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The untold truth of the Knights of Ren

The first time you watch a Star Wars movie, you're paying attention to the main story of the film. You're gripped by the Rebellion's struggle to overthrow the Empire, or you're lamenting Anakin's slow slide into darkness. Let's be real though: you don't just watch a Star Wars movie one time. When you watch a Star Wars movie for the twelfth time, now you're preoccupied by all the little things, the hanging plot threads that are never addressed.

Star Wars movies are famous for dropping references to mysterious people and events that we never actually get to see on screen, at least not for a few movies. Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens was no different, and had its fair share of underdeveloped characters like Lor San Tekka, and unexplained events like Kylo Ren's fall to the Dark Side. By far though, one of the biggest mysteries in the film were the Knights of Ren.

Who were the Knights of Ren? Well, we didn't really know, and that's the point. Even today, we still don't know nearly as much as we'd like. But after scouring the far corners of the internet for extra-textual information and going over Episodes VII and VIII with a fine-toothed comb, we've managed to piece together some fairly robust working theories. Here's everything we know so far about the Knights of Ren.

A force-ful first appearance for the Knights of Ren

The Knights of Ren were first mentioned on-screen during The Force Awakens, when Supreme Leader Snoke off-handedly refers to Kylo Ren as the "master of the Knights of Ren."

No further explanation is given about what that means, but we can make a few reasonable assumptions, given just their name. Up until now, within Star Wars, the word "knight" had been exclusively used as part of the term "Jedi Knight," so there's a good chance that these "knights" are also all Force users. Also, since "Ren" is Kylo's self-given surname, we might assume that the other Knights follow a similar two-part naming convention, with a personal name followed by the surname "Ren." This might be a nod towards the naming convention of Sith Lords, who also get new names as a part of their initiation, and whose names always begin with the honorific "Darth."

The only other scene in the film that the Knights of Ren appear is in during the Force-induced vision that Rey experiences after first picking up Luke Skywalker's lightsaber. This scene shows Kylo Ren standing on the surface of a rain-soaked world, executing a presumably helpless citizen with his lightsaber as a six masked warriors stand behind him in a loose formation, conveying solidarity and menace.

What exactly was happening in this scene and whether it was a vision of the past or the future still has not been clarified, but it certainly left a strong first impression.

The 'lyte side of the Force

After the Force Awakens came out, fans went wild with speculation about the Knights of Ren. How many of them were there? Where did they come from? The internet must know!

The most popular theory tied them to a group called the Acolytes of the Beyond from the Aftermath Star Wars novels by Chuck Wendig, published just a few months before The Force Awakens premiered. The Acolytes were a group of Dark Side obsessed cultists that rose to prominence after the fall of the Empire, between Episode VI and Episode VII. These Sith fanboys weren't Force sensitive, so rather than practice the Force directly, they collected and worshipped ancient Sith artifacts such as masks and lightsabers.

The parallels to the Knights of Ren are numerous. All the Knights we've seen appear to be similarly into both the dark side and masks. Kylo is also a collector of at least one Sith relic: Darth Vader's helmet, which he treats with a similar level of veneration as an Acolyte of the Beyond would.

If Kylo Ren came across the Acolytes in his travels, it's not only possible that he'd want to join them, but also likely that he'd soon become their "master," not only because he would be the only one among them with Force powers, but also because he is a direct descendant of Darth Vader. Given all this, it seems totally plausible that under Kylo Ren's guidance, the Acolytes of the Beyond could have grown into Knights of the Ren.

The Last Jedi slights the Knights of Ren

We expected to see more of the Knights of Ren in Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, but for some reason, the Knights were completely missing from this story. Towards the climax of the film, Rey and Kylo did fight a group of knight-esque guards loyal to Snoke that wielded an array of wicked-looking melee weapons. Before the film's release, some fans believed these might be the Knights of Ren, but an interview with Entertainment Weekly confirmed that this was a separate group known as the Praetorian Guard.

