Hey all! Got a very special entry today. Due to popular request Metamashina is hosting a mirror of Ohtze’s Star Wars-related essay Kill the King. You can find the original tumblr link here. Please see the mirror below.
“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.”
So I’ve been an emotional, Star Wars-driven wreck for the past two years—ever since Kylo Ren and Rey first appeared on screen. Even still The Last Jedi was like a bucket of cold water on my system. When I realized just how sexual the film was—that I was basically getting everything I’d wanted and more—I couldn’t breathe. Because holy s**t. Salt gods preserve us, they’re really going there. Give me some time to prepare myself *fumbling with pill bottle,* give me some time, I’m not ready *downing pills,* I’m not ready at all—
(Trust me, I love the film. I’m just in a state of shock at how ballsy it is.)
The Last Jedi is the most intelligent, multi-layered Star Wars movie to-date. It’s also my favorite out of the franchise, and with its creation Lucasfilm has finally won me over. After being gifted not once but twice with amazing stories and complex characters, I owe it to the filmmakers to say “you know what. You’re on top of this. I’ll wait to see how the story shapes up.” So this essay will be a little less critical than normal. But I’m still going to talk about what I saw.
For those of you who have followed this blog since the beginning, you’ll know it has been awhile since I’ve written any “meta.” I’m an illustrator by trade, a fiction writer by night. Academic essays are not my natural element, which is why I tend to shitpost ad nauseum whenever someone leaves me too close to a keyboard. That said, in the days right after The Force Awakens I meta’d a lot. My most widely circulated essays were:
- Forgiveness Hurts: Redemption Arcs and why you should be prepared for pain
- Death and the Maiden: How Reylo will be canon (but not in the way you’re hoping)
- My One and Only, or why Force Bonds are so important, and
- Rey is (probably) not a Skywalker
This work has aged in its technical execution over the past couple years, but I still feel pretty good about it. The writing was genuine and from the heart. Like many who saw the same things as I did on screen, I find it extremely validating to have our shared predictions proven correct. It’s such a weight off my shoulders to see that no, we weren’t imagining stuff, and yes, we can enjoy the dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey in this way, in canon. After two years of constant harassment over a fictional “ship,” it’s a victory. I’ll never forget how we were treated. But I digress.
After writing the bulk of my meta post-Force Awakens, I didn’t feel like pumping out any more essays until I saw The Last Jedi. Then the bug bit and the urge came upon me again. The Force Awakens showed us what kind of dynamic would arise—namely “Reylo,” or a romantic relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey. The Last Jedi showed us where this dynamic will head. We’ve evolved from a Death and the Maiden motif to one that clearly depicts an Usurper and Holy Mother, which… wow. That dynamic has a lot of connotations associated with it, and it was not the film I was expecting to get. I’m still happy because it’s being depicted well, but Jesus its bold as f**k.
Additionally, to those of you who have been predicting since The Force Awakens that we’re going to get Anakin and Padme’s romance in reverse (“Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started,” Kylo repeats to the ghosts of his past, desperately wishing to do better):
^The other proposal for galactic domination. (External source)
Congrats. I’m pretty sure you’ll get your wish.
Of course this story is not “the same as […] Han and Leia,” as Rian Johnson assured the skeptics. The Sequel Trilogy is not inspired by them. The Last Jedi is deeper, mythic, and based around healing psychic wounds in the Force, caused by everyone’s favorite sand-hating hot mess.
A few housekeeping things that I want to get out of the way before I begin: this essay will be image heavy, and it currently clocks in at over 15,000 words. Yes, 15,000. Please for the love of Crait do not open it on tumblr’s mobile app, you will break it. A giant thank you to @ashesforfoxes for beta’ing, and a special shout out to @pixelrey for the images/gifs. I also want to say thank you to @ugnaught77. Your help in tracking down and compiling the visual references/videos was invaluable. Congrats on your Anidala predictions.
