The 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is currently one filled with holes that are currently being filled by the various Star Wars novels. Some of them include what exactly happened at the Battle of Jakku, the creation of the First Order and the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke.
Chuck Wendig's Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt hit store shelves earlier this week, and while it doesn't provide any definitive answers to those questions just yet, it already has fans wildly speculating on the future of the franchise, specifically, the real identity of the franchise's new chief villain.
Spoilers for Star Wars Aftermath: Life Debt ahead!
At the center of it all is an Imperial leader by the name of Gallius Rax. He's an important figure in Wendig's Aftermath books, as he's one of the remaining Imperial leaders who make up the Shadow Council, a group of like-minded Imperials with plans to restore the Empire to its former glory.
Some fans believe Rax may secretly be a younger Supreme Leader Snoke. There's not exactly any hard evidence linking the two characters together thus far, but there are a number of revelations in Life Debt that point toward there being far more to Rax than meets the eye.
The most substantial revelation comes as part of the novel's epilogue. It's revealed that Rax was born on Jakku and lived there for years, until one day, he attempted to smuggle himself off-world aboard a Republic ship. As it turns out, the ship was none other than Chancellor Palpatine's Imperialis (the same ship Lando Calrissian eventually steals in the Marvel Comic mini-series Lando), and soon, Palpatine and a young Rax are face-to-face. Palpatine senses a "destiny" in Rax and offers him a choice: die or join Palpatine's grand scheme. Rax decides to join Palpatine's cause, and it's then that Rax receives a lifelong mission of protecting a certain excavation site on Jakku from the one-day Emperor.
"It is significant," Palpatine tells Rax in the book. "It was significant a thousand years ago and it will be significant again. You will go back there and you will monitor my droids excavating the ground. Then I will send more droids and they will build something there below the ground. I want you to guard this space."
Rax doesn't appear again until years later after Palpatine has created the Empire, when he bursts onto the scene as a commander, an unusual rank for a person with seemingly no prior Imperial military record. His quick rise through the ranks can likely be attributed to Palpatine, though for what purpose is unclear.
Just because Rax and Palpatine had a relationship doesn't necessarily mean Rax is secretly the leader of the First Order, but when compiled with other information from the book, it seems like it could be a definite possibly.
It's revealed in the novel that Rax took on the codename "Operator" in order to feed the New Republic information about Imperial Remnant activities, just for the sole purpose of weeding out the weaker links in the Empire. Rax's goal is to build a new, stronger Empire, something that he shares in common with a certain Commander Brendol Hux. If that name sounds slightly familiar, it's because Brendol Hux is the father of General Hux from The Force Awakens.
A mysterious character, shown to possibly be force-sensitive, who is also a master manipulator and who secretly worked with Palpatine himself, as well as General Hux's father? There could be something there. There's also the fact that Rax's race and appearance are intentionally left vague, possibly in order to prevent fans from linking Rax with Snoke based on the character's appearance in The Force Awakens.
It's been stated numerous times by those involved in The Force Awakens that Snoke is a new character, which seemed to shut down the popular theory that Snoke may in fact be Palpatine's former master Darth Plagueis. That, however, leaves the door wide open for Rax, as Snoke is also said to be a character that saw the Galactic Empire both rise and fall. As Rax was born before the Republic turned into the Empire, he fits the bill nicely.
Of course, there are plenty of unanswered questions. What exactly needed guarding (and building) on Jakku? Was the reason behind the Battle of Jakku related to Palpatine's secret? What happened to Rax in the years following the Battle of Jakku? It also puts the events of The Force Awakens into question. Jakku seems to be far more important than it appeared at first glance, which makes the fact that Rey calls the planet home all the more interesting.
Those are all mysteries that might be answered in the final book of the Aftermath trilogy, titled Empire's End, on store shelves in January 2017. Until then, fans will continue to widly speculate on the future of the franchise, and the true identity of Supreme Leader Snoke.