Back in 2015, Star Wars fans were shocked to learn the true identity of Kylo Ren. Born under the name of Ben Solo, this dark side warrior was actually the son of Han and Leia. Heartbreakingly, the Force Awakens ended with a tragic act of patricide, where Ben impaled his father on his cruel, crackling lightsaber.
But how did Ben Solo fall to the dark side? How did he fall under the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke to begin with? Although the answers to these questions are still wrapped in mystery, little by little, the canon Star Wars novels have been teasing tantalizing hints. From what we know so far, it seems as though Ben's fall is tied to the rise of the First Order...
The Mysterious Dark Side Presence
Although the Rebel Alliance triumphed in Return of the Jedi, that didn't mean the Empire was defeated. Instead, the nascent New Republic and the crumbling Empire became locked in ever-more-violent conflict. The story of the Empire's ultimate defeat is told in Chuck Wendig's 'Aftermath' trilogy, culminating in Aftermath: Empire's End. There, we see the Empire dealt a devastating blow over the arid world of Jakku, a planet Palpatine had used to monitor the distant Unknown Regions. With the Empire finally defeated, surviving warriors and troopers headed out to the Unknown Regions.
Tantalizingly, though, Empire's End also revealed that a dark side presence existed in the Unknown Regions — one that Palpatine had been fascinated by.
The Emperor was convinced that something waited for him out there — some origin of the Force, some dark presence formed of malevolent substance. He said he could feel the waves of it radiating out now that the way was clear. The Emperor called it a signal — conveniently one that only he could hear. Even his greatest enforcer, Vader, seemed oblivious to it, and Vader also claimed mastery over the dark Force, did he not? Rax believed Palpatine had gone mad.
The same novel gave us a disturbing scene in which a pregnant Leia sensed a dark side presence watching over her and her unborn child. The presence was so strong that Ben leaped in her womb.
Leia's Secret Revealed
The next few years following this haven't been official covered so far. As a result, the next key novel is set only six years before The Force Awakens. Claudia Gray's Bloodline (essential reading for any Star Wars fan) opens with Leia now working as a Senator in the New Republic, even considering a campaign to become Chief of State. Unfortunately, Bloodline also reveals a dark conspiracy between worlds that used to be aligned with the Empire in days gone by; a conspiracy that's clearly aligned with the First Order, who are yet to attack from the Unknown Regions.
Leia's political career comes to a painful end when her darkest family secret is revealed. It seems that Luke and Leia never told the Galaxy the truth about the Death Star battle in Return of the Jedi. The Galaxy seems to know that Luke and Leia are siblings, but not that Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, or that he ultimately betrayed and killed the Emperor. When one of Leia's political colleagues discovers the truth, he reveals it to the Galaxy, betrayed and furious at Leia's secrecy. Leia's time as a politician is well and truly over.
But here's the interesting thing. One scene in Bloodline hints that Leia and Han kept this secret far more closely than you'd have expected as Leia is concerned at how her son will take the news. It seems the family chose not to tell Ben Solo that he is the grandson of Darth Vader.
That's a pretty important plot point, not least because The Force Awakens shows Kylo Ren to be obsessed with his grandfather's legacy. It's clear that this revelation, broadcast across the Galaxy as breaking news, shattered the teenager's world.
The novel closes with Leia forming the Resistance, convinced that something dark and dangerous is moving in the shadows. She's right; the conspirators are told to prepare to secede from the New Republic, as the First Order is about to step into the light.
New Pieces To The Puzzle
Now let's turn to one of the newest Star Wars novels, Delilah S. Dawson's Phasma. Released as part of Force Friday, Phasma is set shortly after the First Order has emerged from the Unknown Regions (it's referred to as a "new" threat). Still, enough time has passed for the Resistance to identify key figures in the First Order, and launch spy missions to try to uncover their secrets. We learn that the First Order had taken shape over a decade before these events, and Phasma was recruited as part of their military buildup.
But the most significant detail is this: there's mention of Kylo Ren. Not only that, but the leadership of the First Order clearly view Kylo Ren as one of their own, a figure of great significance. Bloodline is set before the First Order emerged from the shadows, and featured Ben Solo learning that he is the grandson of Darth Vader. Not long later, the First Order appeared on the scene — and, certainly within no more than a year, Ben Solo had fallen to the dark side and become Kylo Ren.
That has remarkable implications for the timeline of our beloved Galaxy Far, Far Away, suggesting fascinating parallels between Ben Solo's fall, and that of his grandfather's decades earlier. Ben was clearly shaken to learn that he is the grandson of Darth Vader, and this tight timescale suggests that Snoke reached out to him straight away, seducing him to the dark side. What's more, just as Anakin fell and immediately slaughtered the Younglings, so we can safely assume that Ben fell quickly too and launched his attack on the Jedi. Although it's not stated in Phasma (the book has quite a tight focus, narratively speaking), it's likely that Luke had already exiled himself to Ahch-To.
The fall of Ben Solo and the rise of the First Order are inextricably linked. Phasma suggests that, within a year, the Galaxy went through a period of great upheaval. A new galactic power emerged from the Unknown Regions as ex-Imperial worlds seceded to the First Order at speed. Meanwhile, a dark side presence made itself known, seducing Ben Solo and almost wiping out the Jedi in one fell stroke. It's a fascinating story, one that we can only hope we'll see during 'Forcebacks' in The Last Jedi.