[This article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode 7 - The Force Awakens.]
From the moment the end credits rolled on Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, there was one question at the forefront of fans' minds: who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and just how important is he? In short, he's the commander of the Force-using Kylo Ren, and the secretive commander of The First Order - the newer, stronger, more ruthless remnants of the Galactic Empire.
But it was no sooner than fans started asking the question that theories, conspiracies, and entire fan sites erupted to explore the idea that Supreme Leader Snoke was an alias for an established character. Several theories have risen to the top - find a rundown of the top contenders here - but there's one theory, one reveal that we're surprised to see absent from the conversation. A figure who, if the theory is proven true, could bring one of the most surprising twists to the Star Wars franchise fans have ever seen (in the best way possible). Or at least give the actual reveal a standard to rise to.
But before we get to our theory, we thought it wise to give fans a breakdown of what we actually KNOW about Supreme Leader Snoke, and help make sense of the rumors that he may also be "The Operator" alluded to in the newest, canonical Star Wars novels.
Even if our final conclusion proves to be wrong (but still the kind of rumor or fan theory we want to see more of), listing what's fact, assumption, and misdirection in Star Wars: The Force Awakens should help fans keep an even keel as the months (and years) of further rumors drag on. Without further ado, let's get started...
What We're Shown of 'Supreme Leader Snoke'
Director J. J. Abrams and the rest of Lucasfilm's upper echelon deserve extra praise for unveiling a brand new villain in the Star Wars universe, without actually making the movie about him. In a more immediate sense, it was Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who acted as antagonist, receiving his orders from a towering hologram of Supreme Leader Snoke, the mysterious new commander of The First Order forces. He may not be an 'emperor' himself, but his unquestioned orders and choice of rank - "Supreme Leader" - definitely give the same impression.
On a physical level (or as physical as a hologram can be), Snoke's appearance is at once human and distinctly... not. The asymmetrical face seems heavily injured, or possibly scarred, thereby obscuring most of his facial features. Since Andy Serkis was responsible for the motion capture performance behind Snoke, many assumed he would be an alien being. While a non-human heritage is possible (and required by those who suppose he is the former Emperor's presumed-dead-master Darth Plagueis), his anatomy and British accent certainly imply that Snoke is human.
Assumptions aside, the apparent bias towards human officers in the Imperial ranks (noticeable in all of the films) is actually based on real prejudice. Emperor Palpatine's preference for human beings above all other races may not be carried over into The First Order, but The Force Awakens seems to imply that it is. In other words: an Imperial leader (on film) is most likely human, unless otherwise stated.
It's also been stated by those among the special effects crew that Snoke stands over seven feet tall, yet remains incredibly thin. Unfortunately, his height is impossible to actually gauge in the film, since his hologram makes him closer to seventy feet tall. When word of his size, and the claim that Snoke "couldn't have been possible" without the use of CG first broke, fans expected to see a towering, alien creature. That's obviously not what we've gotten, which makes it hard to pin down specifics at this point (and considering J. J. Abrams' flare for misdirection in his villains, skepticism is always wise).
It's also worth wondering just what's concealed beneath Snoke's robes. If the visible injuries are so devastating, it would appear the Supreme Leader required some extensive procedures to keep himself together. And the Star Wars story group has supplied evidence that cybernetics go well beyond the artifical limbs previously seen. In "Star Wars: A New Dawn," for instance, the villain - who also rebuilt his empire under a presumed-false name - has defied illness and death by replacing his body with robotics. Not just replacing, but improving, augmenting his appearance (and possibly, height?) to better intimidate his rivals. Not saying it applies to Snoke, but it's worth keeping in mind (read: robot legs).
Physiology aside, it's Supreme Leader Snoke's military prowess which matters the most going forward. The First Order may be shaped in the Galactic Empire's image, but under Supreme Leader Snoke, it has become a more devout, determined, and deplorable force, capable of destroying the New Republic one system at a time (or at least they were, until Starkiller Base was destroyed itself). But Snoke survived, and it's hard to believe that the man who managed to conquer and unite the remaining Imperial assets isn't without a back-up plan... or two.
And with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) - the embodiment of The First Order's military - just one of the two apprentices he's seen ordering about, soldiers and superweapons may only be half of his plan.