The Force Awakens is an Overthinker’s holiday gift that keeps on giving. Last week, we mulled over some theories about who Rey’s mom is. Today we look at the dark of the Force. Lots of Bad Guy spoilers and speculation follow.
Jordan Stokes: So, first things first: are we calling Kylo Ren Darth Hipster? Or Darth Emo?
Pete Fenzel: I thought he was Darth 4chan.
Matt Belinkie: Are those meant to be affectionate nicknames, or dismissive ones? Something tells me this character is going to be polarizing. I’m actually not sure what I think of him yet. On the one hand I think it’s smart not to try and create a Darth Vader clone. This guy has tremendous power, but also immaturity, insecurity, and a lot more humanity. On the other hand, it seems like his arc is kind of pre-ordained and well-worn. Does anyone NOT think that he’ll have a last minute change of heart in Episode IX and save everybody? I’m rooting for a wild curve ball, like Rey kills him in Episode VIII and takes his place as Snoke’s apprentice. That would certainly raise the stakes, right?
Here’s something interesting. I was going to say something about how whether or not I like Darth My Chemical Romance depends on what his backstory turns out to be. Does he have compelling reasons to turn to the Dark Side and kill his father? But then I realized that hey, DARTH VADER never gets much backstory in the original trilogy. Obi-Wan just says “You father was seduced by the dark side of the Force,” and that’s that. It’s not until the prequels that we learn what made the character who he is, but nobody thought any less of the original trilogy that they left some things to the imagination.
So is Darth Vader’s backstory less important than Kylo Ren’s? Or have our expectations for storytelling evolved? If Return of the Jedi came out nowadays, would we be outraged that they didn’t reveal the mystery of how Darth Vader became evil?
Stokes: More is built around it this time. His “darkness” was what made Leia and Han send him off to train with Luke. His fall to the dark side is what made Luke go all Dr. Livingston. There’s no way that Rey isn’t spending the bulk of Episode VIII trying to convince Luke to train her, getting told “No, look what happened to Kylo,” asking “OK, what happened to Kylo?” getting told, “I don’t want to talk about it!” and then trying like a good therapist to pry it out of him so that he will answer the call.
Belinkie: I do sort of hope we get to skip that. If this new trilogy follows the template of the first one, then Episode VIII will show the beginning of Rey’s training, and then Episode IX will pick up an indefinite amount of time later, when Rey is a badass and has a new outfit. But an alternative is that Episode VIII is the film that skips ahead, starting with Rey’s training already pretty advanced, but Luke still not revealing a lot to her about the big picture.
That scenario means that Luke could die in a noble sacrifice at the end of VIII, leaving Rey on her own for Episode IX. This might make narrative sense. Luke’s like Dumbledore; so all-knowing and powerful that you have to get rid of him before your final chapter.
But back to Darth Guy From Girls. Are you guys fans?
Stokes: Yes. Some people I’ve talked to think it’s off-putting that he’s emotionally weak, but I think it puts some necessary space between him and Vader. (Or actually, we’re catching up with this guy somewhere between the emotional arc of Anakin in the prequels, and the fully operational Darth Vader that we get in the Original Trilogy.)
Fenzel: This also provides an opportunity to look at how the light side and the dark side of the force work, which is really tricky if you take it by Return of the Jedi rules, which are adhered to much of the time in the prequels, though not always.
Along these lines, I’m not sure we want to see more of Darth Hot Topic’s initial turn to the dark side, because how it seems to work is if you have a lot of force potential and get angry or sad or scared and do a few bad things, powerful dark force users suddenly get a bunch of mind control powers over you and you largely lose your ability to make your own decisions.
For somebody like Ben Solo, having kind of a bad day is oxy, and striking someone in anger is heroin. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not that interesting to watch. Watching someone resist it successfully is interesting, or watch them resist it when you don’t know what’s going to happen is interesting, but watching it happen when you know it’s going to work falls under “Mind control is bad for drama.”
