We here at The NYRD finally feel that enough time has passed that we can be -relatively- certain that most of the world has seen Star Wars: The Force Rises Groggily After Its Alarm Goes Off. So we decided that now might be the best time to have a heart-to-heart about the movie’s main protagonist, Kylo Ren and how he almost certainly reflects the Star Wars and geek community at large. We are by no means the first people to point this out, but we think that both it and Ren are worth exploring. It should also be said right now that if you haven’t yet seen this movie -because you’ve obviously been frozen in carbonite for the past six months and we want to welcome you back to reality- be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD.
Geeking Out Far Far Away
Kylo Ren is a geek, and not just any geek. He’s a Star Wars geek, and we mean that in both the sense that he is a geek in the Star Wars galaxy and a geek for the Star Wars galaxy, specifically the story of Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is obsessed with Vader in only the way someone on an Internet forum could be. More to the point, he also hates Anakin Skywalker -and possibly Jar Jar Binks- because he is that kind of a nerd. Kylo Ren is a purist. In essence he is a fan of the original trilogy, and only the original trilogy.
It makes sense in a way. Darth Vader is by far one of the coolest villains in all of movie history. Tall, imposing, and vicious he is more a force of nature than an actual person. “More man than machine,” as someone once said. Even when Vader gets angry all he has to do is force choke an admiral or two and be on his way. He almost never flies off the handle or acts irrationally, except for that whole Nooooooooo incident, but we don’t really talk about that… except for right now. The reason that outburst of emotion at the end of Revenge of the Sith seems so odd is because it is way out of character for what we know as the big man in black. That is also why so many people have so many problems with Anakin Skywalker, Kylo Ren included.
Hayden Christensen’s and Jake Lloyd’s acting aside, Anakin is annoying. It is one of the reasons why the prequel trilogy never worked as well as the original. Unfortunately, by the very nature of the character of Anakin Skywalker he will always get immediately compared with Darth Vader and will always come back looking weak and whinny when compared to his cooler and older counterpart. However and more to the point for Kylo Ren, Anakin Skywalker was good and Darth Vader was not, and that is where the distinction seems to be drawn for our Master of the Knights of Ren. The son of Han and Leia is a hardcore fan. He practically cosplays as the man and he even went so far as to collect memorabilia of his grandfather -though he did take it out of its original packaging so it will eventually depreciate in value.
Let the Nerd Rage Flow Through You
The irony is that Kylo Ren is arguably more powerful than his grandfather. It was often said that all the machinery in Vader kept him from fully accessing the Force, but his grandson does not have that limitation. He does not merely stop a blaster bolt with his hand, as Vader did. Ren freezes it completely in mid-air, and then proceeds to have a conversation with very little effort. Kylo Ren can rip memories and information from people’s minds. He does not simply Force choke his opponents he completely incapacitates them. However, unlike Vader’s cool and simmering anger, Ren’s rage explodes in violent tantrums. In many ways he is a child, an incredible dangerous one, but a child nonetheless.
What makes Kyle Ren more dangerous than Darth Vader is that Ren is a white-knuckled-zealous-fanatic when it comes to the First Order. He doesn’t just believe in this new diet version of the Empire, he lives it. It is part of his identity as a person. Anakin Skywalker on the other hand only joined Palpatine in some misguided attempt to save Queen Panda Bear. He held some beliefs similar to Darth Sidious, but his motives were more about justifying a personal end. That is why he ultimately turned back toward the lightside when confronted with the faith of his son, and why Ben Solo did not turn back when faced with the faith of his father. His obsession with the First Order and the darkside are part of how he identifies himself as a person, same as any one of us who proudly label ourselves as an unabashed Star Wars geek or nerd. After all, that is why so many people get so angry over things like the Special Editions, or the prequels, or anything else George Lucas did in the past two decades. No matter how much we may not mean to, we make these things part of ourselves and then when someone or something threatens them we react, sometimes irrationally.
In the Star Wars: The Force Struggles to Brew Its Morning Coffee, Kylo Ren’s rage is often triggered when things are not going his way, but especially when people violate the things he holds sacred. When faced with “Finn the Human” he very clearly yells the word “traitor,” because that matters to him. Finn, by running away from the First Order, stepped on something Ren holds dear. Vader, on the other hand, never cared if you were a defecting stormtrooper, Rebel-cannon-fodder #2, or a Kowakian monkey-lizard. He would just kill you without needing to tell you what you were. Also and in the most heavy handed symbolism of the movie, Kylo Ren literally unleashes his rage on a computer terminal, because that’s what you do when you’re a nerd. If someone argues that “Greedo shot first,” your only recourse is to thrash wildly at a computer screen until you make your point, and that is exactly the guiding principle that drive Ren through most of the movie. Some people may find him to be an uncomfortable, petulant, and unabashed man-child. Unfortunately, that is also exactly how many people see us Millennials.
The Millennials’ Falcon
Kylo Ren is the kind of person who will defend his obsession with the countenance of a cosplaying Sith Lord who just got told that Captain Kirk could beat up Darth Maul, because he is a Millennial. Think about it for a moment. We can assume he was raised in relative comfort, living in the shadow of his famous parents. He probably never faced much hardship as the previous war was mostly won by the time he was born. The Empire was defeated, his parents and uncle were heroes, and he was expected to live up to their legacy. Yet, he was not as cool as his father, as smart as his mother, or as focused as his uncle. He probably spent much of his childhood feeling inadequate and alone and -like many of us- he turned to stories for solace and escape. He found his identity and idol in the man who was his grandfather. Dark, imposing, and powerful, Vader must have seemed like a mythic figure to young Ben Solo. He did not just want to be like the Sith lord, he wanted to be the Sith lord. He even went so far as to kill other Jedi students, emulating the violent acts of the man he admires.
Not all Millennials have lived the easy life in the shadow of the hardwork of their parents, just as not all nerds rage at computer screens when people disagree with them, but there is an intersection of both populations where that is the case. Jar Jar Abrams is making a comment on the blind fanaticism of hardcore Star Wars fans, but there might also be a valid criticism buried under that black mask as well. There is something ultimately chilling about a geek gone wrong. Kylo Ren is a villain who feels alone and unloved, and he long ago gave up reality for the fantasy of his obsessions. He did not just fall from the lightside, but actively ran from it. Despite his in inability to properly pace a movie, Abrams does a good job of holding up a mirror to his own audience. We are like Luke Skywalker, entering the Darkside Tree on Dagobah. We think we are facing an all powerful imposing villain, but instead when the mask falls away, we find a reflection of our own faces.
For the most part, Millennials, especially nerds and geeks, are amazing people. Most of them will give you the limited edition 1978 Millennium Falcon shirt right off their backs, but we must all admit that there is a darker aspect to our culture and our love of things, like Star Wars. Like Kylo Ren we tend to make our favorite stories a part of our identities and personalities, and then we rage against the people we perceive as threatening who we are. With the advent of the social media and a popular culture that has suddenly embraced all things geeky, the angry nerd is starting to become a villain. In a way we may be forgetting to actually enjoy the things we claim to love, and instead we are spending our time looking for all the little things that make us angry. The true irony is that there has been no bigger target for nerd rage over the last fifteen years than Star Wars. So maybe Abrams actually hit the womp rat on the nose with this one. Star Wars: The Force Drags Itself Out of Bed and into the Shower was by no means a perfect movie, but it does remind us that it was just a movie.