[Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) was many things: exciting, nostalgic, and moving in equal measures. One of its greatest strengths was definitely the new characters, who were compelling and identifiable. Following the iconic Darth Vader was never an easy task, but the decision to make Kylo Ren a fan of Vader himself was an elegant tongue-in-cheek solution. And honestly, it's one of the best things about the film.
Kylo Ren is obsessed, trying his hardest to become Vader. But he's not just a radical fanboy: there's a lot of trauma in his past, and as the novel reveals, many of his bursts of rage are evidence of long term manipulation...
Spoiler warning: I really suggest you see the film if you haven't already. It's pretty great. Here's a video to block the view while you go buy those tickets.
Thanks to the Star Wars 7 script and official novel, there are plenty of facts which add depth to the characters. Even the mystery of Kylo Ren's origin story is alluded to in the official material, and what it reveals is more than a little disturbing...
Snoke Corrupted Ben Solo At A Young Age
Ugh, there's no way to write that that doesn't sound totally creepy. And that's probably because it is creepy. As Leia Organa tells Han Solo in the novel, even when Ben Solo was growing up, Supreme Leader Snoke had his eye on him:
"He knew our child would be strong with the Force. That he was born with equal potential for good or evil... In the beginning, even before I realized what was happening, he was manipulating everything, pulling our son towards the Dark Side."
Yeesh. All Snoke's string pulling paid off: when Ben Solo was around 10 years old, Leia sent him off to train with Luke Skywalker. And that was probably her biggest mistake.
Isolated from his parents, Ben Solo was more vulnerable to Snoke's manipulation. We don't know how Snoke managed to communicate with and corrupt Ben (hopefully Episode 8 will reveal this), but Kylo Ren's behavior proves that he has suffered a lot of trauma at the hands of his master.
Those Furious Outburst Are Concerning
As this fan points out, corrupting Ben Solo wouldn't really have been a matter of tempting him with "untold cosmic power." Snoke's manipulation would have been a lot more subtle, dangerous, and disturbing than that. It was probably very psychological, intended to isolate Ben Solo further, increase his paranoia, and to make him hate the people he previously loved.
So, let's catch up with Kylo Ren the way we see him in The Force Awakens. He's rash, impulsive, and prone to furious outbursts of rage. These are all symptoms of a bunch of mental conditions, including PTSD.
Snoke's manipulation explains Kylo Ren's behavior and characterization. Children who are groomed and emotionally abused often lash out in later life, as they never learned how to deal with their anger properly. In fact, it's probable that this is exactly what Snoke wants: his teachings were crafted to have Kylo Ren harness his anger. The more emotionally unstable Ren is, the more he's going to feel pain and hurt and sadness, which as Yoda says, leads straight to the Dark Side.
Oh man. Poor Kylo Ren. But for all that this explains his actions, a tragic backstory is not an excuse.
Kylo Ren Still Had A Choice
Was Ben Solo's agency stripped from him? Possibly. But as an adult Kylo Ren does understand the difference between the Dark and the Light, and has chosen to side with Snoke.
Tragic backstories give us an insight into villains' mentalities, but using them as an excuse is kinda apologetic. It also implies that if you have a difficult childhood, you'll turn out bad, which isn't true. And the nice thing is, we see this dynamic reflected in The Force Awakens with Rey and Finn.
Rey especially acts as a mirror to Kylo Ren: she also had a traumatic childhood, she had to fight to survive, and as the novel reveals, Rey also feels the pull of the Dark Side...
"Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion. So easy, she told herself. So quick. She recoiled from it. From the Dark Side."
For all that she's tempted, Rey doesn't succumb. There's a lot of sadness and grief in her story but ultimately she's hopeful. She's her own person, not controlled by anyone as Kylo Ren is controlled by Snoke. And ultimately, she falls on the side of Light.
So What Does This Mean For 'Episode 8'?
How will Kylo Ren's story continue? Now that we know the extent of Snoke's corruption, it's possible that Lucasfilm wants to set Kylo Ren up to be redeemed. Either that, or he'll become darker and darker, harnessing his impulsive rage to fully realize the power of the Dark Side. Personally, I'd like to see a mixture of both. We definitely need to see Kylo Ren's origin story explained onscreen, and it would be nice for him to grow darker only to be confronted with the harsh consequences of his choices.
One thing's for certain: Star Wars 8 is going to be awesome. Is it 2017 yet?