Gooooood morning internet! How are we all today? Miserable? Excellent.
This morning, I want to discuss my thoughts on the villains and their arc within The Last Jedi. So let’s get right to it!
Let’s start off with the most controversial member of the new Star Wars cast, by far (and thoroughly undeserved).
Kylo is a Villain
Rian Johnson refers to Kylo and Rey as ‘two halves of the dark and light.’ JJ Abrams told us that his arc in The Force Awakens was that of a villain in training. Rey flat out states in the new T.V. spot that he (Kylo) failed Luke.
And that’s before we get into the stuff he actually did. In no particular order, Kylo Ren:
- Betrayed and murdered his fellow Jedi students.
- Betrayed and attempted to murder his uncle.
- Slaughtered an entire village after they’d surrendered. That’s a war crime, gents.
- Killed a defenceless old man to obtain a map that was never his to begin with.
- Tortured a prisoner, Poe Dameron. That’s another war crime.
- Was a party to system-wide genocide. That’s accessory to a war crime.
- Murdered his father.
- Kidnapped and tortured a young woman.
That’s probably not a complete list, but it’s enough for now. Kylo Ren is a villain, he has done villainous things. Any arc he goes through is going to have to deal with that. Any attempt to downplay or excuse his actions are whitewashing.
That being said…
Kylo is conflicted
This really shouldn’t be controversial. Kylo Ren himself tells us that he’s conflicted in The Force Awakens when he’s talking to Darth Vader’s helmet. JJ Abrams confirmed that he was this close to switching sides before he killed Han. Leia states that there’s still light in him. The trailers for The Last Jedi show him both smashing his mask in rage and being deeply reluctant to kill his mother.
None of his reluctance excuses his crimes, of course. But it does highlight where he’s going in The Last Jedi: continuing to struggle between light and dark, between being the villain he is and the hero he was supposed to be.
Not that this should be surprising to anybody who watched The Force Awakens and can count, but there you have it.
Kylo is severely mentally disturbed
He really, really is. Let’s see:
- He talks to the burnt helmet of his deceased grandfather. That’s not normal, at all.
- When he talks about Snoke to Han, it’s in a disturbingly cultish like fashion.
- For that matter, he talks to Snoke in a way that’s disturbingly like a cult follower talking to their leader. Fitting, given who Snoke is, but still disturbing.
- His emotional maturity is severely stunted, even more so than usual for a Dark Sider. Brutal temper tantrums when given bad news, prone to violent mood swings, prone to outbursts of pure childishness (‘That lightsaber belongs to me,’ is a good example). He’s in his thirties and he acts like he’s somewhere between twelve and sixteen. Rian’s comments on Kylo being symbolic of adolescent rage and that he (Kylo) takes it too far are telling. Kylo acts a lot like a child soldier, with the emphasis on ‘child’.
- Dissociation. He literally refers to Ben Solo, who he is, as a person he killed. That’s a bad sign.
- He keeps the ashes of some of the people he’s killed in a shrine with said helmet. That’s, uh, that’s some serial killer shit there man.
- Snoke has been actively screwing with his head since he was in the womb. The fact that Kylo is competent, never mind sane, is kind of a miracle.
None of this excuses Kylo’s crimes. He’s still sane in the legal sense of the term: he understands the difference between right and wrong. His definition of those concepts is warped all to hell and back, sure, but he can make the distinction. And so long as he can differentiate between right and wrong, however much his personal definition of the two may differ from society’s, he can be held accountable for his own actions.
No, Kylo’s utter lack of mental health does not excuse his behaviour. What it does is lead us to…
Kylo is The Tragic Villain
As Rey is a repeat of Luke, so too is Kylo Ren a repeat of Darth Vader. And, like his grandfather before him, Kylo is ultimately a tragic, pitiable figure. A broken man using a mask to look strong, nothing more.
Indeed, Kylo Ren bears pretty much all the hallmarks of a classic tragic villain. His attempts to achieve victory all backfire. See Rey and how most of her early skill with the Force comes from turning Kylo’s assaults back on him. See also the murder of Han Solo, which the novelization outright states weakened him.
His villainy is primarily driven by his own failings, namely his deep mental and emotional instability. And yet, he is still merely the puppet of a yet greater evil.
The inherent tragedy of Kylo Ren does not excuse his crimes, of course. Rey calls him a monster in a mask and it is apt. Kylo is a monster, and any continuation of his arc is going to need to address that, wherever it may end up.
Considering all that, is Kylo Ren redeemable?
I’m going to answer this strictly in regards to the universe of Star Wars, so don’t bring any real world shit to the table here, ‘kay?
And the answer is… not in this movie. Kylo, as confirmed by Rian Johnson and others, is still on the path towards villainy. He can’t, and won’t, address his flaws in this movie. He’s still convinced, conflicted nature aside, that he’s the good guy. He’s wrong, obviously, but as any kind of redemption would have to start by him acknowledging that fact and as he won’t in this movie, he’s not getting a redemption arc here.
Which should have been painfully obvious to anybody who can count. This here is the second movie of three. Unless they plan to kill Kylo off here, there’s no way his arc was going to get resolved in this one. Honestly, I think they should have made Kylo more of a villain in The Force Awakens and really only started on his conflicted nature in this movie because the way they did it leaves this movie as kind of filler for Kylo, but whatever. Kylo is not being redeemed in this movie.
