Supreme Leader Snoke is arguably the most mysterious character of the sequel trilogy – at least in terms of his origins and how he came to command the First Order. His presence in the sequel trilogy is much larger than his screen time. His unique appearance and strength in the dark side immediately got my attention and I have to admit he’s a character I’ve been dying to know more about. The truth is I want to know more about Snoke because I want to understand more about the fall of Ben Solo to the dark side. Whether you blame Luke’s moment of weakness for Ben’s turn or not – the consensus between the Jedi Master, Leia, and Han is that Snoke planted the seeds of darkness in the Skywalker heir apparent. With this comic, writer Tom Taylor gives us a horrific look into the abuse Ben Solo’s dark phoenix Kylo Ren suffered under Snoke. I can’t emphasize this enough….SPOILERS AHEAD….
The issue opens with a harrowing scene of Snoke dangling Kylo Ren over a great height, trying to stoke fear into his apprentice. We’ve seen a great deal of Palpatine’s tutelage over Vader and there’s no comparison here for me. Where Palpatine’s potential to be cruel and sadistic is without question, there is something very predatory to me about this scene. Snoke’s goal is to stoke great fear in Kylo as he releases his Force-grip on the Master of the Knights of Ren and allows him to fall deep into the canyon he hovered above. A variation of an old mantra is conveyed to Kylo as he falls: “Use your fear. Let it crystallize into anger. Turn that anger into power”. As far as the dark side goes, fear remains the catalyst, so one has to wonder what mixture of fear and insecurities Snoke catalyzed in Ben Solo to begin with.
Kylo manages to stop himself from falling and a first for Force-levitation in canon. Impressive Force abilities aside, Snoke rejoins him below and casually acknowledges Ren’s survival. Kylo wants to know if his master would’ve stopped the fall and Snoke sidesteps the question stating his former master would have. The master is unimpressed with his pupil and feels he needs to test his student elsewhere. They depart the Ralech system and head for another destination – Dagobah. Upon their arrival, Kylo prepares to disembark from their landing donning his mask, but Snoke doesn’t want that.
When Kylo seems confused by his master’s order to leave the mask behind, Snoke strikes him. It’s not hard to reduce the underlying nature of their relationship to one of abuser and abused. It’s implied in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi that Snoke manipulated Ben Solo as a child. One can only imagine the horrific evolution of that manipulation into physical and psychological abuse once Ben Solo was fully in his grasp and determined to become Kylo Ren. One might say the Kylo Ren persona is one Ben took on to please his knew master, but Snoke could never let him believe it was good enough. The confusion we see in Kylo when ordered to leave his mask behind made me very sad. Clearly, Kylo has been hailed as the next Vader for a long time and this mask is a huge part of that identity. Burying Ben Solo by embracing the persona and visage of Kylo Ren is something he no doubt feels will please his master and I imagine Kylo’s been told many times to wear that mask. He hesitates because his master’s command confuses him and there is nothing more an abuser loves than a confused, reluctant victim. Snoke underscores this strategy with physical violence, leaving Kylo even more uncertain of what his master’s next terrible lesson will be.
They’ve arrived on Dagobah and immediately Kylo senses echoes from the past. Interestingly, Dagobah is only referenced as the place where Luke trained to become a Jedi and there’s no mention of Yoda. Maybe that’s intentionally done to keep the focus on the more relevant connection they both have to the planet – Luke. Kylo is puzzled with the reverence Snoke’s words when he speaks about Luke. Someone who refers to themselves as Supreme Leader does not likely suggest they have many equals. Snoke admits he both respects and fears Luke – and that Luke’s earned it (paging the Story Group: WE NEED THAT STORY). The vicious teacher doesn’t just stop there, he uses Luke’s strength to demean his apprentice in hopes it will motivate his hatred of the last Jedi. Snoke leads Kylo to the infamous cave from The Empire Strikes Back. There’s no direct order for Kylo to enter and he’s certainly hesitant. Instead, Snoke continues to taunt his apprentice until Kylo enters on his own.
Snoke observes through the Force and whispers to Kylo when he encounters the vision of Luke. You have to imagine this is a very raw moment for Kylo Ren and whatever is left of Ben Solo underneath the dark and conflicted layers of emotional scars. The last time he saw his uncle, who had been his teacher since he was a child, he truly believed Luke was ready to kill him. We know that wasn’t Luke’s intent, but that is Kylo’s truth and he must blame Luke for so many things – not least of which is the abuse and torment he currently suffers under Snoke. Kylo ignores the vision’s warning and – with Snoke cheering him on – unleashes on his uncle while embracing the anger and hatred his master stokes. Ultimately, Kylo kills the vision of Luke and declares his lesson finished, but Snoke knows what else Kylo is hanging onto from his past as Ben Solo.
Hope you brought your tissues. The collaborative art by Leonard Kirk, inker Cory Hamscher, and colorist Guru-eFX steals the show. Kylo’s expression immediately softens when presented with the vision of his mother and father. Leia and Han remind their son he is valued, wanted, and loved – all things Snoke knows he has to be vigilant about stripping away from his apprentice if he’s going to keep him under his thumb. Snoke whispers to Kylo through the Force, gaslighting the conflicted light and dark inside a very young and confused mind. The real life parallels these frames share of family members trying to bring their loved ones out of abusive relationships or other destructive scenarios really broke my heart. All Leia and Han want to do is remind their son of the unconditional love they offer, but that might not be enough for the person we meet in this moment.
With Snoke cheering him on, Kylo seemingly attacks his parents.
But he doesn’t. Instead, Kylo attacks the cave itself, shredding roots and everything around him. We know Kylo has a fierce temper and he’s not holding back anything as he strikes out against this cave of darkness. It’s interesting to see Kylo strike out against the obvious darkness so much when we’ve been led to believe that’s all he wants to embrace. The pain of seeing his parents must be overwhelming to him and all he wants to do is make the vision stop. At this point, he’s not prepared to kill either of them and only seeks to end the vision. The red hue across Kylo’s face doesn’t suggest he’s heeding the call to the light, but there is obviously conflict in him. Kylo was still blinded with fear when it came to Luke because that’s what he was left with and that fear lead to violence. Perhaps these visions of Leia and Han, expressing their love for him, is from the last memory Ben Solo has of his parents. It’s important to note: Kylo Ren did not destroy those who offered him love. The one time we see him do that – his father in The Force Awakens – he was at the peak of his power and it shattered the darkness he wanted to consume him and only left more room for the possibility of the light to fill it.
Snoke is shocked to see Kylo’s fierce display and even compliments his apprentice after the smoke clears.
The Snoke/Kylo relationship aside, it’s noteworthy Force users seem to be well aware of this cave. Also, I think this closes the door on Dark Rey appearing in the same cave in The Rise of Skywalker. Snoke mentions other apprentices, but Kylo immediately answers that he won’t need any others. The issue ends with a confident, evil smirk from Snoke.
Major compliments to everyone involved in bringing this story to life. I was blown away and very affected by this issue. Sure, I’d love to know where Snoke comes from and how he came to rule the First Order (and his connection to Darth Sidious), but I’ll take an effective character piece over world-building Wiki’s any day. Writer Tom Taylor nailed both of these characters, as far as I’m concerned. This medium gives us relatively short stories, but by the end of this, I felt like I’d been on a journey with both of these characters. However the future of Star Wars storytelling chooses to illuminate the training Kylo endured under Snoke, I think Age of Resistance just provided us a watershed moment of those years. I know this review is longer than my usual but I highly encourage you to pick this issue up for yourself. I hope my words did it justice but this is a story you should experience for yourself.