New 'The Last Jedi' Leaks Show Supreme Leader Snoke Could Be A Stronger Character Than Emperor Palpatine Ever Was

Supreme Leader Snoke will return in 'Star Wars: Episode VIII.'
Supreme Leader Snoke will return in 'Star Wars: Episode VIII.' Lucasfilm

Supreme Leader Snoke isn’t much more than a Gollum-shaped hologram in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The real villain of Episode VII is Kylo Ren, a disaffected son who made a murderous break from Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi Order and joined a genocidal revival movement. But leaks from the set of Star Wars: Episode VIII suggest Snoke will have a much bigger role in The Last Jedi.

Making Star Wars holds that, despite his Sith-like black cloak and ascetic appearance in The Force Awakens, Snoke takes on a more decadent aspect in its sequel. Supreme Leader Snoke, aboard his fancy capital ship, wears “jester shoes,” “genie slippers,” “a gold silky robe with a very ornate pattern on it… lined in red” and “a fancy ring on his left hand.” Unless he’s playing some sort of “strategically keep the rich occupied with expensive, ever-shifting fashion conventions” scheme — like in The Taking of Power by Louis XIV or Silicon Valley — then Snoke might just a be a dandy. It’s not just his wardrobe. He’s got an “opulent” throne room with lots of “marble” and “gold trim.”

While everyone has spent the past two years guessing if Snoke is some old name from tie-in books or something even dumber, director Rian Johnson might be doing something far more interesting: making Supreme Leader Snoke a well thought-out character.

A compelling galactic emperor wouldn’t be counted among Star Wars (it will never be A New Hope) or The Empire Strikes Back ’s greatest strengths (nevertheless an infinite list). He’s only mentioned in the first movie and appears as a holographic special effect in the second. Before the role became synonymous with Ian McDiarmid (16 years after Return of the Jedi he returned to chart the Emperor’s rise from Senator Palpatine of Naboo), the Emperor of the galaxy had no clear identity. Instead he was a chimera — a combination of painter and actor Marjorie Eaton, the voice of Clive Revill (who would later appear in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Qpid”) and a chimpanzee. There wasn’t room for character development in his seven lines.

Which worked great in the first two Star Wars movies. Peter Cushing — an actor with enough dignified authority to anchor a movie about a frozen ape with devil eyes — easily sold the Empire’s galactic, top-down grasp on power. With Darth Vader at his side, the Empire had even mechanized the galaxy’s spiritual energies. The Emperor, sitting in some distant throne room on an unnamed planet, was the final symbol of those powers arrayed against the Rebellion.

But that wouldn’t work for The Last Jedi. Supreme Leader Snoke can’t be so remote, unless it’s to fall on the uncompelling Admiral Armitage Hux to convince us of the First Order’s inevitable victory. Kylo Ren’s journey is powerful, but personal. It has to be Snoke who embodies authority and drives the First Order forward to victory, because their task is so much bigger than the Emperor’s was in the original Star Wars trilogy.

In Star Wars , The Empire is at the height of its power. It’s triumph in Grand Moff Tarkin’s voice when he announces to his general staff that the Galactic Senate has been disbanded. They start on top and lose everything three movies later, at the end of Return of the Jedi, with the death of their Emperor. But it’s the First Order who are the underdogs when Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins, fighting against an established government too deadlocked and blinded to see the threat they represent (except for General Leia, whose intervention still wasn’t enough to prevent the New Republic’s destruction). At the beginning of Episode 8, the First Order will have an unprecedented opportunity to take back the Galaxy, reducing the defeat of Emperor Palpatine and the entire New Republic to a minor interregnum between generations of fascist oppression.

And a fascist future requires what every fascist needs: a father figure to tell them they’re strong, to inflame them with rhetoric, to empower their violence, to recast their incuriosity as virtue, congratulate their impulses and replace their fear with anger. It’s not something Palpatine — more interested in Sith-y space Popery than politics — was cut out for, even when George Lucas revealed the cackling Emperor to be a sniveling, parliamentary-procedure bureaucrat in his prequel movies. But Snoke better have it, because The Last Jedi has to convince us, just for two hours or so, that the First Order can win, even in the face of all our years of watching movies and knowing they won’t.

These new leaks aren’t proof that Star Wars: The Last Jedi will succeed in drawing a more compelling character than Emperor Palpatine. They seem to be based more in costume and production design than storytelling. But what we’re seeing, with Snoke’s massive Kyber crystal ring and his floating palace are the foundations on top of which a character will be built. Earlier leaks claim Snoke will be a puppet, more giant, evil Yoda than CGI Dobby. He’ll have a presence, move among his officers, react and take action.

These leaks are our best indication that The Last Jedi won’t relegate its Emperor figure to the background. But will it be enough to sell us on the First Order’s indomitability? Can all the powers of Andy Serkis and Disney’s billions match up to a dearly departed b-horror actor and James Earl Jones’ voice? It better, since The Last Jedi is our last shot at a great Star Wars Episode before they turn it over to the Jurassic World guy.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out in theaters Dec. 15.

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