One of the mysterious new characters we meet in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Supreme Leader Snoke, apparently the true leader of the evil First Order. He only appears as a hologram, giving orders to Kylo Ren and General Hux. So who is he? Where did he come from and what makes him the guy that’s able to control the Imperial remnants and organize them into a deadly organization? We’ll take a look at the top 5 leading theories and see whether any of them make sense.
Theory #1: Snoke is Darth Plagueis
Why it could be so: It’s certainly the most discussed theory so we’ll address it first. There are three elements to why people suspect Plagueis, who Palpatine mentions in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. First, Palpatine calls him Plagueis the Wise and in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren says Plagueis is wise. Second, people think Snoke’s theme is similar to the music composition that plays when Palpatine discusses Plagueis. Finally, Palpatine says that Plagueis figured out how to use the Force to defeat death and even create life. In the Expanded Universe stories, Plagueis was said to also secretly operate as the head of the Banking Clan, which could conceivably give him access to a lot of resources to fund an army.
What doesn’t work: Palpatine also says that Plagueis’ pupil betrayed and murdered him. Sounds fairly definitive and would require a retcon. Also, do the new movies really want to hinge on a passing reference found in any of the prequels? It seems unnecessary.
Theory #2: Snoke is The Operator
Why it could be so: In the first novel to be part of the new/current Star Wars continuity, we’re told the story of the last of the Imperial Fleet being defeated by the Rebel Alliance, directly following Return of the Jedi‘s Battle of Endor. The Fleet is commanded by The Operator. We never learn his true name or really anything else about him other than he commanded the last Super Star Destroyer. He’s thus far a pretty blank canvas. And he was high up in the chain of command.
What doesn’t work: No real mention of him being a Sith or master of the Force, which Snoke appears to be since he refers to training Kylo Ren. He’s not much of a presence. It seems more likely that he’s a character for the book trilogy to utilize than anything larger.
Theory #3: Snoke is the Grand Inquisitor
Why it could be so: The Inquisitors on the Star Wars: Rebels TV show are trained in the Force by Darth Vader, though not technically Sith. The tall body and pale skin and bald head roughly matches Snoke’s appearance. The Grand Inquisitor has the authority to commandeer any Imperial vessel in his task of hunting down Jedi. Snoke turned Kylo Ren and had him kill many of Luke’s Jedi trainees.
What doesn’t work: The Grand Inquisitor was killed on the show. Technically he fell to his death so I suppose if we don’t see a body, it’s a possibility. There are also other Inquisitors so maybe Snoke is just one of those? But where did his markings and grooves along his face go? His head also appears to be more elongated than the round, human-like head that Snoke has. On the other hand, we actually have only seen Snoke as a hologram so maybe he doesn’t look anything like that. But would the movies really use the villain from the cartoon as their ultimate Big Bad?
Theory #4: Snoke is the Emperor in Vader’s body
Why it could be so: This is a recent theory and it’s a doozy. It claims that Palpatine could have had his spirit take over Vader’s dead body once Vader tossed him down the Death Star shaft. Snoke’s appearance does match Vader’s pretty well. He’d have the Force ability, interest in Kylo Ren and the knowledge to control all of the Imperial resources.
What doesn’t work: It’s pretty convoluted. We saw Vader’s body burned on a funeral pyre and we know his spirit was redeemed. We’d have to loop in Palpatine’s passing reference to Plagueis’ knowledge of defeating death to come up with how this could work on any level. But Palpatine ended up telling Anakin that he actually didn’t figure that out and together they could try to learn that secret. So he probably never had the ability to defeat death.
Theory #5: Snoke is an original character
Why it could be so: Every indication from the filmmakers including motion-capture actor Andy Serkis implies Snoke is an original character. Such a character would be much easier to weave into a new story that’s starting 30 years after Return of the Jedi. Narratively, it’s the most efficient option that provides the most opportunities.
What doesn’t work: J.J. Abrams flat out lied to us that Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t Khan, so he has a history of misdirecting fans. Snoke has knowledge and resources to control the Empire that aren’t easy to explain. His ruined appearance implies he has a long history. These elements all lend themselves to being around during previous Star Wars stories.
But it seems likely that he really is a new character. Star Wars has never been about dense, interconnected continuity like Marvel movies. It’s about family and adventure. A character without any existing baggage would provide the movies with the most opportunity to tell their own story and stand on their own.