By Adam Crohn
“I am called Ren. But that’s not my name.” The opening line to the Marvel Comics miniseries ‘The Rise of Kylo Ren’, and as great of an opening line as that is it’s not as interesting as what follows. Issue one of the series by Charles Soule shows us the Knights of Ren taking out a security force to retrieve a “shadow” user and possible new recruit of the Knights. Amidst the chaos the two kids tell Ren they’ll follow him anywhere but to just help them get out of this situation. To which Ren replies “You don’t follow me, friend. You follow this. THE REN.” as he holds up the red-bladed Sith light saber. And then to level up the mystique around Ren he alludes to the burns covering most of his torso as being self-inflicted via THE REN, as he carefully runs his hand down the glowing blade ending in smoke wafting off the singed skin.
I’ve had this idea for a Knights of Ren piece for a while, and with the recent wrap up of the Marvel Comic miniseries, Crimson Reign, where the KoR are finally fleshed out a bit, I thought it was the perfect time to let my “helmeted” fanboy out. I’ve always been a sucker for a character in a mask, especially when it comes to Star Wars. When the Knights of Ren first appeared in Rey’s vision in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens I was immediately clamoring for more. I needed answers! Who were they? Are they Force users? Did they prefer blue or green milk? I remember walking out of the theater and going directly to Google looking for some bootleg, secret, pirated footage, or photos of them. Any kind of concept designs or behind the scenes images or details to satisfy my curiosity. At the time there wasn’t much. In fact, The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary only mentions them once, by name, and aside from the flash in the movie we really didn’t get a good look at the Knights until 2015’s ‘Art of The Force Awakens’ book. However, in that book they and Kylo Ren are referred to as “Jedi Killer” and “The Seven Light”, respectively. The concepts are great, and the ideas presented in that book were more than enough for my imagination to take the reins.
It’s interesting looking at the evolution of the characters and knowing now that Disney didn’t enter into the sequel trilogy with much of a plan, and it makes sense that their cameo in TFA might have been the extent to which they were going to be used. It seems, for the movies at least, that any loose plan for Kylo was going to focus on his character’s obsession with not relying on anyone but himself to find his place in the galaxy. Thus “leaving the past behind”, including Han, Leia, Luke, Chewy, and The Knights. Even concept artist Glyn Dillon mentions in the art book that “Grenade Head” and “X-Head” (two of the more prominent members of the Knights of Ren) “didn’t work out”, referring to a lack of fleshing out of the characters in TFA, and further proving a missing plan for them in future movies. I’m happy to say that Dillon was wrong, as Grenade Head and X-Head were my favorites of the early designs. I’m a toy designer at heart, and I had a lot of fun adding to Dillon’s designs to make my own set of action figures to tide me over until there was something more concrete latch on to. And as all of us Star Wars fans know, they did end up appearing in the third movie, The Rise of Skywalker, almost exactly as Dillon had designed the Grenade Head and X-Head characters, as Vicrul and Ushar, respectively. But still they had no character, no story, no “Ren”. It wasn’t until 2019’s ‘The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary’ (which features Vicrul front and center on the cover) that we got a decent amount of information on the characters (Vicrul, Cardo, Ushar, Trudgen, Kuruk, and Ap’Lek), including a bio for
each and an in-depth description of their armor, weapons, and ship, The Night Buzzard! Furthermore, the ‘The Rise of Kylo Ren’ finally gave us an actual story featuring the Knights, and a bit of personality to each. I’m a non-apologetic fan of the sequel trilogy. Yes, the story is weak and ill-thought-out, but cinematically they look good, the acting is solid, the characters are compelling, and hey, it’s Star Wars, and until the inevitable Disney buyout of Paramount and the ‘Star Trek Wars’ movie happens, I’ll always be a fan (no matter how inept they make Boba Fett look). However, the use of the Knights of Ren, these characters that we had been waiting to see since the literal glimpse of them in TFA, was less than satisfying. You can’t introduce a concept like the KoR, have a guy with the last name of Ren with a light saber that rivals Maul’s in coolness, and his master shake granite off walls as he pronounces his title “Master of the Knights of Ren!” and give them less to do than a wookie at his best friend’s funeral.
