Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it posed as many questions as it answered. Chief among these are questions of identity that have launched fan theory after fan theory and endless speculation. Who is Rey? Why was she left on Jakku? Is Finn also a legacy character? And of course, who is the enigmatic overlord of the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke (if he is or is not connected to anyone we know at all)?
When it comes to the Snoke question, we may have the least answers of all. The Supreme Leader appeared in only a handful of scenes, manifesting as a massive hologram akin to Emperor Palpatine’s first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back. Aside from his calm, menacing demeanor, the most immediate identifying features are his facial scars – however, we’re given no clue as to where they come from or how he got them. We also know he has some Dark Force power, and that he’s responsible for turning Kylo Ren against Luke Skywalker and the rest of his family. And that’s really all we know.
Following those clues – Snoke’s appearance, his Dark Force power, his connection to Kylo Ren – has led to a prevalent theory among fans that Snoke is secretly Darth Plagueis, the Sith Lord who was master to Palpatine/Darth Sidious, and who, by Sidious’s own admission, gained power over life and death through the Dark Side of the Force.
If that’s all somewhat Greek to you, it’s based on somewhat obscure canon established in the lesser-worshipped prequels. It’s a decent theory, but not without its holes.
Another recent fan theory that’s been making the rounds compares Snoke’s facial scars to the wounds visible on Darth Vader’s old-nice-guy Anakin face when he removes his helmet at the end of Return of the Jedi. There’s such a similarity that it’s hard to imagine it not being intentional given J. J. Abrams’ knowledge that every little detail of his film would be scrutinized, Whatever his intent, “Snoke = Vader” is problematic too, given his redemption is key to the conclusion of the original trilogy.
But what if we were to tell you, as Yoda once told Obi-Wan, there is another?
30 years prior to the events of The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker fulfilled Darth Vader’s destiny and brought balance to the Force – or so we thought at the time, at least. By resisting the Emperor’s lure to the Dark Side, Luke was able to redeem his father, and with Vader’s help, defeat the Emperor seemingly for good. In doing so, Vader sacrificed his own life to save his son’s and to destroy the Empire. Luke carried his father’s body to the forest moon of Endor, burning the barely human corpse of the Dark Lord of the Sith, and leaving the Dark Side behind once and for all. As he and his allies celebrated their victory, a vision of his father as he appeared in life appeared alongside fellow Force Ghosts Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.
But is it possible that’s not the end of Vader’s story – or Palpatine’s? If there’s one rule that truly applies in comic books and genre fiction, it’s that no one’s ever really dead – not permanently, anyway. What if Palpatine survived his fall into the core of the Death Star (at least in a master of the Force kind of way) and lived on?
We know what you’re thinking – the Death Star blew up real good at the end of Return of the Jedi, presumably taking everyone on board (yes, including all those poor independent contractors) with it. That doesn’t leave much room for Palpatine, or even his body, to have escaped. But what if he didn’t need his body to escape? Moreover, what if there was another, perfectly good body just waiting to be inhabited on the nearby forest moon of Endor? One with an intrinsic connection not just to the Dark Side of the Force, but to Palpatine himself?
That’s right – we’re talking about Vader … or his corpse, anyway. Of course, his body was burned on a funeral pyre, but that’s hardly as definitive a physical fate as being atomized in a space explosion, especially when we never see his body reduced to ash. Luke doesn’t stick around to seal his father’s fate – he’s got an Ewok party to attend and a group photo to take. So if/when Palpatine’s Force Ghost finds itself in need of a physical form, it’s drawn to the best available option – the already mangled, partially burned, but still intact body of his former protégé, Darth Vader.
There’s some gray area in terms of how the Force works in the current canon. While now-defunct Expanded Universe content explored and expounded on the notion of Force Ghosts – and concepts like Spirit Transference and cloning – the facts in the current Star Wars universe are simple. When a powerful Force user dies, if they know the technique, they can linger in the physical world as a Force Ghost. Furthermore, Darth Plagueis (here’s where he comes in) was said to have mastered power over life and death; the very skill Palpatine used to seduce Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side.
Is it that hard to imagine then that Palpatine could use his knowledge, and the power gained from Plagueis, to transfer his essence, his consciousness, into the body of his own apprentice? Wouldn’t it be an insidiously Dark Side thing to do to live on at the expense of another, especially your own ally? And with Anakin Skywalker now living on as a Force Ghost, there would be nothing left to inhabit his body anyway.
Did we ever find out what killed Vader anyway? Luke didn’t wound him that badly in their final lightsaber battle. Was it Force Lightning backwash? Maybe’s Vader’s ‘death’ was more spiritual in nature? His soul was just ready to move on, his body not beyond repair?
If Snoke is indeed Palpatine inhabiting the body of Darth Vader, that would explain a lot. For example, who but Palpatine would have the ability to revive the Empire as the First Order? And how better to seduce Ben Solo into becoming Kylo Ren? His reverence for Darth Vader had to come from somewhere, and you can bet that his parents weren’t singing Vader’s praises. The only one who might, Luke Skywalker, is the very master Kylo Ren betrayed in favor of Snoke. And furthermore, Kylo Ren had to get Vader’s mask from somewhere – what if it came straight from the hands of the man himself?
Sure, maybe it’s far-fetched – but then again, we’re dealing with space wizards and laser swords. Science fantasy (including Star Wars) has gone far stranger places with far less justification. And while it’s not a perfect theory – is Snoke as robotic as Vader was – it would fall neatly into the narrative circle that is such an important part of the Star Wars tradition. It would bridge the entire series together, not a minor consideration for a saga clearly about legacy.