The following contains fan speculation and possible spoilers. Reader discretion is advised.
It’s been a confusing time for older Star Wars fans: or at least an older fan like myself. Imagine two time lines: one you knew, and one that is still forming; The latter is overwriting the former while you still remember it. Legends series and the new Star Wars Expanding Universe aside, it’s also intriguing to watch LucasFilm and Disney at work in fleshing out the mythos using only the six films, the CGI Clone Wars and Rebels series, and the new comics and novels.
But what I’d like to take a look at today are the Knights of Ren.
For something that we’ve heard a lot about, we don’t know very much else. One potential element of confusion is considered that the Knights of Ren are either working for, or are an extension of the First Order: a galactic organization created from the remnants of the Empire and its own ideologies. But what are the Knights of Ren?
So let’s make an experiment. Let’s see if we can construct a plausible story as to what the Knights are from the revised Star Wars continuity. It might be hard for some veteran Expanded Universe fanatics and even I expect to make some errors along the way due to some of my own lack of familiarity, but it could be fun and it might shed some light on this new and infernal venture into Star Wars villainy.
Perhaps in order to know about the Knights of Ren, we need to review what we know about the Sith. We know that by The Phantom Menance that the Sith had supposedly been extinct for a thousand years. In addition, we are told by the end of that film that there are only two Sith at one given time: a Master and an Apprentice. So we could assume that with Palpatine and Darth Vader’s deaths at the end of Return of the Jedi that the Sith are not coming back.
Of course there is that age-old adage about assumptions, the fact that the Sith were thought to be dead before, Count Dooku’s training of Asaji Ventress (and that training bout with the unfortunately named and created Savage Oppress), treachery being the way of the Sith, and that the new continuity may retcon any mention of the fact that the Sith were once more than two. But for now, this isn’t about the Sith, even though it may well be definitely related to their actions.
Think about what we know about the Empire now. It was created and controlled by the Sith Master and Apprentice. However, it also had Force-sensitive agents. Rebels makes this very clear with the introduction of the Inquisitor: that and the fact that there are more of them. Inquisitors seem to be dark side acolytes or adepts created to hunt down Jedi fugitives, other Force-sensitives, and generally anyone trying to ruin the Empire’s day in any real way.
Inquisitors wouldn’t violate the Sith Rule of Two as they are not Sith, but rather agents and minions that serve the Sith. This is no new idea. All you have to do is look back further at The Clone Wars and see Dooku and Ventress. Palpatine knew about Ventress as a dark side agent and had no issue with her: provided that she wasn’t being trained as a Sith apprentice. I mean, she was — supposedly — but again we are looking at treachery being the way of the Sith.
The point is that Darth Sidious and Darth Vader died: leaving the Empire in a very precarious and potentially lethal situation. So what happened to all of those Inquisitors?
I mean, some of them might have died. Certainly hunting Jedi and displeasing Darth Vader could be death sentences in and of themselves. Perhaps some of the people that accompanied Palpatine onto the Second Death Star, sinister robed beings that they were in Return of the Jedi, were more than just close political advisors and retainers. And just what were Palpatine’s plans for the galaxy once Luke and the Rebellion were dealt with?
Aside from some sanctioned experiments from outside sources as some of the Darth Vader comics delve into, I think there is the Clone Wars “Children of The Force” episode to consider. While its execution seemed really unseemly to me at the time, as a fan of the Old Expanded Universe, Palpatine securing Jedi information on Force-sensitive children throughout the galaxy makes a certain level of sense. He apparently wanted to make an army of “Sith spies” from the kidnapped children. This plan failed, but the mentality was still there.
The theory that I would like to make is that the Inquisitors were the next step in Palpatine’s regime: to create a dark side leadership over the Empire and sentience. It’d be similar to how he was operating in the now defunct — for good or ill depending on what fan you talk with — Dark Empire comics series. But he and Vader died before anything like this could become completely commonplace: and before the last of the Jedi could be purged or turned.
But these Inquisitors, if there were any left by Return of the Jedi, probably weren’t all dead. While the remnants of the Empire maintained their control over various sectors, became warlords, defected to the power of the Alliance, or entered into civil turmoil I also doubt these remaining Inquisitors would remain idle.
