Rebirth of the “Son”: the art of Kylo Ren’s redemption
Many would say that The Force Awakens has a rather ambiguous conclusion, leaving the future of its main characters and storyline very open for debate. However, by analyzing the text — or in this case, the film — we can discover potentially eye-opening clues about the future of the Trilogy, particularly in regards to one plot-point: Kylo Ren’s redemption arc.
This meta will focus on deconstructing The Force Awakens by analyzing characterization (behaviour and dialogue) and foreshadowing and symbolism found in The Force Awakens. It will not discuss how he will be redeemed in detail, just the myriad of suggestions that we were left with.
Part 1: Characterization
This first part will deal mainly with deconstructing Kylo Ren’s characterization in the simplest possible manner. I will be analyzing his behaviour and dialogue in the context of the entire movie. Why? Because we must acknowledge every scene and every action in order to give reason to even one.
But first, let’s get a starting definition. Most people would know what “characterization” is, even if they don’t know it by name. The basic deconstruction of characterization is taught in high schools around the world. I’m sure we can all remember reading Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet or Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men as a class and discussing the characters in an academic setting.
A quick refresher:
Characterization is the concept of creating characters for a narrative. […] Characters are presented by means of description, through their actions, speech, thoughts and interactions with other characters.
Characterization is broken down two separate sections: direct characterization and indirect characterization.
Direct characterization involves the author telling us what a character is like. This is generally done through descriptions, or by the characters themselves. Imagine a character saying or thinking that they “like the beach”. This would be an example of direct characterization.
Indirect characterization must be inferred by the audience by interpreting a character’s dialogue, mannerisms, thoughts, actions and interactions with other characters. Imagine a character walking barefoot along a beach, staring wistfully at the water. We can easily infer that this character “likes the beach” without having the character actually make any kind of statement.
This first section of the meta will deconstruct Kylo Ren’s direct and indirect characterization.
1.1: THE “LAST” SKYWALKER
We must first start by summarizing Kylo Ren’s background.
“Apparently the awakening was not just for Rey, but Kylo as well. Adam Driver spoke about Kylo and his motivations. Driver said that the character was mainly motivated by the feelings of abandonment from his family.”
“Abrams also added some backstory saying that Han couldn’t stay in one place and that Leia couldn’t stop fighting. His nature as a rogue and her nature as a freedom fighter clashed. Against that backdrop, Snoke targeted Kylo because of his powers and potential. The implication was that in the absence of solid parenting, Kylo Ren emerged.”
— “Secrets of the Force Awakens” Documentary
As we all know, Kylo Ren—once Ben Solo—is the fallen son of Han Solo and Leia Organa. He was seduced to the Dark Side by Supreme Leader Snoke after he was sent to train with his uncle Luke Skywalker. Snoke viewed the young Ben Solo as the perfect focal point of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. He was being twisted and manipulated from the shadows since childhood, but it appears as though he managed to stave off complete seduction until he was a young adult, at which point something happened. He gave in to Snoke, turned to the Dark Side and left his family in ruins.
However, he was never able to completely extinguish the Light from which he was born.
It would not be unfair to suggest that Kylo Ren is currently the most important character in the Star Wars universe. He has a direct blood relation to almost every previous main character, his betrayal tore apart the Original Trilogy heroes, and he connects every player in the Sequel Trilogy together: the fallen son to Han and Leia, the ex-apprentice and nephew to Luke, the pawn to Snoke, the Knight of Ren, the anti-villain to Rey’s hero, the man who killed Han and left Finn in a coma, and whom Rey scarred with his grandfather’s saber when she almost crossed the threshold to the Dark Side. Rey went from defeating Ren with his legacy saber to hugging Ren’s mother to boarding Ren’s legacy ship to finding Ren’s uncle, who exiled himself because of Ren. It all comes back to one character: Ben Solo.
You must remember who Kylo Ren is and what franchise we’re dealing with in order to even hope to make accurate predictions. Star Wars is first and foremost an optimistic, idealistic coming-of-age fantasy directed toward children. It presents core messages of family, love, friendship, redemption and hope.
1.2 COSTUME AND MANNERISMS
Kylo Ren’s garbs in The Force Awakens serve the purpose of imparting vital indirect characterization. He is swamped in black clothing that covers even his face, hands and neck, leaving not even an inch of skin showing. This immediately conveys to the audience that he has something to “hide”, despite the fact that we eventually discover that he is an average human man. He could even be described as shameful, unprepared to place himself in a position of vulnerability, quite literally playing dress-up in his grandfather’s attire.
