What does Snoke want?
Is it just a coincidence that the ship belonging to the brother in law of the galaxy’s last Jedi and a highly Force sensitive little girl just happened to end up on the same backwater world with the same guy?
Why did Ben Solo fall?
Why did Luke go looking for the First Jedi Temple?
At the end of Return of the Jedi, Anakin brought balance to the Force when he returned to the light and killed the Emperor, thus bringing an end to the Sith who were causing the imbalance in the Force in the first place. But 30 years later at the start of The Force Awakens, Lor San Tekka says “without the Jedi there can be no balance in the Force.” So something happened that caused the Force to become unbalanced again. What could have done that? Well as of the beginning of The Force Awakens, we once again have Dark Side users running amok in the galaxy. If the Sith caused the unbalance the first time it stands to reason that these new Dark Side users are causing the unbalance now.
This poses a problem, though, as Snoke is a Dark Side user and (as per the Force Awaken’s novelization) is old enough to have seen the rise and fall of the Empire. So how was Anakin able to bring balance to the Force at all if there was still a Dark Side user out there? My original thought was that Snoke was being kept in some sort of stasis and was awoken sometime between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. But the Aftermath books, although they don’t give anything definitive, seem to contradict this. Leia is having weird dreams and sensing that unborn Ben Solo is troubled, Maz senses that something isn’t quite right, and the Acolytes of the Beyond had dark dreams shortly after the Battle of Endor. Snoke is the only living Dark Side user that we know about during this time period, so assuming these effects were all caused by him isn’t unreasonable. If Snoke is awake and has been awake and is capable of using the Force to cause these things then how was the balance of the Force possible? Snoke might simply have not done anything to unbalance the Force yet, but Dark Side users have never been known for their restraint, so I find it hard to believe he would willingly limit himself by not using the Dark Side if he could.
The answer, I think, is that Snoke is supposed to be less of a repeat of Palpatine and more akin to Sauron, or Voldemort as he appears in the first Harry Potter book. Palpatine was a master at the peak of his power, Sauron and Voldemort both had something happen to them that diminished their power greatly. I think something happened to Snoke long long ago that limited his use of the Force to all but the most passive abilities, such as telepathy, sensing things through the Force, foresight, and very limited telekinesis. His abilities aren’t enough to throw off the balance of the Force. The “everything you need to know” magazine has confirmed telepathy and some telekinesis. My other evidence for the powers that I think Snoke does have are Kylo’s line about Snoke sensing him being called to the light, Rey hearing a voice say “kill him” in the novellization the audio version of which uses Snoke’s voice for this line, and Snoke’s line “If Skywalker returns the new Jedi will rise,” respectively. (Though he might not have foresight and that last bit could just be the paranoia talking.) I think his greatest strength even in his weakened state is, as Kylo says, “the Supreme Leader is wise.” He’s cunning and crafty and every bit as good as Palpatine at manipulating people, so he’s still a very dangerous adversary to have.
I think, like Sauron and Voldemort, Snoke’s dearest ambition is to be returned to his full power. To do this I think he needs the help of a very powerful Force user. This potentially explains Han’s line where he tells Ben “Snoke is just using you for your power. When he’s through, he’ll crush you.” Snoke’s physical appearance could be suggestive of his condition as well. He’s tall and imposing, but also heavily scarred and deformed. He’s less than he once was and it shows. It could also be why he chooses to have himself projected as a giant hologram that towers over his subjects. Wizard of Oz anyone?
Snoke is at least old enough to have seen the rise and fall of the Empire. What is intriguing is that we also know from the Aftermath books that, prior to the start of the Clone Wars, Palpatine began to hear a “signal” from some great Dark Side power out in the Unknown Regions. The recent “everything you need to know” magazine has revealed that one of Snoke’s powers is telepathy. His telepathic range is unknown, but it is conceivable that he reached out across the galaxy and called out to Palpatine. He offered Palpatine a carrot he can’t resist by telling Palpatine he knows of a way to exponentially increase his power. Possibly they struck a bargain that involved Snoke telling Palpatine anything he wanted to know if Palpatine will help him in return. The Aftermath books also describe how shortly after hearing this “signal” Palpatine began construction on multiple “Observatories”, one of which was on Jakku and was designed to plot a course into the Unknown Regions. Unfortunately for Snoke, Palpatine is killed before he can make his journey out into the Unknown Regions.
