The Emotional Weight of Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker, and Kylo Ren
It’s the year 2001. I was in 4th grade - sitting in the same exact seat that I’d soon find myself sitting in when my teacher explained what had happened on 9/11. Every month, our teacher passed out the TIME for Kids magazine, and I read it voraciously every time. Other kids would casually look at the pictures, but I’d read each article carefully - some even more than once.
In this particular issue, there was an article about Hayden Christensen - the new Anakin Skywalker. I’d seen all of the original Star Wars movies, and The Phantom Menace. I loved them, and I’d sometimes beg my dad to dig out or VHS set so I could watch them on weekends. I don’t remember what my exact thoughts were on Episode I, but I do remember thinking that I loved Padme because she was like Leia - even at that age, I wasn’t content with the way women were portrayed in media. For example, I had months and months of my childhood where I pretended that I was Xena: Warrior Princess, and lived inside of a box in my living room that I pretended was my “lair”, and ate jello because it looked like ambrosia.
Padme and Leia were different - they were so strong, and they didn’t care what anyone else thought. At a New Year’s Eve Party in 1999 (soon to be 2000), I remember playing “war” with a group of my friends who were boys, and their little sister. “You can be a nurse”, they said, and handed me a first aid kit while they ran around with toy guns, shooting one another. I remember picking up one of the guns off of the floor and shooting each of them directly in the forehead before throwing it to the side and walking away, as if to say “amateurs”.
Back to the TIME article. It was introducing Hayden as the adult Anakin Skywalker - we didn’t know much about him at all, but I immediately liked him because fourth grade me thought he was cute. Go me.
By the time Episode II came out, I went to see it with my dad, and I remember him remarking on how interesting the Anakin character was. I told him how he was Canadian, and some of the other facts I’d learned in the magazine. Looking back on it, wonders never cease that little me was also ahead of the Star Wars game - if only I would have known.
By the time Episode III came out, I was old enough to go by myself with my friends. I saw it three or four times, and used my allowance and birthday money to do so. And here’s where things changed for me. 1) That shirtless scene. Oh, yes, we’d had one in Episode II, but I wasn’t old enough to really think about it. By the time 2005 rolled around, I was starting out this whole angst phase where I did nothing but watch Episodes II and III repeatedly, and watch Store Wars on whatever video platform I could find it on at the time. (This was around the same time that the Numa Numa guy was doing all that for those of you that will get that reference.)
2) The FALL. Anakin’s fall. It was the first time I’d ever watched a character go through this before. Right before our eyes, he made decisions that he thought would lead to an outcome he wanted - a better outcome - and he failed. He turned. He became this iconic villain that had always existed, and was EVERYWHERE. And Hayden did it so well. People can scream and cry and laugh at Hayden’s performance all they want, but that boy WAS Anakin Skywalker. He was everything he was supposed to be - if they didn’t like it, then they didn’t like the character - because his portrayal was flaw.less.
3) Padme and Anakin I distinctly remember having some kind of family gathering where my aunt said “and obviously some things happened off screen if she’s having babies now” and I was SCANDALIZED. I was like “how dare you talk about my characters like that? Clearly it happened but they are MY characters, I know their souls, why are YOU talking about them?” I was so oddly territorial, even then. But I’d spent so much time contemplating all of their motives, emotions, and just who they were - that they felt so incredibly real to me.
Even though Anakin and Padme’s relationship eventually led to the creation of Darth Vader, I still wanted what they had in Episode II. The obsession, possession, the passion, the drive. The Star-Crossed lovers.
When I was fifteen, I got that. The height difference. The “I know where you are in the room without having to search for you”. The “I called you just now as you’re walking away from me just so I could watch you pick up the phone”. The strange, unnerving connection. Looking back on it, he even remotely LOOKED like Hayden. He moved like Hayden. He talked like Hayden - but I was the Anakin. I had so much going on in my life - so much baggage, so much angst in my teenage soul, I had never related to a character more than I related to him, and to this day I’m not 100% sure if that was a self-fulfilling prophecy or not. And just like Anakin and Padme, it all went up in flames in a day. Every single bit of it - laced with death and destruction, and that changed me. It split who I was to the core, and I walked into the abyss as everything turned to ash around me. I’m not kidding. That sounds dramatic, but I can’t say any more about what happened because it’s just too much to deal with and explain, but I eventually found solace in Star Wars.
