On the eve of The Rise of Skywalker, Marvel has finally begun to reveal some pretty key information about the main antagonist of their Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. The Rise of Kylo Ren is a series that takes place in between the events of the Original Trilogy and the Sequel Trilogy, depicting the events that caused Ben Solo to become Kylo Ren. Charles Soule has quickly become one of the most popular writers on Marvel’s Star Wars comics over the past couple of years, and with good reason – everything he has done with the property has been fantastic. From his Darth Vader to Lando, Soule’s Star Wars work proves that he understands the characters and the universe in a way few writers do, making him the perfect choice to finally unveil the tragedy of Ben Solo.
Right off the bat, this issue introduces a group of people never actually mentioned in the films themselves, only during promotional tours and other ancillary content – the Knights of Ren. We don’t get a full view of who they are and what their goal is, but it’s already far more information about this group than we’ve gotten from the movies, despite them being apparently intrinsically important to Kylo Ren’s backstory. The issue opens and closes on scenes of the Knights of Ren, underscoring their importance to who Ben becomes without making the issue feel overrun with exposition.
Beyond the Knights of Ren, this issue shows us what happened to Kylo in the aftermath of the events that transpired during the Rashomon sequence of The Last Jedi. The Jedi Temple has been burned to the ground, with Ben Solo the sole survivor in the wreckage. His story picks up when a few of his classmates who were away when the incident occurred returned to see the wreckage and confront Ben. Their confrontation with Ben and subsequent battle is a great depiction of who all of these characters are – even Ben Solo, who is a far cry from the Kylo Ren we’ve seen in the films for the past few years. Soule does an excellent job showing just how full of rage and fear Ben really is, and how his peers viewed him – both in how they talk directly to him and how they talk about him when he’s gone.
There’s also some really interesting plot hooks going on – The Jedi Temple explodes seemingly on its own, with Ben staring on in horror as it happens. The clear implication is that Snoke or someone else caused it to happen, but there’s definitely more to this than meets the eye and it’s a good mystery to keep the story going. Beyond that we also get Ben meeting with Snoke and choosing his path forward, tying back to the Knights of Ren to finish off the issue. This issue teases a lot of interesting developments to come in the next few months, although it really does feel like this is content we should have gotten in the movies instead of the comics.
I haven’t talked about the art much, but that’s because there really isn’t much to say about it. Will Sliney isn’t a terrible artist, but he wasn’t a good fit for this comic at all. His faces and facial expressions don’t always look right, and it’s exacerbated on characters from the films like Ben Solo who is clearly modeled off of Adam Driver but just doesn’t look right. Snoke looks better, being an alien who doesn’t appear for more than two pages, but Ben is noticeably off target in multiple portions of the issue. The original characters look better because they weren’t drawn with as defined a reference, but they still don’t look great. Sliney also has trouble depicting motion and action across panels – the fight scenes are difficult to read at points and I just wish they were more kinetic and energetic. Sliney doesn’t really detract from the book, but he’s very much not improving it.
Soule’s proven time and time again that he’s one of the best Star Wars writers of the modern era, if not the single best one. While there’s a lot in this book that should clearly have come from the movies, this is an engaging and compelling read from start to finish, and does an excellent job fleshing out one of the most interesting characters in Star Wars.