Fortunately for Snoke, Palpatine also sensed in him, not an equal (Palpatine would be too proud to think of anyone in those terms) but perhaps a kindred spirit. In the Aftermath books, Palpatine talks about the Empire being a Demesne board and the pieces like the members of the Imperial government and military. He tells Gallius Rax that once the Imperator is taken the board must be destroyed because the Demesne has failed its Emperor. To Palpatine’s way of thinking, if he dies it’s because the Empire and all those that serve under him have failed him and thus don’t deserve to remain. Palpatine wouldn’t choose his successor from among his subjects because in his mind no subject that failed him would be worthy to take his place. Even Gallius Rax, the Outcast, whose job was to destroy the board is still a piece of the failed Demesne and therefore unworthy to be the new Imperator. But Snoke, a wise Dark Side user trapped in the Unknown Regions would be a perfect candidate for a successor, so Palpatine includes him as part of the Contingency and lays plans to send the remnant of the Empire straight to him.
After Endor, Snoke is left once again looking for a powerful Force user to help him. At some point he becomes aware of Luke and Leia. He might have probed at Luke first, which would have made Luke aware of his existence or at least made Luke aware that something was very wrong. Luke, of course, would have immediately set out to try to thwart this new threat. This could explain Luke’s disappearance so soon after the end of Return of the Jedi and give added motivation for his quest for Jedi lore. Next Snoke might have probed at Leia, which would explain her dark dreams in the Aftermath books. It could also explain why Leia seems to have such a different attitude towards her Force abilities in Bloodline as compared to in the Aftermath books. She could have stopped reaching out to the Force in an attempt to block Snoke out of her mind. But it’s too little too late. Snoke already knew about Ben.
The Observatory Palpatine built on Jakku had another purpose than just charting the route into the Unknown Regions. It also is the entrance to a deep shaft bored all the way down to the core of the planet, to the planet’s very essence. In the final Aftermath book, Galius Rax corrupts the essence of Jakku which nearly leads to the collapse of the planet. I don’t think that the purpose of the shaft and the corrupted essence was to collapse the planet in an effort to pare down the Imperial Forces as part of the Contingency. The Observatory had a built in means to shut down the catastrophic reaction and preserve the planet. Also on Jakku, the Empire built a Research Facility. The Research Facility was the last hold out to be evacuated by the Empire at the end of the Battle of Jakku. I think that the Research Facility was also part of the Contingency and was paired with the shaft at the Observatory. I think that the research being conducted at the facility involved determining if Force Sensitives could tap into the power of the corrupted essence which could potentially be used to restore Snoke to full power. The Research facility was the last place the Empire evacuated during the battle of Jakku. They could have held out there as long as they did in order to have time to complete the experiments at the Research Facility.
We know that while the galaxy was mostly at peace between the final defeat of the Empire at the Battle of Jakku and the rise of the First Order shortly before the events of The Force Awakens several bad things happened: The Falcon was stolen, Rey was abandoned on Jakku, and Ben Solo did something that made his parents think “there was too much Vader in him” so they sent him to train with Luke which led directly to Ben’s fall and the destruction of Luke’s fledgling Jedi Order. I propose that these events are all intertwined.
Rey’s survival guide confirms that the Falcon had been on Jakku for as long as she could remember. So the ship was stolen long before Ben Solo fell and Han returned to a life of smuggling. There is a deleted scene from The Force Awakens that shows Kylo in the Falcon cockpit doing a similar pose to what Han did when he first walked into the cockpit. They are both likely doing the same pose for similar reasons. They are experiencing strong memories of being there before, positive memories for Han, mixed for Kylo. This means that the Falcon was likely stolen when Ben was old enough to have significant memories of being there before. So it was likely stolen when he was an older child at the earliest. This puts the window of time for the Falcon to be stolen around the same time that Rey was abandoned on Jakku.
