Sunday, January 28, 2018

Reverse Thanks on Backerkit

Sometimes I back Kickstarters so I can add cheap toy soldiers to the ever-growing pile of plastic and metal shit that substitutes for happiness or fulfilment in my life. Sometimes once you've forked your money over, you have to allocate that money to the specific products you want from amongst everything the Kickstarter will produce. This is done using a site called Backerkit. Once you've sorted that out, which in my case typically ends up giving them more money because they've taken shipping out of what I wanted, this message comes up:
"Now it's time to thank your project creator!" What? Why? Is it just me, or does this make no sense? Why would I be the one thanking the project creator? I'm the one giving them the money that contributes to their project. They should be thanking me. I don't understand the logic behind this. Is the implication that I want this product so badly that I need to express gratitude to the business creating it simply for making it available for me to invest in? 'Cause that's not how investment works. I invest in a project and expect a return. I don't see how gratitude factors in anyway. It's a simple business transaction.

If I was more inclined to get worked up about things than I actually am, I might be tempted to say that this reeks of capitalism out of control, in which we have to toadyingly bootlick the companies which produce consumer goods for which we pay them our own money simply because they're giving us an opportunity to spend our money on things we want.

It doesn't make any SENSE!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"There are alternatives to fighting": Good vs Evil in "The Last Jedi"

In Star Wars (or A New Hope, if you prefer), when the Millennium Falcon is pulled into the Death Star by tractor beam, Han Solo declares, "they're not going to get me without a fight!", to which Obi-Wan Kenobi replies, "You can't win. But there are alternatives to fighting."

In The Last Jedi, I struggled to see the relevance of Finn and Rose's sojourn to Canto Bight, where the upper crust of the galaxy luxuriate in the spoils of war profiteering. Rose informs Finn that "There's only one business in the galaxy that'll get you this rich [...] selling weapons to the First Order." It turns out that Rose isn't completely correct. DJ later reveals to Finn that in fact Canto Bight's patrons sell to both sides, the First Order and the Republic/Resistance. He recommends to Finn that the best course of action is to "live free; don't join."

Like Kylo Ren's sentiment that "It's time to let old things die", this has been misinterpreted as a message of the film, but it isn't. Kylo's mistake is his belief in the need to "let the past die". Yoda puts us on the right course: "the greatest teacher failure is." Similarly, we're not meant to agree with DJ. He isn't even firm about his own arguments. When Finn challenges him later in the film, arguing that he's wrong to perceive the conflict as he does, DJ replies, "Maybe."

Yet the film clearly isn't advocating, as some reactionaries have argued, a nihilistic message that good and evil are meaningless and that we're all just pawns in a capitalist machine. We're still clearly positioned to see the Resistance as good and the First Order as evil. Instead, the film is arguing that good doesn't have to win through violence. This is particularly emphasised in the film through its depiction of the human cost of "righteous violence". Poe's attack on the dreadnought Fulminatrix (yeah, I remembered the name from a Wookieepedia article) gets a huge proportion of the Resistance's members killed. He ultimately recognises this in the finale when he calls off the speeder attack on the (poorly named) battering-ram cannon.

How all this becomes relevant, ultimately, is how it is borne out in Luke's narrative. In the conclusion of the film, Luke projects himself using the Force to appear on the planet Crait, and single-handedly faces down the entirety of the First Order's ground forces. In the ensuing confrontation, he completely humiliates Kylo Ren and makes the First Order military look utterly incompetent and impotent, and he does all of this without striking a single blow.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke that the Force is to be used for "knowledge and defence, never attack". In The Last Jedi, Luke never attacks, and he still wins. In my review of The Last Jedi I said that Kylo Ren wins "politically" by usurping Snoke, but more accurately, in terms of his long term goals, he loses. He gains rank, but fails to destroy the Resistance and kill Rey, or kill Luke, who instead peacefully becomes one with the Force. Luke won because he used an alternative to fighting.

This doesn't mean that the film somehow advocates pacifism or surrender. Far from it. What it relates, however, is a long-standing theme that good cannot and should not win by being like evil, by matching their raw violent strength with strength of the same kind. In The Last Jedi, despite the failures of Rey, Finn and Poe to turn Kylo, outwit the First Order and outfight it respectively, the Resistance still "wins" because they humiliate the First Order and make them look stupid and pathetic.

In Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, the Rebel Alliance wins great victories over the Galactic Empire. Yet they do not do this by mounting full-scale campaigns of war against the Empire, seeking to conquer planets, seize resources and acquire better and more powerful weapons. Rather, they use the resources they have to destroy two weapons, the first and second Death Stars. No one in either of these films ever advocates capturing the Death Star and turning it against the Empire, or for the Rebellion to construct superweapons of its own to terrorise and attack enemy systems. In this regard the Original Trilogy is reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings: Sauron is defeated by destroying his greatest weapon (the Ring), not by using it (or similar weapons) against him. The Force Awakens rather unimaginatively reused this concept.

Nonetheless, in this manner The Last Jedi offers another response to evil: good wins if it can expose the limitations of evil and, going by the kids at the end, if it can inspire hope and resistance. Evil cannot win if its weaknesses are exposed and if it fails to dominate the hearts and minds of those it seeks to control. Again, this is not to say that good does not need, to some degree, to fight back, but the battle is not won purely through overwhelming military force. This is entirely consistent with how the Rebellion wins in the Original Trilogy, by destroying the Death Stars rather than trying to conquer the Empire. In the same manner, in Return of the Jedi, Luke avoided falling to the dark side, firstly by insisting that he would not fight his father, and ultimately by refusing to kill him, refusing to match violence with violence and hate with hate. Similarly, the elite of Canto Bight only flourish through their clients' mistaken belief that victory only comes through physically destroying one's enemy. There are alternatives to fighting, and ultimately they are more powerful than evil can possibly imagine.

Note that this doesn't excuse The Last Jedi's structure and pacing issues and the weakness of some of its humour, and it doesn't change the Canto Bight plot from feeling heavy-handed, distracting or clumsy. It just occurred to me that perhaps some of its disparate elements are more connected than they first appeared. Seriously, though, couldn't there have been a minute or two for Luke and Yoda to discuss what "learning from failure" might mean for force users in general or future Jedi specifically, and what being a Jedi might mean in a galaxy recognising that the force "does not belong to the Jedi"? After The Force Awakens, people expected the next film to answer a lot of "plot" questions: who are Rey's parents? What's Snoke's deal? Where'd the First Order spring from? I didn't care about that, but obviously it bothered other people. More importantly, in my opinion, I think Episode IX needs to resolve the thematic questions set up by The Last Jedi: having learnt from the mistakes of the past, what is the future of the Force and the Jedi? How can the Resistance win without resorting purely to militarily overpowering the First Order? What are the consequences of Luke's very public humiliation of the First Order on Crait? I'm a tad concerned that this is just another course for viewers to be disappointed as the direction of the Sequel Trilogy again changes hands.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

"The Last Jedi": The Fanboy Cut


REY hands LUKE SKYWALKER the official Anakin Skywalker's Lightsaber™.

We need your help to fight the First Order!

Okay, let's go.


The Millennium Falcon flies into the hangar, guns blazing. Stormtroopers are blown up left and right. The hatch descends and Luke, Rey, CHEWBACCA and R2-D2 run out. Luke ignites his GREEN LIGHTSABER.

I have a bad feeling about this.

Rey is instantly knocked out by stormtroopers. Luke shrugs.

More for me, then.


Luke runs down a corridor on the flagship, cutting down stormtroopers with his GREEN LIGHTSABER.


GENERAL HUX is watching a monitor. The WILHELM SCREAM is heard over the intercom as Luke cuts down more stormtroopers.

He's heading for Snoke's chamber! Warn the Supreme Lead-argh!

General Hux is shot by Chewbacca, who roars.



Luke is now in a glass elevator heading up. Space can be seen through the glass. Two Star Destroyers are heading towards the Flagship.

I don't think so.

Luke stretches out his hands and then brings them together. Using THE FORCE, he causes the two Star Destroyers to collide and explode. Suddenly, the elevator stops. Luke speaks into his communicator from A New Hope.

R2! I need this elevator running!


R2-D2 electrocutes a stormtrooper, plugs into a wall socket and spins the dial.



The elevator resumes its ascent.

Thanks R2.


The elevator doors open, revealing Luke. He raises one eyebrow.


The dreaded KNIGHTS OF REN™ ignite their LIGHT BLADES. DARAK REN is armed with a LIGHT SPEAR. SHENDAR REN is armed with a LIGHT AXE. ZEKRUS REN is armed with a LIGHT GLAIVE. IJNIL REN is armed with two LIGHT-CHUKS. FELMAN REN is armed with a LIGHT NAGINATA. DONF REN is armed with a LIGHT FALCHION. All six of the dreaded Knights of Ren™ are available in an action figure combo pack for $59.99 at Wal-Mart.

