Friday, January 8, 2016 (original post date)
It’s been three weeks since Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hit theaters and what an exhilarating three weeks it has been! The film captured the hearts of fans the world over and it has broken all manner of box office records, even pushing James Cameron’s Avatar, the long time champion of most money made ever here at home, from its number one spot. Along with the film’s financial and critical success, the imaginations of viewers have been busy interpreting the smallest details and making predictions for the next two films. Most popular among some fan theories is the story behind Rey’s parentage and, my personal favorite, the theory that Finn and Poe are more than space bros.
I caught The Force Awakens twice in theaters and I have some theories of my own. In the next few paragraphs I will lay out my thoughts on the identity of the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke who is, arguably, the real baddie of the new trilogy. If you haven’t had chance to see the movie yet (seriously?), then this is your chance to exit out before I get into the spoilerish deets. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If you scrolled down and plan to continue the rest of this article then I’m going to assume that you’ve either seen the film or that you’re part of the rare 1% who don’t freak out at spoilers. Either way, you’ve been warned.
Simply put, my theory is that Snoke is actually Sheev Palpatine in disguise. In case you’re new to Star Wars, Palpatine was the evil emperor in the original trilogy and the Sith Lord who turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader in the prequel trilogy. He is better known by his Sith name, Darth Sidious.
Addressing the elephant in the room, I am aware that he (allegedly) died at the end of Return of the Jedi, but I figured that if Darth Maul can be cut in half at the waist, fall down a reactor room shaft and survive (thanks, Mother Talzin), I'm sure Palpatine is powerful enough to pull a similar trick. He had plenty of time to get on an escape pod and escape the Death Star before it exploded. A friend pointed out that if that’s the case then he could safely assume, similarly, that Han could still potentially be alive (told ya there would be some serious spoilers). But different rules apply in Han’s death; for one, Han was stabbed in the heart with a light saber so, he's very much dead. Also, Han isn't a Sith Lord with expert manipulation of the force (although no amount of force use could repair his shredded heart tissue… sorry) and Palpatine was screaming all the way down that shaft while producing force lightning, unlike Han who was speechless and limp.
I’ve heard and read some theories that Snoke could be Darth Plagueis the Wise, Palpatine’s former master, The Grand Inquisitor from Star Wars Rebels, and even Anakin Skywalker himself. All interesting and mildly terrifying possibilities but there are some serious holes in each. For instance, even though Anakin’s pale, bald visage as seen during that heartfelt farewell between him and Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi does somewhat resemble Snoke, Anakin’s death is not really in question; after all, he appeared as a force ghost to Luke just before the credits rolled. How else could he do that unless he was dead? Never mind that Luke gave his father a proper Jedi funeral and burned his body and armor at a pyre. In the case of Darth Plagueis and Grand Inquisitor theories, Snoke simply doesn’t have the correct bone structure. What little we have seen of Snoke does not resemble a Muun* or a Pau’an, but rather, he looks quite human. It should be noted, of course, that Darth Plagueis’s species was never specified for the current canon so he may not be a Munn at all, opening up the possibility that he’s human and making him a very high possibility, but as long as his species remains unspecified, I am going to work under the assumption that he’s not human.
Palpatine, on the other hand, is very much human and was already deformed once thanks to the burns he received from his own force lightning in Revenge of the Sith. What if it happened again when Vader threw him down that shaft in the reactor room and those are the burn marks we're seeing on Snoke's face (assuming the hologram is to be believed)? Another friend pointed out that if Snoke is Palpatine, that would put Palpatine at over a hundred years old; could he survive to be that old? I think probably, yes; after all, don't forget who his master was! Darth Plagueis got the moniker “the Wise” because he was able to manipulate the force in ways that allowed him to create life and prevent death (some even think Plagueis is the reason for the fatherless Anakin’s existence). When Palpatine was telling Anakin Plagueis' story, he said he killed him in his sleep "after he had no more to teach me." Perhaps Palpatine learned to prevent his own death by various factors, including aging, through his expert manipulation of the force. In fact, another theory suggests that it was Palpatine's manipulation of the force that killed Padmé while she was in labor rather than the ridiculous notion that she “died of a broken heart”.
