[SPOILER ALERT: This post contains potential spoilers for all things “Star Wars”. Though most of this stuff is years or decades old, it also touches on “Clone Wars” and “Rebels”, the latter of which is still airing. So, if you’re not caught up, do that before you read onward. You’ve been warned.]
As many of you know, or have been able to ascertain, I’m a pop culture aficionado, more commonly referred to as “geek”. As with all things I’m a generalist and independent contractor, thus swearing allegiance to no particular fandom and to all of them which interest me. Thus, this blog will occasionally delve into discussion about whatever corner of modern mythology is occupying my thoughts at the moment. Today it’s Star Wars, so if that’s not your thing, wander on and come back when I’m writing about something that interest you. Also, you should really check out Star Wars. Some of it is really good (some of it isn’t, ask a fan before proceeding).
And with that disclaimer out of the way….
So unless you’ve been hanging upside down in a polar cave on Hoth, you know that the latest Star Wars film is coming out next month. If this if your first time hearing about this, welcome back to civilization and I’m glad your Tauntaun didn’t freeze to death before you got to the first marker.
By now, most of the planet has seen the utterly fantastic trailer for “The Force Awakens”, Episode Seven in the Star Wars saga:
Much has been said of this being the first non-Lucas/Disney-produced film in the franchise, and I’m not going to get into the finer points of that here, other than to say I fully expect the movie to be at least decent and possibly great. There’s a host of reasons for that assessment, but even I find that discussion boring at this point. Besides, if I refrain from talking shit about Disney, they hopefully won’t care that I’m using trademarked imagery for this post. Anyone representing the Mouse should refer to my complaint policy before getting in touch with me.
In any case, I’d rather spend this post raving with wild speculation like a proper fanboy. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the mystery surrounding this outing’s apparent antagonist, one Kylo Ren:
You may be asking how much speculation could be loaded into the limited information we have from only a few trailers, interviews and promo shots. If so, you haven’t been a Star Wars fan for very long, so just sit back and watch an old-schooler go to work.
Our principle subject of discussion will be the question of identity: Who IS Kylo Ren? What connection does he have to the galactic order of things: the Jedi, the Dark Side, Darth Vader, the Empire? Why does he wear that (very nicely designed) mask?
As you might imagine, a plethora of theories on this subject have sprung up across the internet like mushrooms under a moisture vaporator. That’s actually not strong enough an analogy. Every mushroom in the patch would have to be a goddamn overachiever to multiply like internet-based Star Wars theories. But I digress.
For sake of simplicity, I’ve filtered these theories down what I believe are the six most likely scenarios, and one of my own devising. These six have been circulating in a variety of forms online for weeks now, and the seventh is my own in the sense that I haven’t seen anyone else suggesting it yet (though it’s easily possible there’s a similar theory is out there somewhere and I just haven’t run across it).
First, let me establish what information I’m drawing from as the basis for these hypotheses. By my understanding, Disney threw out the majority of the previous “extended universe”, declaring it non-canon. So the library of novels, short stories, comics books, and (I think) video games made prior to the Mouse’s acquisition of Star Wars are no longer in play.
The exception to this is the insanely fantastic “Clone Wars” animated series (and accompanying film) and the (currently airing) “Rebels” series. If you’re not familiar with those you might be lost on a couple of these entries. Also, you should really check out Rebels and Clone Wars. They’re both really good (all of them, no fan guidance necessary).
Second, let’s cover a few basics on what little information we have on Kylo Ren so far. This is information implied or given by the trailer, coupled with what few tidbits the creators of the film have let slip in interview. We know that Kylo Ren is the head of (or at least very high up in) the First Order, apparently this generation’s iteration of the Empire, and the inheritors of it’s equipment, judging from all the TIE fighters and Stormtroopers populating the trailer.
We know that he can use the force (the Dark Side, obviously, by his wardrobe) and that he built his own lightsaber. That last part is standard for Jedi and Sith alike, but he apparently managed this with no guidance, which is what leads to its more controversial design elements.