It's time to say Good Knight.

They fight. All six of the dreaded Knights of Ren™ are defeated, although they survive so that they can appear in Episode IX. Luke goes through the door at the end of the Antechamber for the next round.


The door opens to reveal KYLO REN. He looks angry.

You will never defeat m-


Luke uses FORCE PUSH to smash Kylo Ren into a wall. He proceeds through the door to the third round.


FINN and POE stand around doing nothing.


SUPREME LEADER SNOKE is sitting on his throne.

Welcome, Master Skywalker, to the last day of the Jedi!

It's time to end this, Snoke - or should I say Darth Plagueis?

Dramatic chords are heard.

So, you discovered my true identity. Then you must know I can never die due to my immense power with the Dark Side!

I'm willing to put it to the test.

They fight. Snoke uses a RED LIGHTSABER, while Luke uses his GREEN LIGHTSABER. Eventually Luke disarms Snoke, who resorts to using FORCE LIGHTNING. Luke struggles.

You see, you fool? I cannot be beaten!

Oh really? You think I spent all those years on that island for no reason at all?

Raising his arm, Luke uses a new FORCE POWER on Snoke: FORCE LIGHT. A beam of light shoots from his hand. Snoke dodges, but the Force Light blasts off his right hand. Shocked, Snoke runs for the escape pod behind his throne, where he is joined by Kylo Ren and the dreaded Knights of Ren™. They clamber inside.

I'll get you next time, Skywalker! Next time!

The escape pod blasts off. Luke wipes his brow.


LEIA gives Luke another medal, as well as giving a medal to Chewbacca. Luke winks at the camera.




Tuesday, January 9, 2018

"The Last Jedi": Luke's Character Arc

Arguably the most contentious element of The Last Jedi has been the characterisation of Luke Skywalker. When we last saw Luke in Return of the Jedi he was a triumphant Jedi Knight who had become confident and wise, resisted the lure of the Dark Side and redeemed his father. When we catch up with him in The Last Jedi he's a broken man who has come to despise both himself and the belief system he so strongly embraced in the Original Trilogy. The question is whether this makes sense.

Obviously a lot can happen in thirty years. Over that kind of time some people change drastically. Others scarcely change at all. So how did Luke change, and why? In The Last Jedi, Luke implies that the world he fought for in the Original Trilogy did come into being: "for many years there was balance." It appears that the change began when Ben was born; Luke notably says "I thought I could pass on my strengths." This seems to relate to what Yoda tells him later: "Pass on what you have learned: strength, mastery, but weakness, folly, failure also." This implies an error at the foundation of the philosophy Luke took towards training the new order of Jedi: that it was about strength primarily, particularly in Ben's case of enabling the "mighty Skywalker blood." Perhaps this to a degree explains how Snoke was able to manipulate Ben, because he had been trained to see the Force as a form of strength alone, as power, something Luke was very keen to tell Rey was explicitly not the case.

Is this error consistent with Luke's character in the Original Trilogy? It's difficult to say. In Return of the Jedi Luke certainly used the Force as a source of raw strength, particularly when he called upon it to threaten and ultimately destroy Jabba the Hutt. He also called upon it in fury in the final confrontation on the Death Star, in which he nearly slew his father before realising what the Emperor was doing. It's also true that he never truly finished his training with Yoda, because he left recklessly early in The Empire Strikes Back and only really "completed" his training and became a Jedi when he refused to kill Vader. Certainly Luke understood the value of compassion, and surely would have brought that to his training, but it might be argued that his victory on the Death Star was a combination of his own compassion and the Emperor's arrogance. I'm honestly not sure whether it's possible to conclusively say that Luke might have lacked the overall mastery to train Ben, but it's possible, and he seems to think so, claiming it was "hubris" to do so. Again, however, it may be a combination of circumstances: Luke's own overconfidence and Snoke's manipulation.

Nonetheless, I'd argue that this leaves room for Luke to develop in this way. It seems that the final say on how he lost Ben was a moment of weakness in which, foreseeing the destruction his nephew would cause in the future, he panicked and drew his lightsaber upon him: "I saw darkness. I'd sensed it building in him. I'd seen it in moments during his training. But then I looked inside, and it was beyond what I ever imagined. Snoke had already turned his heart. He would bring destruction and pain and death and the end of everything I loved because of what he would become."

