Kylo Ren, Darth Vader and the Narrative of Redemption

Kylo Ren is the Star Wars analog of the violent, emotionally unstable youth so prevalent in our own culture. The first film in the new trilogy shows him embracing the path he has chosen, but how will his story play out over the next two films?

Kylo is consciously imitating and aspiring to be Darth Vader, venerating Anakin’s broken and burnt helmet and styling his own armor on that of his grandfather’s. Kylo not only aspires to be Darth but, with The Force Awakens so closely mimicking the structure of A New Hope, he also takes Darth’s place in the narrative arc.

The similarity between TFA and A New Hope helped ground viewers back in the aesthetic of the original trilogy and isn’t, of course, an indication that the subsequent two films will do the same. But if Ben Organa-Solo follows a similar story arc to that of Anakin Skywalker, will the story of Kylo Ren ultimately provide a narrative for the angry and disenfranchised men that shows them there is another path for them to follow? Will Kylo Ren’s story arc highlight a redemptive path for angry for men?

Darth Vader’s narrative was ultimately redemptive. After Anakin’s turn to the dark side, his final transformation into Darth was fueled by the death of Padmé and the (supposed) death of his child (admittedly, being dismembered by Obi Wan was a notable factor in the equation). His quest for Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi leads him to question everything he thought he stood for, finally renouncing the dark side and killing the Emperor to save Luke.

Will Kylo’s narrative follow a similar path? An angry young man who’s turned against his family and mentor, will his story also be redemptive? Will Kylo show the angry young men of our society, the ones who spew hate online at any opportunity; who bully; who, in their most extreme incarnation, walk into public areas with automatic weapons?

In Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, George Lucas gave us an analog of distant, troubled or violent fathers and the children who seek to understand and love them. Darth is one of the greatest villain in film as well as, arguably, the most beloved character in the Star Wars universe.

With the story of Kylo Ren, will Star Wars give angry, alienated young men someone in whom they can not only see their anger reflected, but in whom they can see a model of rejecting that anger and finding a path to a less destructive, more meaningful outlook?

Through Ben, the Star Wars universe is addressing a problem in our culture that underpins not only instances of bullying in the schoolyard but school shootings. If Ben Organa-Solo is able to achieve some form of redemption at the end of Episode IX, then the biggest franchise in history may be able to push back against this tide of anger, even if only a little.

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