We know that “Kylo Ren” is not his real name. It’s a LITTLE unclear how old Kylo is. I keep hearing that he was born after Vader died, which rules out several possibilities on this list. But I can’t find the original source for that information, so we’ll mark that a “maybe” and move on.
We know he looks like this without the mask:
That’s actor Adam Driver showing off his smoldering mug for a Vanity Fair shoot. Given that piece of evidence, some of these entries might seem ruled out, but they’re too entertaining not to entertain. Besides, misdirection is a staple of Star Wars pre-production, so there’s always the possibility that J.J. and the Mouse are fucking with us by showing Driver with his mask off.
And lastly, we know that he’s got a mad obsession with Darth Vader. His outfit is based on Vader’s, he proclaims his intention to finish what Vader started, and he keeps the dude’s scorched helmet around to talk to, because every megalomaniac needs a good expository prop.
Come to think of it, some of the shit in that picture looks suspiciously like bone matter. Is that only Vader’s helmet, or is my man keeping the whole HEAD in his study like Al Swearengen and “Chief”? Holy shit Abrams, how dark IS this picture?
Again, I digress.
So with those ground rules established, and what scant information we have on the character laid out, I shall list the possible answers to what is fast becoming the most pressing question of the modern age:
WHO IS KYLO REN?
Theory 1: Jar Jar Binks
Okay, admittedly we’re starting with the least likely scenario here, and it’s obviously one I don’t see happening. Bringing back the most hated character in the Star Wars universe AT ALL is about as likely as finding overused lens flare or the Cloverfield monster in this film; let alone making said hated character this significant a linchpin. Hell, he was the complete opposite of a linchpin during his previous appearances and still managed to piss off every moviegoer in America.
This is mostly a joke theory that’s been chortled in the ether recently, and I figure it’s likelihood is hovering about as close to absolute zero as deep space. For starters, Kylo Ren moves with the sort of commanding body language every villain should have, and not like a drunk marionette with a side order of Stan Laurel. For another thing, Jar Jar has never been shown to use the Force, has no apparent evil intent anywhere in what passes for his brain, and is a moron. Elements of a compelling villain these do not make. So why am I even including this ridiculous theory here?
Because as dumb as this would be, there is some small part of me that would fucking LOVE IT. The very thought of seeing that helmet come off, those stupid ears flopping out, and “I’s a gonna avenge you, Ani” being the last words uttered onscreen in before credits roll is too mind-blowingly insane for me not to feel glee at the notion. Man, it would almost be worth it just to see the look on everyone’s face in the theater.
Almost. Cause fuck Jar Jar.
Theory 2: Ahsoka Tano
This next theory delves further afield, but manages to fall within the “plausible” spectrum I think, so here’s where we get into serious speculation.
For those not in the know, Ahsoka Tano is a character who originated on “Star Wars: Clone Wars” and whose story continues in “Rebels”. She was a padawan assigned to Anakin Skywalker by Yoda in an attempt to teach some patience. It’s kind of telling he had to go with a fourteen year old girl to find someone who could annoy Ani as much as he annoyed the Jedi Council, but it didn’t work regardless.
Ahsoka went on to become far more influenced by Anakin’s “eh, whatever” attitude toward Jedi rules and regulations than he was ever influenced to learn patience through her training. Ultimately, this led her to leave the Jedi before Order 66, and eventually wind up with a pivotal role on “Rebels”. Along the way, she became one of the most beloved newer characters in Star Wars canon, particularly among younger fans, and I suspect she was probably a major reason that Clone Wars got spared the indignity of being tossed out with the rest of the extended universe.
So seeing her revealed as the big bad would definitely be a Star Wars-sized mind fuck. It would also make a lot of sense. Tano practically worshiped her old Jedi master, and as of this writing hasn’t yet confirmed that he IS Darth Vader (though she clearly suspects). How she might react to this confirmation is a huge question mark, particularly given her own tendency to Dark Side shit up every now and then. Yes I just used “Dark Side” as a verb, shut up.
The argument against this theory is pretty strong, however. For starters, I’m not sure what the average lifespan of a Togruta female is, so she could easily be dead of old age by the time “The Force Awakens” begins. There’s also the fact she doesn’t look like Adam Driver. But again, that could be a big fucking ruse.
