The Light Remains: A Study of Kylo Ren
By Miriam Orr
“Forgive me. I feel it again… the call from light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again the power of the darkness, and I’ll let nothing stand in our way. Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started.” – Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The one fear I had going into The Force Awakens was that of the replacement character of Darth Vader.
Typically considered cinema’s most terrifying villain, Vader’s reputation precedes him. One doesn’t even have to know the Star Wars universe to understand -or know, for that matter – who Vader is. Many people can identify him by not only his voice, but that insane theme music that seems to echo in the hallways of great villainy everywhere.
My fear in The Force Awakens was that Vader’s replacement was going to be weak – that he would lack depth, as we wouldn’t know entirely who he was. We had the original series to get to know Vader as “Darth Vader” himself; epitome of evil and darkness. We had the prequels to take us on the downward spiral of Anakin Skywalker and his journey to the dark side. Basically; we know Vader. We understand who he is, why he is the way he is, and what his journey is. We identified with him as a boy on Tatooine, followed him as a padawan in the Attack of the Clones, and mourned him when he fell in Revenge of the Sith. The “light siders” despised him in the original’s while the dark siders praised him for his genious.
And so we come to Kylo Ren. He’s a complicated character, to be certain. The first time I watched the film I was disappointed in him – he threw temper tantrums, struggled with fear, failed his assignments to such a depth that was almost shameful for a villain. But, as this week I ventured back to the privately owned theatre in my hometown to rewatch the movie, I had to rethink Adam Driver’s performance of Ren. He challenged me to examine Ren on a different level.
Ren is a dark character – darker than most, I’ll admit. Here is a character who has left his family and betrayed his own blood in favor of power and promises of infamy and grandeur. Of a distorted sense of peace and balance which we found in Vader. Of dilluisional dreams. Kylo Ren has been lured to the dark side in his own weakness and fear – because the Jedi had already fallen and was on the verge of return, Ren realized that though the Jedi had fallen, the dark side had not. He abandoned the principles of the values and morals of the light side in fear of its weakness – or, its strength: its strength to change an individual and drive them forward, to keep them anchored and draw them to protect others. It’s power to move and flow and create and sustain life – to pursue honor. The dark side would’ve seemed more appealing – and perhaps more relevant – in the wake of the fallen Jedi; after all, it had never fallen in the first place. It had conquered light. It was stable and safe. And, the power aspect was tempting enough to a man who was already perhaps struggling with the idea of the light side.
In Kylo’s fall to the dark side, he did not entirely abandon the light. It continually calls to him throughout the film – he sees his mother’s efforts in the Resistance, feels the presence of Luke through the force and is continually reminded of his own personal failure through Skywalker’s exiled existence. It could be argued that Anakin’s fall was easier – he lost everyone he cared about; mother, faced the reality of Padme perhaps dying, Kenobi’s confidence in him as a Jedi Knight and the Jedi’s refusal to make him a Master. Kylo, however, didn’t lose much at all – he abandoned everything, and would have to live with the realization. He would have to feel the force in his bloodline that called him to the light side – the “Chosen” aspect of the Skywalker DNA.
This makes him a complicated character. While still discovering who he was as a villain, Kylo Ren slowly begins to lose his resolve. Which, can be argued, is manifested physically by his loss of control and tendencies towards violence and destruction. PTSD victims often resort to violence; a study by the Department of Psychiatry in Detroit Michigan stated that “Clinicians commonly attribute [violent] symptoms [of PTSD] to a particular stressor, usually the most recent stressor or the stressor that represents the content of the symptoms.” Ren’s violent outbursts are rooted in PTSD of his past acts involving Luke’s new order of Jedi, and would be an accurate cause for his outbreaks.
On top of his self discovery is the pressure of his Master, Snoke. Pressure drives an individual forward and fuels their need to become better. In desperation as his Master begins to question his abilities, Kylo begins to grasp at the straws of his power – he will do everything and anything to impress, to move forward; gain what is slowly slipping out of his grasp. He would do anything to understand the powers of the dark side, take whatever measures; act in passion and without thought. This makes him inherently dangerous and somewhat different than Vader – while he acted out of passion, Vader had time to contemplate his actions. Palpatine spurred him on slowly in confidence, not necessarily in pressure all the time. He won Anakin Skywalker over slowly, whereas Snoke seized Kylo Ren in a rush of adrenaline and promise.
It would be also easy to argue that Ren is dangerous in the fact that he struggles with the light side. While this could be assumed to make him a weak character, it actually adds depth and perception into his behavior. Haunted, perhaps, by the history which precedes the Skywalker name; Kylo begins to struggle with the concept of light and darkness. He begins to fear what it can become – as we see with Rey and his failed attempt of interrogation. He feared her very capability. This, I would argue, is because Ren understands the light side. He knows of its potential, and yet abandoned him. It is a mixture of fear and regret, as well as hatred.
His quote “ show me again the power of the darkness…” has implications too. Should only one exposure to the power of the darkness be enough? Not necessarily – Anakin Skywalker had to continue to have bouts with the dark side before he was fully swayed. But, also – the possibility exists that Kylo Ren is not beyond redemption if he is continually having to be reminded of the dark side’s power. It is only when he completes his final “trial” – bringing to death the one central character who would keep him perhaps on the fence with the light and darkness – that he fully embraces the power of the darkness; and even then I’m still unsure if he is entirely beyond redemption. Time, and more study, will tell. Even Anakin attempted to kill Padme and still turned back to the light in his defeat of the Emperor.
While sitting in the theatre observing Ren’s character, I was struck with two stark realizations. First, that; Kylo Ren was as much a complicated character than the next, only misunderstood and not properly evaluated. One needs to consider his history of not only as an individual but that of his family to fully understand who he is in this film – in this launch of a new series of Star Wars. Just as we had to understand Vader, we must also take the time to understand Kylo Ren. Do not sign your jundgment before considering the entire picture.
Secondly, that light can exist in the presence of darkness. While Kylo Ren is a dark side character and is influenced by Sith tendencies, light does still grapple within him. Darkness cannot fully comprehend the presence of light, so thus it cannot entirely consume it (John 1:5). The opportunity for it still remains, even if the light itself is extinguished. Because Kylo Ren has dabbled in the light, so the light still calls to him. And because he must continually experience the power of darkness is a hint that he is not entirely complete as a Sith. There is still a war that rages within him.
Even in the darkness, light still remains. And even yet in Kylo Ren does Ben Solo exist.
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Since the bright and adventurous age of 5, Miriam Orr has been writing adventures to captivate audiences of all walks of life. She has been published in over ten poetry journals and graduated the creative writing certificate program through the Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut. Currently, she possess a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Christian Studies from Crown College (MN). She hopes to respond to the call of Isaiah 6:8 across the globe and venture with the heart of Jesus Christ into the nations. Miriam currently resides in Minnesota and enjoys film, fiction, cars, poetry, and coffee. You can see more of Miriam’s work on her blog https://loudfictionblog.wordpress.com/