[This article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens]
It was tempting to think that J.J. Abrams and the story group behind Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens would reveal their grand plan for the future of the Star Wars trilogy. But now that the movie has released, fans know that just as many questions have been raised as were answered. Luckily, hints and glimpses of the past and future have been offered for fans to dissect at length.
These questions are likely to be answered eventually, but that won’t stop fans from debating, posing arguments, and even voicing outlandish theories (since that’s part of the fun of following franchises this massive). And with several strange teases in The Force Awakens likely to leave fans wondering what they’ve just seen, or how to make sense of the story points being hinted at, a little explanation – and theorizing – can go a long way.
By now, Star Wars fans have no doubt heard of The Knights of Ren – and apparently, have seen them (briefly) in action – but a closer look at Kylo’s character, the images seen in Rey’s ‘Force Vision,’ and the previous films may make perfect sense of the Knights storyline teased so far – with a truly tragic twist for fans of the original trilogy…
Ben Solo Becomes ‘Kylo Ren’
First, we’ll try to narrow down the aspects of Kylo’s character that directly inform our theory about his previous adventures and his knight followers. Those interested can read more on Kylo Ren’s backstory leading up to Episode VII, and the events that led to his corruption to the Dark Side. But by the time the movie begins, Ben Solo has been set aside with Kylo Ren now in his place, handling the missions of The First Order while dealing with some serious granddaddy issues.
When Anakin Skywalker was finally able to turn on Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, it was his son Luke whom he claimed had saved him, refusing to believe that there was no light left in the once brave Jedi. But the happy ending… ended years later, when Leia’s son Ben began training under his uncle, Luke. Eventually, the pull of the Dark Side in their family line – along with some help from a new Supreme Leader – turned Ben Solo into the masked killer Kylo Ren.
A masked killer who also worships at the altar of his dead grandfather: not Anakin Skywalker, but Darth Vader, the servant of the Dark Side he eventually became.
Rumors and theories have been spun about the Knights of Ren alluded to in The Force Awakens, an order of warriors who are only seen in a flashback sequence. But what viewers know for sure is this: Kylo battles the call to the Light Side by praying to the partially-melted helmet, seeking guidance and further commitment to the Dark Side. Since Han Solo claims that Ben “doesn’t need” the helmet he wears, it’s possibly a symbol of his dedication to Vader (a ceremonial mask to show his devotion).
By extension, the fact that rest of the Knights of Ren seem to wear an all black, masked wardrobe has been taken to have a similar explanation (whether their masks are a sign of allegiance to Vader, or Kylo is a question for another day). What missions have Kylo and the Knights carried out so far? We don’t know for sure, but the image in Rey’s ‘Force-back’ of the group standing in rain, surrounded by slain bodies seems to suggest at least one of their missions will prove relevant to the ongoing story.
But before we get to that, let’s find out exactly what it means for Kylo Ren to have Darth Vader’s helmet in his possession.
Darth Vader’s Helmet
As iconic as the Vader helmet has become, even casual fans of George Lucas’ original trilogy will just as likely remember the pivotal scene in which it was removed for the last time. With Palpatine slain, and life fading from him, Anakin collapsed aboard the second Death Star. His son, Luke, removed the helmet to reveal the horribly scarred man who had been fighting underneath it for the entire trilogy.
His kind eyes and final words are hard to forget, but the scenes that followed are far more relevant to Kylo Ren’s story three decades later. Although it isn’t shown, Luke Skywalker clearly reattached his father’s helmet, and transported his body from the soon-to-be-destroyed battle station down to the surface of Endor’s forest moon. While his fellow heroes rejoiced at the Emperor’s death (and citizens across the galaxy followed suit), Luke set his fathers remains ablaze atop a massive funeral pyre.
With Vader dead, and the Force Ghost of Anakin Skywalker seen at peace, and smiling alongside his former comrades Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, fans assumed that was the end of his story. And for the decades since Return of the Jedi‘s release, it has been. But apparently, nobody stopped to wonder if Vader’s melted helmet could have symbolic power in the future – particularly to his grandson, for whom such an icon could be a source of spiritual strength and affirmation.
The mask worn by Kylo may be nothing but a symbol, since he removes it completely before questioning Rey about the map to Luke Skywalker’s location. Instead of placing it on the nearest surface, he slams it down into a stone tray of what appear to be ashes. Since the above image makes it clear that Vader’s helmet was laid to rest alongside the rest of his body – and is probably more fireproof than his flesh – those ashes may, in fact, be taken from the site of Anakin’s funeral pyre (even if Anakin’s body faded away like Yoda or Obi-Wan’s, there would still be ashes from the burned wood).
That’s a disturbing thought that we won’t investigate until absolutely necessary, but the question still remains: how did Kylo Ren actually come to have the artifact? The helm of one of the most powerful Sith Lords has to be sought after by more than a few people, Imperial defeat or no, but there are few who could claim a more personal stake in it than his own Dark Side-serving grandson.
For the answer – and the impact it may have on established Star Wars characters and locations – we need to examine the actual glimpses of Kylo Ren’s time in the field.
The Knights of Ren
To be clear, the actual nature of the ‘Knights of Ren’ is based entirely on educated guesses and assumptions at this point. Supreme Leader Snoke mentions the group in passing, and the images of masked men glimpsed in Rey’s Force Vision have supplied the rest of the illustration, with most assuming they are warriors either serving Kylo Ren, or fighting beside him in service to an unknown person.