More pertinently, even though “Rebels” and “Clone Wars” have been granted canon status there’s no way of knowing if any of these characters will be making appearances in the films, particularly in crucial roles. That would require the average movie-going audience to be as Star Wars-obsessed as I am for full impact, and that’s not a decision that a savvy studio like Disney is likely to make.
Also, “Rebels” is still airing. Revealing Ahsoka’s ultimate fate as having fallen to the Dark Side and becoming Kylo Ren would have a profound effect on how that series plays from now on. To be fair, we all knew Anakin Skywalker’s ultimate fate watching “Clone Wars” and the writers made it work anyway. Shit, they did more than that, they achieved the impossible and made an Anakin that was actually likable. Dammit, that show was really good.
The point is, Ahsoka isn’t a known commodity to everyone in the audience, and her story is still unfolding in “Rebels”. I’m ranking this one as “mostly unlikely, but not Jar Jar unlikely”.
Theory 3: Princess Leia
Now we’re starting to dip into the slightly more plausible, but only just. Could Princess Leia, major architect of the Rebel Alliance, have fallen so far to the Dark Side since we saw her last that she’s trying to undo everything she fought for?
Potentially, yes. Let’s remember that we never really got a chance to see how Leia reacted to this whole “Luke’s my brother, Vader is my father” thing that was dropped on her in “Return of the Jedi”. She was sort of told, then commenced to blowing up a force-field generator, standing near Vader’s funeral pyre, and hanging out with a bunch of dancing Ewoks in pretty short order. I’m not even sure she had enough time to process all that information. Could she have delved into the mystery of her own origins so deeply that she was seduced to the path of darkness, forming some need to seek revenge on Luke for killing their father?
Well, it’s Star Wars, so none of this is outside the realm of possibility. The theory becomes even more intriguing when you recall that Leia has previous experience with male disguises and voice modulators. And, although we don’t know explicitly that she can use the Force, she’s the child of Anakin Skywalker so we have to assume that’s potential that’s just never been tapped. Hell, Vader even makes a comment about turning Leia to the Dark Side toward the end of “Jedi”, and Yoda’s famous “there is another” remark to the ghost of Obi-Wan is widely assumed to be a reference to her. If she was both Jedi AND Sith’s back-up plan in case of losing Luke and his “New Hope” status, she’d have to have Force potential, one would think.
The counter-arguments are significant too, however. There is, for example, a distinct lack of anyone left to train her in the ways of the Force. Only Luke, and potentially a few scattered leftover Jedi like Kanan and Ezra, remain in the galaxy that we know of. Both remaining Sith are dead (though others could be lurking, admittedly), and it’s unknown whether anyone is left in the galaxy who even knows the ultimate secrets of the Dark Side. Still, if lightsaber construction can be self-taught, maybe anything can.
There’s also that brief scene in the trailer that shows a weeping Leia falling into Han Solo’s arms, a shot that seems to put her squarely in the “good guy” camp. Still, it’s not as though major villains haven’t fooled everyone into thinking they were on the side of light before.
Anyway, I rank this theory as “kinda likely”, because it makes the most thematic sense so far, even with a lack of clear motivation. And as for the fact that Adam Driver is clearly not Carrie Fisher, consider a slight variation: that Leia is a secret Sith Lord (Sith Lady?) and that Kylo Ren is her apprentice, doing work in public while she remains hidden in the shadows manipulating events like Darth Sidious. That’s when it goes from “kinda likely” to “could easily be this and it would kinda kick ass”.
Theory 4: Luke Skywalker
Hey, have you noticed that we haven’t seen Luke really at all these trailers, despite the fact that Mark Hamill is most definitely in the movie? Other than a brief shot of (we assume) his mechanical hand on R2-D2 from beneath a black cloak (just like Kylo’s) and a brief voice-over in an earlier trailer, Luke Skywalker is a no-show so far.
So, is it possible? Did Luke become so torn up over having to kill his own pops that he descended into madness, or the Dark Side, or both? Is he attempting to make amends to the angry spirit of Vader by re-establishing the Empire? Is that why Leia is weeping in Han Solo’s arms?