Kylo’s garments also plainly echo the real-life historic Knights Templar, which certainly begs a few questions about Ren’s upbringing with and indoctrination by Snoke. Alas, this is not the meta for that discussion, but I will leave you with this quote referring to the vows knights had to make in order to be accepted into the order, two of which I find particularly telling with regards to my own personal interpretation of the character.
“Full members of the order took the standard monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.”
Like his fellow character trinity members Rey and Finn, Kylo portrays many qualities that can be attributed to children, particularly young children. He is incapable of controlling his emotions, presenting a seemingly collected demeanor only in the film’s introductory sequence. He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on complex human emotion, perhaps because he was never given a proper outlet to explore his more innate feelings, or because Snoke simply did not allow it. He has violent tantrums, his fists are always balled and his eyes always seem to shimmer with tears. He trusts inanimate objects more than real people, he has an obsession with relics, he watches Rey sleep, crouched on the ground, head tilted. There is an air of submission in him, as out-of-place as it may appear.
This is one of the major reasons Kylo often comes across as “weak”. He is an evocative male character, brimming with emotion that seems completely unable to tame. He is not really a man, a child or a monster, he is all three.
1.3: JAKKU VILLAGE
In the film’s opening scene, we are introduced to Poe Dameron and Lor San Tekka. Poe is a Resistance pilot who is retrieving a piece of a map rumored to lead to the missing Luke Skywalker. The mission, however, does not go as planned. Poe is captured by the First Order and Lor San Tekka is murdered by Kylo Ren.
LOR SAN TEKKA
The First Order rose from the dark side… you did not.
I’ll show you the dark side.
LOR SAN TEKKA
You may try, but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.
Suddenly Kylo Ren raises his LIGHTSABER – IGNITES IT – PERPENDICULAR SMALLER BLADES AT THE HILT, A UNIQUE BUZZ – YELLOW/RED ENERGY, SPITTING SPARKS AND SMOKE –
You’re so right.
And as he RIPS IT DOWN ACROSS SAN TEKKA!
Above we have the sequence from the final script. Kylo Ren’s response appears to be quite collected, but… why did he kill Tekka? Surely Tekka had seen the map? His mind was ripe for reading; he even could have been a valuable war-prisoner. Kylo Ren had yet to be made aware of Poe’s existence, let alone the fact that BB-8 had been given charge of the drive containing the map. Yet he killed him. Why?
Because this was a man from his past who reprimanded him about his origins, his family. There is even a small smirk visible on Tekka’s face as he converses with Ren, as he chastises him for “denying the truth that is his family.”
These are things we later come to realize bring Ren to a conflicted place, heightening the pull to the Light within him. Although his response to Tekka was swift and cold, the rage behind the action was not fueled by indifference. Hate and love are not opposites, they are two sides of the same coin, and it’s quite clear that Ren is far from indifferent when it comes to his family. This was a personal murder, not a war crime.
The movie illustrates that Kylo Ren only kills when the situation becomes genuinely personal. He leaves Poe alive after interrogating him despite having already retrieved the necessary information. He lets Lieutenant Mitaka live as well, and on Takodana he immediately goes for Rey and BB-8 without engaging in battle with anybody. This is vital indirect characterization. We are meant to infer that, while Kylo has likely killed many innocent people, we as an audience don’t see him kill impersonally. Anything beyond that is speculation.
The first sequence of the film creates an image for the audience. It would be called a character defining moment, and it’s used to great effect. Kylo seems similar to Darth Vader, perhaps with an added youthful edge. This image is quickly torn down as we witness Kylo unraveling. He goes from murdering potentially important war criminals to desperately following his “personal interests” to praying to an inanimate object. Kylo unravels like a ball of string, shedding physical and metaphorical layers until he is left a beaten, scarred, patricidal wreck at the film’s conclusion.
Immediately after murdering Tekka, Poe makes himself known when he tries to shoot Kylo Ren. Kylo stops the blaster-bolt and the two men share a brief interaction that ends with Kylo ordering the Storm Troopers to take Poe on-board. Kylo gives the Troopers permission to annihilate the village — probably one of his darkest and most unforgivable acts. While Tekka’s murder was personal and driven by secret longing, this was something very different.
Yet this scene is followed by Kylo Ren’s first clearly bizarre decision.
Kylo Ren heads back toward his ship. But then he STOPS. Feels something. TURNS AND LOOKS AT OUR STORMTROOPER for a LONG MOMENT. Our Trooper can barely meet his gaze; knows he’s doomed.
Kylo Ren then heads off – passes the FROZEN BLAST, which, after a beat, GOES FREE AND SLAMS INTO A NEARBY STRUCTURE, scaring the hell out of our Stormtrooper.
As Kylo is preparing to depart on his ship, he seems to sense something. A Trooper is disobeying him, refusing to shoot down the villagers. Ren locks gazes with him, seeming prepared to kill him… but then he walks away.
