I know who Snoke is.
Ok, I admit that I originally had that as the title, but could foresee the flood of “clickbait” accusations with the overall discontent surrounding Snoke’s identity, so I moved it. But in all seriousness, I do know who he is. In a way.
I know there are hundreds of articles on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, so what could one more hurt? I enjoy discussing and reading countless theories and thoughts because there is always something new in the Star Wars universe that may have been overlooked the first time around. I mean, it’s a timeless story that spans generations and galaxies, and bridges the past with the experiences of the present and with a hope for the future. The conversations after the credits are part of what makes Star Wars Star Wars.
I want to be sensitive to everyone’s personal definitions of “spoiler,” so if you are still avoiding all of the press and discussion until you see it, here is where I say “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” and perhaps come back later. For everyone else, I want to talk about Snoke.
Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) has been an enigma since The Force Awakens gave us a holographic introduction of a seemingly larger-than-life villain with a mastery of the Dark Side of the Force. He not only controlled the First Order, but guided and influenced a young Ben Solo, a former Jedi-in-training under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker (Adam Driver and Mark Hamill respectively), and transformed him into Kylo Ren.
In The Last Jedi, Snoke is still in charge, and still pushing Kylo Ren to a deeper commitment to the Dark Side. Granted he isn’t as physically imposing up close and personal, but his power seems all but absolute, much like the villains that have come before him. In the prequels, Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) seduces Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) with a promise that he can prevent the death of Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). In epsidoes IV-VI, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), uses the family connection between himself, Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher) in multiple attempts to turn the young Jedi into following in his father’s footsteps.
Snoke uses those same external influencers and family connections but in a very pointed way, as he flips the relational dynamic between the “target” (in this case, Ben Solo) and the path of darkness. And this is what makes Snoke far more dangerous, and far more recognizable as a villain, than either Palpatine or Vader.
Instead of focusing on what the Dark Side can offer, Snoke uses the weaknesses he sees in Kylo, compares him to those he has admired (or hated), and twists a manipulating knife of self-loathing and doubt deeper into Kylo’s vulnerable soul. Snoke has taken hold of Kylo’s sense of self…who he is, his bloodline, his purpose, his talent…and poisoned it with talk of inadequacy and failure. It isn’t that the Resistance is too strong, or Rey too powerful for him to defeat, it’s that Kylo is too weak. His conflicting feelings keep him from doing what is necessary. Snoke feeds the doubt that is already inside of Kylo…that is inside of all of us…to maintain his control over him.
And this is why Snoke is such a dangerous enemy – not because of his skills with a lightsaber (apparently none), or because he has a connection to the villains before him (we actually get nothing of his backstory, which I think is what makes him even more dangerous) – but because of how he pulls the strings. His approach feels familiar because most of us have seen it or lived it in our own lives.
I mentioned that we get nothing on Snoke’s backstory. Maybe it will come later, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Snoke is more dangerous for the same reason Rey is more powerful – because they aren’t anyone “special.” Like the Force can choose anyone, so can the Dark Side. Snoke is a scarred, dangerous, hurtful person not because of who he may have been, but because of how he permits the Dark Side to work within him and in turn, helps him convince Kylo Ren that is an epic failure.
There are people in our lives that seem to have an unshakeable hold, and not because they are caring and supportive, but because they feed the small voice inside of us that whispers “you aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, you aren’t pretty enough, you aren’t thin enough, you aren’t rich enough.” They poison our hearts with false declarations of our identities and leave no room for us to break free. Their power doesn’t come from a supernatural source or an inherently evil past (for most people anyway), it comes from the moment we accept their assessment of our weakness.
Snoke’s identity is clear: he is the abuser. He is the former boss, the ex-spouse, the controlling significant other, the overbearing parent, the toxic friend…Snoke is the manipulator in our lives that plants seeds of self-doubt and worthlessness, who cultivates a garden of thorns in our hearts, devoid of the warmth of the sun and relief of the rain. His sickening self-confidence that Kylo will strike down his “true enemy” solidifies his position as abuser. He is absolutely convinced that Kylo belongs to him.
Our hardest battles aren’t fought with weapons and epic cinematic throw-downs (although the tag team of Rey and Kylo was majorly epic in my opinion), but in quiet determination, with a few key people pulling us through – both past and present.
I find it no accident that Kylo cuts the tie to his abuser with the Skywalker lightsaber when he strikes down Snoke. Kylo has been unsuccessful in the past at retrieving that lightsaber, yet in this scene he wields it effortlessly. You can’t convince me that Rey’s presence in Kylo’s life isn’t fueling his already conflicting soul, encouraging him to break free, making it possible for the lightsaber to respond to his command. And for me, having it seem such a simple act is what makes it so poignant and powerful.
Now Kylo did identify his true enemy and take him out, but the remnants of Snoke’s power still run deep. We see this play out for the remainder of the film. At first this really bugged me, as I was so ready for him to turn light. But it can’t be that way. It hardly ever is. When we take that first step away from a toxic presence, we are simultaneously at our strongest and weakest points. The journey is just beginning, which makes it vital to surround ourselves with people of light, like Rey and the fledgling remainder of rebels, as opposed to dwelling on our anger and sense of injustice and pouring our energy into violent revenge. Snoke’s role is far from removed because Kylo still reels and responds to his influence.
But there is hope! There is always hope, and in true Star Wars fashion, we are left with an image of resiliency, inspiration, and dare I say it…grace for the ones fighting a battle deeper than we may ever know.