Certainly Luke has always been in danger of succumbing to the Dark Side. Shit, half the original trilogy was about the threat of that, and it obviously runs in the family. This idea has the same sort of allure as the Leia theory, in that it would turn a beloved original character into a bad guy. That’s exactly the sort of fall from grace and chance for redemption that’s an ever-present theme in Star Wars, so it would make narrative sense. Also, consider what kind of visual you would have if Kylo Ren’s mask got half-blasted off, only to reveal the face of Luke Skywalker underneath. Remember the cave in “Empire”? That scene would read like foreshadowing then.
The counter-argument here primarily lies in that damn lightsaber. While I assume he would have to get a red saber if he went evil (what to they, issue those standard when you switch sides?), we know for a fact that Luke can construct a proper Jedi weapon when left to his own devices. Also, if finding out that his father IS Darth Vader, who was alive at the time, wasn’t enough to drive him to the Dark Side, it’s hard to argue that watching him die (redeemed, no less) would do the trick.
I rank this one about as equally likely as Leia, and obviously more so if you think that Luke is the evil master, with Kylo his apprentice. I could easily see Luke unable to cope with his loss after having to slay the father he grew up idolizing. That kind of sorrow is a quick trip to the Dark Side.
Theory 5: Ezra Bridger
Delving into the realm of “highly intriguing” is the idea that Kylo Ren is Ezra Bridger, a character from the currently running (and fantastic) “Star Wars: Rebels”. Ezra is a force-sensitive quasi-padawan under the tutelage of Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi who went into hiding after managing to escape Order 66 and the rise of the Empire.
This theory clicks for a whole lot of reasons. The events in “Rebels” take place in the years between Episodes 3 and 4, and Ezra is depicted as a younger teenager. This would make him roughly the same age as Luke Skywalker, and thus easily capable of appearing in the new film. And to be honest, Adam Driver kinda looks like he could BE an older Ezra, though not as old as he should be. That last part is a minor issue, as there are numerous sci-fi workarounds for an age discrepancy (genetic manipulation, cryo-sleep/Jedi hibernation, he’s a clone, etc).
Character-wise, he’s a wild card who has a problem with authority, focus, and controlling his emotions and attachments. If he didn’t have parents as part of his backstory, I’d honestly wonder if he weren’t really a Skywalker.
Like Luke, he was discovered by a Jedi much later in life than he would have been during the days when the Temple was active. This, combined with the limited resources of his training and his master’s lack of faith in his own abilities as a teacher leave Ezra much more vulnerable to a potential fall toward the Dark Side. In fact, that’s already been depicted as a possibility in the series.
To put the cherry on top, we know he has experience with unconventional lightsaber design.
There’s a few good arguments against this theory, though. If there’s one consistent aspect of Bridger’s character, it’s that he really, really, REALLY hates the Empire. Fall to the Dark Side or not, it’s hard to see this kid becoming someone who’s gonna try and reinstate Vader’s legacy.
Also present are the same “cons” as the Ahsoka Tano Hypothesis (see above). Ezra isn’t a known commodity to everyone in the audience, and his story is still unfolding in “Rebels”. I’m ranking this one as “mostly unlikely, but a little more likely than Ahsoka, and it would actually be pretty damn cool”.
Theory 6: The Son of Leia and Han Solo
This is the big one, and easily the most obvious prospect. Any progeny of these two characters would be the grandson of Darth Vader and the son of a man who spent his early adult life as a criminal. Though those were both redeemed figures eventually (and there’s that redemption theme again) that “eventually” was a long time coming for Vader. The son of Leia and Solo would have enough midi-chlorians and bad attitude floating in his gene pool to do some serious galactic damage if he were so inclined.
He would also cause some highly compelling Skywalker family strife. There would have to be a back story explaining how his parents failed (or think they failed) that hard. Was he Luke’s responsibility? A nephew/apprentice that he lost to the Dark Side? Is that why Luke is a seemingly peripheral figure in galactic matters at this point? Some sort of self-imposed exile for losing his sister’s kid to evil, the way Yoda banished himself to Dagobah after failing to defeat the Emperor?