This single moment serves as the inception of the entire adventure. The Trooper breaks Poe free, and together they crash on the desert planet Jakku, where BB-8 has already encountered a mysterious scavenger named Rey.
Ren should have destroyed the Trooper, but he didn’t. Perhaps it could be argued that he just didn’t care about an underling’s actions, but it doesn’t take long for us to learn this:
Kylo researched the Trooper’s title. He knew the Trooper was showing strange “signs”, he knew the Trooper by name, yet he kept the information to himself. Why? Why did Kylo Ren let the Trooper go?
Because he felt compassion for him.
This might seem like a leap to some, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me, given Kylo’s apparent inner-turmoil about the situation. Kylo also felt something for Rey—as will be discussed below. We know he dislikes the Trooper program (he thinks as much in the novelization, and he subtly tries ot tell Hux that they should be using Clones in the film). We know he hates Hux as well. It only makes sense to take into consideration that Kylo may have consciously allowed FN-2187 to go free simply because he saw himself in the rogue Trooper.
The young women and men who become Storm Troopers in the Sequel Trilogy are stolen from their families as children and brainwashed into serving as killing machines. The process should be ringing a bell in your mind, because it’s remarkably similar to what happened to Kylo Ren.
With this in mind, it should be easy to infer that Kylo may have felt compassion for Finn, and walked away as a result. The single moment haunts Kylo, and we can imagine that he may have battled with himself mentally about whether or not to inform Hux or Phasma about their rogue Trooper. Obviously a side of Ren he would rather deny emerged victorious, because Finn managed to escape, and Ren doesn’t forget it.
The next time Kylo mentions Finn, he uses the term “traitor”. He does this one more time before the end of the film, after he has murdered his father. He screams the word at Finn, who is cradling an unconscious Rey. This is an incredible example of indirect characterization mixed with direct characterization. Kylo Ren isn’t just labeling Finn an “traitor”, he’s using the term to describe himself, hating himself for going through with the ultimate act of betrayal. He punishes Finn in the forest of Starkiller Base, using him as an outlet for his frustration and masochism. He beats his own wounds physically and metaphorically.
“You have compassion for her.” (The Force Awakens novelization)
It is made far more obvious in the film that Kylo Ren feels some kind of attachment to the heroine, Rey. I have discussed this at great length in a separate analysis, but I’ll allude to it here simply for brevity’s sake.
Kylo Ren sees himself in Rey, just as he saw himself in Finn. When he reads her mind, he finds that he relates to her loneliness, her fear and her desperation. Ren’s sentiments of compassion lead him to place himself in a position of vulnerability two times while in Rey’s presence, and both instances are considered iconic in The Force Awakens.
First, he removes his helmet for her in the interrogation sequence. Second, he offers to “show her the ways of the Force” in their final battle. This reminds Rey that she too is capable of channeling the Force, allowing her to defeat him. These are two of Ren’s biggest mistakes, and the implication is they were born out of compassion.
1.5: PERSONAL INTERESTS
Careful, Ren. That your “personal interests” not interfere with orders from Leader Snoke.
While it is difficult to say what Kylo’s motivations are right now, it’s quite clear that he isn’t Snoke’s loyal puppet. He goes against his orders multiple times. In fact, I would have trouble thinking of a single moment in which Ren does follow Snoke’s plans without fail. He seems to react upon instinct more than anything, doing whatever he sees fit, but there is an underlying idea—as presented by Hux in the above excerpt—that Kylo has “personal interests” in finding Luke that go completely against Snoke and the First Order. This line basically foreshadows Ren’s entire developmental (or unraveling) arc in The Force Awakens.
Supreme Leader Snoke was explicit. Capture the droid if we can, but destroy it if we must.
Obviously Snoke isn’t particularly invested in finding Luke (he just doesn’t wnt the Resistance to find Luke), but Kylo certainly is. There is no way to know just what he wants from him. We’ll have to wait until Episode VIII for that information.
Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.
This is perhaps Ren’s most obvious “personal interest”. The sequence poses so many questions that have been deconstructed in separate analyses that I won’t waste too much time on it, but the implication here is that Kylo shares certain sentiments with this mask alone. It is his guardian, his relic. It is the only thing in the world he genuinely trusts, and he feels a connection to it, and a shame for not living up to its “expectations”.
Then there is one of the big questions to come out of this film: what did Darth Vader start? I have my own theories that don’t necessarily belong in this meta, but I’ll leave it at this: writers don’t emphasize an ambiguous theme in a villainous character only to reveal an equally villainous motivation. Chances are whatever “Vader started” will lead into the inevitability of Kylo’s redemption.
