STAR WARS: Empire’s End Makes Room For Snoke
This week, the concluding novel to author Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy was published. It’s called Empire’s End and concludes the story of what happened to the Empire and the New Republic between the Battle of Endor when the second Death Star was blown up to the Battle of Jakku, where the last of the old Empire lost a large space battle. These novels and Star Wars: Bloodline are the best sources of how the galaxy of Return of the Jedi became the galaxy of The Force Awakens, and Empire’s End even suggests that the answer to “who is Supreme Leader Snoke?” doesn’t lie in the galaxy we’re familiar with.
The biggest reveal of Aftermath: Empire’s End is the so-called “contingency” of Emperor Palpatine, the thing that motivates the villain Gallus Rax to draw the remainder of the Empire back to Jakku. At the end of the first Aftermath book, we were introduced to a mysterious antagonist who had been partially in control of the busted up Imperial meetings on the planet of Akiva. Back when that first happened, there were many thoughts as to who that character could be. He was described vaguely enough that – knowing that the Aftermath Trilogy would vaguely over-write the time period of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy – it at first looked like Thrawn would be re-introduced to canon in the post Return of the Jedi timeline. Not the case, although Gallus Rax still has some Thrawn similarities.
In the second book, Aftermath: Life Debt, we got a bit more information about Rax as Grand Admiral Sloane fell out of favor with her Empire. Rax hadn’t assaulted the New Republic like the Empire would: with a full-scale assault. Instead, Rax used brainwashed Rebel captives to carry out a terrorist attack on the New Republic government. Rax’s idea of a new Empire seemed meaner and leaner than what Slone was trying to mold it into. At the end of the book, with Rax taking the remaining ships of the Empire to his home planet of Jakku, Sloane learns that Rax was an old acquaintance of Palpatine.
Last chance if you want to ditch out and keep the ending of Empire’s End to the pages of the book – spoilers ho!
Empire’s End reveals that Rax’s orders from the Emperor are basically to destroy the Empire and flee the galaxy to start a-new. The first Aftermath hinted that Palpatine was interested in a dark Force power outside known space and Empire’s End expands on that, claiming that Palpatine spent decades using probe droids to map “uncharted space” – stuff beyond the Outer Rim worlds and nowhere planets like Jakku. By the time the Emperor is dead, the Star Map through the gravity wells and unexplained phenomena that form the borders between galaxies has been completed. Rax sets the Empire up for one last stand above Jakku: one they statistically shouldn’t win – then plans to escape with Brendol Hux (General Hux’s father) and a bunch of assassin children that the younger Hux is put in charge of. Rax and the Emperor planned to split Jakku in half from the core, sucking in the last of the Empire and a large chunk of the New Republic offensive force.
Luckily, the heroes of the Aftermath Trilogy – Norra Wexley and Rae Sloane – manage to stop Rax from blowing up Jakku – which obviously they do because it’s in The Force Awakens. The final confrontation takes place in an “Observatory” that Palpatine built on Jakku. Apparently Palpatine built several of these installations throughout the galaxy. Each one of them was part laboratory, part safe storage for Sith artifacts. There’s a Sith holocron that’s mentioned as being in the Jakku location (before the holocron gets destroyed). Palpatine would use these artifacts to help his obsession with searching the outer reaches for the dark power he felt (a power – they mention in the book – that even Darth Vader didn’t feel).
The Emperor was convinced that the origin of the Force was in the Unknown Regions, and wanted only “trusted” members of his Empire to go forth and start anew out there. The problem with the Emperor’s plan is that Gallus Rex and his Dark Side zealot Tashu don’t actually make it out. Sloane does, with the Hux family. Together they meet a Super Star Destroyer that had been snuck OUT OF THE GALAXY and is meant to serve as the first base of the “new Empire.” Sloane and the Hux’s actually go outside of Star Wars Universe mapped space…and the book ends.
