Warning: major SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are ahead!
Following Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a lot of the discussion and speculation centered on the identity of the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis. One of the most prominent theories was that Snoke was in fact the legendary Darth Plagueis, spoken of with both reverence and scorn by Sheev Palpatine in his iconic ‘Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise’ speech to Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
That theory, along with so many others about Snoke’s identity, was dashed when he was abruptly cut down in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. With Snoke dead, Emperor Palpatine was brought back as the final boss of the Skywalker Saga for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and it was revealed that Snoke was in fact a clone puppet under Darth Sidious’ control the whole time.
The response to both the Emperor’s return and the execution of that return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been quite mixed. I certainly feel that way about the movie, but after processing it and hearing one of the reasons why the Emperor was brought back, I’ve realized another direction this film could have gone instead of using the Emperor that might have avoided many of these problems and criticisms.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker should have made Snoke be Darth Plagueis.
Why Emperor Palpatine Was Brought Back
Before we get into how bringing back Snoke and making him Darth Plagueis would have worked, it’s worth digging into why Palpatine was brought back and the ways in which that did and didn’t work in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Let’s be honest, a lot has been said about why Emperor Palpatine was brought back in the final film of the Sequel Trilogy following his apparent death in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, and there are good points. The macro idea that this is all one nine-episode story and Darth Sidious is the overarching villain throughout makes thematic sense. And it’s cool to think that like so many great villains, even when you think you’ve defeated him, you really haven’t.
However, it has also been said that bringing back Emperor Palpatine in the Sequel Trilogy was always part of the plan. If you believe that, or that there was even a real plan for this trilogy to begin with, I’ve got some nice lakeside property on Alderaan to sell you. If there was a plan, it definitely wasn’t one that was communicated and enforced across the three films.
The real reason I think that Emperor Palpatine was brought back is the reason put forth by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s co-writer Chris Terrio: they wanted to redeem Kylo Ren and that was much trickier to do following Snoke’s death in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. At the end of The Last Jedi, Snoke is dead and Kylo Ren is essentially the main villain in the galaxy.
That’s fine and actually interesting, but if the plan is ultimately to redeem this character, it makes things rather complicated. Hux is the only other real villain in the Sequel Trilogy at that point, and he was essentially a punching bag in The Last Jedi, so it would be hard to take him seriously as a threat after that.
Sure, it’s entirely possible a writer could have come up with a way for Kylo Ren to be both the big bad in The Rise of Skywalker and still end the film with his redemption, but it would have been difficult. That’s what Emperor Palpatine provides, the evil that will bring out the light in Ben Solo and act as a conduit to his redemption. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker used Emperor Palpatine to accomplish this, but the same could have been achieved with Snoke returning as Darth Plagueis.
How Darth Plagueis Could Have Worked
So how would that have worked? Well at the end of The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren is seemingly the big bad in the galaxy, fully turned to the Dark Side with no one to stand in his way. In the beginning of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Emperor Palpatine quickly returns and Supreme Leader Kylo Ren’s rule is immediately in jeopardy. But what if the film started differently?
What if Kylo Ren was again haunted by that voice in his head that guided so much of his turn to the Dark Side throughout his life? Perhaps, like in The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren went on a quest to seek out the truth. Only this time, he finds his master Snoke once again in the land of the living. It would have been a shocking moment, and then, through a bit of expository dialogue, Snoke could have finally revealed his true identity.
The Dark Lord of the Sith could have said something about how Kylo is not the first apprentice to kill him, but like Darth Sidious before him, he too has failed because he has conquered death. Snoke could then reveal that he is Darth Plagueis. And just like that, we discover who Snoke was, understand that he is the big bad of this film and realize that this is a villain that even death cannot defeat, setting up the dire stakes for the Skywalker Saga’s final chapter.