The girl I’ve heard so much about
Ren believed it was no longer valuable to us. That the girl was all we needed. As a result, the droid has most likely been returned to the hands of the enemy. They may have the map already.
Throughout the Third Act of the film, Kylo Ren finds a brand new “personal interest” in Rey. Ren appears to become attracted to and infatuated with Rey as he is in some way seduced by the Light she embodies. You don’t need to look far to see that he treats her differently than he treats any other character.
When he sets foot on Takodana and hears that the girl and droid have fled into the woods, he immediately follows them. When he finds Rey he decides to take her second-hand version of the map and not bother looking for the droid itself, allowing it to fall into the hands of the Resistance. In the interrogation, he removes his mask when she expresses fear, gets way too close to her and fishes through her personal thoughts before even attempting to search for the map. In their final battle, he offers himself to her as a teacher. This characterization is some of Ren’s most unexplainable… and it only makes sense if you accept that he also appears to be attracted to her in some fashion.
“The Supreme Leader believes Ren to be the ideal embodiment of the Force, a focal point of both Light and Dark Side ability.”
— The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary
It is interesting to note that Snoke actually encourages Ren to maintain control over both the Light and Dark sides of the Force that naturally coexist within him, but Ren is completely dismissive of this notion. When he feels a pull to the Light, he expresses to Darth Vader’s helmet that it must “show him the power of the Darkness”. He also insinuates that the battling Forces he commands “tear him apart”, and actually cause him pain of some kind. He wants nothing to do with accepting the Light, which appears to manifest as unwanted link to the life he left behind.
Once more, we can see that Ren is going against Snoke’s desires.
What exactly are all these “personal interests” used to push in the context of the narrative? To create a clear distinction between Kylo Ren and the First Order, to separate him a little from the evilest aspects of the Order. He is his own character, not an extension of Snoke. He places his “personal interests” above Snoke and the First Order on every occasion. That demands a certain level of attention in itself.
1.6: SIBLING RIVALRY
The Force Awakens introduces us to General Hux, an important official in the First Order. Ren and Hux share a bitter relationship that seems to echo a sibling-rivalry, with Hux seeming to constantly interfere with Ren’s more paternal connection to Supreme Leader Snoke.
Hux and Ren are given multiple scenes together, and it becomes quite clear that the character exists as a direct contrast to Ren. We are meant to compare their reactions as they are faced with similar orders.
How capable are your soldiers, General?
I won’t have you question my methods.
They’re obviously skilled at committing high treason. Perhaps Leader Snoke should consider using a clone army.
In the above sequence, the film spells out that Ren has nothing to do with the First Order’s indoctrination of child-soldiers. Ren is specifically Snoke’s foot-soldier and a Knight of Ren, not Hux’s partner (as has been discussed, Ren hates the Trooper program). Ren and Hux barely tolerate each other. When you consider the fact that Hux is a twisted, genocidal, power-hungry, sadistic maniac absorbed with self-importance and lacking even a single redeeming quality, it should be obvious that Hux serves the purpose of humanizing Ren, of making him look “better” by comparison.
Hux watches, his eyes WILD WITH POWER AND EVIL.
TIGHT ON KYLO REN as he watches the Starkiller firing.
Hux’s Nazi speech is also entirely his own. Ren isn’t even present on Starkiller Base when the weapon is fired at the Hosnian System. He is watching it from afar, fists clenched. We are given a description of Hux’s eyes, but we cannot know what Ren’s might look like at this exact same moment. He is leaning over the window, watching the weapon fire. It is meant to make us question what Ren really thinks of all this.
Hux repeatedly rebukes Ren for going against Snoke. He seems to have an innate desire to embarrass Ren in front of his Master. Hux is also fully aware of Ren’s wavering conviction, which makes him all the more dangerous as an antagonist.
Good. Then we will crush them once and for all. Prepare the weapon.
Kylo Ren is stunned by the moment – that isn’t what he meant at all –
Supreme Leader. I can get the map from the girl. I just need your guidance.
Above we have perhaps the most telling comparison. Hux and Snoke decide to destroy the Illeenium System—where Leia Organa, Kylo Ren’s mother, happens to be. Ren is completely against the order, and even tries to offer up another solution, but he is shot down as Hux walks away, giving him a snide glower.
1.7: LIES AND TRUTHS
Despite being the main antagonist of The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is a surprisingly truthful character. He only lies once in the entire film, and it is clear at this exact moment that Ren is an absolutely abysmal liar. He and Snoke are discussing the droid, which has fallen into the hands of Ren’s father through a series of odd coincidences. Ren reacts to the news in the following manner:
Kylo Ren reacts with subtle, but real, surprise.
He means nothing to me.