I watched II and III so often I still have every line memorized. I watched every single movie Hayden had ever been involved with, because his acting style and persona were oddly comforting to me even after Star Wars was over. He was familiar.
Flash forward to 2014. Another Star Wars movie is coming out. There’s an image of a character dressed in black, in the snow, with a lightsaber that resembles some kind of crusade weapon. Everyone makes fun of it, makes memes where the cross vents are EVERYWHERE. What an absolutely ridiculous character? Whatever, I’ll see it. But nothing will ever measure up to what Anakin’s character meant to me when I was a teenager.
2015. There’s a trailer. Okay, Darth Emo? Again, who is this ridiculous person?
December 17, 2015: I somehow saw a leak of this ridiculous person stabbing Han Solo with a message that this was his son. Excuse me? Again - not what I expected from Star Wars.
December 19, 2015 4:45pm: I emerged from the theater wanting to cry. Just… 1000% flabbergasted because they’d given me something I never thought I’d find. A character that I’d relate to equally if not more so than I did to Anakin when I was 13 years old.
I was in such a strange place in my life when The Force Awakens came out. A second puberty, if you will. It was awful? Everything felt wrong? I didn’t know my place. I was wrought with anxiety. And here was this character who had this aesthetic that hearkened back to the days when I’d sit in the corner at school and draw on my vans, wear all black, and listen to Panic! at the Disco and AFI like it was my religion, while at the same time relating all-to-well to Anakin Skywalker. This character loved Anakin and was his grandson, and I felt like I’d been given the biggest gift and I had no idea that this seemingly-ridiculous creature from the trailer would have such an impact on my life.
To boot - this character was just plain badass? Everything about him was beautiful and tortured, and dark but laced with fear and possibly - good intentions buried deep beneath the mask? And his actor was beautiful as well. So incredibly stunning, and deep, and carried him so well he felt real.
The lightsaber though - that’s what got me. I felt so unstable at this point in my life - the lightsaber was such a metaphor. Jagged, unfinished, unstable. I too, felt that if I carried one, it would have these characteristics.
I felt belonging again. This character gave me peace by bringing me discord and letting me drown in it.
December 14, 2017, 10:45pm: Peace. i’d waited two years to see what would happen to Kylo Ren - Ben Solo, and once again I feel like our journeys are similar. Although I still have many demons to face, and many lessons to learn, I’m in a better place. A more stable place. Where I felt trauma I now feel at peace, even though I have days where I feel completely out of control.
His trajectory though, is clear. Rey, and redemption. I’m also amazed that it’s all so Byronic and/or Pride and Prejudice-y - what a gift? What an absolutely beautiful gift? How Hades and Persephone? After what I’d been through in those rough years where I felt like Anakin after he’d lost everything, I was amazed at how emotionally invested I was in Rey and Ben, because there’s clearly something there. Snoke, schmoke - that Force Bond is theirs. The idea that they’ll create balance is so freaking beautiful, and it made me want that for myself as well.
I don’t know what form it will take, but I know that in 2 years I feel like I will be so much more at peace with my own life, but also - this time there’s not as much wondering. I was so worried about what they’d do with this character, and the emotional weight he carries in the story and for so many people around the world - other than the concept of the fact that he’s just plain cool to most, or “Darth Millenial” to others.
Anakin and Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) have a strange amount of value to me, I’m aware, but I just wanted to share the power of storytelling, and how it can truly get you through the best of times, the worst of times, and everything in between.
Sorry but did you guys know that night at the museum has a tumblr that was at least active last year because it congratulated rami on his golden globe, despite the last movie coming out in 2014? It’s full of photoshops? Who runs this?? I am so confused
Shootin’ It | Episode 81: “The 10 Best Films of the Year”
Hosts Jayme and Amy name their 10 Best Films of the Year, along with their picks for the most surprising and disappointing movies to have come out in 2014.
Other topics discussed include: Shia LaBeouf, the ambiguous relationship between Professor X and Magneto, how and why ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ failed, the ending of 'The Theory of Everything’, what 'Godzilla’ could have done better, reoccuring themes in popular 2014 films, and James Franco.