I don’t have specific story beats in mind for this alternate version of Episode IX, but figuring out how to kill an enemy that can’t be killed would have been the quest the heroes would have embarked on. I imagine that Kylo could have struggled with Snoke’s return, feeling defeated and subservient to him before finally finding courage in the end, just as his grandfather did in Return of the Jedi.
A lot of the success of Snoke’s return and the Darth Plagueis reveal, as is the case with any story point, would have depended on the implementation and execution. But if it was done well, I think that making Snoke be Darth Plagueis in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would have served a variety of functions while avoiding a lot of the perceived problems that arose from the return of Emperor Palpatine.
The Advantages Of Bringing In Plagueis
The first and most obvious advantage of bringing back Snoke in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and making him Darth Plagueis, is that it would have addressed the issue that seemingly forced Palpatine’s return: Kylo Ren’s redemption. The inclusion of Snoke/Darth Plagueis in The Rise of Skywalker would have facilitated Ben Solo’s redemption, but it would have done so much more than that.
One of the overarching criticisms of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been the lack of explanation for Emperor Palpatine’s return and how he survived his death in Return of the Jedi. Revealing that Snoke is Plagueis and bringing him back to life would have come with a built-in explanation thanks to our prior knowledge of the character from Revenge of the Sith. Darth Plagueis had the ability to prevent the ones he loved from dying, and presumably this mastery over death is what allowed him to return.
Sure, we may not have known the exact mechanism of this power. That’s something the film could explore, but his return wouldn’t have been so abrupt and wouldn’t have felt quite as much like a 'break glass in case of emergency' situation as Palpy's did.
That’s because Snoke had already been established in the Sequel Trilogy, and in what little we saw of him, he was a scary, menacing and incredibly powerful villain. Our lack of information about the character would have allowed Darth Plagueis to be an acceptable answer to the mystery of Snoke that wouldn’t require jumping through a ton of narrative and logical hoops.
If he were Darth Plagueis as so many fans theorized, his return would make total sense. And while this is just conjecture, I think that Snoke’s return would have required a bit less exposition and legwork on the part of the film, which in turn would have allowed it more room to breathe to tell its story. This is in contrast to the breakneck pace we got as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker raced to tell multiple movies worth of story in a two-hour 22-minute runtime.
Another criticism of Palpatine’s return is that it amounted to little more than fan service. While I generally reject that particular complaint because it’s often used to describe adhering to the established narrative and tenets of a story, I understand why some people felt that bringing ol’ Sheev back was just cheap fan service.
You could say that Darth Plagueis would have also been fan service that appealed specifically to Prequel fans, but I don’t think it’s the same thing. For one thing, Snoke was new to the Sequel Trilogy and not a recycled character from the previous films.
Bringing the character back to life and making him Darth Plagueis could have been the type of fan service that gives audiences something new they haven’t seen before, while still being a geek-out moment for Star Wars die-hards. It would have also tied the Sequels to the Prequels and brought the entire Saga together while maintaining and honoring Anakin Skywalker’s sacrifice in Return of the Jedi.
It’s Not A Perfect Solution
There are admittedly some drawbacks and questions that would come with bringing Snoke back in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and making him Darth Plagueis. It could be seen as a middle finger to Rian Johnson’s choices in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but you can make the argument that the latter two chapters of the Sequel Trilogy are already both middle fingers to the films that preceded them. That’s what happens with a lack of a plan and clashing creative visions.
I think there may have also been a problem with Darth Plagueis being a bit too inside baseball for general audiences, who may not have remembered a single conversation from a film that came out 14 years ago. Then there’s the question of whether or not you reveal Plagueis in the trailers the way The Rise of Skywalker did with Palpatine. I think maybe you could have shown Snoke’s return in the marketing, but not his identity. That would have been saved for the film itself.
This is just an idea I’m throwing out there, and I admit that Darth Plagueis doesn’t solve for every problem that people had with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. But I think it’s an interesting way the film could have gone that might have resulted in a slightly less divided response from fans and critics, while still being a creatively satisfying story and a fitting end to the Skywalker Saga.
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