This scene is closely followed by the famous “pull to the Light” sequence in which Ren reveals that Snoke was fully capable of sensing his deceit. Han Solo does not mean nothing to Kylo Ren.
You’re my guest.
Where are the others?
You mean the murderers, traitors and thieves you call friends? You’ll be relieved to hear that I have no idea.
Kylo Ren stops, considers her… then reaches up, unlatches and REMOVES HIS MASK. Rey reacts, stunned. It takes a moment before she regains her own mask of defiance.
When Rey wakes up in the interrogation scene, Kylo doesn’t bother lying to her even once. He could have told Rey her friends were dead, but instead he expresses the truth: he has no idea where they are. He also removes his mask when she reveals her (understandable) mistrust. He is very honest with her.
… You’re so lonely… so afraid to leave… At night, desperate to sleep… you imagine an ocean. I see it – I see the island… And Han Solo. You feel like he’s the father you never had. He would’ve disappointed you.
He’s also open about what he sees in her head, even going so far as to “warn” her that Han Solo would have disappointed her if he really was her father.
I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?
Perhaps the most controversial example can be found in Kylo Ren’s conversation with Han Solo on the catwalk. As an audience, we should have been able to infer that Kylo Ren never bothers to lie, opting instead for the truth.
This indirect characterization gives us all we need to know to understand that Kylo is in no way attempting to manipulate his father. He goes through with Snoke’s orders for a “personal” reason, in order to be “free of [his] pain.” He truly could not have kill his father on his own, and genuinely expresses to Han that he needs his help. The scene is heartbreaking on many levels, particularly when you realize that Han resting his hand on his son’s cheek is likely the first true human contact Ren has felt in years.
1.8: THE FATHER AND THE SON
Adam Driver said it himself, Kylo Ren is mainly motivated by what he considers to be feelings of abandonment from his family. His sentiments about his family are complex to say the least, with Ren mentioning them several times throughout the film. As always, Ren reveals far more of himself than he intends to.
“He means nothing to me.”
As we have already discussed, this was proven to be an outright (and pathetic) attempt at a lie.
“Han Solo. […] He would have disappointed you.”
Han Solo disappointed Ren.
“Your son is gone. He was weak and foolish, like his father. So I destroyed him.”
Ren considered his father to be weak and foolish for “something”. Is this the same “something” that caused him to harbour so much disappointment in his family? We can only speculate right now, so I’ll leave it at that.
We must also notice that Ren only starts to cry when Han expresses that “we [Han and Leia] miss him”. Ren’s feelings about his mother are perhaps even more difficult to comprehend than those about his father.
Always remember that Han Solo died as any father should, loving his son, forgiving him, and hping that he can someday find his way home.
An extra layer of intricacy can be found between Snoke and Ren. There is clearly a dependence of some kind between them, perhaps because Snoke was there for Ren when Han and Leia weren’t, using his loneliness to manipulate him. The notion is quite tragic, but we simply don’t know enough about the topic yet.
Part 2: Symbolism, Metaphor and Foreshadowing
Now that we have a clear understanding of the most important facets of Kylo Ren’s characterization, this second part of the meta will focus on the artistic devices in The Force Awakens, particularly the use of symbolism, metaphor and foreshadowing that directly pertain to Kylo’s redemption arc.
Once more, a quick refresher on some important terms.
Symbolism is the practice of using an object or word to represent an abstract idea. An action, person, place, word of object can all have symbolic meaning.
Foreshadowing is a literary technique through which an author hints at what is to come.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that identifies something as being the same as some unrelated thing for rhetorical effect that, usually, provides clarity; thus, the implied conceptual relationship rhetorically highlights the similarities between two ideas.
2.1: THE HELMET AND THE SABER
It was revealed in an interview with Adam Driver that Kylo Ren’s lightsaber and helmet are meant to be a metaphor for his character, that he is “unfinished” and “unpolished” and appears as though he might crack at any moment. It can thus be assumed that, in order to develop, Kylo will eventually have to become “finished”, “polished” and “in control”.
Interestingly, some people use this as evidence supporting the notion that Kylo will never be redeemed, that he will become eviler and eviler until he kills Luke and Leia. Hilarious, I know.
We must realize that treading further along the path of Darkness would not lead to Ren being “finished” or “whole”. He is the focal point of the Light and Dark, and until he accepts both sides of his being he can never be whole, he can never mature naturally or discover his true purpose. That is the true metaphor behind the saber.