I think Rey is Luke’s daughter and she was separated from Luke when the Falcon was stolen.
All we know about the Falcon being stolen is that Han thinks it was stolen by someone named Ducain and Rey says that Unkar Plutt stole it from the Irving Boys who stole it from Ducain. We also know from the incredible cross sections book that Ducain and the Irving Boys as well as Unkar Plutt made modifications to the Falcon.
It’s interesting that just a few lines after Rey explains the Falcon’s history of ownership is this exchange:
Rey: “This is the ship that made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs!”
Han: “12! 14…”
Yeah, this line got a laugh, but it could also potentially have a more important purpose. It shows us that Rey’s knowledge of the Falcon’s history isn’t perfectly accurate (even if she sounds sure of herself when she says it). If Rey’s second statement regarding the Falcon’s history isn’t quite right then it calls into question the accuracy of her first statement as well. Rey likely heard where Unkar Plutt got the Falcon from Unkar himself. He has no reason to be honest with her and possibly even has a vested interest in lying to her which calls the details of the story into question.
We know that Snoke, above all else, does not want Luke training new Jedi as they would pose a major threat to him and doubly so if one of those Jedi happened to be Luke’s child.
After Return of the Jedi Luke went on and extensive search for Jedi Temples and Lore. (Bloodline mentions this and the Shattered Empire comics show him going after a pair of Force sensitive trees taken from the Jedi Temple.) I think that during this time Luke either found part of the Chosen One prophecy during his research or had a conversation about it with the Force ghost of Anakin. This would have led Luke to the conclusion that while Anakin was destined to bring Balance to the Force, Anakin’s descendants would be the ones that would need to keep it in Balance. Luke would also have come to realize that the descendants of Anakin also had the potential, like Anakin himself, to throw the Force totally out of balance if they fell to the Dark Side. I believe that during this time Luke also got married and he and his wife had a little girl: Rey. In Rey, Luke would have seen all of the hopes of a galaxy made right and a new caretaker of the Force itself.
Han and Leia were also happily married, but Han still felt a desire for adventure and a bit of a wanderlust from time to time, so when Rey was about 5 he decided to take Ben and go visit Luke and his family. (We know from Bloodline that Leia was still in sporadic contact with Luke up until 6 years before The Force Awakens. It’s not a stretch to assume Han likely was as well.) While Han and Ben were staying with Luke and his family Rey came to absolutely adore Ben. Ben also quickly came to absolutely adore his little cousin because she loved him and looked up to him when he was so used to feeling neglected by his too busy mother and his father who leaves far too often.
I think Ducain was a criminal gang leader and the Irving Boys were working for/with him. We know from Bloodline that the First Order had a rather cozy relationship with various criminal organizations throughout the galaxy, so it’s not a stretch that Snoke would hire a gang of criminals to do his dirty work. Ducain and his gang then staged a raid on the planet where Luke was investigating ancient Jedi lore and a fight broke out. Luke put Rey somewhere where he thought she would be safe and tells her “I’ll come back, Sweetheart. I promise.” Little does Luke know that the attack was a ruse, the intended target was his daughter. The place Luke leaves Rey was likely inside a stone building of some kind, possibly an old Jedi Temple where he was doing his research. Han and Luke’s wife go with Luke to help fight off the attackers. Luke and Han become embroiled in the fight and at some point Han learned that the boss is called Ducain, which is why he asks if Ducain was the one that had the Falcon. When Luke was sufficiently distracted the attackers pivoted back toward the temple. Luke’s wife ran back home toward her daughter. Under attack the ancient structure began to collapse. Rey was knocked to the ground and potentially suffered a head wound. (There is possible support for this in Rey’s Forceback in the Force Awakens. When the vision shifts from the hallway in Cloud City to Luke and R2 the hallway twists, Rey falls to the ground, rock collapses around her, and there is a loud slam. The vision sequence was carefully crafted to tease but not to answer, nothing was added on accident. The collapsing stone is likely more than just a transition.) The criminals staging the attack find a (potentially unconscious) Rey and drag her out.
