Thursday, January 4, 2018

"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.

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