But on the other hand, the light side is a lot more radical in its pure form than the movies make it look. It’s stridently pacifistic, even to the point of suicide. As a Jedi, going by Return of the Jedi rules, you’re supposed to “let go and let God,” so to speak, and the force will take care of things. Jedi are only supposed to be violent in defense, and they’re never supposed to get angry about it. It seems like J.J. may be on board with this – we saw Rey access the force by zoning out a bit.
This is also hard for drama – it’s a fight between characters who can’t choose anything and characters who won’t do anything.
If they actually honor how challenging this is, and I think it looks like they might be figuring out some ways to do it, I’m definitely interested.
One fan theory I read that I really liked was that Luke didn’t flee out of guilt or disappointment at Ben Solo flipping, he fled because he was the last Jedi left, and what he really wanted to do was kill Kylo Ren, and if he didn’t get control of his anger and find a way to not want to do that, he was going to turn to the dark side and all the force users in the universe would be evil, which would probably mean the end of all life in the universe. So he’s hiding from his own rage at Ren as much as from his failure, and what he might want to try to do is train Rey to kill Ren out of vengeance, without her knowing its out of vengeance, and without her getting so angry or afraid that she turns to the dark side.
Meanwhile we’ll see Ren “complete his training,” which we’ve never seen before and will probably be really awful, creating sympathy for him even as he gets further and further removed from doing anything worthwhile ever.
That all seems like a setup for some delicate, effective plotting if you want it to be – actual conflict where it isn’t certain what will happen, even if you more or less can guess what the end state will be.
I just hope they honor the complexity of the setup here. I don’t need more setup – I need rules and motivations the characters follow, and I need the movies to honor those rules and motivations. We need to know who Rey is and we need to reaffirm what the rules of the force are, but other than that, from here, I’m less interested in premise and more in play and behavior.
I could even see a situation where Luke knows whoever kills Ren will turn to the dark side, and he makes it look as if he’s training Rey to do it, but instead he’s training her to carry on the Jedi when he does it himself. Then he can hope to return to the light side by allowing her to kill him. I can see this failing spectacularly and having Luke kill Darth Skoal Tobacco and going full Sith and becoming the bad guy after that, with Rey and Ren looking to defeat him for different reasons and will different methods.
But yeah, to the extent that I like Kylo Ren, it’s because of the future stories he opens up, not anything about his backstory.
Belinkie: Pete, I know the path of least narrative resistance is the two Jedi masters training their apprentices for a showdown, and Rey choosing to take the “come back to the light side” route instead. But I hope it doesn’t happen for two reasons. First, it IS the most obvious thing. Secondly, Luke already LEARNED this lesson beautifully. He’s the guy who realized that killing Darth Vader isn’t the correct solution. Do you think he’s forgotten that, or he’s come to believe Kylo Ren is a special case?
What I like better is that Luke is trying to convince Rey NOT to kill Kylo Ren, and Rey doesn’t want to listen. She’s the one who is looking for revenge, he’s the one trying to teach her the pacifist ways.
Fenzel: I think he knows it’s still the case, but he’s being presented with a conflict, and it seems like there are a bunch of ways he could deal with it. But yeah, Luke is a lot more interesting if he’s still a pacifist in one way or another, even as the universe is burning. But at the end of the day it should be Rey’s turn, not his, to save the universe.
Belinkie: I think the moment of Return of the Jedi where Luke tosses away his lightsaber is so deep and I hope they really explore it. You’re right that being a Jedi puts you in a weird double bind. You’re supposed to be a badass and protect the innocent. But you’re not really supposed to strike down your enemies. The Jedi break this rule in the prequels many times, of course, so it’s hard to say what the correct Jedi path is in any given situation.
Fenzel: Yeah, I love that moment too. It’s a huge challenge to live up to it.
