Comic book review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Kylo Ren’

The Star Wars saga has already covered — quite extensively — the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the rise of Darth Vader. And we’ve seen that Vader’s grandson, Kylo Ren, also fell to the dark side.

But how did Ben Solo — son of two of the greatest heroes of the Rebellion — become Kylo Ren? Was he a remorseless villain, or in some ways was he also a victim?

While we’ve seen the end of Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s story in “The Rise of Skywalker,” thanks to a recently completed comic series called “The Rise of Kylo Ren,” now we also have the beginning of the story.

“The Rise of Kylo Ren” is a four-part comic book miniseries that began in December and wrapped up in March (the trade paperback is scheduled to come out in May). It’s written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Will Sliney, and it’s probably the best comic book series I’ve ever read.

Now, I feel like I have to include a couple caveats in that praise, because A) I’m just getting started in the hobby of comic book reading, so my experience is still pretty limited; and B) Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is one of my top three favorite Star Wars characters, so I was predisposed to love this series before I even started reading it.

That being said, Soule really does do a wonderful job getting inside Ben Solo’s head, giving us a complex and tortured character whose story becomes even more of a tragedy. Sliney’s art is excellent, and really makes the story come to life. If you want to learn more about how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren (and just who the Knights of Ren are), then this is the series for you!

I was heartbroken when my local comic book shop closed last year, but thankfully I was able to order all four issues online from Things From Another World. Confession time: I ended up paying about $40 in total for these four comics ($20 value) because they all shipped separately. However, in my defense, this comic series was so popular it kept selling out and I didn’t want to risk not getting copies. Also, since I’m now stuck at home for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus quarantine, it’s not like I can go out and spend my entertainment budget on much else, right?

Anyway, as a major Star Wars/Kylo Ren fan I would say that yes, these comics were worth the extra money I had to pay for them.

The first issue gives us a little backstory on the Knights of Ren, Kylo Ren’s mysterious squad lurking behind the scenes in “The Rise of Skywalker.” The Knights of Ren look super cool (making a Knight of Ren costume someday is on my list of cosplay goals), but it is nice to know a little more about who they actually are.

“The Rise of Kylo Ren” issue No. 1 opens with a brutal scene that shows just how dangerous the Knights of Ren are, and then cuts to the night Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Temple burns. This is the night we saw flashbacks of in “The Last Jedi” from multiple points of view. Luke is tempted to kill his nephew due to the rising darkness within Ben Solo, and now Ben feels he has nowhere else to turn except for Snoke.

Snoke was already creepy enough in “The Last Jedi,” but he’s even slimier in this comic series. While to a certain extent yes, Ben is responsible for his own actions/choices, we also see how he’s been haunted and manipulated by Snoke/Palpatine throughout his entire life.

Issue No. 2 depicts Ben struggling with his legacy. We all love Han and Leia, but it would be hard for a kid to grow up with such famous parents. When your mom, dad, and uncle are all living legends, how do you live up to that? That’s a lot of pressure.

Speaking of “Uncle Luke,” issue No. 2 has a super cool fight scene with Luke and the Knights of Ren. I know I already mentioned Will Sliney’s great art, but his panels really are amazing and I would love to frame some of them one day.

Issue No. 3 has more flashbacks to Ben’s time as a student at Luke’s Jedi Temple, and although he doesn’t seem to have ever been a super social guy, he did have one good friend, a fellow student named Tai who tries to understand him and help him feel less alone.

In the “present” timeline, Ben attempts to persuade the Knights of Ren that he really is willing to commit to the dark side, but they still sense his pull to the light — a struggle Ben maintains throughout the sequel trilogy films.

Issue No. 4 depicts Ben going on a mission with the Knights of Ren and still hesitating to kill. Some of Luke’s former students show up to confront Ben, and he’s forced to choose what side he’s really on.

Issue No. 4 had one of my favorite bits of dialogue from this whole comic series, and really shows how much of Kylo Ren’s anger is just a twisted form of self-doubt. He feels he’s doomed to fall and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.

“I have no choice and never did,” he says. “Even my name isn’t a choice. The dark side and the light both claimed me for their own the moment I was born. Whether it’s Luke Skywalker or Snoke, neither one sees me as a person. I’m just a…legacy. Just a set of expectations.”

In short, “The Rise of Kylo Ren” is a fantastic series, and I’d love to see Soule and Sliney team up to create more Ben Solo/Kylo Ren content someday. I’ve always found Kylo Ren to be a sympathetic character, but this comic adds even more nuance to his background. Highly recommend!

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