2.1: THERE IS “SOMEONE” WHO STILL COULD
We PUSH IN ON REY as RAIN BEGINS – and DAY TURNS TO NIGHT – and she LOOKS UP – we TILT UP –
To see we’re LOOKING UP AT A WARRIOR as he is STABBED BY A FIERY LIGHTSABER! He screams and falls to the ground – we FOLLOW HIM, revealing Rey again, now in a nighttime battlefield. She gets to her feet, frightened by what she sees. We PIVOT AROUND HER to REVEAL KYLO REN, and the six other KNIGHTS OF REN, who flank him!
Come back around to Rey, soaking now, as the RAIN STOPS and SUNLIGHT illuminates her – she turns to look – we PIVOT – and see…
A little girl. Rey as a child. She is sobbing, hysterical. Unkar Plutt’s meaty hand holds her thin arm. She is on Jakku, watching a starship fly into the sky, abandoning her.
No, come back!
Rey discovers that she has some kind of connection with Anakin’s lightsaber as she touches it and is thrust into a terrifying Force Back. She sees past, present and future, and is pursued by the only individual who seems to acknowledge her presence in the dream sequence: Kylo Ren. He is the focus of her vision more than anything, which is quite interesting when you remember that the saber (according to Ren) belonged to him at one point. Does Rey feel bonded with the Skywalker saber, or with Ren himself? Only time will tell.
Maz Kanata’s speech to Rey directly following the Force Back is one of the turning points of the film. Maz insinuates that Rey’s family is never returning, and that the belonging she seeks is ahead, not behind.
Dear child. I see your eyes. You already know the truth. Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back. But… there’s someone who still could.
There is someone who still could come back. Rey immediately assumes Maz is referring to Luke, but what if she’s actually insinuating that Kylo Ren can still [come back to the Light]? It would make for a brilliant example of foreshadowing in the long-run.
The end of the Force Back scene is also edited in such a way that it appears as though the little girl is speaking directly to Ren. We hear her say “come back” before the child is revealed, and right after we see Ren approaching Rey on the rainy battlefield.
This notion opens up the possibility that the belonging Rey seeks may lie in the focus of her Force Back, in the true owner of the saber: in Kylo Ren. And who is she about to meet in the forest? Who is directly ahead of her?
2.2: THE LIGHT AS SEDUCTION
“I feel it again, the pull to the Light.”
— Kylo Ren
Kylo Ren is quite the tortured soul indeed. He does everything in his power to quiet the call of the Light—which he literally refers to as a seduction—but no matter what he finds that he “feels it again”. It seems simple enough. Ren is a Dark-affiliated Force-Sensitive who is in great inner-turmoil as a result of the longing for the Light he can’t seem to shake. However small, it is his greatest foil, his most significant element of characterization.
So what is this pull to the Light? Ren makes it quite obvious that whatever connection he maintains to his family incites it. The mere mention of Han Solo causes him to confess his sins to his grandfather’s helmet. It is a pull to his family, to his old life.
But how exactly does Ren’s “pull to the Light” ultimately manifest itself? What is most representative of the Light in The Force Awakens—or more specifically, who?
Many fans have recognized that Kylo Ren develops an unusual fixation on the heroine after first encountering her in the forest of Takodana. Some have postulated that he has an interest in her power, while others say that he is genuinely attracted to her in some fashion, be that physically, mentally or through the Force that flows between them.
I’m much more inclined to believe the second interpretation, because it takes into account Kylo Ren’s characterization and his context in the narrative. He feels genuine compassion for her, he cannot help but bond with her loneliness and her fear. These are not hallmarks of an individual enamoured by power, but rather, by something far more human. That is why combining the themes of Force-related seduction with romantic and sexual seduction are paramount to comprehending Ren’s role in the future of this Trilogy.
Rey is a symbol in herself. She represents everything Kylo Ren has denied himself. She is a beautiful young woman who is highly connected to the Light side of the Force, and he quite literally cannot help but be willingly seduced by her Light.
“By the grace of your training, I will not be seduced.”
— Kylo Ren to Snoke
This is classic foreshadowing and irony in the vein of Vader’s famous “There is no conflict” or even Leia’s “I would sooner kiss a Wookie”. When a character expresses that he won’t be seduced in this manner in the first Episode of a Trilogy and proceeds to become completely fixated on a woman who happens to represent the Light by which he expresses he “will not be seduced” they might as well be spelling out that they will be seduced. In a manner of speaking, methinks Kylo doth protest too much.
We must also remember that this film concluded with Ren being rescued by Hux in order to “complete his training”. By the grace of Snoke’s training indeed.
“There was too much Vader in him.”
— Han Solo
Too much Vader… but too much of “what” exactly? This is left open to interpretation. Vader was a Sith Lord, but he was also Anakin Skywalker, the man who gave his own life to save his only son, the Jedi who fell to the Dark Side because the Emperor manipulated his undying love for his wife. Just as Anakin was prepared to do anything for Padme, Ren may ultimately be willing to go to great lengths for Rey, regardless of whether or not his sentiments are ever outwardly reciprocated.
