Kylo Ren seems to be reverting to his old self in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - which means J.J. Abrams could be ditching some key aspects of Star Wars: The Last Jedi's portrayal. There's a sense in which Kylo Ren has always been defined by his past. Ben Solo grew up believing his family were all heroes, but his world was shaken when he learned that his grandfather was really Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith. This seems to have been the key to Ben's fall to the dark side, as he developed an unhealthy reverence for Darth Vader.
Rian Johnson decided to take a very different approach with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. There, Kylo Ren's entire arc revolved around his realizing that the past was holding him back. "It's time to let old things die," he told Rey, attempting to persuade her to join him. "Snoke, Skywalker. The Sith, the Jedi, the Rebels... Let it all die." Ironically, in the end Kylo Ren proved unable to take his own advice; he lost his temper when he saw Luke Skywalker, and unwittingly allowed the Resistance to escape.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi divided the fanbase as never before. Lucasfilm hired J.J. Abrams to wrap up the Sequel Trilogy with Star Wars 9, and the writer/director seems to be contemplating a course-correction. It's beginning to look as though Kylo Ren will return to his Star Wars: The Force Awakens portrayal.
Kylo Ren Is Bringing Back The Force Awakens Ideas
It's becoming increasingly clear that J.J. Abrams intends to revisit ideas he first developed in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For Kylo Ren, that means the mask is coming back. It's natural that the Vader fanboy would have wanted to wear a mask of his own, but in Star Wars: The Last Jedi Kylo Ren chose to ditch it. Taunted by Supreme Leader Snoke, he shattered the mask in a fit of rage. Rian Johnson has admitted that destroying Kylo Ren's mask was one of the hardest decisions he made, but that it just felt right for the story he was trying to tell. "It was a little terrifying because, by the time we were making the movie, the first film had come out and every kid was wearing Kylo Ren masks on Halloween..." he recalled. "But the whole premise of this film is that you're getting inside this guy a bit more." The first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker included a shot of this helmet being rebuilt, suggesting that Abrams is going back on Johnson's difficult decision.
But Abrams isn't stopping there. He's also bringing back the Knights of Ren, the mysterious group of henchmen Kylo Ren glimpsed with Kylo in Rey's vision. Precious little is known about the Knights of Ren right now; they were only named in a throwaway piece of dialogue, when Snoke referred to Kylo as "master of the Knights of Ren." Johnson didn't include the group in his story, favoring Supreme Leader Snoke's own guards, but they're already confirmed to return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Finally, Darth Vader's helmet is confirmed to return in Star Wars 9 as well. Star Wars: The Force Awakens revealed that Kylo Ren had retrieved the helmet from Darth Vader's funeral pyre on Endor, and he seemed to use it as a focus for his meditations. A sizzle reel presented to Disney shareholders in March featured another scene in which Kylo Ren focused in on the helmet, suggesting he's once again meditating on whatever he believes Darth Vader's mission to have been.
Kylo Ren Is Honoring The Sith
Meanwhile, for all Kylo Ren talked about letting the past die, he seems to be bringing back the Sith - at least in name. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will introduce a new breed of Stormtroopers, the crimson-clad Sith Troopers, who are reportedly loyal to Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren. Further linking to the past, the design and color scheme is reminiscent of the old Emperor's Guards, who may, of course, have been an actual Sith design.
At this stage, little is known about the Sith Troopers' role in Star Wars 9. Lucasfilm tends to use their booth at San Diego Comic-Con to debut new costumes, and that's where they revealed the Sith Trooper design. It's possible they'll be shown in action when Lucasfilm drop the second trailer, but for now the very fact Kylo Ren calls his warriors "Sith Troopers" is quite remarkable, and sits at odds with his philosophy in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Is J.J. Abrams Retconning The Last Jedi Or Continuing It?
All this raises questions about the relationship between Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. To what extent is Star Wars 9 a continuation of the sequel era story, and to what extent is it a change in direction? 2018 was a rough year for Lucasfilm, with the fanbase vocally divided over The Last Jedi, while Solo: A Star Wars Story failed to perform well in the box office. Lucasfilm's entire corporate strategy appears to have shifted, and they seem to be focusing on Disney+ TV shows rather than a packed slate of movies. Given this context, it's not surprising that there are reports Lucasfilm view Star Wars 9 as a course-correction.
It's increasingly looking as though Kylo Ren could be at the heart of this course-correction. J.J. Abrams started Kylo Ren's story, and he certainly intended Ben Solo to be a villain who lives in the shadow of his past. Much of that past remains a mystery; why did Ben Solo fall to the dark side, who are the Knights of Ren, and why does Kylo Ren hold Darth Vader in such high esteem? Rian Johnson was happy to dismiss this kind of issue, in much the same way as he branded Snoke an irrelevance and decided Rey's parents should be nobodies, but Abrams is unlikely to risk the same kind of ire from fans. His story has to tie up a lot of loose ends from Kylo Ren's past, and in narrative terms the easiest way to do that is to restore the villain's preoccupation with his own personal and family history.
How Does Palpatine Challenge/Play Into Kylo Ren’s Worldview?
Meanwhile, there is one new wrinkle in all this; Emperor Palpatine's surprise return. The Emperor was believed to have been killed in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, but thanks to the first trailer we know that he's back in Star Wars 9. At this stage, Palpatine's resurrection is shrouded in mystery. It's unclear whether this is a recent event, or whether he came back from the dead shortly after the Battle of Endor, and has been manipulating events from the shadows for decades. If the latter is the case, it's entirely possible that it was Palpatine who secretly seduced Kylo Ren to the dark side, not Supreme Leader Snoke.
It will be fascinating to see how Kylo Ren views Darth Sidious. It's possible he'll take advantage of the opportunity to become a true Sith, and indeed that may explain Kylo Ren's restored preoccupation with the past and even with the Sith. Alternatively, Palpatine played fast and loose with Sith doctrines over the years, and it could be that Kylo Ren views the Emperor as a destabilizing influence that needs to be neutralized. Certainly the Emperor's return is sure to shake Kylo Ren to the core in Star Wars 9.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019