The most popular character in the new Star Wars movies is, without a doubt, Kylo Ren. There is literally no one who has strong feelings about The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi and also thinks Kylo Ren sucks. His narrative value is so universal it even applies to insane trolls who hate everything else about these movies. Kylo Ren has us all so bamboozled by his dark side Stockholm syndrome, that when Reylo ended-up being a thing, everyone was pretty much fine with it. That’s why it’s so sad is that Kylo Ren will very likely die in Star Wars: Episode IX.
In a recent profile with Vulture Adam Driver said this of Kylo’s “trajectory” in Episode IX: “We’re working toward something in particular with that character. I don’t want to give anything away.”
Naturally, every Star Wars fan assumed the same thing. In Episode VII he took off his helmet. In Episode VIII, he took his shirt off. Obviously, this means the pants are next, right?
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Kidding aside, like most of his interviews, Driver is just being a good dude and trying to answer a hard question he can’t talk about. Having said that, part of what makes Kylo Ren so popular in the new Star Wars films is that he really seems like he is changing, not only within the arc of a specific movie but from film to film.
Of all the new characters, he’s changed the most, at least visibly. Obviously, Rey changed a good amount, but because Rey remains fundamentally a good person it’s difficult for her to be written in a way as dynamic as Kylo Ren. In other words, Rey is a lot like the Luke Skywalker of the old movies: an audience surrogate who we love to root for and believe will prevail in the end.
To put it another way, despite crazy fan theories, Rey is never going to turn to the dark side. That’s not how these movies work, and Disney has too much money wrapped up in Rey being a great role model for kids. They can’t turn her evil.
On the flip side, Kylo Ren could actually turn good, which is what makes him so interesting. To be fair, this isn’t that hard. Most characters in Star Wars aren’t super-complex or even all that realistic. It’s been repeated ad nauseam that we’re dealing with archetypes in Star Wars movies. In real life, Luke Skywalker could have easily turned to the dark side. Like, if he was really a real person, he would probably just become evil.
Ditto with Rey. If she was a real person, we’d be as worried as Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi about her potential to become a monster, but because a part of our brain knows she’s an archetype, we’re never really worried that will happen. Everything in the story points toward Rey staying good, the drama is in finding out what that means for the plot.
But nothing about Kylo Ren is connected to a mythological archetype. Instead, it feels like there are actually options for him on the table. He exists outside of the paradigm that Luke and Rey are stuck in. We can think of him as a real person and he might act like one.
This means J.J. Abrams could choose to take Kylo’s story in all sorts of directions. It’s actually hard to say whether or not he will turn back to the light side of the Force, get even crazier, or something else entirely. It’s also possible he could become an even bigger genocidal maniac than any bad guy in Star Wars ever. What makes him so different from most other characters is that he feels real enough that all of these outcomes seem like actual possibilities.
It almost seems like Kylo Ren is aware of his own agency in the Star Wars saga. In The Last Jedi he openly talks about rewriting the cyclical narrative trends of every single Star Wars movie, saying, “Let old things die. Snoke. Skywalker. The Sith. The Jedi. The Rebels. Let it all die.” In the same scene, he also tells Rey, “You have no place in this story.”
The power Kylo wields narratively is crazy. If written well — and in a way that honors Driver’s nuanced and smart performance — what Kylo Ren decides to do in Episode IX will probably drive the plot. He’s not Darth Vader, but the “villains” of Star Wars are almost always the most interesting part of the story. So it’s unfortunate that no matter which path he chooses, the end result will probably be the same.
There’s pretty much no version of Episode IX where Kylo Ren lives. Let’s say he turns back to the good side of the Force in the first 10 minutes of the movie, starts wearing white, and calls himself Ben Solo again. He’d still need to die at the end of the movie because that’s how Star Wars movies work. Even if you actually change for the better, we’re still dealing with a mythological fairy tale. Kylo Ren has done way too much bad shit. The audience and the story cannot sustain a galaxy in which he walks away unscathed.
Conventional wisdom would tell us this means a redeemed version of Kylo Ren could turn to the light at the last second and save Rey or Finn in an act of self-sacrifice. This would make him exactly like his grandfather, allowing the audience to forgive him for killing his father Han Solo. Because unless J.J. Abrams is going to walk-back that particular detail, and somehow claim that Kylo Ren faked Han’s death, there’s no way we can be okay with a light side Ben Solo who is still the same person who stabbed the most popular Star Wars character to death.
However, if Kylo Ren dies in an act of redemption, then that would make the ending of Episode IX way too similar to the ending of Return of the Jedi. And there’s no way J.J. Abrams is going to be that obvious. Right?
Star Wars: Episode IX — Kylo’s Funeral hits theaters on December 20, 2019.