Alright, here we go: an essay even longer than Death and the Maiden. I hope you’re all ready for a Force-bonded Oedipus complex, because… welp…
^ The other hot mess.
See the rest of the meta below the jump.
How the Trope breaks down
So now that I’ve mentioned that we’re seeing a shift from Death and the Maiden to Usurper and Holy Mother, I should probably explain how these archetypes appear in fiction and how they dictate the conclusion of this story. Specifically, I need to explain how they relate to Star Wars and why we’re seeing the same pattern repeat from Anakin/Padme to Kylo Ren/Rey. Just, you know, better. With hope at the end, instead of despair. The Star Crossed Lovers will do it right this time, Oedipal urges be damned.
The (Beloved) Usurper
In trope terms—especially within the Star Wars universe—the “Usurper” is young, male and handsome. He is sensitive, emotive, and caring—all feminine-coded traits—and possesses an apparent internal weakness of some sort.
He also physically strong and adept, with external masculine coding.
The Usurper has a lot going for him in the beginning of the story, either through his sheer talent or noble upbringing. Unfortunately he lacks a mother figure in his life due to her death or childhood separation/rejection. This mother figure is designed to bring balance to the Usurper via juxtaposition. She’s the opposite of himself in that she’s externally feminine but internally strong—a “Holy Mother” of sorts.
The Usurper also lacks a father to varying degrees, which is something that @ashesforfoxes will be covering in her meta series Divine Union (see: Part 0, Part I). I won’t get into the father element here, as I’m sticking to the sausage-making of writing, but if you’re curious I strongly recommend checking out Ashes work, as it delves into the symbolism behind all of this.
In essence, and to tie it into my previous essays: the missing “Holy Mother” is the natural progression of Death and the Maiden. Namely—once married to Death—the Maiden becomes the Queen/Mother over the Land of the Dead, which is where the Usurper (who personifies Death) resides. He enacts the Rule of Law, while she’s the strength and fortitude that helps him maintain the kingdom. There’s a balance to be found between their shared duality, and without that balance created by being in close proximity to one another, they begin to act out their aggression.
So in the beginning of the story the Holy Mother is supposed to teach the Usurper how to grow up. Unfortunately she’s not there, so he flounders. Without her guidance he becomes emotionally unbalanced, easily swayed by outside influences. This instability shows itself through his quickness to anger, his impulsivity and his inability to cope with rejection. The inability by others to understand his turmoil makes his condition worse, and the Usurper begins to crave unconditional love from a protective “mother” figure to the point of compulsion. As he’s usually going through puberty while this happens, it becomes mixed up with sexual signals.
Honestly the entire dynamic is incredibly Oedipal, and can be seen most blatantly with Anakin’s love of Padme. Kylo Ren and his docility/dependence on Rey make for very a close second.
The Usurper wants a specific sort of affection and is emotionally vulnerable without it. He searches for this “protective” love through his sexual partners, but the women who fit this criteria are few and far between. The Usurper is obsessed with the Queen (who is under the jurisdiction of his Father/Master). Because he won’t settle he usually ends up alone. He’s not meant to be alone, however, so he’s corrupted by an older male influence around/just past adolescence. We can see this with Anakin to Palpatine and with Kylo to Snoke.
Once corrupted the older man turns the Usurper into a Dog of War: a position from which he cannot escape on his own. “Dogs of War”—colloquially, trope-wise—are aggressive, hyper-destructive men who are designed to kill. It’s not a compliment, they’re usually brutal/unrefined/physically imposing/power-based, and in The Last Jedi this transformation into a Dog of War is literally spelled out by Snoke taunting Kylo with the insult “rabid cur” via Hux, i.e. he’s a mad, mongrel dog that needs to be leashed, lest he do damage to others.