…yeah. Snoke’s gotta be out there right? We know that when the Empire returns after the Battle of Jakku, it is as The First Order. We don’t know how much The First Order has been stomping around the original Star Wars galaxy by the time The Force Awakens starts, but at some point they picked up Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and he got in contact with the Knights of Ren to search for Luke Skywalker, and that’s all Force-y. Sloane and the Hux’s – the highest ranking Imperials that we know make it to the Unknown Regions after the Battle of Jakku – are not Force wielders. Presumably Snoke comes upon this Imperial remnant outside the galaxy and reinvigorates it with Dark Side philosophy.
The Trilogy of Star Wars: Aftermath novels, in retrospect, seems to be setting up the new world of Star Wars that our Expanded Universe is going to live in. Like, Star Wars: Rebels is going to end after next season and next year’s Han Solo spin-off movie is the last of the announced Star Wars projects to take place in the pre-A New Hope continuity. Right now, that’s the gap in Star Wars history being revealed at the quickest rate, while the Marvel comics are filling in events between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. At some point, though, those plotting gaps are going to close and we’ll have to find new Star Wars stories to tell.
The Aftermath Trilogy, like The Force Awakens, establishes another period. The whole Battle of Endor to Rey-gets-off-Jakku period. We will probably get answers to what happened in that period from The Last Jedi (because I don’t think we’re going to allow Snoke’s origin story to be shunted to Expanded Universe material), and hopefully someone explains the Knights of Ren in the theaters, but there’s also a decade or two of in-universe time when Ben Solo is growing up with both parents, Chewbacca is on Kashyyyk with Lumpawaroo (yeah, he’s in Empire’s End) and the dark side is still around the galaxy as the “Acolytes of the Beyond” who have been spray painting “Vader Lives!” all over. There’s also two warring crime factions – The Black Sun and the Red Key – neither of which are gangs we see in The Force Awakens. There’s a whole gap in history that’s going to need to be filled in.
On Tatooine, a new Sheriff in town is wearing Boba Fett’s armor after it was scavenged out of the dying belly of the sarlacc. This guy named Cobb Vanth has teamed up with Malakili the Rancor keeper from Jabba’s Palace to try and raise a baby Hutt slug to run a new, free Tatooine. We only get bits of this plot in Empire’s End after having it hinted at in the first Aftermath. That means that whomever has the Boba Fett Mandalorian armor after the Battle of Endor is Cobb Vanth, Tattooine sheriff. Almost makes you wonder if that is what Josh Trank’s Boba Fett movie was.
Point being, like there was a column a few weeks ago about how Disney is making the Imperial Age of Star Wars continuity great again, they are also setting up two stages for future Star Wars stories that don’t have to focus on the Skywalker family and their trials. For one, there’s the galaxy trying to pull together under the New Republic that has already been detailed in the novel Star Wars: Bloodline. That galaxy has government fighting back against lawlessness, it would be a weird narrative to focus more Star Wars on, but the Phantom Menace is about a trade dispute, so who’s to say? The second stage is the empire beyond the known Star Wars galaxy encountering whatever it finds that transforms it into The First Order. That’s a side of Star Wars storytelling that – in theory – doesn’t have to be bound to being recognizable “Star Wars.” Ralph Mcquarrie didn’t design the Unknown Regions, so it’s rife for new things. Like Snoke, who doesn’t have to be a scarred character we’ve seen before, but now is in all likelihood a being from another galaxy entirely. One that is more pure when it comes to the Force.
I’m hoping The Last Jedi spends some time establishing how The First Order came about and how/if the Acolytes of the Beyond become The Knights of Ren. I’m almost positive we’ll get a more accurate description about what happened to Luke and his Jedi school and some more context for how Snoke finally got his hands on Kylo Ren. But the groundwork has been laid for, you know, a Young Ben Solo movie where he’s tempted by the Acolytes of the Beyond. Not that they’re doing that, but they could, the narrative skeleton is in place.
Let us know what you think about Snoke?