Ducain and/or someone from his gang (possibly the Irving boys) see the Falcon and decided to take their chance, slipped aboard the Falcon with Rey and got it fired up. Just as the Falcon takes off, Luke’s wife runs into the damaged Temple looking for her daughter and the building fully collapses on top of her. Luke felt his wife die and then couldn’t feel her presence or Rey’s.
In the scene in the Forceback with Luke kneeling next to R2 and the scenes from the Last Jedi trailers where Luke is buried in rubble and watching the temple burn Luke’s face is never shown. Instead he is identified by his mechanical hand.
Luke is supposed to be about 53 as of The Force Awakens. Ben fell to the Dark Side when Luke was about 47. When Rey was left on Jakku Luke would have been about 39. Making Mark Hamill look 47 would be a simple matter of dying some of the gray out of his beard and maybe using makeup and/or CGI to smooth out a few wrinkles. Making him look 39 would be much more difficult. An easy way around that if they wanted to show Luke the night he lost his daughter would be to have him keep his hood up and identify him with his hand rather than show his face. It’s possible that the trailers are being misleading and the burning temple and Luke being trapped under rubble are from the night Luke lost Rey, not the night Ben wiped out Luke’s students. This would mean that Luke ran into the temple after his wife and only barely avoided her fate.
The collapse (and possibly also the fire) would have rendered Luke’s wife’s remains unidentifiable. Sensing bad things happening through the Force hasn’t been shown to be precise, but rather as a general sense that something awful has happened, a disturbance in the Force. It’s plausible that Luke would simply sense “death” when his wife died and assume that Rey had been killed along with her mother if he could no longer sense either of them and had good reason to believe that Rey had been in the building when her mother was killed. (It’s also possible that he was knocked out and didn’t sense his wife die at all.) The building collapse and lack of identifiable remains would have excused in Luke’s mind the absence of his daughter’s body.
The pilot of the stolen Falcon made their way to Jakku. Possibly because the Falcon was having mechanical problems (because, hey, it’s the Falcon) and they had to land to make repairs or possibly it was damaged during the theft. There are several reasons for Jakku to be their chosen destination. Jakku is the jumping off point to the Unknown Regions so if they were supposed to meet a First Order contact that would have taken Rey to Snoke it would be a logical place to meet. It’s also the galaxy’s biggest junk yard and at the time Rey was taken there it would have been much less picked over than it was when we saw it in The Force Awakens. If the Falcon needed repairs before heading into the Unknown Regions, Jakku would be a good place to stop for parts. Jakku is also home to the Imperial Research facility. It’s possible that Rey was being taken there to be the subject of some nefarious experiment. We know that Ducain and the Irving boys made modifications to the Falcon. We also know from The Phantom Menace that major repairs (such as replacing the entire hyperdrive) can be made to starships in less than a day. So Ducain and the Irving Boys could have made the repairs to the Falcon while keeping Rey confined aboard. While on Jakku, some disagreement could have broken out among Ducain and the Irving Boys that led to the Irving boys staging a mutiny against Ducain, possibly killing him in the process. The ownership of the Falcon then transferred from Ducain to the Irving Boys.
I can’t see Unkar Plutt running aboard a ship and flying off with it, but we’ve seen that he knows how to drive a hard bargain and I could see him conning someone. Also, he does have thugs willing to do his dirty work. So Unkar either cons the Irving Boys or uses his own thugs to force them to give up the Falcon. The Irving boys leave on the next ship off Jakku (possibly a ship belonging to another member of their gang).The ownership of the Falcon has now passed from the Irving Boys to Unkar. Unkar would know the chain of the ownership of the Falcon because he watched it all happen in front of him. The Irving Boys leave Rey behind with Unkar Plutt. Rey watched the ship take off and thought that her family was aboard. She cried for them to come back and Unkar took her by the arm and led her away.