This appears to be highly reminiscent of Luke's rash reaction in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda tells him he must not go chasing his vision: "But Han and Leia will die if I don't!" Obi-Wan tells him, "You don't know that," and when Yoda reminds him of his "failure at the cave", Luke insists "I've learned so much since then." He hadn't learned enough, however, to prevent him from running off after a vision about which he could not be sure. Yoda sums up the situation as he leaves: "Reckless is he." This isn't just a mistake Luke could make once; it's a consistent part of his character, seen also in Return of the Jedi when Vader's taunting about Leia almost leads to his fall to the Dark Side.

So, was a moment of weakness in which Luke would contemplate destroying his own nephew consistent with this aspect of his character? It seems that way. He nearly killed his own father before feeling pity for him, seeing what he himself was at risk of becoming, and relenting. Furthermore, sometimes people change in some ways but not in others. Yoda remarks upon this in both The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi. In the former, he observes, "All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon; never his mind on where he was, what he was doing." In the latter: "Still looking to the horizon, never here, now, the need in front of your nose." At this point Yoda also argues that Luke failed to pass on the value of learning from failure; I suppose we just have to accept that to be the case, but it appears to relate to his fixation on "the horizon"; he has never been sufficiently concerned with the present, thinking too much about the future and about certain consequences, which is actually a narrow point of view, as it both blinds him to the present and limits the possibilities he imagines. Just as he assumed that Han and Leia would die if he did not save them on Bespin, for a moment he assumed that Ben would bring the galaxy to ruins and acted rashly in response. This is a consistent part of his character.

The next thing to consider is the action he took after this, going into isolation on Ahch-To rather than rectifying the problem he had created. I feel that much of the explanation for this can be found in what Luke says earlier about training Ben. He observes that "Leia trusted me with her son," and "Leia blamed Snoke, but it was me. I failed." He later says that after drawing his lightsaber upon Ben he was "left with shame, and consequence." Luke argues elsewhere in the film that the Jedi are fundamentally flawed, as their actions have led to disaster, but I'd argue that the specific reason for his exile is more personal: he was deeply ashamed of having betrayed Leia and Han, his two closest friends who were also his family, by letting their son fall to the Dark Side. The other source of shame is probably the feeling that he failed to restore the Jedi Order, a responsibility which, after the death of Yoda, had fallen solely upon him. Reflecting upon his own failures and those of the Jedi Order historically, he must have decided that any further action on his part would only cause further pain and suffering and destruction. This would still fit with the "looking to the horizon" mentality; he must have believed that anything he could do would only make the problem worse.

Ultimately I think the characterisation works and is consistent with Luke's character and story, but I can also perceive a few problems with it.

1. Despite the enormous length of The Last Jedi, Luke's character is perhaps slightly underwritten. The audience is possibly asked to read into things more than they should. I think the characterisation works, but should I have really needed to rewatch specific scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to find the most tangible links? These Disney Star Wars films probably need more production time to allow the screenplays to breathe. Also, while I'm sure Lucasfilm keeps a clear eye on the scripts, it may not have hurt to have had a collaborator or two on the screenplay.

2. The entire character arc only needs to exist because of the plot of The Force Awakens, and this leads me to a broader issue: I feel like the problems with the sequel trilogy fundamentally lie with The Force Awakens, and that there was not the time or means for this film to rectify them. If The Force Awakens had been willing to give a clear reason for Luke's disappearance rather than trying to keep the audience hooked with "mystery box" storytelling, there would have been no need for Luke to undergo so many changes in (from the audience's point of view) so little time.

3. This speaks to a wider problem with the Sequel Trilogy in general, which wants to have its cake and eat it too by introducing a new set of protagonists while retaining the old ones. Luke's role in The Force Awakens was minimised because it reduced the viewer's interest in Rey, and this leaves me thinking that, from a storytelling point of view, it was a mistake to have the Original Trilogy characters at all, because they will end up having either little to no character development (which is how Han appears in The Force Awakens), or have to go through too much (which is how Luke arguably appears in The Last Jedi). Yet Disney knows that familiar characters sell more cinema tickets. The film wants us to care about Rey, Finn and Poe, but by selling the films to us with Luke, Leia and Han, we are left wanting to know more about and see more of them. This is why I almost think the narrative about how the characters got to where they were by the time of the Sequel Trilogy sounds, from the snippets we get in the films and putting the spinoff material aside, more interesting than the story of the new characters in some respects.

