I Don’t Believe, They Actually Did It: They Went and Cloned Darth Vader

Yes weirdos and gentlefreaks, we are discussing Kylo Ren today! Simultaneously the most undeservedly controversial Star Wars character ever and also the most literal Darth Vader Clone ever.

Join me under the cut!

Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi

I’m going to be straight with you: I think they made a mistake with Kylo Ren in TFA. They made him too vulnerable, too fast. It gave fans this weird expectation where he might be redeemed in TLJ, despite the fact there’s no possible way the Dragon’s getting redeemed in Act Two.

What they should have done, instead, is keep him a cold, menacing villain ala Vader, and then, with the guild of killing Han hanging over him, start showing his vulnerabilities in this movie.

As it stands, this movie is basically filler for Kylo.

Kylo’s Arc

Kylo’s arc is basically a continuation of his arc from TFA: he’s going to continue to be pulled to the Light (with the guilt from killing his own father providing additional pull) while doing his damnedest to stay within the Dark. He can’t be redeemed yet, it’s too early, and he can’t fully ascend to villain status for much the same reason. He kind of needs this movie to push him in either direction for IX.

Like I said, filler. While his actions and choices here will determine his final fate in IX, they aren’t going to resolve his arc and he isn’t really going to be able to evolve as a character. Finn, Rey and Poe all at least get the chance to grow and change: Kylo is literally stuck in a repeat of his arc from TFA.

Kylo as The Tragic Villain

That’s not to say that Kylo isn’t going to be explored a little. Rian Johnson has confirmed that much at least. And J.J. before him confirmed that the point of Kylo was to explore what made someone a villain, as opposed to Rey and Finn, who become heroes. And definitely opposed to Poe, who probably has a heroic getting out of bed sequence.

So we’re probably going to get a little bit of info on his background. Adam, starting shortly after TFA, has confirmed that Kylo was driven by a sense of neglect and resentment towards his parents, with those negative feelings exploited by Snoke (Gee, now where have we seen that before?), so we’re probably going to see some of that directly referenced on film for the first time. I spoke more about this in my post on Leia, but in order for Kylo’s arc to have any resolution, he and Leia have to confront each other. And for practical reasons, that confrontation is probably going to happen in this film.

So we’re going to explore Kylo’s backstory a little. But here’s the thing: Kylo’s backstory isn’t setting him up as some kind of hero or even to lay the groundwork for his redemption. Remember, when RotJ came out, we barely knew anything about Vader’s backstory other than he was Luke’s father and he betrayed the Jedi. It wasn’t until later that we got to see Anakin’s fall, and it was definitely setting him up as a tragic villain.

So, given that precedent and how much Kylo’s arc is basically a rip-off of Vader’s, it’s unlikely that Kylo’s backstory serves any other purpose other than to give a meaning to his actions besides ‘he’s a dick.’ Which both Rian and JJ have confirmed as wanting to avoid.

However, they will highlight his status as the Tragic Villain of the Sequel Trilogy:

  • Kylo Ren was motivated out of a sense of neglect and resentment. Compare Snoke, who’s motivated by revenge and power, or Hux, who’s motivated mostly by his own fanaticism, or Phasma, who’s just a straight-up sociopath and somebody for Finn to kick around.
  • Kylo’s emotional and mental growth has been stunted by Snoke, limiting not only his culpability for his actions but even his ability to take responsibility for said actions. Compare Finn, where the attempted brainwashing failed and he was able to escape and become a hero. Finn’s story is triumphant, Kylo’s is tragic.
  • Kylo’s fall is mostly motivated by his own faults. True, Snoke enflamed and exploited them, but it was still Kylo’s rage, resentment and feelings of neglect that lead to his fall and the atrocities he later committed. And he remains, to this day, a raging ball of childish resentment. That’s not really gonna change in this movie, and will probably only change enough to get him killed in the next one.
    • In particular, Kylo Ren is selfish. While his resentment over his parents choosing the galaxy over him is understandable, it isn’t exactly a good look for a thirty-year-old man, mental issues and brainwashing or no. And again, while resenting being packed off to some strange uncle because your parents don’t know what to do with you is understandable, it’d be one heck of a stretch to say that justifies murdering all of your fellow students and attempting to murder said uncle.
  • Kylo will have an opportunity to redeem himself again in this movie and will reject it. Normally I’d say this is out of stubbornness or pride, but one of the few faults Kylo didn’t inherit from his grandfather was pride. So it’s more likely to be out of a flash of rage, or a mistaken belief that doing so would make him stronger in the Dark Side. That’s not how the Dark Side works, but Kylo won’t figure that out until IX.

Kylo Ren is not the Hero of the Sequel Trilogy, nor is he being presented as such

Here’s the thing: at this point in time, Kylo Ren has done way too much, gotten way too involved in the Dark Side, for him to be redeemed and become a hero in one movie. Angel, after becoming Angelus, took an entire season to get his hero status back. And he had to fight for it every step of the way in his own series. Same with Spike.

Vader, in a more Star Wars related example, also didn’t get his redemption until RotJ and he died because of it. Luke Castellan, another parallel to Kylo Ren, fared similarly. True, he was buried as a hero with full rites, but this is for two reasons: one, to highlight Percy’s own character development ala Luke Skywalker’s, and because the Ancient Greek definition of a hero was a little different: anybody with royal blood and big brass balls was a hero. Luke Castellan, whatever else he was, was a brave young man and a son of Hermes, fulfilling both necessities. That he died by his own hand in order to save the world from Kronos is proof enough of that.

It’s also a really big clue about how Kylo’s arc is going to end, by the way.

But Rian Johnson said that Rey and Kylo were two halves of the same protagonist!

I hope, next Oscar season or whatever, that they add a new award category: ‘Best Boilerplate Crap Told To An Interviewer That Somehow Gets The Fandom Worked Up Beyond All Possible Reason.’ And they should vote for Rian Johnson to win in perpetuity.

First off, it was J.J. Abrams who decided to make Kylo and Rey parallel each other, not Rian. He’s literally just copy-pasting Abrams work and we have, as a fandom, decided that it was his originally. Plagiarism by public opinion?

Secondly, this is the same crap said about every Rival/Foil/Shadow Archetype ever. And you know what? The Joker is never presented as the hero in Batman’s books. Neither was Lex in Superman’s. And neither was Venom. Yes, he became a hero and eventually had his own book but:

  1. He was never The Hero of the Spider-Man books. That was Spidey.
  2. He was always a lot less evil and more inclined to heroism than either of the aforementioned examples or Kylo Ren.

Seriously people. Kylo’s not that important. He’s Rey’s antagonist and personal villain; not a hero.

But the marketing has pushed Rey and Kylo at the expense of Finn and Poe!

This is a way more legitimate argument than it should be.

First off, the merchandising team at Lucasfilm desperately needs to be fired. From the fiasco with Rey, to totally misjudging how the audience was going to react (here’s a hint: Kylo Ren is not nearly as popular with general audiences as he is with the fandom) to this current nonsense with Finn, they’ve bungled every marketing decision badly within the last three-four years. You can ascribe to them whatever motive you so choose, but there’s no question that they’ve fucked up and repeatedly.

Secondly, the trailers and interviews have definitely been slanted in favour of Rey and Kylo. I didn’t realize how much until we actually got a Finn centric trailer, but it’s been pretty bad. That said, I think the advertising for Finn has been much more effective than that for Rey and Kylo. Mostly because it hasn’t been filled with obvious lies and click-bait, filled with some blatant bias on the part of third-party interviewers. (I’m looking at you, Andrew Breznican).

However, this is also the fandom that complained that RO was a totally different movie than what the trailers offered (I didn’t think so, but maybe that’s just me) and still hasn’t gotten over the twist in TFA’s marketing. And also frequently produces evidence about how Disney’s been fucking with their heads in this marketing run. You’d think at this point they’d learn not to take the trailers and interviews as gospel, but apparently not.

Remember, trailers lie. They have to, to avoid spoiling too much of the story. Don’t trust them!

But Balance!

The Mortis Trilogy of The Clone Wars needs to be required viewing for any and all Star Wars fans. Seriously. Because balance does not mean what you all think it means.

It does not mean Rey and Kylo in a relationship, any kind of relationship. Kylo, through his actions, has upset the balance of the Force. The Dark Side, especially in the Mortis Trilogy, has always been presented as being a threat to the balance. It is aggressive, ambitious and always present in everything we do. To abandon oneself to the Dark Side utterly is to become evil. Just as the Son did in the Mortis Trilogy, just as Anakin did in RotS, just as Kylo Ren has done.

Granted, abandoning oneself purely to the Light isn’t much better. You become too passive, too forgiving, too trusting. Duchess Satine is pretty much the perfect example of Light out of balance: naive, trusting and completely useless. Sorry, Satine fans; I liked her too. But her dedication to total pacifism was a disaster, and we all know it.

So what is balance, then? It’s not the mathematical equation most fans like to portray it as: abandoning oneself wholly to Light or Dark is portrayed as dangerous in the extreme, so having two avatars of those concepts would just leave you with two very dangerous people constantly fighting. It’s not the exact midpoint between the two: The Bendu tries that, and all he does really is sleep until somebody pisses him off. That’s laziness, not balance.

So what is balance? I think the Father represents it best: He understands and forgives his children, but isn’t above kicking their asses when they need it. Balance is courage, not rage. Balance is determination, not hatred. Balance is forgiveness, not forgetfulness. Balance is mercy, not stupidity. Balance is justice, neither vengeance nor letting the bad guy go away scot-free. Balance is recognizing that sometimes you have to cooperate with lesser evil to defeat a greater one, while still recognizing that you’re aligning yourself with evil, however temporarily. Balance is defeating an enemy, fighting an enemy, without committing war crimes. Balance is compassion and love without jealousy, or attachment or letting yourself become a walking doormat.

Balance, in essence, is Luke Skywalker.

