One of the biggest Star Wars mysteries to this day surrounds the Knights of Ren. A sinister sci-fi band of warriors led by Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, these six elite masked guards, dressed all in black, each wield a signature weapon in service of the newly minted Supreme Leader. They first appeared in a vision during the events of The Force Awakens but were absent from its sequel, The Last Jedi. With the release of The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment to this trilogy and the larger Skywalker Saga (as we’ve come to know these core Star Wars films), the Knights make their formal debut, but questions still remain.
Here’s an attempt to shine a light on this shadowy strike force.
The Knights of Ren are neither Jedi nor Sith, though they can all use “the dark side of the Force to varying degrees,” according to Charles Soule, a scribe who consulted with The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams in writing the comic book prequel series The Rise of Kylo Ren. “They’re not as powerful as a Jedi or a Sith, but they use it when they fight.”
The order formed following the demise of Darth Sidious and Darth Vader sometime after the events of Return of the Jedi. They are, for the most part, in it for themselves, living their lives the way they want. “They have some sort of a code, like a motorcycle gang, but it’s not elaborate,” Soule said. “They’re flexible.”
Issue #1 of The Rise of Kylo Ren places the original Knights of Ren operating long before Ben Solo destroyed Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Temple. They were once led by a man named Ren, a scarred fighter who flaunts a featureless helmet.
“I wanted him to read like a charming Darth Vader,” Soule described Ren in a separate interview with StarWars.com. “A Vader who is charismatic and who is appealing. That’s why [Ren’s] skin is burned and he sort of looks the way that he does. He’s embracing the seductiveness and the damage that the dark side does. Darth Vader, as impressive and imposing and terrifying as he is, is remote and cold and distant because he has the suit surrounding him. Whereas Ren isn’t hiding behind it. He’s someone you could have a beer with, in theory.”
Ren is also the name the Knights use for lightsaber, and it’s the Ren they pledge to follow. As their leader explains in the comics, “The Ren doesn’t stop to worry about what it’s burning or the right or wrong of it, or the goals it might achieve. The Ren just is. It lives, and it consumes, and it doesn’t apologize. It is its nature and nothing else.” Worth noting is that Ren, as leader of the Knights of Ren, is the only one who carries a lightsaber. The same goes for Ben Solo, when he later assumes control of the group as Kylo Ren.
In the comics, Ren makes a reference to “the master,” who will seek a new Force user for them to recruit. So there’s another level of leadership above him.
Ren mentions one other Knight by name in the comics so far, Trudgen, and the official Visual Dictionary of The Rise of Skywalker, penned by Pablo Hidalgo and published Dec. 20, offers descriptions for the others.
There’s Vicrul, who wields an annealed phrik scythe blade and calls himself “the harvester.” He has the ability to heighten the level of fear in his prey. Cardo, armed with an arm canon, is the official armorer of the Knights, with his skills modifying weapons. Ushar, who carries a war club with concussive blast capabilities, is the kind of fighter who offers slow, agonizing deaths to those who grovel and quick, painless ones to those with the courage to fight back. Wielding an enormous vibrocleaver, Trudgen takes keepsakes from his victims. His helmet maintains a fragment of deathtrooper armor, meaning he was powerful enough to kill one in the past. The blinder flaps on Kuruk’s helmet denote the rifleman of the Knights and the pilot of their ship, the black Night Buzzard. Then there’s Ap’lek, the Knight who revels in deception and trickery to overwhelm his opponents. In battle, you’ll know him by his giant Mandalorian executioner’s ax. All their weapons come with modifications that allow for various offensive effects.
Under Ren, the Knights seek others who can “touch the shadow” — their phrase for wielding the Force — to join their ranks. The initiation process involves recruits killing someone, but it has to be “a good death,” as Ren puts it.
