[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.