To tell the tale of Ben Solo’s fall to the dark side, the subject of the upcoming Marvel Star Wars comic The Rise of Kylo Ren, writer Charles Soule and artist Will Sliney started from a framework developed by Lucasfilm after a lengthy conversation with none other than J.J. Abrams. The director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker had created the Knights of Ren for the first film in the sequel trilogy, and the pair knew their story had to fit between two fixed points in the Star Wars timeline: the destruction of the Jedi temple that sent Luke Skywalker into exile and the arrival of the fearsome dark warrior who appeared on Jakku at the start of The Force Awakens.
“And then it was about creating a story that felt epic and above all emotional for Ben Solo,” Soule tells StarWars.com. “Because this transition, this turn to the dark side has to be as good and stand at the same level as some of the other big turns to the dark side we see,” including the fall of Anakin Skywalker, who was transformed into the infamous Sith Lord Darth Vader.
Soule previously delved into Darth Vader’s past with another Marvel comic, Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, an epic story that kicked off as the machine-enabled man was lurching off Emperor Palpatine’s operating table at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.
In The Rise of Kylo Ren, Soule has written in emotional beats by folding in quiet moments, omitting dialogue from panels to firmly place the focus on the internal struggle within Ben and allow Sliney’s art to sing. “In this book, we’re leaning towards the mask,” Sliney says. “In one of the very early moments…we kind see the two sides of Ben where you can see him emotionally hurt and then he starts to put up this shield, this outer shield. Within the course of two panels, you want to show in one instance this is a frightened boy and in the second instance he has the potential to be this really, really dark person. It’s something that has to be subtly done.”
“There’s lots of moments where you can see him thinking and waiting before he reacts,” Soule adds. “He’s a very internal person…except when he’s not, right? He’s completely under control and completely compartmentalized until sometimes all those walls break at once and he does things like smashing his helmet or slicing up a computer console with his lightsaber.”
Sliney studied Adam Driver’s portrayal of the character to quantify exactly how the character betrays his emotion in those quieter moments — sometimes with little more than the twitch of his mouth. “I’ve never seen an actor or character that gives away so much with kind of the quiver of a lip, which is something that I’m trying to get across as much as I can in the panels,” Sliney adds, which can be a challenge. “He has this almost childish pout of his bottom lip that gives away emotion, so I’m trying to bring that in there ever so slightly at different times, which is difficult to do when it’s a still image.”
Meet the Knights of Ren
An integral part of Ben Solo’s journey involves the Knights of Ren, a mysterious helmeted posse we’ve only just glimpsed in The Force Awakens, but will meet again in the upcoming film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
But first: “You’ll learn an awful lot about the Knights of Ren very, very fast in this book,” Sliney teases.
“I think when that first page shows up in previews it’s going to land so hard,” adds Soule.
Soule was inspired by motorcycle gangs, classic Westerns, and Samurai tales as he dramatized some of the lore behind the masked marauders. “They can all use the Force, the dark side of the Force, to varying degrees,” he reveals. “They’re not as powerful as a Jedi or a Sith, but they use it when they fight…. They have some sort of a code, like a motorcycle gang, but it’s not elaborate. They’re flexible.” Like all good galactic thugs and scoundrels, they’re in it for themselves. “Mostly they’re just kind of out to live their lives the way they want to live them and take what the galaxy will give them and eat what the dark side sends,” Soule says.
The story also introduces a trio of Ben’s classmates, survivors of the Jedi temple destruction by virtue of being off-world on a mission at the time of its collapse. In the first issue, surveying the aftermath and Ben Solo standing among the wreckage, one of these students asks, “Should we call his mother?”
The answer is no. Soule says as much as he enjoys writing the character of Leia, he used her sparingly in this story. “I would like her to be in the book more than she is because I think Will draws a beautiful Leia Organa,” he says. “But ultimately this story is about Ben Solo…. I think because of what the journey is, he has to go through it by himself. And we’ve seen how attached he is to his mother in the films. If Leia was too much of a presence in it, I think his journey might not have gone the same way. And I think if you look at the larger architecture of the Star Wars galaxy around this time, I think there are a lot of things happening that are being specifically engineered to keep Leia away from Ben. Read into that what you will. Just as there is a long game being played with Anakin, I think there is a long game being played with Ben Solo as well.”
And of course, the story will include Snoke, Kylo Ren’s dark side master, although not like you’ve ever seen him before. “There’s an awesome moment towards the end of issue one where he first meets Snoke and…Snoke is very different in this book,” Soule says. “And the way he acts toward Ben and the way that Ben is with him is very different than he is in Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, which is on purpose.”
A new myth
Soule and Sliney have both been imagining their own versions of this particular tale ever since they saw The Force Awakens, although neither dared to think they might one day be part of the story’s official telling.
“It was a shock,” Soule says of getting the call from Lucasfilm Publishing. “I can’t believe that I’m the guy who gets to write that. Of course I had been thinking about it on a fan level from the minute I saw The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but the idea that I would be writing it down was never in my mind until this past summer. And then I just dug in as hard as I could to really try to make a really good Star Wars story.” The final tale takes its cues from the saga’s mythological roots while trying to answer the question on everyone’s mind: How did Ben Solo, the son of two heroes of the Rebellion and the nephew of a Jedi Master fall so far to the darkness?
“You want it to feel like the really big mythological moments feel from Star Wars whether it’s the Mustafar battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan or the throne room battle at the end of Jedi,” Soule says. “These are the moments where the fate of the Force, the fate of the galaxy, and the balance of the Force, all these things are on the scales being weighed. And this book, if we do it right, should be building and building and building to a moment where Ben makes a choice and you understand why he does it and you realize he had no choice, even though he thinks he’s making one. That’s what the story’s supposed to be. That’s what happened to Anakin. If we do our job right, it will feel utterly inevitable and also utterly preventable, which is the tragedy of the whole story.”
Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them.
Site tags: #StarWarsBlog