While leashed the Usurper’s physical power is often contrasted by how emotionally brittle they are. They are ordered by their masters to do terrible deeds in the name of power, and are regarded by the general public as brain-dead villains unworthy of redemption, driven solely by their bloodlust. The universe has given up on them—despite the Usurper craving for love—so they resort to nihilism. If love is unobtainable, what’s the point? The Usurper wants the Holy Mother’s adoration, but she’s not there. In this spiral of nihilism, he become even more unbalanced.
The Queen/Holy Mother
Somewhere along the way—through the path of deepening nihilism (the exact point varies from story to story)—the Usurper meets a woman.
This woman is externally feminine to contrast his own masculine coding. She also possesses a vast deal of internal power. Think political power ala Padme, or Force power ala Rey. Most importantly she’s the Usurper’s moral superior with a strong sense of self. Holy Mothers are driven by creation rather than destruction—the opposite of a Death Queen, really, but the tropes can overlap.
Honestly Death Queens are a fascinating subject, and what I’d originally thought we were going to get pre-TLJ. Unfortunately it’s a dense topic and I don’t think it’s the path that Rey will take. So the tl’dr:
- Death Queens are a trope that can appear two different ways within fiction, depending upon whether they are written by a man or a woman.
- When written by a man they tend to be villainous and an example of raw female power run amok. They share many traits in common with Alien/Hive Queens: their unapologetic independence and violence is seen as unnatural and something to be crushed.
- When written by women, Death Queens usually become a subversion. As @ashesforfoxes so eloquently put it in a conversation we had on the matter, they are “the act of taking all the unapologetically male, violent characteristics of an anti-hero and conferring them to a woman, without having her violence be the result of protection or revenge.”
A lot of folks don’t like this subversion because Death Queens explicitly function without the consent of the male gaze. When presented with them in fiction, certain subsets of readers are sent into spirals of rage. Like we saw this with Rey in The Force Awakens: inklings of her raw skill brought forth whole swaths of viewers that said she was overpowered, badly written, or a Mary Sue. Both Death Queens and Holy Mothers also start off as Brides/Maidens/Virgins, which is what Rey was in the first film—a Bride, albeit a wayward one.
So while I thought there was a chance we would be getting a Death Queen by the end of the trilogy, especially when Rey dominated Kylo in the forest, we’re not. The Last Jedi has made it clear that Rey is going the Holy Mother route. She’s too protective not to, and is searching for family. Just know that her archetypal counterparts exist, and that before the most recent movie I was stanning for it.
So this woman the Usurper meets—this future-lover who is externally feminine and in possession of internal power—she’s driven by creation. Her desire for creation causes the woman to be protective of those who are unable to protect themselves, and her devotion to a higher power (politics, the Force, the Resistance, what-have-you) puts her into the category of Holy Mother. She watches over many “children” and their well being, not just the literal or her own. Her allegiance to an authority figure who outranks the Usurper (i.e. the Master/King/Father) makes her the Queen in this narrative, too.
While the Usurper is aware that this Queen/Holy Mother outranks him, he recognizes her traits as those he has been searching for his entire life. He sees her stability as a transferable asset, and his introduction to this woman provokes a visceral (subverted) death drive reaction in him. Namely, the unspoken but all-consuming desire to procreate with the Holy Mother. Like sexually.
The other Usurper/Holy Mother pairing.
Yes, that’s a baby bump.
This desire for procreation-or-death is mixed up with pseudo-incestual feelings towards his mother and religious conversion, so the Usurper is often simultaneously dealing with a raging Oedipus complex and a very tangible belief that sexual communion with his intended Queen will give him a singular path to divinity. It makes the Usurper uhhh… possessive, to say the least, and sexually aggressive right from the onset. They recognize Holy Mothers on sight and are trying to make up for lost time, but are also trying to put them at ease because they genuinely want their “mother’s” love and affection. Honestly they’re certified hot messes. Emphasis on the hot.
The Usurper has been told (often explicitly) that this Queen is not his to touch, but cannot help himself. The Queen is sympathetic to children who require a mother’s protection, like any natural mother would be, so she reciprocates.
The good Queen, blessed with childlike optimism (because family is her forte), takes it upon herself to provide the Usurper with the love that he’s been missing. She often misjudges the exact nature of his commitment, however, and is unprepared for the consequences that follow. The Usurper proposes to the Queen—not as a child searching for a mother’s love, but as a man seeking to steal his “father’s place” for sexual communion. He admits it in the open, at long last.
His proposal is always rejected. The Queen has lots of love to give, but she is committed to creation/life. In order for her to accept his advances she must assist him in the destruction of the other male figures in her life, often violently. She won’t go there.
Unable to deal with this rejection—and realizing that other men still compete for her attention—the Usurper seizes power in an effort to keep her by his side. He kills her father figures—either those that translate to her literal father, or her husband(s)/master(s)—because he thinks this lack of competition will make him her King. Unfortunately once he seizes power the Usurper is rejected again. He has misunderstood the reason why the Queen loves him and what drives her—mainly, that she loves his internal creative aspects, not his external destructive ones.
The Queen leaves the Usurper. She doesn’t want to, but because they are ideologically opposed and he is a threat to her “children” (i.e. the higher cause/those she protects) she has no other choice. It’s a form of dramatic/tragic romance. Lots and lots of angst to be had, which to be honest I love.
After the Queen goes into hiding, the Usurper is stuck with a kingdom he is not fit to wield (as we can see with Kylo). Without his Queen to stabilize his emotional turmoil he goes off the deep end. Driven to madness/destruction by his inability to obtain this balance, he searches for the mother-lover in an attempt to rectify the pain. If he cannot find the Queen, the madness deepens. It is only through her return to him or the return of their avatars (i.e. their children) that the Usurper is calmed and relinquishes his hold on power, resulting in forgiveness/redemption.
Where This Is Headed
NO, I’M SERIOUS. I NEVER THOUGHT I’D SAY THESE WORDS TWO YEARS AGO—I FOUGHT IT WITH EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING—BUT HERE WE ARE. I mean the children who are “born”/show up varies from story to story, but the Holy Mother is all about rebirth/redemption, and she creates through life. The Usurper is driven to procreate through her, because it’s the only way he can avoid being destructive/be reborn. The end result of this union is usually a set of kids. The two children represent the dual nature of the Holy Mother and the Usurper. I swear to god I’ll explain myself, just let me get a paper bag to breath into.
This trope heavily overlaps with the Death and the Maiden motif, but they’re not the same thing. Death and the Maiden is the dynamic between the Bride and the King of the Dead—the start of their relationship, if you will. It answers the question “is this romantic?” which is the question we dealt with post-Force Awakens. The Usurper/Holy Mother answers the question “where is this romance going?” We know they care for one another, so how will it conclude?
Kids. Either through adoption, symbolic or literal. Heck, maybe even virgin birth like Shmi. Now that I’ve sat through The Last Jedi’s blatant lack of fucks-to-give, I feel very confident in saying that Star Wars will exceed my wildest expectations for how ballsy they’ll be.
Remember when Rey dived into that dripping wet, womb-like cave, said “show me my parents” to the dark, round void, and her and Kylo Ren were on the other side of glass? Remember how she re-emerged from the cave through a vaginal-like opening onto holy ground, then immediately proceeded to touch Kylo’s hand, skin-to-skin, in probably the most sexual non-sexual scene I’ve ever seen on screen?
Remember how Rey grabs a phallic object bound to the male Skywalker line at dick level—an object Kylo is controlling, after he kills the King (Snoke)—the man that’s standing in the way of the Usurper’s sexual access to the Queen? Remember how Kylo penetrates a salt-covered “womb” where the literal Mother is held, with yet another phallic object?
Remember how the scene ends with the rebirth/birth of a former prodigal son, Luke, emerging from a vaginal-shaped opening? Remember how the entire film ends with actual kids?
Yeah, well, guess what. That’s where I officially lost my s**t. Not at the end, where it appears like Kylo’s beyond redemption, but this symbolism pointing to something that I never thought Disney would do. I hope you all like your wangst with a side of wailing brats. wHERE’S MY PAPER BAG JESUS I FEEL SO EXPOSED ADMITTING THIS SOMEONE HELP—
The Usurper and Holy Mother in Literature
To preface this very brief section, I should be clear that this will not be a history lesson. Nor will I go into the mythological significance behind these tropes, ala the lovely @ashesforfoxes. Instead I’m going to be sticking to the sausage-making of these motifs and how they appear in (historical) fiction in order to give you an overall idea on how they inform Star Wars. Specifically, how they inform the narrative arcs of Anakin and Kylo Ren.
Oedipus Rex, Mordred and the Origin of the Usurper/Holy Mother
Like the penultimate Death and the Maiden motif of Hades and Persephone, the Athenian tragedy Oedipus Rex is where the whole idea of the Usurper and Holy Mother comes from. Written by Sophocles in 429 BC, Oedipus Rex is the story of an eponymous character who has unknowingly fulfilled a prophecy by killing his father, marrying his mother and seizing control of Thebes. He doesn’t know that he’s fulfilled this prophecy until the end of the story, but he is aware that the legend exists. The whole thing starts off as a tragic curse, and it’s not because of Oedipus’ sins but because of his father, for raping the young prince of Elis and violating the Laws of Hospitality.
^The Plague of Thebes: Oedipus and Antigone (1842), Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille, by Charles François Jalabert
After the rape the prince killed himself in shame. The suicide casts doom over Oedipus’ father and all his descendants, so when Oedipus is born an oracle informs his father that he is destined to die at his son’s hands. Laius (the father), fearing for his own safety, orders his newborn son to be killed. Jocasta—Oedipus’ mother—secretly sends him to live with a shepherd instead. While growing up Oedipus learns of this curse, but he is under the impression that the shepherd and the shepherd’s wife are his real parents. In order to avoid the prophecy he leaves home and travels to Thebes, where he ends up killing his true father on the road through chance. Via a series of escalating events he becomes the king of Thebes and takes his mother, Jocasta, as his wife. He then spends the rest of the play searching for Laius’ murderer, unaware that the killer is himself.
At the end of the play when the truth finally comes out (about the incest/patricide) Jocasta hangs herself over their marriage bed in horror. Oedipus—distraught upon finding the body of his beloved mother—uses Jocasta’s golden pins to gouge out his own eyes in despair. His daughters that he sired with his mother—Antigone and Ismene—are sent away in shame, while Oedipus retreats into exile.
So I guess on the surface level, the question I should address is how Oedipus Rex ties into the modern Usurper and Holy Mother motif, especially the one that we see at play in Star Wars. In essence, Oedipus Rex is the primordial version of the Usurper, with:
- Incestual/quasi-incestual undertones via sexual fixation on the Holy Mother.
- The execution of father figures within the Holy Mother’s life in order to gain sexual access to the Queen.
- A strong belief in divine intervention/fate.
- Procreation with the Holy mother, resulting in a pair of children.
The Usurper/Holy Mother trope was further refined with the arrival of Medieval romantic literature and Arthurian Legend, specifically the story of Mordred’s betrayal. The incestuous child of King Arthur and his half-sister Morgan le Fay, Mordred was originally viewed as a good-natured warrior prince until he fell in love with his father’s young wife, Guinevere—AKA his stepmother (there’s a meta on this and it’s connection to Star Wars, by the way—you can find it here). When Arthur entrusted his kingdom to Mordred so he could do battle with an invading force, Mordred used the opportunity to steal his father’s castle and his bride.
“Mordred” and Guinevere. (External source)
Guinevere’s relationship with Mordred was consensual and sexual, as these relationships often are. Holy Mothers hate it when Usurpers are violent towards others, but for themselves? They’re usually deeply in love with these dark male avatars, although it’s more of a “you’re hurting and I’m compelled to empathize with you” sort of way. Their compassion is their greatest weakness, and because their love for the Usurper is mutual they are often punished for it. People put Holy Mothers on pedestals, and by communing with “darker” elements of the psyche there is an ongoing belief that the Usurper’s violence will corrupt her natural divinity. They tear the woman down.
(Side note: we can actually see this in real-time with Rey, her on-screen sympathy for Kylo, and how certain aspects of the fandom are enraged by her relationship with him. Pre-TLJ she was raised on a pedestal—the “cinnamon roll, force-sensitive bby” as tumblr liked to call her—who could do no wrong and would never, ever take interest in the personification of evil. Now that she has there is an ongoing belief by these fans that she has corrupted her natural divinity and deserves to torn down alongside Kylo. She’s a false Holy Mother in their eyes—a charlatan whore who needs to be excommunicated.)
Eventually Arthur returns and overthrows his Usurper son, killing him to regain access to the Queen. In later versions of this myth Mordred became the more well-known Lancelot. It’s also important to note that like Oedipus, Mordred had two sons. He was also portrayed as a victim of fate (i.e. he was destined to overthrow his father, no matter what he did).
This combination of literal dark knight in pursuit of a queen is where we get the iconic imagery of the Usurper, and the one that Kylo was specifically modeled after.
Link no longer available.
^Above: Kylo Ren, Revan, Knights Hospitaller 1 and 2, and on the far end the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.
I mean, yes, Kylo looks like Revan in TFA, but that’s because Revan was modeled off the Hospitallers too. He was a crusader.
Like Oedipus Rex, the Mordred legends contains:
- Incestual/quasi-incestual undertones via sexual fixation on the Holy Mother.
- The execution of father figures within the Holy Mother’s life in order to gain sexual access to the Queen.
- A strong belief in divine intervention/fate.
- Procreation with the Holy mother, resulting in a pair of children (although in this case it should be noted that the children are not confirmed to be Guinevere’s, just that Mordred had two kids).
This is the Usurper and Holy Mother motif at its most basic, although in its current iteration this list contains some additional elements, most notably:
- The Usurper is young, male and handsome. He is sensitive and possesses an apparent internal weakness of some sort.
- The Usurper lacks a mother figure in his life due to her death or childhood separation. Without her guidance he becomes emotionally unbalanced.
- The Usurper also lacks a father.
- The Usurper is corrupted by an older male influence around/just past adolescence due to this lack of female guidance.
- Once corrupted the older man turns the Usurper into a Dog of War.
- If the Holy Mother has abandoned him, the Usurper spirals into nihilism.
The Queen/Holy Mother has also become much more codified than she was before. In the current iteration of the trope she is:
- Externally feminine to contrast the Usurper’s masculine appearance.
- In possession of a vast deal of internal power with a strong sense of self.
- Driven by creation and protective of those that are weaker than herself.
- Devoted to a higher cause or an authority figure who outranks the Usurper.
Both Kylo Ren/Rey and Anakin/Padme follow these motifs, and because in-canon their story arcs are mirroring each other as a commentary on Star Wars, I think it’s important to examine both of them. So let’s get into that, shall we?
The only caveat I’ll make to this before I begin is that—on top of dealing with an Usurper and Holy Mother narrative—we are also factoring a full-blown redemption arc into Kylo’s story, along with an understanding by the directors on how to subvert tropes. This can and does change the outcome of the story, so it’s not an exact science.
“Show Me, Grandfather”: Anakin/Padme and the Parallels with Kylo Ren/Rey
Almost two years ago I was asked to write a meta on Anakin and Padme to explain how their romance (Anidala) paralleled Kylo Ren and Rey (Reylo):
^Unironically calling Kylo on his bullshit since January 2k16. In all fairness I was drunk and got it wrong. He has daddy issues and mommy issues! Winner.
I never got around to the essay for various reasons, but in hindsight that’s probably for the best. It’s much better here. The idea that Kylo Ren and Rey are based off of Anakin and Padme is nothing new. The theory arose around the same time as Reylo, and has been percolating ever since. Although “Anidala” and “Reylo” both utilize the Usurper and Holy Mother motif to a T—which I’ll deconstruct in just a bit—I think it’s important to get away from the classical archetypes for a sec to dive into Star Wars-specific lore. We need to explain why we see this narrative repeating from grandfather to grandson.
Pablo Hidalgo—he of the Lucasfilm Story Group—has had some very interesting tweets on the subject of “canon.” There’s more than this because he gets asked about it all the time, but the ones that are most relevant:
^Thanks to @holocroning for helping me track these down.
As I writer I agree with this. In a narrative canon evolves over time as new information is added or revised, but people have taken the meaning of these tweets literally. Either folks say “don’t listen to Pablo” (because it conflicts with their version of the canon), or they say that there is no established Star Wars canon. This simply isn’t true. Stories adapt, but that doesn’t mean you’re throwing darts at a board hoping that something will stick. There is a plan at play, often years in advance, and it’s not dictated by fandom outrage or the latest hot take:
So for those of you making petitions to “de-canonize” movies you don’t own, good fucking luck.
It’s a well-known fact that George Lucas—the creator of Star Wars—holds a deep love for mythic storytelling. The influence of classical archetypes on his work—along with the eponymous Hero’s Journey—is clear. In my personal opinion George’s ability to write dialogue/believable characterization leaves something to be desired, but his overall vision is clear. He’s a planner, and while the Star Wars movies are ostensibly made for children, they do pay attention to symbolism and are heavily focused on adding additional meaning that can be read via contextual clues:
George Lucas talking about Death and Rebirth symbolism in Star Wars.
So themes of death and rebirth (tenants that are central to the Usurper/Holy Mother motif) have always been a part of Star Wars. We also know that prior to the Star Wars sale with Disney—post Prequel Trilogy—that George Lucas planned to write another trilogy that delved into the greater mythology of the Star Wars universe:
^Interview with George Lucas’ son, Jett Lucas.
George Lucas loved the story of Anakin and Padme—so much so that there are hours of Clone Wars content that are overwhelming devoted to them and their relationship (with all its various facets and additional side characters). The galaxy-wide disaster that resulted from their union essentially boiled down to Anakin’s fear of losing Padme. This narrative was not well received in the Prequel Trilogy, but the Clone Wars animated series was, so George kept writing.
Then the sale with Disney happened, and Star Wars was “handed over.” A big public fuss was made over how Star Wars was no longer under George’s control to placate the fanboys. Shooting began on The Force Awakens soon after. The Force Awakens was a hit, and while The Last Jedi is also a hit, it has proven to be divisive. The parallels between Anakin/Padme and Kylo Ren/Rey are now so strong they can no longer be ignored. It has also recently emerged that the Sequel Trilogy being created by Disney is following George Lucas’ original vision very closely.
Also, to stick another wrench in the gears:
^George on Kathy and moving forward with the Disney acquisition.
Despite current concerns by certain subsets of fans that Star Wars is veering away from its original vision, the answer is no. I mean yes, it is being upgraded for a modern audience, but the bones of the franchise remain the same.
“Show me grandfather, and I will finish what you started,” Kylo says in TFA—this young, damaged man desperate for maternal affection. With the way that things are shot, we are meant to believe that he is referring to galactic domination, but for anyone whose a longtime fan of the series you’ll know that Vader’s main goal was to keep the people he loved from dying. He wanted to save Padme, Holy Mother and love of his life. He wanted to be with her forever, but he failed.
“He has too much Vader in him,” Han says to Leia (about Kylo) in The Force Awakens. In hindsight this might be literal. Kylo is simultaneously the quintessential Usurper, complete with raging Oedipus complex, and the in-canon legacy of his grandfather’s sins. He has to fix these sins and re-balance the Force by achieving what his grandfather didn’t, which is saving Rey/Padme.
So now that we’ve gone through the George bit at its most basic, let’s get into the archetypal similarities between the two pairings, then into redemption arcs themselves.
And for those of you who doubted me and other (predominantly) women pre-TLJ: for those of you who harassed us incessantly over a fictional ship, saying we were “reaching” and “grasping at straws,” only to have our predictions turn out to be overwhelmingly correct (81.25% in my case). You can rest easy now, because obviously I’ve lost my mind with all this Oedipal stuff, right? It’s a kid’s movie, they’d never reference it, it’s not like I have videos of George Lucas outright admitting to sticking oedipal symbolism in there…
^George Lucas on Oedipus. Full video is here — Link no longer available.
Please, continue with your think pieces on how the-death-of-Rey-Skywalker-has-been-greatly-exaggerated! I’m sure everyone’s dying to hear your thoughts.
Anakin Vs Kylo and Padme Vs Rey: A Comparison
Before I continue I want to point out that I’m not going to be deep-diving into the whole mythos surrounding Anakin and Padme and how they’re connect to the Force. It’s a massive, sprawling topic for which there already exist dozens of YouTube videos and meta essays. I’d strongly recommend reading/watching those instead. I’m also trying to cover multiple topics in a single essay, and I can’t really split them up because they all overlap. So to keep the word-limit more manageable I’m going to strictly focus on how Anakin and Kylo mirror each other using the Usurper/Holy Mother motif.
- The Usurper lacks a mother figure in his life due to her death/childhood separation.
- The Usurper is young and handsome. He also physically strong and adept, with external masculine coding, but possesses an apparent internal weakness.
To start this off I think I should state that both Anakin and Kylo were “momma’s boys.” Seriously, they adored them (and still do), but in true Usurper fashion they are separated from them early in childhood.
Anakin was born to a slave mother called Shmi through virgin birth, and was very close to her as a child. It’s really interesting to watch the prequels in hindsight, because under his mother’s direct guidance you can see that Anakin was calm and caring as a child, which is a stark 180 from how he behaved once he was separated from her.
When Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi arrive on Tatooine, they decide to “liberate” the Force-sensitive Anakin to train him to become a Jedi. This is a good decision, in theory—no one wants to leave a child in bondage—but in order to do this they must separate Anakin from his mother. For an Usurper to be separated from their mother is disastrous. They need her protective love and inner strength to function. We see this with Anakin, who would willingly go back to his mother and return to slavery, but the Jedi nix this idea pretty quick and forbid emotional attachments, which prevents him from visiting her.
Once separated from his mother, Anakin transfers his desire for maternal love onto Padme—who looks like a younger version of his mother.
He is separated from her, too, so he begins to act out.
By the time he reaches sexual maturity Anakin is emotionally unbalanced, prone to fits of anger and irrationality. Like all Usurpers he is handsome and physically adept with external masculine coding, but his emotions are feminized and out of control. His internal weakness is his psychological dependence on Padme at the expense of everything else. He has fixated on her as his Holy Mother/Queen, and because he is going through puberty this adoration for her motherly affection gets mixed up with sexual signals (link no longer available).
It’s for this reason that he’s so sexually aggressive right from the onset as soon as he sees her again. He wants to make up for lost time, and he wants her to be solely his. Unfortunately he lacks the cognitive abilities to vocalize this, as a true King/Father would, so he’s awkward and petulant.
Kylo Ren/Ben Solo
Kylo Ren/Ben Solo mirrors this. Like Anakin with Shmi, