SPOILERS FOR THE FORCE AWAKENS INSIDE. Also a look forward at the possible antagonists for Episode VIII.
In The Force Awakens we finally learned what this enigmatic shot from the trailer is actually a part of: a vision sequence of Rey’s where she catches glimpses of a traumatic past and a troubled future.
During the movie we also learn that Kylo Ren is not only a member of the mysterious order known as the “Knights of Ren,” but the master of the group, which seem to be a shadowy hand to the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke. Whether Ren stays their leader after his rather disastrous encounter with Rey remains to be seen, but it certainly looks that way – if this glimpse at the Knights of Ren was a vision of the future and not the past, that is.
A Look Into the Future
In Rey’s vision, we know that we’re seeing at least a little of both the future and the past: we see both her abandonment on Jakku as a small child and her soon-to-come duel with Kylo Ren on the surface of Starkiller Base. So which is this look at the Knights of Ren? Future or past?
The argument for it being the past hinges on the few details we know about how Ben Solo, a.k.a. Kylo Ren, rebelled against his master, Luke, and destroyed Luke’s new Jedi training academy. If this is in the past, the bodies in the mud could be staff member and other trainees. We know that Snoke was somehow involved in turning – or targeting – Ben/Kylo, so it’s possible this could have been taking place over time and in secret, leading to the grand reveal of the new Kylo in armor with Snoke’s other Knights of Ren with him.
But this argument doesn’t hold water for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that it seems like Snoke took control of Kylo at a young age, and in the flash of a scene, Kylo has already built his lightsaber and is at the head of the Knights of Ren. It’s still possible that this was in the past, and this was part of Kylo’s rise within the Dark Side, but why would it matter to the audience if Rey sees a massacre she has no other connection to? It’s also worth mentioning she’s in the scene as an adult.
All this hints at the fact that this is probably something yet to come. Besides, it makes good narrative sense: We in the audience see how bad Kylo Ren is and hear about the Knights of Ren. Then after the New Order’s superweapon is destroyed, we see what amounts to seven Kylo Rens as Rey begins to rise as a possible new Jedi.
But Will They Be in Episode VIII?
That’s the big question: this scene full of Knights of Ren looks like it’s probably a hurdle Rey and the Resistance are still coming up to – and a major one at that – but will it come in Episode VIII or in the conclusion of the new trilogy, Episode IX?
Pretty hard to tell at this point. The mere fact that we were shown this scene now, in The Force Awakens, while hearing whispers about the full order of the Knights of Ren certainly hints at “sooner rather than later,” but there was a lot going on in Rey’s vision. There’s a good chance she spends a lot of Episode VIII trying to reconcile herself to both her past and her new station as a Jedi Knight-in-training. (We’re allowed to assume that’s what will happen with Rey and Luke, right?) There might just not be enough screen time for the Knights to get a proper introduction.
Then again, Episode VIII is going to need an antagonist. The Force Awakens mirrored A New Hope pretty closely and intentionally; if we assume the other two thirds of the trilogy will do the same thing, Supreme Leader Snoke won’t be our Big Bad Guy to deal with until Episode IX. That means we need someone, or a group of people, to fill the void. The First Order, the Republic, and the Resistance all suffered serious blows in The Force Awakens. Don’t be shocked if political side of things in Episode VIII is full of pitched skirmishes while the philosophical battle – between Light Side and Dark – turns guerilla.