Knights of Ren were first mentioned in The Force Awakens. It sounded cool and mysterious… and so it had remained, for most part, until The Rise of Skywalker. And even there the haze surrounding them had not been lifted.
The story of the Knights of Ren is sadly one of the parts that did not live up to its potential. It was only a minor piece of lore in the sequel trilogy.
A Story Never Told
In The Force Awakens, Supreme Leader Snoke addressed Kylo as “even you, master of the Knights of Ren…” It sounded rather epic. We saw a glimpse of them in Rey’s vision, and they looked epic: all black in their armours in the dark rain. But after this one bit everything went quickly downhill. Knights of Ren had not been addressed throughout the trilogy almost at all. When they appeared in The Rise of Skywalker, it was to once pose on a cliff, looking like a heavy metal band stranded in a desert but with very little to do. Their part in capturing Chewbacca was done off-screen – while that would have been a fight worth seeing! Afterwards, they arrived just for the big finale and were dispatched by their former leader in about fifteen seconds.
The problem is that almost any treatment would have been better than this. The obvious first option that many fans would have preferred would have been simply giving the Knights of Ren more screentime. One or two more scenes to show how scary they were would already make a difference. Show them as “Ringwraiths” searching for Rey and co. at various places. It would not even be necessary to show them actually doing anything, but it would build up their image before the eventual confrontation that, in the current version, came rather out of the blue.
The Knights versus Kylo
Possibly even better would have been a short dialogue before the Knights’ fight against Ben: even a fairly simple, stereotypical comment along the lines of “you have betrayed us, our former master; and you have become weak and pathetic”. Those ideas were used, to a degree, in TROS novelisation, which shows Ben’s inner monologue during the battle. Another good move would have been a throwaway sentence along the lines of “we always knew that you had too much light in you”. That would also emphasise the theme of Ben’s inner struggle that was present in The Force Awakens, but was somehow downplayed in the subsequent films.
Show Them More…
What more could have helped to do the Knights justice? Perhaps showing them as individuals – even along the lines of “this is the one with the scary axe, who is chasing after Rey, while this one with the spear is going after Finn”. The other option – equally acceptable – would be to just show them as an indiscriminate black mass, the “Ringwraith” with no individual will. But in that case, the effort should have been made to make them more scary.
…Or Don’t Show Them At All
Rian Johnson has made it clear that there were reasons why he did not show the Knights in The Last Jedi: namely, that the film was already long as it was. While one could argue that space could have been made by cutting other content – for example removing or at least shortening the infamous casino horse-chase scene – even then there were other good unused scenes waiting in line, such as the longer version of Finn’s confrontation with Phasma.
Johnson also said that there was the possibility of putting the Knights in the place of Snoke’s praetorian guard, whom Kylo and Rey fight off in the end. As reasons against this he said that the Knights’ allegaince to Kylo would have added a complication and also that “it would feel like wasting them because all those guards had to die”. Sadly, that is exactly what in the end happened in TROS anyway. So while J.J. Abrams, unlike Johnson, did introduce the Knights, he failed to do them justice.
Which is perhaps the part that Johnson did right: he recognised that if he could not do the Knights justice, they should not appear at all.
Mysterious Is Better Than Boring
And that could have been the other solution. Perhaps the Knights of Ren were a thing of the past and Kylo was only their last remaining member. The film could have kept them a mysterious order, just a throwaway line (something like when Han Solo mentions in the original trilogy that he did Kessel Run in twelve parsecs: it tells something about his character yet we don’t need to know the specifics). And somewhere down the line, someone could have picked it up and told us more about the Knights of Ren. Or perhaps they were still alive but outside the scope of things, and somebody could make a sequel about post-TRoS Master Rey running around the Galaxy and hunting them down. Now they cannot, because Ben just purposelessly slaughtered them.
The fate of the Knights of Ren is in some way symptomatic to what was done wrong with the entire sequel trilogy, and particularly The Rise of Skywalker. Throwing around ideas that you do not have time to explore in the film’s timeframe is no crime. But one of filmmaker’s – or any storywriter’s – golden rules should be: if you cannot show something for long enough to do it justice, do not show it at all.
Some of the recent comics and other Star Wars media have been lately trying to salvage the story of the Knights of Ren by showing more of their origins and past. And so far they seem to offer content that should satisfy any fans who would like to know more about the mysterious group. Sadly, it still does not change the fact that their actual on-screen appearance was a textbook example of failure – a cautionary tale to all filmmakers.