Sometimes the films do not sufficiently address a character’s backstory. Often we can do without it. Sometimes, less is more. But sometimes there are just too many questions.
Kylo Ren’s fall – or rise? – is one of the cases that beg for answers. How did it exactly happen? How did Ben join the Knights of Ren?
Fellow Padawans and Knights of Ren
Disney decided to answer these in a four-volume comic series that got published in 2020. There is everything – the burning of the temple, meeting with the Knights of Ren, tutelage from Snoke. The Rise of Kylo Ren starts with the burning of the Jedi temple and then continues both forwards and with flashbacks to the past.
Much of the story deals with Ben and his fellow Jedi Padawans who want to stop him. The same Padawans appear in flashbacks, and the same goes for the Knights of Ren. We encounter the character of Ren himself, the founder of the Knights, whose mantle Kylo eventually takes.
Much of the comic deals with Kylo Ren’s search for his own path, something he feels had been taken from him because of his legacy. The Knights show him the unfettered freedom. Something the comic does wonderfully is portraying this inner struggle, something that makes Ben/Kylo believable.
Equally believable is the portrayal of how Ben is struggling against the dark path all the way. He would like to embrace the Shadow, as the Knights call it, but he simply cannot. Throughout most of the story he pretends to Ren and to himself that he is more “bad” than he actually is.
Eventually, of course, he falls – he embraces the Dark Side, by which he, ironically, does not free himself, but fulfils the destiny planned for him by Palpatine. In this respect, the comic almost does a better job of characterising Kylo Ren than the films.
Salvaging The Story
That is not to say the story is without flaws. And it by no means answers everything. And as for whether Kylo Ren’s actual fall is truly portrayed in a satisfactory manner, I shall leave this to everyone to answer for themselves.
Nonetheless, The Rise of Kylo Ren is an entertaining read and I can certainly recommend it. Its chief value lies in the fact that it attempts to answer an important question that the films left unaddressed. Like for example in the case of Qi’ra, it almost feels like a waste to confine this story into comics.
If Disney had been where it is now five or six years ago, we could have had a stand-alone Kylo Ren film or mini-series. Had it been released around the time of The Last Jedi, I am sure that it would have brought more than enough audience for it to be worth making. However releasing Kylo Ren’s backstory only after The Rise of Skywalker makes it feel like it was just an afterthought. Like the writers came up with one of the main protagonists’ backstories only then, instead of having it planned beforehand (at least to a degree), like every good writer should.
The Rise of Kylo Ren is something of a patch for those still bitter about the gaps in the sequel trilogy. Not a perfect patch, but something that attempts to show Kylo Ren as a believable, complex character – and it succeeds. A feat by no means straightforward.