This is the piece that seems to fit the best, if for no other reason that we all have to assume the Skywalker family line continues somehow, and none of the other new characters have been revealed as being part of it. Not that that means anything, given this family’s propensity for hiding its members from each other on random planets, but still.
I can’t think of a single good counter-argument to this idea except that it’s almost TOO obvious. If Abrams was really gonna mind-fuck us, this wouldn’t be the best way to do it. Unless, of course, it’s only part of the story as to why he’s evil in the first place. Like say, maybe Leia raised him evil because she’s a Sith Lord (see Leia entry, above). This could get complicated.
I rank this one as “it’s probably this, but everyone kinda knows that so it wouldn’t be much of a surprise”.
Theory 7: Palpatine’s Clone
Okay, I won’t go so far as to call this one “mine”, because I’m SURE it’s floating around out there somewhere. But I came up with it on my own, so fuck it, it’s mine for now.
What if the Emperor had a back-up plan? A plot to make sure that the Sith continued influencing the galaxy even if he and/or his apprentice fell? Consider this: The entire Empire obviously wasn’t destroyed just because they lost a Death Star and their head of government. How it broke down after that is anyone’s guess, but the First Order is clearly a spiritual descendant of the Palpatine regime.
So, for a time, the gears and cogs of the Emperor’s grand design had to keep turning, even without him. This was a guy who had plans within plans, constantly secured behind several layers of secrecy and covering almost every contingency. From that perspective, it’s not only possible but LIKELY that he envisioned a fail-safe for his own death. For one thing, he had to assume that Vader would try to overthrow him eventually; the Sith basically expect (if not outright encourage) that sort of thing. But clearly any postmortem machinations would kick in no matter how he died. So, what could such a plan entail?
Clone himself like a motherfucker, obviously.
A back-up copy of the Emperor would be exactly the kind of twisted shit that megalomaniac would come up with. An echo of himself to live on, a grim mirror to the legend of Darth Plagueis (whom he was obviously aware of) and the best option for continuing Sithdom in case of catastrophe. That gives him motivation. He certainly had the means (the planet Kamino and it’s unparalleled clone-making technology) and thirty years of unopposed galactic rule would have given him ample opportunity. Hell, he oversaw Anakin’s rebuilding into Darth Vader, so it’s not like medical science and its possibilities are unknown to him. That incident could have impressed on him the need for such a plan, seeing that he almost lost his most useful asset about three days after he finally gained him.
And what would have happened to that plot, that DNA, that plan, after the Emperor’s death? Hidden away in some file for an Imperial Commander to find and exploit, perhaps? Or was it something that simply kicked in automatically, brought to fruition by Palpatine’s most loyal agents acting on pre-arranged orders? Orders that likely included some form of instructions toward upbringing and training, to insure that a clone turned out as much like him as possible?
The first problem with this argument is that Kylo Ren doesn’t seem to act too much like the old Emperor. Sidious was a deceiver, preferring to enact his plans from the shadows, behind a secret public identity. By contrast, Ren clearly likes to be noticed, parading around on command decks and leading troops into battle and the like. Also, his obvious obsession is with Vader, and not the Emperor, which either blows my theory to pieces or only hints at a part of the story I haven’t reasoned out yet.
I obviously have no fucking idea who Kylo Ren is, any more than anyone who isn’t named Abrams or Driver. But I’ll honestly be surprised if at least one of the theories in this post doesn’t turn out to be, at worst, partially accurate. If not, it’s virtually guaranteed that the big reveal will be something that someone has guessed somewhere. With the way Star Wars fans spout off on the internet (myself included, now), you get the billion-monkeys-on-typewriters effect. ONE of us primates is right, just due to statistics.
Of course, this is Star Wars. It’s a series that pulled off the greatest cinematic mindfuck of a generation, and there’s obviously going to be a lot of desire to mimic that effect for the new films.
I could, for example, easily see J.J. Abrams stretching this mystery into the next chapter, teasing us with clues only to leave us hanging till 2017. And if that’s the case, Mr. Abrams, allow me to be the first to publicly say “fuck you”.
And if it’s awesome, also “thank you”.