TLJ Character Studies #7: Kylo Ren

We are here to enlighten your mid-week with a study of the most complex character (in my humble opinion) in the Last Jedi. This post will be about Kylo Ren.

Dubbed by the internet a ‘complex villain’, people often describe Kylo Ren as a shattered, evil, unstable character prone to outbursts of anger and lacking self-control. I believe that the true Kylo Ren is a much deeper character than what is seen on the outside and in this post I will try to explain why it is so, as well as emphasise why it is exactly him who has become my favourite character in the new Star Wars trilogy.

 

Kylo and his struggle with emotions

There are moments when Kylo Ren is susceptible to rage outbreaks – be it when he crashes the walls with his lightsaber in the room when Rey escapes his restraints in the Force Awakens (TFA), or when he shatters the mask in the lift in The Last Jedi (TLJ) after an appalling conversation with his Master. These moments are emphatic and catchy and that is why viewers may tend to make a picture in their minds, or rather, draw conclusions that Kylo is purely frantic. Let us just note that he lets his emotions out in both cases not in front of Snoke or Rey or anyone – he lets them out when he is alone. What can it tell us about his character?

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I think it tells us that he is incredibly strong and not afraid to face his weaknesses alone, as opposed to what Luke has been doing for years, for example. One-to-one with himself his emotions are a deep indication that he is struggling, but fighting and thus moving towards somewhere. But what is different between those two moments of rage mentioned above? Did Kylo ‘improve’? In TFA Kylo’s emotional outburst seems like a moment of uncontrolled anger, because he thought he was failing his Master. In TLJ however, after a brief thoughtful look at his mask, which meant a lot to him to say the least (more on that below), he destroys it. This destruction, however, is meaningful and serves some sort of purpose for Kylo (more on it below). His overall irascibility, rashness, quick impulsive decision-making that we saw in TFA are drastically diminished. In TLJ Kylo takes a step to think before doing something – and clearly knows right from wrong better – just when he stops from pressing that button to fire on the Rebel cruiser after sensing Leia through the Force. If one is to notice Kylo Ren in quiet and not so flashy movie moments such as during this very attack in his Tie-Fighter on the Rebel cruiser – he is shown to be extremely concentrated on his short term goal – attacking Rebel X-wings and stopping them from leaving the cruiser to prove yet another point to his Master that he is worthy of his apprenticeship. Or is it what he is doing?

 

Kylo and his former Masters

What I saw in the movie is that Kylo Ren has already been planning something different in his head after that very last one-o-one conversation with Snoke, which covered him with yet another wave of humiliation. In conversations with Rey when Kylo is alone we see him being beyond focused and determined – he knows what he is saying, almost calculates the possible routes the conversation may go. I believe that is already where he was nursing out the plan to kill Snoke. The way he chose the wording and put sentences carefully in those conversations meant that he led the talk the way he wanted and eventually opened the truth to Rey about what happened to him. Yes, part of their minds was controlled by Snoke – that crippling fixation that they both can ‘turn’ into opposite sides. But think about this: despite that control they are beings who can still choose what they say and do after being exposed to this idea and that is where I believe Kylo showed his dominance when he chose to kill his former Master. Speaking about Masters: after I found out that Luke wanted to kill young Ben in his sleep, be it even in a rash decision, I had no forgiveness to Luke whatsoever since. Luke’s justification to doing that was the following, but even he could not forgive himself for failing so badly at that moment:

“I saw darkness. I’d sensed it building in him. I’d seen it in moments during his training. But then I looked inside, and it was beyond what I ever imagined. Snoke had already turned his heart. He would bring destruction, and pain, and death, and the end of everything I love because of what he will become.”

 But even Rey rapidly noted that:

“You failed him by thinking his choice was made. It wasn’t.”

Luke had failed his apprentice already at the time of his intention being merely a thought, not mentioning when he came into young Ben’s tent and ignited his lightsaber to make a deadly stroke. Thus, Kylo Ren is a figure largely shaped by his Masters’ terrible mistakes and by the complex circumstances, yet he doesn’t give in to any of those. The moment he crashes that mask is yet another victory he makes by letting go and stripping himself from the last thing he has been holding on to – the pride of his bloodline largely nourished in him by Snoke. I think it proves that Kylo Ren has an incredible willpower – letting himself free of the last belief inflicted upon him and stopping holding onto any ideology. He has done it in TLJ before Luke and without the help of Yoda to guide him. Note, that as Luke has covered himself away from the Force after his failure, he was holding onto the fact that the Force does not belong to Jedi, making a wrong ‘therefore’ statement that the Jedi must die. Only after Yoda appears and lights ancient Jedi texts on fire does he realise that his ‘therefore’ statement was wrong. The Jedi do not possess the Force but they won’t be over and can still exist without the religion that was built by and blinded the Jedi Order for years. Only then it is Luke’s turn to realise that Jedi can exist without all that, but he comes to this realisation much later than Kylo Ren (here, of course, it is arguable, because again, Luke is at the end of his lifetime, he has been a Jedi Master and had been shown to be way above all those questions at the end of the movie; this is just to emphasize that Kylo Ren as a representative of the next generation has made this step, maybe on a different level, but at much younger age).

 

Kylo as a child

As a gifted and clever child Kylo probably did not know what to do with his abilities and like any child needed guidance. Han did not want his child to be trained, but Leia had trusted Luke to guide him. Kylo is portrayed to be diligent: he is a good apprentice, he hates disappointing his Masters, he does not forgive himself for doing so. This, for me, is an indication that he has that spark for wanting to do the right thing, yet he doesn’t know the way, which is precisely what Snoke exploited by turning it into his apprentice’s obedience.

