Uncle Josh and Kylo Ren
After two viewings of The Last Jedi and trying to place it in the Star Wars mythos as I understand it and several attempts to explore the meaning of Star Wars in my life and especially after hearing the many mixed reviews and great trollings on internet essays, I feel I am ready to write about Kylo Ren.
My first reaction to Kylo Ren after The Force Awakens was pure anger. He killed his father. That’s unforgivable. He’s not coming back from that. The previews for The Last Jedi made it look like he also killed his own Mother, but that was a trailer and as an art form to themselves, they are good at lying to the audience. I’ve no beef with the preview. Kylo went from impressive Vaderesque (stopping a blaster bolt in mid-air is so much cooler than Vader’s letting it bounce harmlessly off the palm) to whining brat who lost his temper over and over and even the stormtroopers just walked away instead of dealing with him mid-tantrum.
After The Last Jedi, I like Kylo Ren as a character a hell of a lot more. He is defined by inner conflict, and I believe this inner conflict is the key to the whole sequel trilogy and the saga itself. He killed his father to try to solve the conflict, but it didn’t work. In The Last Jedi, early on, he resolves one of his basic conflicts, and I’m not sure it was one he expected was even there. We see his take on his inner conflict as the Light vs the Dark, and after Snoke criticizes him for being a boy cosplaying his own grandfather, he realizes that it is the past vs the future. By destroying the mask, Kylo accepts and attempts to embody the idea of Kill the Past to Be Who You Are Meant to Be. This is so deep within him that Snoke doesn’t even see it. Kylo’s past is his enemy, and Snoke and Skywalker are part of his past, so he must Kill them. He sees his future with Rey, the balance, his counterpoint, his circuit breaker, even. He takes out Snoke and tries to convince Rey to join him, but it doesn’t work out for him.
I, too, tried to kill my past. I tried to walk away from Sparks Nevada and my high school and my church and everyone I knew and it didn’t solve anything. It left me stranded when my first marriage failed. I had a few good friends who saw me through the dark times of my twenties and I found a new church and Stephanie*, so those things worked out. I made the mistake of thinking that killing my past would allow me to start over and be someone new. Of course nobody can do that. I doubt even amnesiacs can do that. The patterns of who we are get shaped by the people around us as we grow up. We don’t get to start over every day, even when we need to.
And there are days when we need to start over every day. I’ve heard of this idea that if you do something for 30 days straight, you will ingrain a new habit and always do it. Nope. Doesn’t work for me. Write every day for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and one day off and it’s all over. Same thing with stretching, exercising, playing the guitar, reading, cooking at home, or any other life-fixing things I’ve tried over the years. There are things that come naturally to me, and things I have to treat as Day One Every Day to make work for any length of time.
The most recent intrusion to this failure of mine to Kill the Past** came on the second day of Christmas when I learned that Fr. Paul Towner, the rector of my church until I walked out at age 19, passed away on Christmas Day. He was in the last stages of his life, as I understand, and his passing was one of those that was a relief more than anything else. Every death is sad, but it is harder when a death drags on for months. Paul Towner trained me to be a chorister and an acolyte in the church. I had a hard time watching acolytes even in my own parish because of how I was trained and drilled. (Yes, drilled and paced through the nave on a Saturday morning lifting the cross and carrying the torches just so and balancing the flags.) I’ve loosened up a lot in that regard, because a number of our acolytes are younger folk (at St. Pauls at that time the acolytes were high school boys and college freshmen who were local) and they are kids. I gave up on the quality of shoes arguments years ago, but I also decided that I wasn’t going to dress up on Sunday mornings for church. I go as I am. I don’t need to dress up to be professional.
I have yet to give up on the quality of music in church. Fortunately I have a good choir and good leadership to back me up on that.
Back to Kylo Ren. Even had he successfully killed his mother, it wouldn’t allow him to start fresh. His tragedy in TLJ is he finally gets to a point where be believes his mother is dead, Snoke is dead, and his future is fighting alongside him. He is exactly where he wants to be. And his offer is rejected.
He flounders because he hasn’t fully seen his errors. He tries to kill Luke and he can’t do it, namely because Luke isn’t really there but he’s not ready yet. He’s off kilter and doesn’t have a center. He is truly lost in misery and unfortunately has the ability to force choke people into submission and body slam them against walls with a flick of his wrist. He can rule by fear and we all know that that never works out.
Before that ultimate failing, though, Kylo becomes a better character and puts down his boyhood dreams and begins to think of himself as an adult. He still can’t imagine killing the past as a metaphor. In one sense, I killed my past when I moved out of my parents’ house against their objections and I managed to never move back, but I did end up needing them to pay my rent for many years in college. What I needed to get away from was the feeling of living under other people’s rules, and while I didn’t get that until I was a bachelor, I found what I was looking for: Independence. I still could not get through Christmas without putting up a creche and for many years I tried to keep the traditions of my past, because no matter what lies I tell myself, it is impossible to kill the past.
But back to Kylo Ren. The middle part of TLJ has him in what has been dubbed “ForceTime” with Rey, and they can communicate without knowing where the other one is. They try to communicate over each other. How many relationships are created and maintained between people who have never met? How many people do I consider friends when I’ve only ever known their handle?***
Kylo tries to reach out, to be understood, to make a connection. Yes, he still thinks Rey will be a helper and not an equal, but he becomes for a while a mature person, because in a way Rey is the only person who takes him seriously. She doesn’t like him. She calls him a monster and he agrees with her. He has is reasons, but Rey never tries to manipulate him. She tries to understand him. She is foolish to think he is telling her the truth about Luke’s temple, but he has never presented himself as a liar to her, and never out of control. Maybe she has reason to think he’s being truthful.
It is also telling how she calls him by his given name. I tried wearing a false identity and a few people in high school called me Jason because I really didn’t like my name. Wearing masks and pretending to be other people is part of growing up. Kylo sheds some of that with the destroyed helmet. He may never accept Ben Solo in his life again, but Kylo Ren has the potential to be someone new, and someone greater.
So I like Kylo Ren. I don’t think he’ll survive the saga, though. I’m okay with that.
* In chronological order, not order of magnitude of importance.
** I am in the process of accepting this failure as a good thing, but failure and I have a strong bond that’s hard to break.
*** Yeah, I’m old enough to remember using that term on bulletin boards that we dialed into using 2400 baud modems so GET OFF MY LAWN!