This definitely ties into the fact that Rey and Ren’s themes are essentially Across the Stars in reverse.
Rey is under a spotlight, practically emanating light. Her light is extending toward the crouched figure of Ren, who is watching her submissively. Ren can’t seem to take his eyes off the glowing young woman.
2.3: THE SUN AND THE SON
Although the new superweapon received a great deal of criticism from fans for being “just another lame Death Star”, Starkiller Base happens to be one of the most effective and blatant symbols in the entire movie. From absorbing a “sun’s” light as power to transforming into a “reborn sun” at the film’s conclusion, the metaphor created is both telling and very artistic.
“It uses the power of the sun. As the weapon is charged, the sun is drained until it disappears.”
— Finn about Starkiller Base
“Snoke is using you for your power.”
— Han about Ben Solo
The comparison here is just begging to be made. Starkiller Base manipulates the “light” of a sun as a weapon. In English, the words “sun” and “son” happen to be the same. This is a pun that has been used throughout English literature and even biblical texts to describe the “prodigal son”. Ren is of course the “son” (to Han and Leia), the fallen legacy who wants nothing more than to subdue the light within himself.
“I am too much I’ the sun.”
The “sun” and the “son” is a powerful symbol that cannot be used lightly, but it only becomes more obvious as the film progresses:
And just then, the LAST BEAM OF SUNLIGHT streaming through the open hatch VANISHES.
Han actually smiles – and reaches out for the dark weapon – but with the light now gone, KYLO REN’S EYES FILL WITH DARKNESS.
At this moment, Kylo Ren murdered his father. Starkiller Base sucked the life from a sun, casting a shadow across the planetary weapon, and across Kylo Ren. The sun’s death heralded Ren’s darkest act. As hope was lost, so too were Ben and Han Solo. The sun, the son and father fell together.
Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act. Himself horrified. His SHOCK is broken only when –
We must also take into account Ren’s reaction to killing his father. If this sounds like someone who has gone Full Dark to you… I think you missed the point of the movie.
Something amazing happens at the end of the film:
The X-wings ROAR OFF, skyward as the MUSIC SOARS, the PLANET IMPLODES – THE SUNLIGHT IT CONTAINS BURSTS FORTH, and as we get further and further distance from what was Starkiller Base, we witness the REBIRTH OF A SUN. Light restored to a corner of the galaxy.
This is about as descriptive as any script is going to get. We witnessed the “rebirth of a sun”. Rebirth of a sun… or rebirth of a “son”?
Poe and the rest of the pilots destroyed the oscillator that was containing the sun’s trapped energy and light. This happened in unison with Rey defeating Kylo in the snowy wood. In a story that surrounds the concept of Light and Dark as two sides of a coin and that involved a sun dying to symbolize the loss of hope as a character violently murdered his own father, having that same sun be “reborn” in a flurry of light is very telling. Kylo Ren was filled with darkness as the sun fell, but after being defeated by Rey (interesting how Rey’s name is also a pun on a sun “ray”) he was “reborn” along with the new sun, his father’s eternal resting place.
And if all that symbolism doesn’t drive it home for you, take a look at this Easter Egg from The Force Awakens soundtrack. Two themes are connected by a horn solo, the moment we hear Kylo Ren’s theme for the very first time in “Attack on Jakku Village” and the exact moment the sun is reborn in “Farewell and the Trip”. The same solo can be heard in both songs, referencing the theme of the reborn sun (or in this case, the reborn “son”).
Go to 4:18
The first version is more ominous, as it is combined with Kylo’s dissonant theme.
Go to 0:46
The second is hopeful and triumphant, and even melds with the Force Theme. The solos are exactly the same, however. This hard-evidence proves to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the writers intended to have Starkiller Base’s rebirth as a “sun” represent Kylo’s own metaphorical rebirth.
2.4: THE BATTLE FOR A SOUL
Kylo’s final fight with Finn and Rey is perhaps one of the most artistically significant moments in the entire Star Wars franchise. From pursuing the duo into the icy forest to being branded by Rey, Ren is quick to reveal the results of his physical, mental and emotional unraveling as he engages Finn and Rey in battle. If a viewer has failed to comprehend Ren until this point, Ren’s behavior will go completely over their head.
Finn, Rey and Ren contrast each other beautifully. They were all children who were separated physically from their parents, and who dealt with the emotional trauma of abandonment in different ways. Finn was brainwashed, but maintained a high level of humanity; Rey dreamed every day of her family returning; Ren gave in to the Darkness that was tugging at him. Acknowledging the fact that they are all foils of each other gives their battle so much more emotional impact. They are fighting themselves as much as they are fighting each other, lost souls who may ultimately need each other to find their way home.