Will Kylo be conflicted? Sure. Will the seeds of his eventual redemption, either through his own death or through a further series of adventures in later movies, be laid? Possibly, if that’s the route Lucasfilm ultimately decides to go down. Will he and Rey reach out to each other in moments of empathy? Absolutely. Mercy, compassion, and forgiveness are all what Star Wars is based on, and as the Hero of the new trilogy, Rey has those traits in spades. And Kylo, for his part, is interested in Rey. That being said, they will end up rejecting each other. Rey, because she is too moral to give into the Dark Side, and Kylo Ren because he is too far gone to just jump back into the light without a lot of time, effort, and the occasional face-punching. And also because their arcs can’t be resolved until the next movie.
One last thing on the subject of redemption: redemption does not erase the past. It doesn’t heal the wounds one has inflicted. It can’t resurrect the dead. Redemption (literally meaning ‘bought back’) requires repeated sacrifices of blood and pain, toil and effort. And all in the realization that it will never be enough, that you can never pay back the blood debt you have incurred. So anybody who’s looking for a ‘redemption’ arc for Kylo that gives him a happy ending and a free pass:
Don’t. That’s not Star Wars. Redemption in Star Wars damn near always ends in death, with few exceptions. And those exceptions ain’t exactly happy fun times, either. Iden Versio lost her father, her home, her best friend, and her lover for redemption. Kallus’ consequences are less severe, but he still puts himself at considerable risk and through a fair bit of psychological hell in order to pay his dues. And he still isn’t done; as a full-fledged member of the Alliance, his commitment to the blood-price is now official… and officially lifelong. So any redemption on Kylo’s part is going to be equally hellish.
Like I said before: not in this film. I’ll expand a little from yesterday:
- Kylo’s interactions with Rey are genuinely creepy, from the torture session to his bizarre attempts to empathize with her. Not to mention the fact that he’s a thirty-year-old man with the emotional stability of a teenager and she’s, you know, nineteen. That’s a rabbit hole that Lucasfilm isn’t going to want to go down, especially in this day and age.
- Kylo tortured her. Rey’s unlikely to forget that, and definitely not going to forgive him right away.
- Kylo also murdered her father figure. Again, something Rey isn’t going to just let go.
- Kylo tried to kill her best and pretty much only friend, Finn. Are you seeing the pattern yet?
- Rey’s first commentary on Kylo in the trailers is a blunt but accurate criticism that also deliberately contrasts the two: ‘Kylo failed you. I won’t.’
- Rian Johnson has said there will be ‘no one-to-one equivalent of the Han-to-Leia, burning, unrequited love. In our story, that’s not a centrepiece.’ Which, given that any romance between Kylo and Rey would almost certainly be exactly that given their previous relationship (albeit more Spuffy than Han/Leia) that pretty much puts the kibosh on that idea.
- Again, it’s the second movie of three. Nobody’s arc is getting resolved here.
Do I think Rey will ultimately forgive Kylo and move on? Yes. But I don’t think that’ll lead to a relationship of any kind. Mostly because I think Kylo’s going to end up very, very dead at the end of IX and any such forgiveness will only come after a valiant heroic sacrifice, but even if it doesn’t, there’s nothing inherent in forgiveness that requires Rey to develop any kind of relationship with Kylo. She can very easily forgive him and tell him to take a hike at the same time.
After all, the wise forgive but don’t forget.
Snoke! A villain who does not get near enough attention from the fandom, who instead likes to focus on the considerably lamer Kylo Ren.
Let’s be clear on this: Snoke is a villain par excellence. He is the driving force (no pun intended) behind every evil character and action. He’s the reason Kylo Ren is who he is. He’s the brains behind the First Order, the ultimate architect of it’s atrocities. He’s a child predator, who manipulated and broke the child of person (Leia) it’s implied was his friend. He’s a mass murderer on a scale Palpatine would have had trouble keeping up with. All the evil and vile acts committed by his subordinates can be laid at their feet. He’s less a person than he is a malignant tumour on the galaxy.
So his arc is less an arc and more a chance to see what kind of evil shit he can do this time around.
Is Snoke redeemable?
Nope. Snoke, in fact, is pretty much the only guy in The Last Jedi for whom the question shouldn’t even be asked. Just cut his head off and have done (not in this movie, obviously. We still need him for IX).
Snoke is the Sequel Trilogy equivalent of Palpatine. And like Palps, he’s just here to wreck shit.
Hux is… yeah, he’s a cartoon. Sorry Hux fans! But he is. He has no arc whatsoever and only marginally more character.
Annoy Kylo? Be evil? Annoy people who are sick of evil redheads? There’s not enough to this guy to have an arc.
Is Hux redeemable?
Nope. See, the problem with redemption in fiction is that there are people important enough to be redeemed and there are people who exist to get mowed down by the hundreds. Hux falls into the latter category.
Hux almost certainly won’t die in this movie (otherwise they’d need to cast a new guy to do the same shit for the next one), but he’s going to die eventually. Here’s hoping it’s with a little dignity.
Captain Phasma! Way cooler than Hux.
Like Finn, Phasma’s arc in this movie has been a pleasant surprise in at least two ones:
- They made her a backstabbing sociopath. Not the way I would have gone, but it definitely works.
- They made her a personal enemy of Finn. This is great because it really anchors Finn’s arc while still giving Phasma something cool and important to do. Okay, so she still exists mainly to get beaten up by the heroes, but a villain with a personal beef with the heroes is way more fun to watch get beaten up than a villain with no such connection
Is Phasma redeemable?
Probably not. Like Hux, she isn’t really important enough to the plot to even be given the option. That said, she might be and might actually take the heroes up on the offer and turn a new leaf.
Unlikely, really unlikey, but not totally impossible.