We need to decide just how much of Kylo Ren’s actions Kylo’s actually responsible for

There’s three parts to the ‘we’ here:

  • The writers. Writing mental issues and brainwashing in fiction is kind of a tricky thing. In the real world, we (in theory, anyway) accept that not everybody has 100% control of their actions all of the time. We recognize things like diminished competence, insanity, temporary insanity, extortion, blackmail, and others and how they limit a person’s agency. Fiction, though, is a little different. In order for a character to have fulfilling, emotionally satisfying arc they need to maintain most if not all of their agency. Otherwise, they’re just redundant to the story, little more than a lamppost. This is why Finn’s arc is triumphant: he has, throughout the story, damn near unlimited agency in spite of the fact that, being a stormtrooper, he really shouldn’t have any.
  • Kylo Ren. In-universe, Kylo Ren is a fucked up human being, no question. But he’s also not so fucked up that he can’t at least consider the possibility of redemption (see his interactions with Han and his weird-prayer thing to Vader’s helmet) and he also subverts Snoke’s orders at least twice in TFA. So he can break free, should he so choose. But he can’t break free until he decides just who’s driving Kylo Ren here: himself or Snoke. And he can’t resolve his arc until he breaks free from Snoke. Either as a villain, where he embraces everything he does and continues to be evil, or for his redemption arc, where he rejects everything he did, but accepts the blame for it. Either way, he has to take control of his life.
  • The audience. This goes back to the agency thing. Basically, if Kylo isn’t in control of his actions, we won’t accept him. He’ll just be a lamppost, a prop. And that’s just no fun.

Reylo Ain’t Happening

Certainly not in this movie. Rian’s confirmed that we will get no plot central romances, so don’t get your hopes up and don’t come whining to me when you don’t get what you want.

But I’m pretty sure it isn’t happening in any movie. Allow me to explain why:

  • Kylo Ren undeniably has a creepy obsession with Rey. However, he’s a thirty-year-old man to Rey’s nineteen-year-old girl. That not only makes it creepier, but think about the current environment: in this day and age, there’s been a huge backlash against sexual harassers. And it is this environment in which IX is being written. As IX is what will decide their fates, a desire to avoid any controversy kills this ship dead.
  • Continuing on with Kylo’s creeper tendencies, Rey absolutely does not reciprocate his interest in her. She calls him a monster in TFA. Articles promoting TLJ have her expressing confusion, disgust and apathy towards him, the recent EW article in particular. Then there’s her voice-overs in Battlefront II:
  • every time Kylo offers to teach her, she tells him to fuck off.
  • Kylo’s obsession has been described as ‘grudging admiration’ and ‘corrosive envy’. That sounds more like hatred and fear than anything romantic. Remember that Darcy, to whom Kylo is frequently and wrongly compared, openly admired Elizabeth Bennet when he made his first disastrous proposal, and had for a significant chunk of the book. Elizabeth was blind to it, sure, but everybody who read the book caught on pretty quick.
  • Kylo Ren’s first interactions with Rey in person are to kidnap and torture her. This really puts him more in Wickham territory than Darcy, and it’s, again, a terrible start to any kind of relationship. While I do believe that Rey will eventually forgive Kylo, the idea that she could ever forgive him enough to fall in love with him is a stretch. Remember that the Beast, to whom Kylo is again often and wrongly compared to, did not torture Belle. In point of fact, he spent a fair bit of time making sure that she was comfortable and that her wants and needs were met. Kylo has shown no such consideration.
  • Kylo is ultimately selfish and possessive. Remember the last time a selfish, possessive relationship was portrayed in Star Wars? Oh yeah, it was Anakin and Padmé. How did that turn out exactly? Oh yeah. She died and he became a villain. Not really the route you want to go with your new heroes.

I’m an abuse survivor and I don’t consider Reylo to be abusive

Good for you! Nobody cares.

I’m an abuse survivor and I definitely consider Reylo to be abusive

Good for you! Nobody cares.

The only thing that matters is what’s presented on screen and what Lucasfilm thinks they can get away with. And, given what’s presented on screen, Lucasfilm is very, very unlikely to think they can get away with Reylo.

Kylo Ren is a rehash of Darth Vader, don’t kid yourself.

He is. He’s the most literal Darth Vader Clone ever put to screen, bar none. And not just because he’s Anakin’s grandkid.

  • His story has more or less the same beats, including: feelings of neglect and abandonment, exploited by a child predator. Betrayal and murder of his fellow Jedi. Intense personal, creepy and (probably) familial relationship with the protagonist. Questioning his decision to join the Dark Side. (Probable) redemption and death.
  • His armour is clearly modelled of off Vader’s.
  • He and Vader have very similar personalities. With the mask, they are hardened warriors, cold and collected and very snarky. Without it, they are emotionally immature, mentally disturbed man-children with overly expressive faces. They even lash out with extreme violence whenever something goes wrong!
  • In-universe, he has clearly and deliberately modelled himself after Vader, even trying to emulate his personality.

Yeah, he’s a rehash. Now you can accept that or not, but given the build up we’ve been given? Expecting anything other than a carbon-copy of Vader’s fate is downright delusional.

Luke tomorrow guys, I promise!

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