WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for director Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in theaters now.
Supreme Leader Snoke has been shrouded in mystery since his introduction in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, spurring fans to scour canon for the slimmest of clues to his identity.
However, as it turns out, the character's elusive backstory apparently isn't that important in the grand scheme of the saga, because Snoke is slain by his apprentice Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with no more light shed upon his origins. It’s never explained how Snoke became leader of the First Order, the successor to the Galactic Empire, where he came from or how he became so adept in the Dark Side of the Force. In short, we still have no idea who Snoke actually is. Or, rather, was.
There have been numerous fan theories about Snoke’s true identity -- that he’s Darth Plagueis, or the first Jedi, or one of the Four Sages of Dwartii, or even the late Grand Moff Tarkin. And while he very well may have had another identity earlier in his life, all we can really say at this point is that Kylo Ren’s now-former master is seemingly dead and gone, which raises the question: What was the purpose of Supreme Leader Snoke in the sequel trilogy? He's, effectively, a MacGuffin.
Coined by famed director Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is a plot device in a film that raises a seemingly crucial question in the minds of the audience and helps drive the narrative. Usually, it’s an object or item, such as the map to Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, but in the case of Supreme Leader Snoke, he served to explain the downfall of Ben Solo, position Kylo Ren as the actual primary antagonist of the trilogy, and provide the Resistance with a Palpatine-esque bogeyman.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren was portrayed as a petulant man-child fueled by a toxic mix of angst, self-doubt and unfocused raged. In The Last Jedi, he still displays some of those qualities, and yet, by the time he slices his master in half in his own thrown room, it actually feels as if the moment is earned. If using Snoke as a MacGuffin ultimately propels Kylo into the upper echelon of Star Wars villains, then more power to Lucasfilm and Rian Johnson for thinking outside the box, and for being cognizant of the franchise’s inherent antagonist problem.