Ben Solo has struck down Luke Skywalker and made it to the person who’s been in his ear for years — Snoke. As he tries to decide the new direction for his life, Ben considers the Knights of Ren, a group he’d had a run in with in the past. After The Rise of Skywalker, this backstory on the Knights of Ren is very welcome — they were an interesting group that viewers didn’t get to see very much of during the film.
The “present day” plot of the comic is fine: Ben’s turn into Kylo Ren is still an interesting story, but it’s not moving forward very quickly. This issue’s present day story focuses more on Snoke’s further seduction of Ben into his thrall, something that fleshes out the character but ultimately feels a bit unrewarding given the recent revelation about Snoke’s own origins during The Rise of Skywalker. In fact, a lot of this comic feels invalidated by the film — Ben’s fall from grace was far more interesting before the film, and just in general it doesn’t feel like any of this is actually reflected in any of the Sequel Trilogy. The most interesting part of this is a character beat from Ben; the idea that Ben Solo resents his name and the people he’s named after adds another layer of complexity to his character, and to his relationship with his father. Sadly, there’s not much else that’s valuable in these present day sections. The flashback is much more rife with content.
As Ben flashes back to his encounter with the Knights of Ren while studying under Luke, we get to see how far back Snoke had dug his tendrils into Ben’s mind and soul. Even here, as a much younger person, Ben has a secret rapport with Snoke, who whispers in his ear to undermine Luke’s teachings. This is also the first time we’ve gotten to see Luke as a teacher, or at all in between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It’s a really neat look at one of Star Wars’ best characters in a time that has been shrouded in mystery ever since Disney reset the Star Wars canon. Luke teaches Ben in his own way, and we also get to see him fight — he’s the last Jedi, but he fights like he is never alone. Ren, the leader of the Knights of Ren, is a very interesting figure here as well — he exudes charisma and confidence, and it’s quite easy to see how Ben still dwells on this meeting years later. We don’t get much beyond that this issue, but it’s still enough to keep it interesting.
Will Sliney’s art is unfortunately not a great fit for this story. He doesn’t draw faces very well, even when he’s clearly drawing off of a photo reference, leading Ben, Luke, and Ren to all look really awkwardly in between photorealistic and more cartoony interpretations. The action paneling is far better than last issue’s but it’s still not great — the fight doesn’t seem choreographed so much as it feels like Sliney is just drawing cool poses with little continuity between them. The art is easily the biggest detriment to the book, which would otherwise be an easy recommendation for anyone interested in Kylo Ren’s origins.
The only real problem with the story is how disjointed the whole thing feels. The flashback needs some narration or something to properly tie it into the present day story being told, because as it stands it just feels like another scene. If it wasn’t for the “Years Earlier” caption it would just feel like the next scene in the story. It’s not just this one connective piece, though — the big problem is how this story feels like it doesn’t affect anything in the movies. Charles Soule is doing a fantastic job telling the story of Kylo Ren’s fall, but he’s hampered by being unable to add to or change anything about the stories that have already been told. There’s a weird lack of impact caused by this book, and it’d be much stronger if Soule got to do more than what he’s currently able to do. As it stands, the biggest impediment to this book’s success is the films and the restrictions they place upon the creators. Hopefully that changes.