Due to the trauma she suffered (possibly also a head wound, possibly also some experiment at the research facility) Rey loses all of her memories of what happened prior to being left on Jakku except one (Rey’s Survival guide confirmed that Rey does not remember her parents at all). The junior novelization of the Force Awakens mentions that Rey remembers a voice telling her “I’ll come back, Sweetheart. I promise,” and that the voice came and went and that she felt that that voice never left her alone. Over the years she remained on Jakku because she clung to that voice. She knew from that voice that someone somewhere out in the vast galaxy loved her so she waited for them. What she didn’t realize was that she was waiting for the wrong people in the wrong place.
When the attack happened and Ben believed that Rey had been killed he lashed out in anger and tapped into the Dark Side for the first time. After an initial period of grieving Han was determined to get his ship back. Luke sensed that there was more to the attack than just a random raid by criminals, he sensed that some darker power was behind it. He wants to get to the bottom of that mystery and finding the people that stole the Falcon would be a good first step so he agreed to go with Han. After returning home, Ben did not take his cousin’s “death” well and he blamed Han and Luke and himself for not being able to protect her. On top of that, Han is gone for extended periods of time looking for his long lost ship and Ben feels like his father has abandoned him and feels that Han cares more about the ship than him (Adam Driver has said that Ben felt that his parents were never there for him the way he needed them to be). We know that Snoke has telepathic abilities. This, I think, is how he corrupted Ben. I think he sensed when Ben first tapped into the Dark Side and started communicating with him. He literally became the devil whispering in Ben’s ear. Ben’s outbursts would have become worse and worse. (If the Story Group wanted to add some Ben centric stories here they could have him fall into the wrong crowd which would exacerbate his anger issues.) Leia might not be a Jedi, but Luke has explained enough to her for her to know that this is not a good sign. She wanted to send Ben to Luke in the hopes that Luke could help him. Han has seen that Luke has been in a very poor emotional state since his wife and daughter died. He disagreed with Leia that sending Ben to train with Luke would be a good thing for either for either of them, but in the end Leia prevails. Ben is sent to train with Luke when he is 19 (the same age as Luke when he first decided to be a Jedi and the same age as Anakin when the Clone Wars began). Bloodline mentions that Han and Leia argue with each other constantly when they are together, but doesn’t say about what. In the Force Awakens Leia says that sending Ben to train with Luke was when she lost both Ben and Han. Han and Leia’s disagreement about whether or not to send Ben to Luke was likely the cause of their break up. Leia stayed as a senator and Han went on to become a racing pilot.
Luke, believing that his daughter had perished, saw Ben as the future of the Skywalker family and therefore integral to keeping the Force in Balance. (The Entertainment Weekly article mentioned that Luke saw Ben the way Obi-Wan saw him. Rebels recently mentioned that after Anakin’s fall Obi-Wan came to consider Luke to be the Chosen One.) Luke put all of his hopes and dreams on Ben and poured his life into training Ben to be what Luke believes he needs to be. Luke instilled in Ben the need to “finish what his grandfather started” by preserving the balance of the Force. What Luke doesn’t know is that Snoke was whispering in Ben’s mind and warping his thinking.
In the Force Awakens novelization Kylo says: “It is the task of the First Order to remove the disorder from our own existence, so that civilization may be returned to the stability that promotes progress. A stability that existed under the Empire, was reduced to anarchy by the Rebellion, was inherited in turn by the so-called Republic, and will be restored by us. Future historians will look upon this as the time when a strong hand brought the rule of law back to civilization.” So we know at least one of Kylo’s goals in joining the First Order was to bring order back to a galaxy he saw as lawless. His desire stems directly from the theft of the Falcon. He thinks that in a galaxy where law and order were upheld something like that wouldn’t have happened, and his father wouldn’t have been gone for so long and his aunt and cousin wouldn’t have died. I think prior to his fall Ben thought that the Jedi should be the ones to do this. He would have wanted them to protect others by using their power to impose order. He also likely thought that maintaining balance in the Force meant maintaining order in the Galaxy.