“It’s just us now. Han Solo can’t save you.”
The fight begins with this line. Strangely enough, it appears as though he is speaking only to Rey (translations corroborate this). However, it should be clear based on Ren’s prior characterization that he isn’t just stating that “Han Solo can’t save Rey”. In reality, he’s acknowledging the tragic fact that Han Solo can no longer save him.
“That lightsaber, it belongs to me.”
Ren doesn’t acknowledge Finn until after he has knocked Rey out after she attempted to shoot him. Finn takes up the Skywalker saber in order to protect Rey, running at his ex-superior—the man who allowed him to disobey direct orders—with a lion’s heart.
Why would Ren call Finn a traitor once again. Why would any character who just murdered his own father title someone else a traitor? Because Ren isn’t reprimanding Finn; he’s reprimanding himself, punishing himself physically and metaphorically. We already know that Ren saw himself in Finn, and he still does. He beats his own wounds during their fight, filled with self-hate and rage. Ren is grieving in his own way, his emotions causing him to lose all sense of self. He burns Finn, and finally slashes him up the spine, putting him temporarily out-of-commission just as Rey wakes up.
“You need a teacher. I can show you the ways of the Force.”
Rey and Ren’s battle is—as Harrison Ford once said—fantastic visual storytelling. There is so much occurring on-screen that it becomes almost overwhelming to take in.
It begins with Rey catching the Skywalker saber. All the tension leaves Ren’s body as he gazes at her with his old saber in her hands. It should be clear that he does not view this girl the same way he views Finn. While he was furious and masochistic in Finn’s presence, there is something very different in his countenance with Rey.
He is enamored by her Light, totally and utterly fixated. His expression is one of complete awe, and he maintains it throughout the fight.
He chases her through the wood, battling her as he attempts to disarm her. They are perfect opposites, moving in unison, dancing while in the midst of an epic clash. There is certainly a beauty to it, with the red and blue sabers seeming to create a shade of mauve just as Starkiller Base begins to fall apart. A crack appears in the planet, spewing fire just as they cross sabers.
As they attempt to stave each other off above the abyss, they seem to share a moment. It is at this point that Ren offers himself to her, declaring that “she needs a teacher” and that “he can show her the ways of the Force.” It is interesting to note that Ren doesn’t use the terms “Dark Side/Darkness” (as he did throughout the film). Of course he isn’t offering to teach her about the Light, but we are meant to question his behavior. He isn’t fully trained himself, yet he wants to teach her, to run away with her, to be with her?
Rey takes the opportunity to channel the Force for the first time, and suddenly she gains the upper-hand. She starts to chase him, stabbing at his clothes and body. She is as brutal against him as he was against Finn, and when they grasp arms and balance each other’s sabers, there is an undeniable example of symbolism. Rey is burying the dark saber in the snow, and he looks fully prepared to have it extinguished, to be rid of it once and for all.
She overcomes him physically, mentally and emotionally, leaving him scarred on the forest floor. Rey almost taps into the Dark Side, and has to stop herself from killing him, from wiping out the representation of the Darkness that took away her father-figure and first true friend.
Ren’s scar is an interesting shape, curved just like the Yin and Yang symbol. The scar is a threefold symbol of Rey’s connection to Ren, to the moment she almost crossed the threshold to the Dark Side, and to Ren’s duality. He no longer has to wear a mask to be a “monster”.
Ren is left beaten, but the symbolism of the reborn sun tells us that the Light within him has not been extinguished. There is still a chance for Ben Solo, as his mother rightfully expressed to her husband before he performed the ultimate sacrifice.
There’s still light in him. I know it.
Leia is not about to give up on her son. When Han died, she reacted to Ren’s suffering more than anything (the cut happens just as Ren seems to realize what he has done). I suspect neither Luke nor his sister would be willing to abandon their living link to Han… their true legacy: Ben Solo.
Episode VII ends with Rey handing “Luke’s” lightsaber back to its rightful owner… but we must remember that this saber may very well have also belonged to Ben Solo. Again, I have to wonder if Rey’s connection really extends to the Skyalkers at all, or simply to Kylo Ren? Only time can tell.
Well… I guess that’s all I have to say on this subject for now. I’ll conclude this meta by making it clear that there is zero foreshadowing pointing toward this story taking any other direction. If the writers are competent and made use of all these classic literary techniques in good faith, then we can be assured that Kylo Ren will be receiving quite the redemption arc in future Episodes.
If not, I’ll be keeping my money.
EDITS: To add pictures/fix spelling mistakes.