Ben Adams: I agree that Luke’s throwing away his lighsaber is crucial, but it’s possible that Luke being a pacifist in that moment is a special case dictated by circumstance. He’s perfectly willing to kill everybody on Jabba’s Yacht, as well as Stormtroopers on Endor, immediately prior to turning himself in to Vader.
So violence isn’t wrong per se, but it’s simply not the correct way to defeat a Sith – if the Light Side of the force has any kind of advantage over the Dark Side, it’s hard to believe that it manifests itself in the application of violence.
Fenzel: Luke thinks he’s a Jedi then, but he isn’t. He isn’t a Jedi until he confronts Vader.
One of my favorite moments in Jedi on re-watch is when Luke gets to Jabba’s palace, the pig guards try to detain him, and he force chokes one of them and force shoves him against the wall – a reaction that, before or since, has only been shown in evil characters. At the beginning of Jedi, Luke is a bad dude who believes his own hype.
Adams: That said, I think you’re right that one of the primary conflicts of Episode VIII is going to be Rey saying some combination of “The First Order are taking over!”/”Ren killed Han Solo!”/”Let’s go kill them/him,” with Luke responding with a version of “But the Dark Side might seduce you!”
Belinkie: Are you guys worried about the seeming predictability of this new trilogy? Perhaps predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When the How I Met Your Mother finale aired, I went on a rant about writers who feel the need to mislead and trick their audiences, instead of just telling a straightforward story well.
Stokes: Well how bothered were you by the recycling of story tropes in this one?
Belinkie: I was actually somewhat bothered, but I gave them a pass because I know they’re trying to right the ship. But I’m afraid they are basically going to remake the original trilogy in the broad strokes. The desert kid with the mysterious parentage. The dead mentor and the old wise teacher. The revelation about the family connection to the bad guy. The final decision to appeal to the good in the villain rather than win through violence. There can be a certain beauty to those doublings, but it saps some of my excitement to see what’s next.
Adams: So I realize that this doesn’t make sense if Rey is Luke’s kid (and thus Kylo/Ben’s cousin), but what if the twisted relationship between good guy and bad guy in the series isn’t familial but romantic? Will they explore the possibility that romantic love is what it takes to turn Kylo back to the Light side of the Force? (I realize this is also problematized by the fact that the meet-cute was a torture scene where the guy had the girl bound, and by the fact that the guy killed the girl’s adopted-father-figure, but movies have done stranger things). I guess what I’m saying is – will #KyloRey be a thing?
Belinkie: It’ll be an erotic fan fiction thing, 110%. Rey and Kylo are the new Hermione and Malfoy.
Fenzel: If we go by the “Kylo is a narcissistic tech-savvy millennial white dude” thing that comes so naturally in jokes about this movie, we should expect Kylo to become infatuated with Rey, go to great lengths to impress her, and then completely fail to comprehend the reality of her going with Finn instead, because he’s such a nice guy who could have killed her but didn’t and Finn is an asshole. Dark Master Raisin Scone is going to teach Kylo how to use the dark side of the force to open a portal to the Friend Zone.
Stokes: Does anyone have anything interesting to say about Lord Snoke? It was kind of surprising when he turned out to be enormous. I wonder if they’ll keep him that size, though, or if it’s a hologram thing.
Belinkie: I really want Snoke to turn out to be 3 inches tall, and living in a small compartment inside the Millennium Falcon the whole time.
Adams: Snoke betting lines:
- He’s actually really small (4:1)
- He’s actually Palpatine (3:2)
- He’s just a front/fall guy for the real big bad a la the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 (5:1)
- Jar-Jar Rises (10:1)
Belinkie: I think the big mystery about Snoke is if he’s not a Sith, then what is he? Is there a third faction in the galaxy that can use the Force, and has been hiding underground for a few thousand years? Is he a former Sith who’s just rebranding as the Knights of Ren? And does it matter? The Knights of Ren certainly SEEM very Sithlike, and Kylo Ren idolizes Vader. You say potato…
I do hope there’s a good story there. Although once again, I’m struck by the fact that in the original Star Wars trilogy, we didn’t get or need any explanation for who the Emperor is and where he came from. It was never a question I would have asked. But now that we have six movies of knowledge about the galaxy, they can’t just say “Snoke’s a really bad dude” and leave it at that. They have to explain where he’s been for the past few generations.