Luke, of course, would have disagreed strongly with this because he knows where that line of thinking leads, but he couldn’t argue back as strongly as he otherwise would have because he loves Ben deeply and also because he carried a heavy weight of sorrow and guilt for not being able to protect his wife and daughter. He didn’t really see the darkness growing in Ben because he thought that Ben was simply going through the same emotional turmoil he was. All the while Snoke was still whispering to Ben. While training with Luke, Ben learned that Vader was his grandfather and that his parents and his uncle had been willfully keeping that from him his whole life. Ben felt utterly betrayed. Snoke then started whispering to Ben about all that Vader was able to accomplish and that he was able to enforce the order that Ben wants. He also whispered to Ben that it was Vader that had brought Balance to the Force and that if Ben is to “finish what [Vader] started” Ben must learn to embrace the Dark Side as well. This causes Ben to give himself over completely and he falls to the Dark Side, kills Luke’s other students at Snoke’s bidding, and goes off to join the First Order. Ben was 23 when he fell, the same age as Anakin when he fell in Revenge of the Sith and the same age as Luke when he overcame his temptation on the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Snoke now has the perfect tool, but Ben first has to be trained and proven loyal.
One of the things I really like about the idea of Snoke not being the one that threw off the balance of the Force is that it introduces a huge poetic irony. If Snoke didn’t throw off the balance of the Force then that means the Force became unbalanced when Ben fell. Ben Solo, in his misguided attempt to live up to his grandfather, to finish his grandfather’s work, undid his grandfather’s greatest achievement.
In The Force Awakens we see that Kylo has set up a shrine for Vader’s helmet and seems almost to be praying to it, and through it to his grandfather. Kylo is pleading with Vader to show him again the power of the Darkness. This means he believes that Vader has shown him the power of the dark side before. People have speculated that this could have been Snoke manipulating him by giving him visions of Vader. But what if Kylo pleading to the helmet is meant completely literally? It’s possible that when Kylo, as a new apprentice of Snoke, first found Vader’s helmet he saw visions similar to what Rey saw when she first touched the lightsaber. These visions would have shown him Vader at his worst and at his most powerful, a level of power that Kylo aspires to. When he feels the pull to the light he doesn’t go to Snoke asking for guidance, he goes back to the helmet hoping to see Vader at his most fearsome once again, to remind him of the power he can have if he doesn’t stray back to the light.
Luke had always been the type of person who dealt with grief by taking action: He made the decision to become a Jedi after the death of his aunt and uncle, he made the decision to join the rebellion and fly into the Battle of Yavin after the death of Obi-Wan, and he made the decision to join Han’s assault team right after the death of Yoda. It’s likely that the death of his wife and the “death” of his daughter had a similar effect on Luke. His decision to restart the Jedi Order would have, in part, been motivated by the loss of his wife and child. Luke has always been shown to be a compassionate person and a man that cares deeply about his family. Luke would have seen his students as a surrogate family and would have loved Ben like a son. While Ben was with him their relationship would have been tumultuous because they were each trying to fill the hole in the other’s heart and be for the other what they could never be: Father and Son.
Ben’s fall would have brought back all of the pain that Luke had felt at the loss of his wife and daughter and amplified it. On top of that Luke felt completely responsible for what had happened. His sister and his best friend entrusted him with their only son to prevent this very thing from happening and he failed. He had also felt that he had failed his students, who had entrusted him with their lives, by not seeing the darkness in Ben until it was too late. Luke is now an utterly broken man. He believes that the Jedi need to end because he doesn’t trust himself to train another one only to have them fall and wreak more death and destruction on the galaxy.
But even in his broken state, Luke is still a man that responds to grief by taking action. He would have, above all else, wanted to know how he went so so wrong with his nephew. He knows of the existence of the Chosen One prophecy and of its implications for his family. I believe he went to Ahch-To, to the First Jedi Temple, to seek out the prophecy hoping that it might show him how to correct the mistakes that he had made with Ben and bring balance to the Force and peace to the galaxy.