A Life of Structure: Kylo Ren

NOV / DEC 2016: BY CHARITY BISHOP

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I heard a recent sermon series on forgiveness that hit me in profound ways. It asserted that sometimes we fail to establish boundaries, then become angry with others for overstepping our natural limits, but our anger is directed less at the person in our life than at ourselves.

Boundaries are difficult to assert, but life-saving, if you can manage it. People are more comfortable knowing where the limits are since it brings a sense of certainty to the uncertainties of life. Children in particular need boundaries from their parents. It’s true that as they get older, they will test those boundaries, but it brings them a sense of assurance and sameness, in knowing where their parents stand.

One of the things that most stands out in The Force Awakens  is the sense of external structure sought by Kylo Ren. Each of the characters we meet in the new franchise arrives in a mask. Finn removes his helmet, and sheds his protective armor once crash-landed on the planet. Liberated from an oppressive structure that forced the eradication of human emotions and compassion, Finn dons a bomber jacket and transforms his identity, by pretending to be “with the Resistance.” Our first introduction to Rey is in goggles and a scarf, to protect her from the sand and external elements on her desert planet. She abandons it once she returns to the compound, and goes without it for the rest of the film. But, while finishing her dinner, she does don an old fighter pilot helmet, hinting at her deeper desire for significance and adventure. Both characters strive against external restraints and break away from their former limitations.

Kylo Ren actively pursues confinement in a literal and physical sense. He covers his face with a mask that obscures even the sound of his voice. He imprisons his body in heavy clothing, which makes him more intimidating but restrict his movements. He becomes a novice of an evil government which intends to eradicate freedom throughout the galaxy. He hands himself over, willingly, to Snoke, for advice, orders, and training… a young man desperate to escape… what? His parents, their legacy, to connect with an unrealistic, uninformed impression of his grandfather, who faced similar imprisonment as an agent of the Force? He’s so desperate to control his life that his own feelings of compassion, and the “pull to the light,” cause him to beg for these emotions to be taken from him.

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Those who feel too much often crave release the most. It’s unusual for a villain, or anyone in a story, to seek more boundaries instead of less. History, and stories, are full of free spirits breaking free from bondage, the constraints of society, the expectations placed on them due to their position, sex, or upbringing. Is Kylo seeking boundaries because his childhood lacked them? Is he really angry with his father, or is he angrier with himself? Beneath his desire for darkness, is there a self-loathing that he cannot escape his intense emotions, cannot control himself, or become the great Jedi family expectations have for him? Has Kylo chosen the dark side because of his own fear of failure, his own weakness for the darkness? Does he feel safer inside confinement?

What leads a person to desire a life of fundamentalism? If Christ came to liberate, to set us free from sin, to show us a new way of life that frees us from the inner demons that weigh us down, why do some people choose a life full of rules, punishments, and clear-defined boundaries? Is imprisonment safer than the unknown; a life of pure intellectual freedom? Does it remove the hardship and difficulty of free choice, of dealing not with situations on an individual basis to the best of our understanding (and learning to trust ourselves), but with a rule book that frees us from intense inner deliberation and thought? Do some people feel so unworthy of love, and fear their own evil so much, that they prefer constraints, rules, and punishments for failure, over open acceptance and loving arms?

Freedom can be frightening. The unknown is an abyss of possibilities. It’s easy to read into Kylo Ren’s psychology; to infer between the lines, based on what we know of his parents. Han is a smuggler who never stays in one place very long—probably an absentee father, whose arguments with Leia led him to vanish for months to let his temper cool. Leia, as a powerful princess and general, had responsibilities all across the galaxy. Did little Ben Solo go with her to all those different worlds, enter all those different schools, in essence, be an “army brat” in space? How often did he make friends only to lose them? Did anywhere ever feel like home? How much time did he spend with Luke? Some? None? What pressures fell on him as the son of a Princess/General and War Hero, the nephew of the last great Jedi, and the grandson of the most terrifying villain in the universe? When he murders his father, in an attempt to sever his last tie to the past and prove himself without sentiment, is he truly full of resentment toward an absentee father, or full of self-loathing? Does his rootless existence, his sense of uncertainty, the lack of structure in his own life, lead him to seek it in voluntary confinement?

If so, how sad, and how true to life. The great tragedy of existence is that it’s in our human nature, when presented with freedom, to seek constraints. Sometimes we invent our own rules; sometimes we ascribe them to a higher power, but the greatest sorrow of all is when we look freedom in the face… and put back on our mask.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would dearly love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and literature, but alas, she must make a living, so her days are spent doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!

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13 Replies to “A Life of Structure: Kylo Ren”

  1. Beautifully done.

    I think we, as humans, DO crave limitations, in a sense, because they make us feel safer. And–as you pointed out–reasonable, healthy limitations can be a good thing. But if we’re not careful, that search for limits can also end up turning us away from God; because, if you’re shutting out everything that isn’t narrow and concrete and “safe,” you end up shutting out eternity in the process. After all, God doesn’t fit in a box. God is infinite.