Personally, I’m rooting against “It’s Palpatine again!” We’re already recycling plenty of the first trilogy without straight-up resurrecting enemies. If Pro Wrestling has taught me anything, it’s that to keep storylines going indefinitely you need to cycle your villains in and out. Maybe once we get to Episode X, having the Emperor make a comeback will seem fresh.
Stokes: Anyway if it was Palpatine, what does he have to gain by pretending not to be Palpatine? It’s not like his faction would have a problem with it.
I guess you could tell a story where they’re trying to keep a low profile until it’s time to move against the Republic, but at this point the die is cast, no?
Stuff I think would be interesting:
- He doesn’t actually look anything like his hologram.
- He comes from outside the galaxy.
- He doesn’t really exist — he’s, like, an externalized projection of Ky-and-Lois’s need for a father figure.
On this last point: I’m having a hard time finding an image of Snoke’s actual face rather than concept art, but I think his facial damage more or less lines up with the damage to the ruined Vader mask. So maybe this is something like what would happen if that training exercise in the evil tree on Dagobah had gone as bad as it could possibly go?
Belinkie: I think it’s interesting that he seems single-mindedly obsessed with preventing anyone from finding Luke Skywalker. He destroys a whole star system, killing hundreds of millions, because it might indirectly help him get BB8’s map. I can sort of buy that wiping out the Jedi is the most important thing… but then what? Let’s say Skywalker gets killed in Episode VIII. What does Snoke do then? It always seemed like Palpatine wanted to kill all the Jedi and ruling the galaxy was just something that facilitated that. Is Snoke the same way, or does he want bigger things?
Maybe the answer there has something to do with the Jedi temples, which we haven’t discussed yet. There’s an implication that Skywalker isn’t just lying low; he’s looking for something or working on something. A guess: some kind of Cerebro for Jedi that can call all the Force-sensitive kids in the galaxy. That would certainly be a good way to start if you want to rebuild the Order from scratch. And on the other side of the coin, Snoke could use that to summon a thousand Kylo Rens.
Stokes: Like the end of Buffy.
Belinkie: Every potential Jedi in the galaxy feels the call. That’s actually what I suspected was going to happen in this movie based on the title. I thought the Force awakening would be a much more dramatic thing, with dozens of kids from different worlds having the same dream of Luke Skywalker waiting for them. And other kids dreaming of Snoke summoning them.
Wait, that’s the plot of The Stand.
But it makes sense that with both sides of the Force almost extinct, the most important thing is to find recruits and train them up ASAP. Neither side seems to be doing that, yet.
Stokes: Well the other interesting side of that is that Rey is doing really pretty okay at Force stuff without any training whatsoever. It’s as if, in the absence of official training, the Force will just start flowing into people of its own accord. (Yet another data point in favor of Darth Feelings not actually having a dark master! I’m liking this theory more and more. Also: it’s so clearly incorrect.)
Belinkie: A common theory seems to be that Rey was a Jedi trainee before it all went bad, but her memories are repressed or somehow erased. So when she tries the mind trick, that may not be spontaneous knowledge. That might be her old skills coming back.
Stokes: I like that a lot less. For some reason I really want her to start out as no one from nowhere.
Belinkie: It does seem like Star Wars is pretty dynastic. It would certainly be a surprise if Rey isn’t a Skywalker or a Kenobi, and maybe a nice one.
Any other Kylo Ren nicknames you want to throw out there?
Stokes: Uhhh… Darth Pabst. Darth Pitchforkmedia. Darth Trustfund. Kylo and Otis. Kylo Stimpy. Alt-comedy superstar Kylo Kinane. Darth Oberst.
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