The seduction of Ben Solo
At some point during Ben’s Jedi training, when he’s just a boy, Luke takes his padawan on a mission to the Unknown Regions. It’s there that they face the Knights of Ren in battle. This story will be told in The Rise of Kylo Ren #2, which will hit comics stands in January, but it’s safe to say they survive.
Ren plays a significant role in luring Ben over to the dark side. “When [Ben] sees Ren, he’s like, ‘Wait a minute, maybe there is somebody like me in the universe. Maybe there is a path for a guy like me. Look at the choices he’s made. I could make those choices, too, and I could be cool,’” Soule said.
While instructing Ben, Luke senses the dark side emerge in his padawan and goes to kill him to prevent a menacing future. He stops himself just before striking his nephew down, but unfortunately Ben sees this and becomes convinced Luke is trying to kill him. In retaliation, Ben destroys the Jedi Temple and, he believes at the time, Luke himself. In the aftermath, Ben goes to meet Snoke, who had been secretly influencing him before becoming the Supreme Leader of the First Order. With Luke seemingly out of the picture, Ben tells Snoke he’s been “thinking about the Knights of Ren.”
During the events of The Last Jedi, Luke (Mark Hamill), while still in self-imposed exile as punishment for his actions, explains his side of events to Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has tracked him down to learn the ways of the Force. Luke mentions that Ben (Adam Driver) fled with a handful of his other students, seemingly to join the Knights of Ren. In The Rise of Kylo Ren, we see three of Luke’s padawan — Tai, Voe, and Hennix — pursue Ben in an effort to reprimand him. At this point, it seems unlikely they would join the Knights, but we’ll have to wait until more is revealed to know for sure.
While the comics haven’t reached this particular point in Ben’s story, the Visual Dictionary mentions that Snoke promised Ben “powerful followers” if he proved himself worthy. There was a “grueling trial” of some kind, and Ben, taking the name Kylo Ren, succeeded and became leader of the Knights. Snoke, it would seem, was “the master” Ren mentioned in the comics.
The Rise of Skywalker
After that brief flash in The Force Awakens, director Rian Johnson decided not to include the Knights in The Last Jedi. “I guess I could’ve used them in place of the Praetorian guards,” he once told the Empire podcast, in reference to the red warriors protecting Snoke (Andy Serkis) in his throne room, “but then it would feel like wasting them because all those guards had to die. And if Kylo had some kind of connection to them it would’ve added a complication that wouldn’t have helped the scene… Truth is, I just didn’t see a place for them in the movie.”
In one of the many moves that some might say retcons Johnson’s choices in The Last Jedi, Abrams brings them back for The Rise of Skywalker.
It’s made clear as early as the opening crawl that Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid) is alive, and has been for some time. Operating out of the Sith home world of Exegol, he, in addition to keeping himself alive through dark and mysterious ways, engineered Snoke himself to manipulate Ben, who at this point has been operating under the nom de guerre of Kylo Ren and leading the Knights of Ren for quite some time. According to the Visual Dictionary, Snoke’s entire purpose was meant to be a final test for Kylo Ren, testing the fallen Jedi on his ability to further the Sith legacy. The book also mentions that the Sith Eternal cultists, those who continued the efforts of Darth Sidious to form a new Empire, designed Snoke to act as “a final crucible” for Kylo to prove his power and cunning.
As the newly minted Supreme Leader after killing Snoke, Kylo brings the Knights with him to the desert planet Pasaana in pursuit of Rey. Later, when Kylo turns back to the side of light, thanks to the last act of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), he has to face the Knights in combat on Exegol to help Rey. The Knights’ loyalties are firmly rooted in the dark side, the “shadow,” to put it in Knight-speak. Even though Kylo was once the only one to command them, his shift to good suggests Sidious was always their true master, the one pulling the strings.
Though the Skywalker Saga is over, Lucasfilm and Disney continue to release companion materials, including comics. There’s more to come, more secrets to be unearthed.
This article has been updated with information from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — The Visual Dictionary.