The Knights of Ren first appeared in comics in the movie adaptation of The Force Awakens issue #4 and have since appeared in several other forms of media, but until recently, never really got a story of their own. In ‘The Rise of Kylo Ren’ we see a late teen Ben Solo adventuring with Luke Skywalker and Lor San Teka, searching for ancient Jedi relics, ala Indiana Jones. It’s on one of these adventures that Ben Solo meets Ren and his Knights. Ren is a brash, cocky, evil swashbuckler with a very cool mask and a Sith laser sword. He leads the KoR on scavenging missions to pay their way through the galaxy and doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone that gets in the way of that. He’s a bad dude. But a cool dude! You get the feeling he only cares about his livelihood and his crew. He cares about his crew because they’ve been through so much together, and as we see later with Kylo’s initiation, to be part of his crew you’ve got to go through so much together. He seems fairly loyal to those that’ve earned it, and yet won’t hesitate to put one or all of his guys up against insurmountable odds and certain death if it’s for the good of the group. He appears to have earned just as much, if not more, loyalty and trust from his Knights, and despite some of the orders he gives them, they all exude a familial bond when together, especially when using The Dark Side of Force (or the “Shadow” as they say). Now, as far as Ren goes, I’m using a lot of hypotheses because aside from ‘The Rise of Kylo Ren’ series and the series I’m about to talk about, Crimson Reign, there just isn’t much out there about the character. There are no ties nor mention of him in live action yet, and (spoilers for The Rise of Kylo Ren) he dies at the end of the series. I think this is important for future KoR stories possibly featuring Ren, all of which would be and are, including Crimson Reign, prequels to the sequel trilogy and ‘The Rise of Kylo Ren’ series.
In the Kylo Ren series we see Ren using his Knights as attack dogs of sorts commanding them with “Knights…you are released.”, as he sets them on upon Skywalker, Solo and San Teka. But in Crimson Reign the stakes are higher, and we see more value placed on these characters by Ren. There’s more of a familial bond, something that was absent between them and Kylo in their brief live-action appearances from the movies. In fact, the movies show us little more than a power hierarchy between Kylo and the Knights. In Crimson Reign we also see a different set of Knights from the characters in Kylo’s series. Crimson Reign features a lineup of returning Knights Vicrul and Cardo, with new editions Marinda with braids and horns, Bazzra the apparent Twylek, Fyodor who takes his helmet off to spit into a tank of bacta revealing he’s actually Hank McCoy from the X-Men, and Massif who’s either a child or small alien (either way fingers crossed he’s actually, yet another character played by Warwick Davis). Crimson Reign is the second part in a 3-part story that focuses on Solo’s Qi’ra and her crime syndicate, Crimson Dawn. The story kicked off in ‘War of the Bounty Hunters’ and will conclude in ‘The Hidden Empire’. I’m all in on this series if for no other reason than it’s the prime spot for the continuation of the Knights of Ren’s story. By the end of Crimson Reign, we see the Knights are 2 men down and on the run from The Empire. They bested Vader in one of my favorite scenes in comics this year, and collectively used the dark side of The Force, or “Shadow”, to achieve a goal. And that gave me chills. We’ve seen Kenobi and Qui Gon focus together to open doors and stuff, and we’ve seen Kanan and Ezra combine Force powers to lift a Jedi temple, but we’ve never seen dark siders work together for anything really, much less for the betterment of the group. I’m a big fan of showing new ways of using The Force, and the Knights of Ren working together in this issue and this scene specifically was the biggest motivation for me wanting to write this. It made me wonder which version I preferred: Ren’s or Kylo’s? It made me question why he really is THE “master of the Knights of Ren”, if at all, because the movies don’t show any mastery, and none of the loyalty they had for Ren when under his leadership. And it really made me pray to the old gods and the new for Disney to bring some good old movie magic to a live action Knights of Ren series.
And that’s the key for me, the magic. To me the Knights of Ren represent a fundamental continuation of the Lucas brand of Star Wars. Mysterious characters with interesting motives, gritty, down and dirty, with Tatooine sand all up in every hinge of their armor, yet bonded to other characters through interesting relationships, history, and character development. Obviously, I use the character development lightly in the case of the Knights, and for such striking characters it’s definitely been a slow burn. But those are usually the best stories, and I can definitely see the cinder smoldering. I’m willing to bet the galaxy will eventually be aflame with the Knights of Ren.