4. This might be a bit unfair, but is there a slight issue in Return of the Jedi having an overly triumphant ending? Don't get me wrong, I love Return of the Jedi, but the screenwriters only gave it such a happy ending at George Lucas's insistence, and he probably wanted it because a film which left the audience happy would sell more toys to kids. That's probably why Han didn't die on Endor, and why Luke didn't have either of the touted endings he might have had: either falling to the Dark Side and replacing Vader, or "walking off into the sunset" at the end, having been utterly emotionally drained by his experiences. An ending more on these lines might have arguably set up more for Sequel Episodes, but I suppose we can't really blame it for not setting up sequels that even George Lucas wasn't thinking seriously about making until the 2010s (apparently he did consider making at least Episode VII himself before selling the rights to Disney. Google it if you want to know more).

The last thing I wanted to discuss was Luke's ending in The Last Jedi. He stops looking to the horizon and focuses on the here and now: if he uses his great knowledge of the Force, he can save the Resistance, maintain hope in the galaxy and start a new legend to inspire it, while also intimidating the First Order and leaving his fallen nephew with something to think about. He couldn't undo the effects of his failure, but he could act to attempt to help build something new. Now that he's one with the Force, he just needs to make sure to pass this on to Rey in Episode IX...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"The Last Jedi" Rant 2: Rey Was Right Not To Join Kylo

Another thing I see people saying about The Last Jedi is "it would have been more interesting if Rey had taken Kylo up on his offer and joined him to bring order to the galaxy."

For instance, I saw a webcomic someone wrote which implied that this would have allowed them both to heal or similar. Also, in RedLetterMedia's review, they argued that doing so would have allowed the forming of a government to resolve the conflict. Let's think about this, though.

1. Kylo Ren's Motivation
When Kylo offers his hand to Rey, he's not offering her some kind of truce. He's not saying "Join with me so we can sort out this conflict around the negotiating table and agree to a solution which suits everyone." He's offering her a position of co-tyrant as absolute rulers of the galaxy. Would this really work as a character development for our protagonist, a woman who has never previously shown the slightest inclination towards desiring power over others? Furthermore, would it be a desirable message for this or any film, implying that there was value in autocracy and dictatorship? Kylo Ren's offer doesn't imply governance; it implies unquestionable authority and totalitarianism. 

2. Kylo Ren's Method
Kylo tells Rey that she's nobody, "but not to me". Admittedly I stole this from somewhere else, but this is the behaviour of an abuser, not an ally. He's putting her down so that he can get what he wants: the company and attention of a person he thinks understands him. His offer, in this light, isn't really an offer at all, but a manipulative and selfish request phrased in terms intended to undermine Rey's self esteem. Again, why would we want Rey to join this man?

3. Rey's Point of View
Through their Force connection, Rey has come to somewhat sympathise with Kylo Ren. She recognises that he is extremely conflicted and feels betrayed, and is somewhat pitiable as a result. This doesn't really change the fact, however, that she knows by reputation that Kylo Ren is a mass-murderer, and knows by experience that he is a parricide, who murdered his own father in front of her very eyes. He also once kidnapped her for information and tried to force that information from her using the Force. If he reached out his hand to you, would you want to take it?

As far as I can tell, it would have been totally inconsistent for Rey to join forces with Kylo Ren. Not only would it be out of character for her, but Kylo Ren made the offer in an extremely manipulative way with deeply questionable motives, and Rey knows enough about him to perceive this. As much as I'd like to see a different spin on the same old Star Wars good guys vs bad guys conflict, this would not have worked as a way to do it.

"The Last Jedi" Rant 1: Why Do People Care About Snoke?

This post is about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you haven't seen it or don't care, don't blame me for not understanding what I'm talking about. I couldn't be bothered explaining it in detail.

Seriously, why does anyone care about the backstory of Supreme Leader Snoke? A common complaint I've seen about "The Last Jedi" is that Snoke, the leader of the evil First Order, who supposedly seduced Kylo Ren to the Dark Side, was killed off (by Kylo) in this film with no explanation of his origins. People seem to have wanted to know how he came to be such a powerful force user and how he came to take control of the First Order.

