Co-writer/director J.J. Abrams' upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place some thirty years after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi; the film will also introduce a new generation of heroes and villains to serve as the anchors for Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm's third Star Wars movie trilogy. Among the antagonists in the movie are the agents of The First Order (a.k.a. "the new Galactic Empire") as well as the mysterious dark force user Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver (This Is Where I Leave You, Girls).
Kylo Ren belongs to an organization known as (appropriately) the Knights of Ren, and Abrams has now confirmed that Kylo is not, in fact, a Sith Lord a la Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine (among others) before him. However, Kylo Ren and his kind have modeled themselves after the Sith Order - hence Ren's mask is modeled after Vader's iconic visage - while the Galactic Empire's legacy casts a similarly long shadow on The First Order, according to Abrams.
Abrams offered the following insight on Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, when interviewed by Empire:
"Kylo Ren is not a Sith. He works under Supreme Leader Snoke, who is a powerful figure on the Dark Side of the Force.”
Snoke, you may recall, is the motion-capture character being portrayed by master mo-cap performer Andy Serkis in The Force Awakens, and his growly voice was heard in the first Force Awakens trailer. It has long been rumored that the Force Awakens narrative - as written by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back) - boasts a subplot where various servants of the Dark Side of the Force are seeking a means to restore the Order of the Sith to its former glory. It's plausible, however, that Ren is actually carrying out a mission to gain power for a new order that was established by Snoke
Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke are in allegiance with The First Order in The Force Awakens, as evidenced by official screenshots from the film showing Ren flanked by stormtroopers. It makes sense for The First Order - which rose in the aftermath of Palpatine and Vader's defeat in Return of the Jedi - to align itself with Dark Force users like the Galactic Empire before it, based on how Abrams describes the organization and the way it views Palpatine's original Empire:
“That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again? What could be born of that? Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire? Could the work of The Empire be seen as unfulfilled? And could Vader be a martyr? Could there be a need to see through what didn’t get done?”
Now-defunct Star Wars Expanded Universe novels and comic books from the past have also explored stories about not just Imperial forces attempting to resurrect the Galactic Empire (literally, when it was revealed that Palpatine had created clones of himself during the Star Wars: Dark Empire saga), but also new leaders emerging in the aftermath of the Empire's fall. It makes sense for the new official Star Wars canon to carry over certain elements of those stories, while also drawing inspiration from events that happened in the real-world, post-WWII (much as Episodes IV-VI took their own thematic/aesthetic cues from the second World War), like Abrams says is the case with Force Awakens.
POTENTIAL SPOILER for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead!
It's been speculated that Kylo Ren is the new official Star War canon's version of Jacen Solo, Han and Leia Organa Solo's son from the defunct Star Wars EU. Jacen, as it were, was a Jedi who became a Sith (Darth Caedus) after he had visions of different futures - ones where both his uncle, Luke, and his own daughter (Allana) suffer dark fates - that could be avoided by him embracing the Dark Side. There is a real chance that Kylo is Han and Leia's son, as his real last name remains unknown; a Darth Caedus-inspired character arc would also align with Kasdan's description of Kylo Ren as the sort of complicated villain who has never been seen in a live-action Star Wars movie before.
Even if that's not true, though, it sounds as though Supreme Leader Snoke will very much be the Darth Sidious/Palpatine to Kylo Ren's Darth Vader in The Force Awakens. Meanwhile, The First Order member General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) seems a likely candidate to serve a role similar to the one Grand Moff Tarkin occupied in the original Galactic Empire. As for the chrome-armored stormtrooper leader Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), well, just who she is and exactly where she ranks in the First Order is yet another The Force Awakens riddle that remains to be answered...
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, 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.
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