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    1. I agree. I believe our “small minds” (in comparison to God’s eternal truths) covet a sense of structure, so that we feel safe — because what is infinite frightens us. What we often don’t realize is that God isn’t inside the box — and constantly asks us to step outside it. Whenever He appeared, in history, in scripture, etc., it was to challenge the social system of the time, to introduce a concept so radically different from what was normal that it wound up causing such strife, they put Him on the cross. (He enters Ancient Judea and says — no human sacrifices; for once, a God is on the side of the oppressed, in Egypt with the Israelites; He enters a society where adultery can get you stoned to death, and says don’t throw rocks at each other; a place where Romans persecute the Judeans and says “If he steals your coat, give him your shoes also”; how many times do we have to forgive, Lord? Again and again, until you no longer remember the offense! Radical, outside the box concepts.)

      Fundamentalism, of the sort Kylo Ren craves, indicates a severe psychological imbalance, driven through fear — of what? Himself? The unknown? Truth? The Past? It’s fascinating to me, because he’s probably the most damaged, self-destructive character to yet appear in the Star Wars film franchises — and unlike Rey or Finn or Poe, he’s seeking out an authoritative dictatorship over himself, to deal with the inner pain.

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      1. Yes. Which is why I think we, as Christians, must continually question ourselves and our beliefs/practices, in order to ensure that we haven’t fallen into that trap of making up and enforcing rules which God never actually set for us. Not saying we should have NO rules and restrictions–that wouldn’t be any better–but we should be careful about deifying, as it were, rules and limits and letting them get in the way of God’s mercy.

        I would say he’s definitely the most damaged character in Star Wars thus far. He’s also one of the most deeply realistic. (Okay, that sounded scary . . . but I think it’s true.)

        I can’t wait to see what they do with his character in the next two movies. Not that I *enjoy* watching him, per se, because he’s so twisted and evil–but he adds a lot of depth and a lot of real-life darkness to the story, and that’s a good thing.

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      2. I’m working on a theory that God gives us direction, according to what we can comprehend, at the time when it is given; for example, He didn’t send Jesus to the Israelites fresh out of Egypt — He sent a handful of commandments, which underscore and illustrate how to put a conceptualized idea (“love one another”) into practice. He understood that in that brutal, barbaric culture, these commandments were necessary direction — and the fact that he had to give them, indicates those things were problems within the greater society in which the Israelites dwelled.

        God then left them with those commandments for a long time — and when Jesus showed up on the scene, it was with a far more advanced, intellectually-driven approach, liberated from “practical application” examples (except in specific cases — if a man steals this, give him that also; forgive those who wrong you, etc) and built around far greater concepts, which the more “modern” (advanced, after centuries of study, practice of the commandments, etc) Israelites could conceive and comprehend — though many didn’t, and crucified Him as a result.

        I think the danger lies in applying ancient truths to modern times, without accepting that the specifics were for the people He spoke to at the time; the truths are eternal, but you must weigh the instructions based on the surrounding culture; Jesus’ instructions to us today no doubt shift according to our greater enlightenment — in that sense, His instructions to us, if Jesus were to turn up on a street corner today, might be twenty times more mind-blowing-ly radical than the message he gave the Israelites in AD; with greater potential, comes greater responsibilities.

        But what would those truths be? Connected to the eternal, earlier truths, certainly, but expanded on, much as Jesus expanded on the commandments… all rooted in the same basic truth (Love God, Love One Another); but how do we manifest those truths, today?

        Kylo Ren had/has a chance for redemption, to step forward, but instead he’s deliberately moving backward — perhaps to escape his own pain, to find a sense of structure in which to abide, because of his insecurities; you are right, his damaged, insecure nature makes him extremely real, because he is the brokenness inside every one of us. I think he’s evil, in one sense; and not in another — I think he wants to be more evil than he is, and is determined to aspire to that; and that’s sad.

        I hope for Leia’s sake, he finds redemption; it would be an awful sad ending to her and Han’s story, if he didn’t.

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      3. That’s a great theory!!!! I’ve heard priests in my church say something very similar; that God’s eternal truths never change, but that He has had to reveal/explain them to the human race very, very veerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry slowly because we’re such dense blockheads. (Okay, not really. But you get the point.) They call it “salvation history”–basically, the concept that the sanctification of the human race is a long, torturous work-in-progress, beginning with Abraham and the ancient Israelites and continuing into our own day.

        Which is why I (like you) get disturbed when I sometimes see Christian friends/acquaintances of mine doing things I regard as extreme or excessive–and then justifying them with the explanation, “Well, it’s in the Old Testament.” And I’m busy thinking to myself, “Just because it’s in the Old Testament doesn’t mean it’s what GOD actually wants you to do, right here and right now.”

        I agree; for Leia’s sake, I hope he finds redemption by the end.

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      4. I think it takes society a long time to change, but that there have been intelligent people all along — sometimes you dig back through history and discover a philosopher or humanist saying 500 years ago what the ‘intelligent’ people of today are saying now!

        The Old Testament is dead. It’s, literally, ancient history. Since Christ came to fulfill the prophecies of the OT and establish a new way of life, clinging to outdated, dead elements of Judaism as justification for behavior that directly contradicts Christ’s teachings is like slapping Him in the face. Gosh, thanks for the enlightenment, but I’m going to stick with this antiquated belief!

        Hmm… isn’t that what the people of his own time did? 😉

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      5. Yep, and yep, and yep. Certainly the Old Testament still contains much that can be useful to us today; but if you pull something from the OT that *directly contradicts* what Christ came to teach and say, “I’m going to use this instead” . . . you’re doing it all wrong.

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