the Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker. This means if the Force so desires, it can actually bring new life into the world. We know Rey isn’t an immaculate conception but Snoke could be, in theory, or a similar type of vergence. Since the Emperor felt the Unknown Regions housed some seriously potent darkness, perhaps, like the Son from Mortis, Snoke is a physical embodiment of the dark side.
Of course, the Supreme Leader appears in a humanoid form, albeit one twisted and damaged, something an energy entity probably wouldn’t need to exhibit. Lucasfilm could have been inspired by the Force abomination, Abeloth, from the Fate of the Jedi series. She once served the entities Anakin, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano ran across on the Force planet, Mortis. She eventually became Mother to the Son and Daughter, but unfortunately, was mortal and eventually grew old, which pushed her to tap into energies wells too potent for mere mortals. As a result, she was transformed into the warped, mentally unstable Force being, Abeloth. While Lucasfilm probably won’t borrow from this tale, it does touch on mending bridges between the Sith and Jedi and balancing the light and dark sides, something potentially tied to Luke's mission in the sequels.
There’s also an outside chance Snoke’s twisted form and dark side powers stem from an unnatural dark side device similar to the Star Forge. Traditionally, this massive, Old Republic-era shipyard harnessed both the energy of a sun and the Force to construct machines of war at an incredible rate. Snoke's personal flagship, the Mega Destroyer Supremacy, is also a mobile starship manufacturer and the now-destroyed Starkiller Base used a similar sun-sucking technology. Could Lucasfilm have added Rakata Prime to its official star maps in order to repurpose certain aspects of the game?
Despite countless fan theories, Snoke's true association (if any) is difficult to pin down. Given his outsider status, though, as well as the Story Group's precise adaptations from Star Wars Legends, it's certainly possible they, along with Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams, were influenced by specific story beats, characters, or groups from Legends.
Clearly, the Supreme Leader holds a great deal of power and influence, but whether he’s affiliated (even loosely) with the Sith, an adept from another warped dark side dogma, or some horrifying Force monstrosity remains to be seen. Hopefully The Last Jedi provides at least some clues.