The Knights of Ren weren't even mentioned in the film, at least not directly. However, there may have been an indirect reveal of the origin of the Knights when Luke tells the story to Rey about the night that Kylo — known then as Ben Solo — turned bad. Luke says Ben "vanished with a handful of my students, and slaughtered the rest." It's possible these students that Ben left with eventually become the Knights of Ren. This could be a strike against the theory that the Knights of Ren used to be the Acolytes of the Beyond, unless these two separate groups — Luke's former students and the Acolytes — somehow met and decided to merge together into one organization.

Regardless of how you interpret all this, there are still numerous unanswered questions. For instance, when and how did Snoke enter the picture? Are the Knights of Ren loyal to Snoke? Or just to Kylo? Or do they have yet another master altogether?

Johnson explains why the Knights of Ren didn't appear

Some moviegoers were upset that the Knights of Ren didn't appear in Episode VIII, and although one could argue that there just wasn't space for them to appear in this already overcrowded story, some felt that there was a clear place for them in the story already. The Knights of Ren could have been Snoke's bodyguards, instead of the Praetorians.

When asked about this possibility in an interview on the Empire Podcast, writer/director Rian Johnson said, "I guess I could've used them in place of the Praetorian Guards but then it would feel like wasting them because all those guards had to die. And if Kylo had some kind of connection to them it would've added a complication that wouldn't have helped the scene."

Once you think about it that way, suddenly their absence makes sense. If the Knights were indeed other former students of Luke, Rey might not have been so quick to kill them. She probably would have tried to redeem them as well, and Johnson just didn't want to deal with that at the time, because it wasn't the point of that moment.

Also, given how upset certain corners of the internet were at how unceremoniously Snoke was killed off, how happy would they have been if the Knights of Ren got the same treatment? Johnson felt that the Knights deserved better, and we agree. For now, we'll be patient for the right story for them to appear.

A new Knights of Ren-aissance

After years of waiting, the time has finally come. Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker premieres in late-2019, and a set photo published in May 2019's Vanity Fair has shown director J.J. Abrams standing among the Knights of Ren in all their terrifying glory.

There's not very much new information in this photo, although it does reinforce the idea that the Knights of Ren, with the exception of Kylo, do not wield lightsabers, and instead carry a wide array of oversized blasters and melee weapons. If they are indeed Force users, their lack of lightsabers might simply be because the technique to make one properly has been lost in this time period. After all, Kylo Ren's lightsaber seems basically always on the verge of exploding, and Snoke didn't seem to have one at all in The Last Jedi.

How the Knights of Ren are going to be used in The Rise of Skywalker could go a few different ways. It would be nice if they weren't just faceless antagonists, and got individual names and unique personalities. They'll probably be way nastier and more purely evil than Kylo Ren, but if the story decides not to give Kylo a redemption arc, it might be interesting if things went the other way for the rest of them. What if Rey manages to help the Knights of Ren return to the Light through reminding them of the principles that their former master stood for? What if they are still very much human underneath those scary masks?

The Knights of When?

The Knights of Ren offer an interesting case study in human nature. When The Rise of Skywalker comes out, it will have been four years between when the Knights were first teased and when they finally appear on screen. We know very little about them, and yet the internet is captivated. 

Mystery is a powerful force. Utilizing mystery is probably J.J. Abrams best skill as a storyteller. One of the most popular characters from the original trilogy was Boba Fett. At the time, he was a character with no face, no backstory, and only a handful of lines, but just like the Knights of Ren, he was cool, and he was mysterious. But what happened when we learned more about Boba Fett in the prequels? What about the Clone Wars? Or the Kessel Run? Did any of these things get cooler the more we learned about them?

If you're anything like us, you're eager to see the next Star Wars movie. You can't help want all your questions to be answered. This is just a reminder to enjoy this moment, too. Embrace the mystery. Relish not knowing. As cool as the Knights of Ren might turn out to be, they will never be cooler than they are right now. The best Star Wars characters are always the ones we know nothing about, and the best Star Wars movie is always the one that hasn't come out yet.