The Last Jedi answers the question of Snoke’s identity and the entire First Order’s banal, uncreative existence by showing rather than telling — if you understand world history.
The first World War, bloody and wanton, made domestic manufacturers of the Industrial Revolution an obscene amount of money after they added weapons manufacturing to their repertoire. Most of the industrialists wealthy enough to manufacture weaponry were in America, with a few major exceptions. Around the same time, eugenics rose in popularity and several of these industrialists, wealthy on the backs of generations of free labor during slavery or from the pseudo-slave labor of union-free America in the prior centuries, found inborn exceptionalism narratives alluring. Those born rich are always drawn to narratives of genetic or destined superiority because it eases the guilt of their feudalist misdeeds.
Germany, punished asymmetrically for a war that by definition took thirty-two to tango, was in an economic recession unheard of before and only eclipsed by Greece in the last decade. Greece too produced a fascist (read: authoritarian-survivalist) movement that infiltrated their government masquerading as a political party. Fascists are apolitical and will take on whatever the current doctrine of fear-based populism and maneuver it around to Fear of an Other and Praise of the True Citizen. Hitler then built a war machine in an economy that couldn’t afford to feed its people, solidifying the Nazi rise to power. How? By accepting funds from American industrialists, corporations, and those who feared the spread of Communism — because Communists had shown a propensity for killing the rich.
Standard Oil, American Railroad, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and Fred Koch built the Nazi war machine and launched another World War. If the Jews, the only liberal ethnicity that rivaled the economic prowess of Protestant Americans, got killed, all the better. With his gold lame bathrobe and his alt-Right neofascist army built from scratch, with his lack of Sith affiliation, Snoke is a Dark Force user only in it helped him amass a fortune warmongering.
He is the independent contractor that built the Death Stars.
A wealthy industrialist weapons dealer who funds and profits from both sides of the war, the biggest fish in the pond of Canto Bight. Strong with the Dark Force, but not Sith. Purer–someone who worships nothing but power. A collector of war memorabilia including Darth Vader’s helmet (and likely Luke’s lightsaber, which was a MacGuffin in the earlier drafts whose DNA is still throughout The Force Awakens).
In lieu of an Empire and a Rebellion from which to profit, Snoke manufactures a new fascist regime. Recruits are likely core planet Humans born far enough after the prior two wars into prosperous peacetime to have the privilege of romanticizing the Empire and whom the new, inclusive community of the New Republic threatens. Their numbers are illusory, however: they kidnap and brainwash children for their armies. Sidious’s clones likewise inflated The Empire’s numbers until recruitment through intimidation, ignorance, and normalization became so easy even Luke himself was ready to join the Stormtroopers in the original film. We likewise know now that early film of the Nazi army featured hundreds of extras in uniform to give the impression of the inescapability and unilateral acceptance necessary to recruit. The Nazis as well as current Far Right extremists likewise use childhood indoctrination to artificially propagate an otherwise self-defeating, logically fallacious movement. Star Wars simplifies in metaphor, as usual.
Snoke’s manufactured fascism is then also designed to cause a similar result. He buys stormtroopers, corrupts a Vader, hires a Tarkin, and builds a Death Star. Snoke, Kylo, and the First Order are neither creative nor interested in originality or expression. His only interest in attacking the Republic is to produce another Rebellion he can charge for weaponry and ammo even as he is the one they fight.
Snoke dies at the hands of Kylo Ren as Kylo’s true Dark Side conversion, as Kylo was always the Dark Side’s true believer and avatar. Like Snoke uses the Dark Side as a tool to serve his own purposes, the Dark Side uses Snoke to resurrect itself in a new age. No longer a child pretending at evil, Kylo destroys both his father figures and literalizes the confidence game Snoke began only to make money. The third in the series will necessarily see Kylo wreak a far more original brand of havoc through the galaxy now he is past the point of redemption.
Rey’s humble, unrelated origins serve multiple purposes. First, it returns The Force to the surrounding, binding energy field of Yoda’s luminous, non-crude beings. The inclusive Force not tied to innate birthright. This not only undoes the damage of Lucas’s midichlorians and the trope of family lineage that birthed a dangerous boomer-millennial “specialness” obsession but also brings us back around to the original Star Wars, before Vader was Father, when he was the embodiment of an unknown evil and Luke was an everyman. Rey is any of us. The reveal of her mundanity returns us to the antifascist, anti-eugenic themes of the first movie. Last, it sets her at full odds with Supreme Leader Snoke. Romanticizing the Rebellion in her heart but without ambition or avarice, Rey is likewise unconnected to the earlier stories in any large way (though her family members lived through the original events in some capacity). The Force chooses her when it awakens as the exact Yin to Snoke’s Yang, a humble, poor, abandoned counterpoint to his wealthy, connected evil. TFA even reflects this in Rey’s casting. Where every other cast member was an established actor, Abrams and company picked Daisy Ridley from a pool of thousands of unknowns. It sends the same message as Anakin’s lightsaber choosing Rey: Star Wars belongs to everyone, no matter the birthplace, bloodline, gender, or class.
The Jedi, likewise, had gone from a benevolent, balanced monastery to an elitist, ascetic, blind-to-their-own-misdeeds, omnipresent force by the prequels. Luke, in trying to resurrect a past he could not have understood, was doing the same thing as Snoke–trying to bask in glory not his own. His ultimate failure and dark, fearful interpretations of his own prophecy (self-fulfilling, like his father before him, with his visions of Padme) are clues to this innocent-seeming wish’s Dark Side nature. We must always be present where we are, not lost in the future or attempting to revive our Vasoline-lensed memories.