MAJOR SPOILERS for Aftermath: Empire's End follow
Other than the identity of Rey's parents, the biggest question audiences had after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens concerned the "true" nature of Supreme Leader Snoke. Whether it was the product of overanalyzing on the part of the fans, or J.J. Abrams' history with character reveals (Harrison, John), many assumed that the leader of the First Order was not simply someone named Snoke and believed some grand twist was in order. Since Episode VII premiered in December 2015, the Internet has spawned one theory after another - some more plausible than others. Lucasfilm has remained tight-lipped through the whole process, though they have debunked certain ones over the last year.
As viewers try to figure out the truth behind Snoke before Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out, readers of the canon novels thought perhaps the story group was depicting the Supreme Leader's origins in the Aftermath trilogy by Chuck Wendig. Those books feature a character by the name of Gallius Rax, an admiral in the Empire who looks to rebuild following the Battle of Endor. It's established in the trilogy Rax had a close connection with Emperor Palpatine and was actually handpicked by the Emperor to serve as his Contingency in the event the Imperials failed. There was some evidence in Aftermath and its sequel Life Debt that suggested Rax and Snoke could be one and the same, and now the finale Empire's End has provided a definitive answer.
Gallius Rax Is Not Snoke
The conclusion of Empire's End rather blatantly and explicitly disproves the "Rax is Snoke" theory by showing Rax's death at the hands of Rae Sloane during the Battle of Jakku. This is not left open-ended, and it's clear Rax met his end on the desert wasteland world. Obviously, he cannot be Snoke for the simple fact that the Supreme Leader is alive and well during the events of the sequel trilogy. Any similarities between Rax and Snoke are purely coincidental, and fans can now scratch this hypothesis off the growing (or shrinking?) list of possibilities.
Even before Rax is killed, Empire's End seemed to be more subtle in proving the theory false. For starters, it's mentioned periodically that Rax was not a believer in the Force, despite his admiration of Palpatine. During a conversation Rax has with the Emperor's former advisor Yupe Tashu, Wendig writes, "Rax cares nothing for such mysticism." Snoke, of course, is a Dark Side user and master to Kylo Ren. The Supreme Leader is Force sensitive ("There's been an awakening. Have you felt it?"), a fact that clashes with Rax's personal feelings. Additionally, Rax is also referred to as a "man" throughout the novel, implying that he is human. This wouldn't be surprising, since besides Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Empire was prejudiced against aliens and never recruited them to their ranks. Snoke, while humanoid, is a member of an unknown species. He looks like he could be a human, but all signs suggest he's an alien.
Whether this can be considered anticlimactic or not depends on how much the individual reader bought into the theory. Rax is merely an Imperial officer personally selected by Palpatine (for reasons unknown) to gather the ones most loyal to the Empire's cause and travel to a new galaxy in the unknown regions of the universe so they can rule once more. There's no denying that's an interesting objective (which will hopefully be explored further in upcoming canon material), but the Emperor's fondness of Rax does come across as arbitrary in the end. Palpatine repeatedly told Gallius he sensed a destiny within him, but the details were quite vague. Granted, as a boy, Rax snuck aboard Palpatine's ship, so that may have had something to do with it.
Is This For Better or Worse?
The idea of Palpatine handpicking his own successor is a tantalizing one, but an argument can be made it was a wise decision to make Rax and Snoke two separate characters. Though all pieces of Star Wars media are part of the same canon, the films remain the crown jewel of the franchise and a reach a wider audience than any book, comic, or TV series will. Detailing Snoke's backstory in the Aftermath novels, and then skimming over it in The Last Jedi, would probably not be the best way to engage the millions of moviegoers looking at Episode VIII for answers. The story group clearly wants to cover the history of Snoke in Star Wars 8, which makes sense. There are ties between the movies and other materials, but the films still remain accessible to all and do not require any homework to fully understand.
Saving Snoke for later also opens up opportunities down the line for future novels. After The Last Jedi comes out, there will surely be an abundance of content that finally examines Luke Skywalker's comings and goings post-Return of the Jedi, including Ben Solo's eventual turn to the Dark Side. A book about Luke is all but a guarantee, and Snoke is ripe for that treatment as well. The Supreme Leader could be the subject of a prequel novel that showcases his rise to power, similar to Timothy Zahn's upcoming Thrawn. Some may have been hoping for a major revelation pertaining to the films in Aftermath, but ultimately, going this route provides the story group the leeway to continue to expand the galaxy (and universe, apparently) further instead of being handcuffed. Fleshing things out is the goal of all this material.
This isn't to say Empire's End doesn't add anything of value to the larger narrative. Readers see the definitive downfall of the old Empire, dealt a crushing killing blow on Jakku. It's also heavily suggested the First Order spawned from Palpatine's Contingency, indicating the Emperor's influence is still being felt long after his passing. It is Rae Sloane, not Rax, who heads off to the Unknown Regions, in the company of Brendol Hux and his army of highly-trained children (including Brendol's son Armitage, played by Domhnall Gleeson in the films). Last year's novel Bloodline also dealt with the formation of the First Order, so it will be interesting to see how these aspects come together.
The theory of Rax being Snoke was always a bit of a stretch, but there was enough there to lend some validity to it. However, Lucasfilm has something else in mind, doing away with Rax and ending his story with the Aftermath trilogy. Key mysteries about the franchise remain preserved, and hopefully fans don't have to wait much longer to to learn all the answers. The Last Jedi is just 10 months away, after all, and Rian Johnson should have some intriguing things up his sleeve.
With Darth Plagueis and now Gallius Rax confirmed to not be Snoke, viewers may have consider the notion of Snoke just being... Snoke. At this point, it wouldn't be the most surprising turn of events. It's worth pointing out the filmmakers are promising satisfying answers about Rey's lineage, but have kept quiet about Snoke. Perhaps the Supreme Leader was simply someone who rose to prominence in the early days of the First Order, seizing control of the organization, and isn't really somebody else in disguise. That is as likely an option as any at this point, and time will tell.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018