Now, I'm not going to make the argument other people have been making: "Well, we didn't know anything about the Emperor!" That doesn't work because we can assume that an evil Empire is ruled by an evil dude who goes by the name of "The Emperor". With something like "The First Order", which emerged from said Empire, I suppose it's natural to wonder about the origins of its "Supreme Leader". Simply by watching The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, here's what we know about Snoke:

1. He runs the First Order as its Supreme Leader.
2. He's an alien (apparently).
3. He's fairly strong with the Dark Side: he can use force lightning and mess around with people over long distances, and what not.
4. He seduced Kylo Ren to the Dark Side, seemingly telepathically: it doesn't seem like he turned Ben Solo's mind in person, but rather whispered to him from afar. Admittedly, I'm interpreting that a bit.
5. He's dead now.

Note that I'm not including anything stated in any supplementary text, like the novelisation of The Force Awakens or one of the Visual Dictionary books or whatever.

So I have two questions.

1. Did we need any more information than that?
People seem to be asking, "If he's so powerful, where was he during the Empire?" Not around, I suppose. The galaxy's a big place. Presumably after the Empire fell he showed up and established control over the remnants, and their descendants, either seizing power over the already-forming First Order, or taking it upon himself to found the First Order. Around the same time he began luring Ben Solo to the Dark Side. What else do we need to know? Again, the galaxy's a big place. Maybe when Palpatine fell he saw his opportunity to rise. Palpatine's rise from Senator to Emperor in the Prequels took all of fifteen years. The thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is plenty of time for Snoke to show up and take over. Again, any statements not made in the script of the film about how powerful he is, how old he is or what he was aware of aren't important.

2. Why would any of the characters be interested in it?
As Rian Johnson pointed out, Snoke's backstory isn't relevant to the characters. It may be relevant to the interests of some fans, but it's not relevant to Rey's story, and ultimately it isn't even that relevant to Kylo's beyond the fact that Snoke seduced him to the Dark Side.

This leads to a couple of points.

1. Snoke is a plot device. His characterisation isn't important.
So far, the Sequel Trilogy has had a number of major protagonists: Rey, Finn, Poe, Han, Luke and Leia. It has a major antagonist: Kylo Ren. It also has a number of supporting characters: BB-8, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Rose, Holdo, General Hux and Snoke. Snoke is Kylo Ren's supporting antagonist. He's not really a main character in his own right. This is normal in fiction.

Snoke should be compared to the character of Professor Moriarty. Putting aside years of adaptations which have ludicrously overinflated the character's importance, Professor Moriarty isn't really a character at all. He's a plot device invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to kill off Sherlock Holmes. In "The Adventure of the Final Problem", Holmes reveals that he has been working against Moriarty, a master criminal, for a long time, but Watson has never even heard of him. A few days later, Moriarty and Holmes fall to their deaths. He's fiction's first supervillain, arguably, but he's really just a plot device intended to affect a more important character's story.

Snoke only exists as a plot device to serve Kylo Ren's character development. He provides an explanation for how Kylo fell to the Dark Side: Snoke seduced him. He also now provides an explanation for how Kylo became Supreme Leader: Snoke was killed by Kylo, who took his place. Snoke doesn't need some kind of "arc"; he doesn't need elaborate character development. He's an archetype which was created to serve the characterisation of the real antagonist, Kylo Ren.

I will concede one point here, however: the character of Snoke should never have been created. He's a lazy piece of shorthand to facilitate Kylo Ren being where he is, and a more creative explanation for their place on the Dark Side would have made Kylo Ren and the First Order more interesting in The Force Awakens. I never liked the character of Snoke because he seemed like a rehash of Palpatine. This is why I'm glad he was killed off in The Last Jedi, because he's a piece of lazy storytelling and the Sequels are better off without him. This leads me to my second point on Snoke:

2. Snoke doesn't deserve a backstory. He's a crap character.
As I just said, Snoke's entire existence is due to narrative laziness. He should never have been written in the first place, so it's best to minimise how much he dominates the script. He's not "cool" or "badass". People seem to think he is, but I feel like the people with that attitude are often modern-style nerds who have had their imaginations so warped by games that they can only appreciate characters in terms of their "power levels" rather than their characterisation or role in a story. He's just a generic villain presented through impressive but unambitious motion capture. He's a boring video game villain and the Sequels are better off without him from now on.
I'm sure if you genuinely care about Snoke, some shite novel will be written in a year or two explaining his bland and uninteresting rise to power.