It’s almost guaranteed that the Knights of Ren will be explored and featured in the coming Episodes, hopefully explaining their different weapons and helmets, and if their possible allegiance to Kylo Ren is due to his lineage, or just a mutual reverence to Darth Vader. But almost as soon as the movie was released, die-hard fans made two big assumptions: that the shots of the men in black were, indeed, the Knights of Ren, and that the slain bodies surrounding them are those of Luke Skywalker’s new (former?) Jedi apprentices.
That’s just as likely to be proven true as any other theory, but there are some problems: the film plainly states that Kylo Ren was trained by Luke before betraying him, but it’s never explicitly stated just how many students Luke actually had before Ben Solo turned to the Dark Side, or what ages they happened to be (children, or adults?).
Remember: Palpatine and Vader carried out a near-complete annihilation of the Jedi in Episode III, leaving only Luke, Yoda and Obi-Wan alive – although several remaining Jedi were also shown to have survived in Star Wars: Rebels. It’s true that Luke and Leia aren’t necessarily the last Jedi that will ever be found, but the assumption that Luke would be able to singlehandedly search out, investigate, and recruit not some, but dozens of Jedi children, while technically possible, isn’t actually stated in the film.
Whatever the details or frequency of potential Jedi being born across the galaxy in the years since Return of the Jedi, it’s a large leap to think Luke managed to not just find dozens of promising students, but would risk training each and every single one of them singlehandedly. Misdirection is also a factor worth considering, since fans needed nothing more than a shot of scattered dead and the mention of a “Jedi Temple” to fill in the gaps with Expanded Universe tropes.
The result: the creation of a straightforward, seemingly obvious interpretation of the Knights of Ren scene – and if J.J. Abrams and company were using their heads, it wouldn’t be a hard reaction to predict. But let’s take imagination out of the equation a bit, and look at the most basic, simplest explanation based on what is actually shown: Luke trained Ben Solo, who went rogue, gathered other elite warriors to his side (and cause?), and went… somewhere, to kill… someone.
But what is the ONE mission we know Kylo Ren probably had to carry out? The retrieval of Darth Vader’s helmet. When fans remember how the Empire’s last excursion onto the moon ended (in total defeat), it makes sense why Kylo Ren would need some back-up (in the form of skilled warriors, not large, bulky vehicles).
When those same fans remember which adorable race of aliens managed to defeat the Empire with spears, stones and falling logs – and the relatively small size of the dead (initially seen as children) surrounding the Knights of Ren in Rey’s flashback – the actual tragedy could be something else entirely…
Were the Ewoks Slaughtered?
We hate to state this theory as much as Ewok fans hate to hear it, but the evidence is hard to dismiss. On closer inspection, the images of the Knights of Ren show virtually dozens of dead surrounding them, and few of them appear to be adult-sized beings. Sure, it could be Luke’s young Jedi (and a few older Jedi or innocents caught in the crossfire), but that conclusion is based almost entirely on new assumptions.
On the other hand, we know that Darth Vader’s helmet had to be retrieved at some point, we know that it was laid to rest on Endor’s moon, we know that the Ewoks reside on that moon, and are vicious to outsiders. We also know that the dead didn’t need to be taken down by lightsabers, since only Kylo Ren is shown to be using one – the other Knights of Ren are all carrying blasters, staffs, or other standard weapons that would have an advantage over a primitive race.
The fact that the moon’s dense forests clearly have an active rain cycle, along with the many rocks and melee weapons visible scattered between the bodies – not sporting any discernible clothing – make the more logical conclusion the saddest one. It’s also the simplest: Kylo Ren sought out Vader’s helmet, went to Endor with back-up, and killed anyone who got in their way.
If you ask us, that’s definitely the kind of cruel and unjust slaughter that would disturb the Force enough for Rey to sense it.
The fact that some have claimed to see Kylo Ren holding a second lightsaber is also explained by this theory. Some had concluded that the lightsaber he held was Luke’s, having vanquished his students, and him, before the former Master fled into hiding. The connection to Luke, were that the case, would justify this scene’s inclusion in Rey’s first Force encounter. But if Darth Vader was buried with his own saber, and it too was collected by Kylo Ren, then the significance would be just as strong.
Vader’s saber is never actually shown to be destroyed or lost in the showdown with the Emperor once his hand is cut off, and in the end, it’s not necessarily a massive plot point. That being said, Kylo Ren completing his training and finally using his grandfather’s lightsaber in combat against Luke Skywalker, or his daughter, would be a fantastic thematic pay-off for the previous two trilogies.
But it wouldn’t bring back the Ewoks. And considering how willing J.J. Abrams was to tear out the hearts of fans by killing off a beloved character in Episode VII, the cruel culling of the walking teddy bears seems like an even more painful follow-up.
That’s our theory on the Knights of Ren mission teased in Rey’s vision, but the nature of the group, and their overall role in the coming films is still an unanswered question. We hope skeptics will agree that it’s best to focus on what the evidence of the movies actually suggests at this point, but if you have your own theory or interpretation of the visions, be sure to let us know and discuss them in the comments!
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.