Imagine it. They always knew about the Sith and the potential that they could receive further training one day from either Vader or Palpatine. Then both of them are gone before one can succeed the other through the usual method of betrayal. Then their Empire, the one they’ve been serving and enforcing, begins to collapse in on itself. Three decades pass and despite their efforts Luke Skywalker seems to be bringing back the Jedi Knights to help the New Republic, or at least is training his family members to oppose them. This is the man who killed both their Masters seemingly at the same time. What do they do?
They help found the First Order. The former Inquisitors have the resources they gathered over the years to pool into this Order along with many disaffected Imperial soldiers and politicians. Maybe they appeal to Humanocentricism. J.J. Abrams himself mentioned that his team modeled the First Order after the idea of what if former Nazis reorganized themselves in collaboration in Argentina.
Supreme Commander Snoke of the First Order, who is said to be a powerful figure in the dark side of the Force, may well be a surviving Inquisitor or a potent successor to an Inquisitor. I imagine he or his predecessors would have seen the threat of the Jedi and realized they needed something to counter it. The Sith seem to be destroyed. But they never lacked for followers. So the Supreme Commander creates the Knights of Ren: an organization of dark side Force-sensitives to fight against the Jedi Knights.
Again it is more fan theory assumption but think about it in another way. Whatever the Knights of Ren are, J.J. Abrams and his team have a lot of pressure on them. They are expected to return to the magic of what the Star Wars Old Trilogy meant to so many people. Even the special effects of the film seem to be minimizing reliance on CGI: being hand-made and material props instead. They are going back to the basics, and wouldn’t be interesting if Abrams and his team even went so far as to look at The Star Wars Rough Draft and were inspired by the Knights of the Sith: those that fought the prototypical Jedi-Bendu?
Of course, LucasFilm also hasn’t ruled out incorporating other elements of the Old Expanded Universe into the new continuity either, so the Knights of Ren could have many different inspirations: whoever or whatever they are.
But they are interesting: in that while Abrams has stated they are not Sith, they have a similar naming ritual. Instead of their title becoming a prefix like Darth, Ren becomes their new surname: with perhaps a new first name as well. So my thoughts are that the Knights of Ren are an order of dark side adepts that work for the First Order and under Supreme Commander Snoke: if the fact that Kylo Ren working under him is of any indication.
Yet what of Kylo Ren. Well we have been presented with the idea that Kylo Ren will be the main antagonist of The Force Awakens: or at least a visible one. He has created his own strange cross-guard lightsaber and he is very obsessed with Darth Vader. Perhaps his obsession is original to him, though if we go with the theory that the Knights of Ren are the successors to the Inquisitors, who were given partial training in the dark side by the Sith, the Knights might also be dedicated to finding any Sith lore they can get their hands on: to further their own training and power. Who knows: maybe one of them wants to become the next Dark Lord.
However, it is possible that Kylo Ren’s interest might be more … personal. I just find it fascinating how there are theories that he is the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo. Yet there is also another interesting point to consider. There is also Luke Skywalker. There are rumours that Luke went into exile and that the events of The Force Awakens begin to bring him out of it. But if Luke was in exile, why would he be? I’m obviously not saying that Kylo Ren is Luke, as it wouldn’t be in character and Kylo is portrayed to be a much younger man.
I do think the problem is the importance that George Lucas placed on Anakin Skywalker as the Chosen One and being genetically the most powerful Force sensitive in the Prequel Trilogy. In this way, it kind of undermines any attempt to make someone not related to the Skywalker bloodline a potentially powerful Jedi or dark side user in their own right. However, I could be wrong. Perhaps Abrams has his own ideas and we might get more plot twists than we know what to do with.
Many people in the Star Wars galaxy believed that the Sith had been extinct for a millennium. Many more believed the Jedi had been extinct for almost two decades. But if there is one thing that hasn’t changed about Star Wars, it’s the following. Whether it is about family, ideology, philosophy, or war Star Wars has always been about legacy: and I want to see how this legacy is going to play itself out.