I’ve seen a lot of talk about Kylo Ren, the newest villain in the Star Wars world in the movie, introduced in The Force Awakens. Fans of Star Wars seem to long for an adversary the equal of Vader, and many seem disappointed with this new seemingly weak, kind of douchey character.
Of course, no one is more disappointed that Kylo Ren is not Vader than Kylo Ren himself.
When I saw The Force Awakens, I was impressed with the way Kylo Ren was portrayed. I thought they put him across very realistically, capturing the position a young person with his background could have ended up in. Is he likable? Well, he’s not supposed to be. He doesn’t like himself—how can anyone else like him? Yet I saw how very dangerous his character could be, especially since it brought to mind troubled young people from the real world. We've seen his potential in some of the horrible things that have happened in our own country in the past 20 years and beyond.
His character very much reminded me of the troubled kids I’ve worked with in the past. The kids who craved approval from someone. The kids who felt they were bad. The kids who felt they didn't fit in. And especially those kids who felt they had some sort of giant family legacy to carry on. Can you imagine being Luke Skywalker’s, the savior of the effing galaxy’s, nephew? Or General Organa’s son? Or even Han Solo’s son? Can you imagine the pressure to be perfect? And think about the missions of his family. How much time did they have while fixing the post-Empire world to tell their troubled son that he was good enough, that no matter what he did, they would love him?
Lest someone say I am blaming Han and Leia, I’m not. Parents of troubled kids so often have no idea what to do with their children, and feel like failures more often than not. That’s why they reach out for help, and in this case, Leia asked Luke Skywalker for assistance. Ren, being at a vulnerable age when his parents “sent him away” to train with Luke, may well have felt abandoned by his parents, even as they were trying to help him. “There’s too much Vader in him,” Solo says. It’s interesting to wonder if Kylo Ren didn’t feel the same thing, and fear what was going to happen. Perhaps he felt the Dark Side reaching out to him, and knowing his family history, it scared him. He doesn’t want to let his family down, yet at the same time, feels it is inevitable.
When it seems like your parents sent you away because you were bad, and the man you are supposed to look up to and be trained by is nothing less than a Messiah, someone you could never hope to be…well, what do you think will happen when someone else comes along and says, “You are strong, you can be powerful, I can make you what you want to be. You are good enough for me, I don’t want you to change, I want you to embrace the power that is within you and make you whole”?
Looking at Ren’s erratic behavior over the course of the movie only proves this more. He lashes out and smashes things instead of just killing people like Vader. He takes his helmet off and faces Rey like a person instead of a monster, seemingly to connect with her. He wants Anakin’s blue lightsaber instead of Vader’s red one (don’t most Sith discard their Jedi sabers? So why would he care?). He offers to teach Rey the ways of the Force, instead of having Snoke teach her. These all suggest the great conflict within him, the same conflict that exists within many teenagers: rebelling versus acceptance.
So Ren does what many teenagers across the ages of humanity have done. He cuts his ties to his family irreversibly so that he doesn’t have to feel the pain and guilt associated with being their son, so he doesn’t have to admit that he can never live up to their ideal, so he can accept who he believes he is: a dark, evil force to be reckoned with. And Snoke let him slide into despair just enough before saying, “OK, now I’ll finish training you. I’m the only one who ever paid attention to you, who ever accepted the darkness that is inside you.” This is the same thing that happens with gang leaders in today’s world. They find kids at their weakest and most vulnerable, and give them the approval their parents never seemed to give.
Am I excusing Kylo Ren’s behavior? No, not at all. His actions are inexcusable (though he DID ask Han permission, technically). Like I said, we’re not supposed to like him. But I don’t think we are supposed to necessarily fear him, either—not yet, anyway. Remember how whiney Anakin was before he turned into Vader, after all. Does Kylo Ren deserve to be compared to Gamer Gaters and the worst of our nerdy community? Well, that remains to be seen. We know so little at this point—for example, why did Ren turn against Skywalker exactly? So much is unknown.
I can’t excuse him, but neither can I hate Kylo Ren. Like Maz in the movie, I can see his eyes in so many kids in the real world. The panicked need for acceptance and respect. The alternating need for a hug and a kick in the ass. As much as I want to smack him one, I also want someone to get through to him by showing they understand him. I want someone to help him before he destroys more, including himself. I want him to be redeemed because in a way, it gives hope for our world today, that maybe we can find ways of preventing the next Columbine. Maybe we can help these kids before things go too far. Ren's complicated character and its potential are fascinating and possibly terrifying.
Let’s just hope they don’t screw it up.
Note: All image credit goes to Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd., images used with permission under terms of usage.
About Melanie R. Meadors:
A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.
Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.