Review – The Tragedy of The Prince of Alderaan Reveals Itself in Marvel’s The Rise of Kylo Ren #1
The Rise of Kylo Ren has arrived. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this has been the most anticipated issue of 2019 for me since hearing writer Charles Soule would be taking the helm. This first issue delivered! Right out of the gate, the history you may think you know about Ben Solo is thrown out the window. This series is off to an ambitious start. Please note, I don’t know about any spoilers or leaks from The Rise of Skywalker, so I can’t say whether or not this will spoil any elements of the film, but regardless….GIANT SPOILERS AHEAD….
Charles Soule is uniquely suited to write this property after spinning most fans on their heads with his Darth Vader series. Set in the early days of the Sith Lord, immediately after his turn to the dark side, it established the Dark Lord of the Sith as tortured soul, mining the depths of the Force to reunite with his love. Ben Solo is still a child who is trying to understand why he woke up to his uncle and mentor holding a lightsaber over his head. For me, this changes everything.
The issue opens somewhere, long ago, before the destruction of Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Temple. We meet this scarred figure on a desolate planet, in the midst of confronting two brothers hiding in a cave. Around them, the Knights of Ren eliminate a security force who were after the brothers. Ren, as I’ll call him, tells the brothers he’s heard they’ve used the dark side (which Ren refers to as “shadow”) to kill hundreds. The seeming master displays a crimson bladed lightsaber and refers to it as “The Ren”. He goes on to explain the weapon is relentless and without any sort of conscience, killing without any sort of bias and it is the basis of his faith. Ren offers the brothers a place among the Knights of Ren, but informs them he demands a sacrifice from them. One brother is quicker than the other and turns his blaster on the unsuspecting one, killing his sibling without hesitation.
The brother, thinking he sacrificed everything to be part of these knights, learns quickly he didn’t pass the test. Ren doesn’t give any indication why, other than flippantly suggesting “it didn’t work out”. The Knights of Ren stand over a pair of dead brothers and multiple corpses, all seemingly sacrificed just so they could see about adding a new member to their order. Charles Soule does a great job of establishing one truth which will follow us through this issue and The Rise of Skywalker: The Knights of Ren are villains.
The issue jumps, suggestively through time and space, to our present day. Ben Solo, amidst the wreckage of his hut after waking up to his uncle holding a lightsaber over his head. Ben is confused, not sure exactly what he just experienced, and I’ll get to the actual destruction of the temple in a bit. At this moment, a group of three Jedi are returning to the temple, shocked and horrified to see it burning. One of them senses Ben is still alive, but they are more disturbed they cannot sense the massive presence Luke Skywalker has in the Force. The art here from Will Sliney and colorist Guru-eFX is sublime. This issue breathes with the combination of Soule’s writing and the art.
The Jedi don’t trust the story. Not that they don’t trust Ben Solo, but they never believe Luke could’ve threatened his own student. There were only two truths in that hut, and Ben Solo is the one who will tell the story. There is no malice in Ben’s claims – he truly believed his uncle wanted to kill him. The Jedi try to understand and try to comfort him. Ben tells them their training and his were lies and he’s leaving. Again, I don’t detect any intention to mislead. Like Luke says, I see a frightened boy who is trying to make sense of everything that’s just happened.
The other two Jedi still have questions. Ben actually reaches for his lightsaber but holds back and warns them to stay back. When Voe moves to attack, he holds her in midair, just to demonstrate his power and have it serve as a final warning. When the three Jedi group up against him, Ben still resists reaching for his lightsaber and instead hurtles debris in their direction to keep them away. So, this is pretty huge, folks. We’ve been assuming Ben Solo to be this murderous teen who repeated his grandfather’s actions – only at a much younger age – and that’s how he came to be Kylo Ren. No, at every turn here he’s tried to avoid harming his fellow students. That’s not what villains do.
The Jedi are determined to find out what happened and they pursue Ben. Both of them note Ben’s lineage isn’t only that of Skywalker – he’s also the son of Han Solo and they know it’s not going to be easy trying to outfly him. Ben outmaneuvers them and disables their ship – again, not killing the Jedi, just trying to keep them out of his way. He’s scared, he trusts no one, and he needs to find out what’s happened. When Ben’s droid suggests they go to Hosnian Prime, he has a momentary vision of his mother, which sparks a recollection to what happened that night at the Jedi Temple, beyond what we’ve seen in The Last Jedi.
Ahhhh…the first look at the voice inside of Ben’s head. We don’t know if this is Palpatine or Snoke, but the diction would suggest it’s the latter. Beyond this conflict, we see Ben DID NOT destroy the temple. Instead, he calls to a the distant voice, asking in a very accusatory tone: “Why did you do it?” Just as he asks this question, the temple explodes. Ben Solo is horrified at what he’s just witnessed. Notably, just before the temple explodes, a group of violent looking red and blue clouds descend upon it, but look sharp because it took me a couple of reads to notice them. Just thought I’d point that out, since those colors have been heavily used in The Rise of Skywalker marketing.
Ben repeatedly tries to make his way to the temple, only to be blown back by the violent and unexplained explosions ripping his former school apart. Ben also sees the body of his uncle and master lying lifelessly amidst the wreckage and is equally distressed. There is no equivalency between Ben and Anakin at this point, for me. Anakin had a moment of horror at the choices he made when he killed Mace Windu (“What have I done?”). Ben Solo never made that choice. He was thrown into the fire. The voice even says to Ben that he never made a choice, but places the responsibility on Luke Skywalker. I went cold while reading this. Ben tried to save the temple! Luke’s loss of faith in Ben and what I assumed…it was all a lie! When Ben comes out of the flashback, he decides not to go to Hosnian Prime and seek guidance from his mother. Instead, he heads elsewhere.
I almost threw my book across the room when I saw this. Snoke is a predator. We knew this, but having it driven home like this was really hard to witness, especially when Ben’s other destination would’ve been the arms of his mother. Ben feels his family failed him and he’s clearly established a bond with Snoke he feels more trust in than his own mother. We don’t yet fully know how Ben became so estranged from his parents, but between Leia’s work in politics and Han’s absentee role it’s not hard to piece together. Like all predators, Snoke saw that and swooped in. Clearly, this is a MUCH different Snoke than we’ve seen before. His elaborate toupee, the flora and fauna surrounding him (it appears Snoke lives in a planet sized arboretum), and the gentle nature in which he regards Ben Solo. He doesn’t try to guide or order Ben, he just asks Ben what he wants to do next.
I have no doubt Charles Soule has an incredible story to tell us. As hard as it may be to read, I’m ready to learn more about the lost Prince of Alderaan. This first issue completely gutted me emotionally and I’ve read it about ten times today. Each time, it just gets more intense and the stakes of The Rise of Skywalker only seem to grow. Soule’s writing translates to the medium of comics so well. Each cell of this issue is like a portrait and I don’t have any idea what’s in store for future issues, but as far as this first issue goes, we have a lot to look forward to.