Turns out, Luke without much guidance or training himself did not realise till the very end that the teaching and scripts is not what makes a Jedi or has he forgotten? Consumed by fear of a rise of a new Vader, Luke had completely ignored that he himself has been that one true Jedi when he made The Choice to not fight at the end of ROTJ. He saw darkness growing in young Ben and got so scared that not only he betrayed himself, he betrayed his own apprentice by thinking his choice was made instead of fighting for him. Of course there was Snoke who wanted to have Kylo on his side as well and eventually won a rare creation:

“When I found you, I saw what masters live to see. Raw, untamed power. And beyond that, something truly special. The potential of your bloodline; a new Vader…”

Snoke pressured Kylo with his blood potential. Both Masters made Kylo as a child believe in something and hold onto it – and that is what kept him going. By the time he became an adult and experienced all the torments did he gradually come to realise that maybe things were a bit different than what his Masters have taught him. I think that makes that scene with a mask even more powerful (so much love for that scene I have 🙂 ). Kylo purposefully strips himself of the last belief and with nothing to hold onto he keeps standing and moving forward. I think this is truly incredible. That is where most viewers see Kylo shattered at the end of TLJ when he is shown to have lost the mission of capturing the last Rebels and destroying them. He might have lost it there,

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but I believe his personal victory will make him rise again even stronger. He is in search for his purpose once more and without hesitation follows his slogan:

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”

 

Kylo and Rey

“It’s time to let old things die. Snoke, Skywalker, The Sith, Rebels – Let it all die, Rey. I w

ant you to join me. We can rule together and bring a new order to the galaxy.”

Kylo is clever to manipulate his thoughts during the final scene with Snoke so as to let his former Master drown in his arrogance and let him receive his much deserved punishment – death. I personally do not think the only intention Kylo had about Rey during that moment was to use her to kill Snoke. As I mentioned above, they are beings able to make choices, and I think regarding Rey – Kylo has been making some sort of choice for some time as well. During the Force connections, which are in themselves an indication of the special abilities of both characters, there appeared some sort of unexplainable but real bond between Kylo and Rey. What might it be? Again, do not want to jump into conclusions here, but advise you to read one of our takes on Rey&Kylo connections in Julie’s post – Rey and Kylo, Yin and Yang. To me, Rey and Kylo both yearn for the redemption and a New World, yet they are on the different ends of the same line and they use completely different means to achieve it, and they follow completely different stimuli, affirmations, instincts. Rey follows a belief, indicated by her holding onto the past – a hope that something will show her what she hopes to see – ‘her place in all this’. Despite her beliefs not being affirmed, she believes in fate that Kylo will turn. She acts on the basis of these beliefs driven by her senses. It makes he strong, but it does not make her as strong as Kylo, because Kylo had already abandoned all his beliefs and started on a new way of rational reasoning for himself (aside note -arguable point here, of course, maybe it makes her equal to Kylo or stronger than him, especially when Kylo is in his emotional outbreaks; her weakness is complete reliance on those unjustified beliefs whereas his weakness is his dependence on his emotions as discussed above). His feeling of being special – the everything that tries to let go of everything and her feeling of being no one – the nothing that cannot let go of nothing (not sure if it makes sense 😛 ) – they are kind of on the same way towards a better world yet they are not yet aligned or are on two separated ends of a string and have a long way to walk by adjusting themselves towards the middle.. towards the Balance. The obvious question is: can they ever reach it, is the Balance possible?

The fight in tandem from the internet

Let us breathe out a bit and relax ourselves from the burden of this question because the answer is yet unknown. But seeing those two work in a beautiful gracious tandem during the fight with Praetorian guards gives us a hint or a glimpse of hope that maybe they can. They will just need to do what is best in the circumstances life will throw them into.

11 thoughts on “TLJ Character Studies #7: Kylo Ren

  1. Very good. Kylo is an abuse victim, he doesn’t know how to have normal relationships and is struggling to function without someone to control him. Then he meets Rey, she’s tough, independent, self-reliant, but she needs love. Light without love can dim and go dark, and without Rey’s light, Kylo could well self destruct. He needs her to teach him control, she needs his love, together they become whole and healed. I don’t buy into some theories about reincarnation of Anakin and Padme, but I do hold with the concept of the Force shaping these two instruments of redemption and balance. JJ Abrams started this whole Dark Prince and Savior story arc in The Force Awakens, so I have every confidence he won’t let us down in Episode lX.

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    1. Hi there 🙂 thank you for sharing your thoughts. Again, let me just continue expanding here –
      ‘Kylo is struggling to function without someone to control him’ – agree, but I was also mentioning how at the end of the movie he stripped himself of all these dependancies and it’s interesting how he will deal with things from now on.
      ‘Rey, she’s tough, independent, self-reliant, but she needs love’ – agree, but exactly because she needs the latter, or some sort of care and she keeps searching for that parent figure in Han, Luke or Leia is what I think makes her less independent. Very interesting to see where authors take it in the next episode.
      I do think, however, that it is a bit too early to talk about love between the characters or even expect that love will be the only way that they reach balance. This can be achieved in other ways, through complex interactions which authors are yet to explore in the new episode and possibly next trilogy?
      ‘Concept of the Force shaping these two instruments of redemption and balance’ – yea, that is exactly my take on the whole Rey and Kylo story arc.

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