If Palpatine is in fact alive and posing as Supreme Leader Snoke, choosing Ben Solo as his new "Sith" apprentice is poetic in of itself. Ben Solo, a.k.a. Kylo Ren, is the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, who betrayed Palpatine as Darth Vader; he is the grandson of Padmé, a fellow Naboo and Palpatine’s successor in the Senate and a constant thorn in Palpatine’s side during his Chancellorship; he is the son of Leia Organa, a leader in the Rebel Alliance (and now, the Resistance) and a constant thorn in Palpatine’s side during his Emperorship (like mother, like daughter, eh?); and he is the nephew of Luke Skywalker, the man who turned Vader against Palpatine and ended his Empire. It would be just like Palpatine to turn Ben to the dark side as his own form of poetic justice. In addition, Ben made a snide comment to General Hux about the inadequacy of his troopers and mockingly suggested that he use a batch of Clone Troopers instead. If Snoke was telling Ben stories about the Clone Troopers and the Clone Wars, then we can safely assume Snoke was around for and possibly even active in the Clone Wars. While this doesn’t point directly to Palpatine (many were heavily involved in the Clone Wars, especially Jedi Generals), you will recall that is was Emperor Palpatine who shut down the Cloning Facility on Kamino at the end of Clone Wars and had all clones decommissioned from the Imperial Army. Palpatine knew a thing or two about clones and, judging from Ben’s comment, Supreme Leader Snoke did not think too highly of them as compared to the First Orders Stormtroopers.
Speaking of, the First Order is super Empire-y and it's interesting to note that the Stormtroopers we meet in Force Awakens, Stormtroopers like FN2187, are taken from their families and raised from birth to be Stormtroopers much like how Force-sensitives were taken from their families and raised practically from birth to be Jedi. It's also implied that force sensitive babies were being eliminated by The Inquisitors; perhaps non-force sensitive babies were being simultaneously being taken to serve the First Order. This would be a great example of the hypocrisy that is the Sith; it would be just like Palpatine to emulate the Jedi’s (efficient if wrong) way of training and inspiring loyalty in new recruits while he continues to kill off potential Jedis. Furthermore, General Hux was the son of a former imperial officer; perhaps one Palpatine's past connections? Just because the Republic was re-established doesn’t mean there aren’t still generations of people who prospered during the Emperor’s reign and are, as a result, First Order sympathizers.
Another minor hint that I picked up during my viewings of The Force Awakens was how Snoke's theme is remarkably similar to the opera house music heard in Revenge of the Sith during Palpatine and Anakin's conversation about Darth Plagueis. It’s that unmistakable throat singing score. You could look at that two ways: as a reference to Plagueis or as a reference to Palpatine, but going on my theory, it may very well be hinting (perhaps not so subtley or in a way that’s meant to throw off viewers) that Snoke is Palpatine.
Pay attention to the music, especially at 0:08
And for comparison.
Finally, George Lucas wanted Star Wars to be a poem that rhymes and as a fan and fellow filmmaker, it wouldn’t surprise me if J. J. Abrams wanted to continue that wish. Making it so that Palpatine is alive and trying to bring back the Empire he created, leaving Rey, Luke's (possible but unconfirmed) daughter, as the only person who could defeat him would be very poetic. Even her name is synonymous with "ray" as in a ray of light that will finally end the tragedy of the Skywalker family and redeem Anakin once and for all (perhaps).
In addition, the Starkiller Base is, very notably, the next size up from the first and second Death Star making it, let’s face it, Death Star the Third, which was very much Palpatine's baby (a poem that rhymes). He improved on its function and its power while also improving how this new Empire, the First Order, is being run and operated. He's still targeting the (New) Republic and he's still targeting Jedi. That was never Plagueis's game.
Another interesting piece of the puzzle that fits with the idea of a poem that rhymes: what if Vader failed to kill Darth Sidious in the original trilogy the same way Obi-Wan failed to kill Darth Maul in the prequel trilogy? Maul's comic ended with him riding off into the sunset, alive and well. If he's still out there, is it so crazy to think that Palpatine could still be out there as well?
It's just a theory, of course, and it relies on more than one assumption. It relies on the fact that Darth Plagueis is a Munn and not human; it relies on the idea that the hologram of Snoke is to be believed; and, most of all, it relies on the assumption that Palpatine survived that fall in the first place. I've been wrong before, but from where I stand it makes a lot of sense. At the very least, there's more evidence to suggest that Snoke is Palpatine rather than Plagueis. And while J. J. Abrams has made it abundantly clear that Snoke and Ren are NOT Sith (we knew that already), that may not rule out the possibility that he was once Sith (loophole?) Besides, I would imagine that J. J. Abrams is in the business of maintaining any and all secrets regarding the next two films under wraps. Stating that Snoke is not Sith (present tense) doesn’t negate the possibility that he was Sith (past tense). Perception is everything and you gotta love loopholes.
In the end, of course, it could very well be that Snoke is just Snoke and no one we know from the previously established cannon. Until that is officially confirmed in upcoming films, however, I will continue to entertain the idea. Share your thoughts below!