With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker now in theaters, the Skywalker saga has officially come to an end. That means certain burning questions that fans have had for some time have now been answered. To some degree, at least. One such question many have had since The Force Awakens has to do with Snoke. Who is Snoke? Where did he come from? How did he rise to power? This is all given a very simple explanation by director J.J. Abrams in Episode IX. Warning: major Rise of Skywalker spoilers ahead!
At the very beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, we see Kylo Ren on a quest to seek out the resurrected Palpatine and kill him, since the Sith represents a major threat to his power and position as Supreme Leader of the First Order. Upon finding Palpatine at a Sith temple, Kylo states that he's going to kill him, explaining that he killed Snoke. He's already killed one powerful Sith, why not another?
At this point, Palpatine explains that he "made" Snoke. That every voice Kylo Ren has ever heard has been through Palpatine. We then hear Snoke's voice and Vader's voice, which help drive this point home. We even see a mysterious vat that has partial bodies in it that look identical to Snoke. Palpatine was being very literal here. Palpatine has been pulling the strings behind-the-scenes for years and, ultimately, did what he needed to do to corrupt Ben Solo in the hopes of crafting a worthy leader for his Final Order, one that can bring back the rule of the Sith across the galaxy. Snoke was just a pawn in those grand plans.
The degree to which this explanation is satisfying will range wildly from fan to fan, but we do at least have some degree of understanding about where Snoke comes from now. One major sticking point for many in The Last Jedi was that Snoke was killed without exploring any of his backstory. He was dead on the floor without learning a shred of how he rose to power, or how he managed to corrupt Ben Solo. At the very least, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker does provide some insight on that front.
The recently published first issue of The Rise of Kylo Ren #1 in the pages of Marvel Comics also features some of Snoke and Ren's early days together, and it seems highly likely that we'll see that explored more as the comic pushes through its run. So maybe we'll learn even more in the weeks to come. Was Snoke a clone of another powerful Force user? How did he befriend and corrupt Kylo in the first place? J.J. Abrams didn't have the time to go over all of this information, but the expanded universe is great for that sort of thing. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now from Disney and Lucasfilm.
There’s one particularly telling and effective moment in The Skywalker Legacy, the feature-lenght documentary that’s included on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker home release that sums up much of the ambivalence and consternation that some had with J.J. Abrams’ return to the Star Wars universe. After showing the intricate construction of a giant, practical snake monster, the doc cuts back to footage of Jabba The Hutt, that old analogue beast that slithered its way into our hearts. The sentiment is clear – we’re making movies like we used to! A celebration of practical effects, the dripping of k-y jelly to give viscosity just like the old costume days, it’s all there. There’s excitement on set, everyone talking about how amazing it looks, how lifelike, how this is how you’re supposed to do movies like this.
Cut to Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett who shatters the myth, letting us know the creature was replaced by a CGI version in post.
Guyett’s resume is mighty. Having made his bones on groundbreaking films like Twister and Casper, he helped Spielberg bring the events of D-Day to screen in Saving Private Ryan, helped bring to life the best looking film in the Harry Potter series, Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban, and even made the theatrical version of Rent feel more than a stage production. Guyett has had many collaborations with Abrams – from the Star Trek Reboots through The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker he was even second unit director on the former, as well as working with George Lucas on Episode III to round off the prequels. He’s in a unique position to speak to these changing landscapes of epic filmmaking.
We spoke at length about the apparent contradictions and indulgences in making a Star Wars film, and he made the case for why nothing was wasted and all contributed to the final presentation. He was erudite and open to the discussion, making for a dream conversation with a man who quite literally has helped shape what amazes us on screen for decades.
The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
We see practical effects being championed as almost a marketing ploy with the “postquels” as a mix of nostalgia and an attempt to delineate from Lucas’ second trilogy. In some ways the love of the practically-realized snake undercuts the extraordinary CGI you and your team accomplished, and raises questions about why the need to fetishize the on-set inclusions when they’re replaced anyway. Could you talk about that ethos, that somehow doing stuff on a computer is a “cheat” while doing an effect practically is not?
I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the best that we can, trying to make the best, most dramatic or emotional movie we can visually. I’m coming from figuring out how do you get the most...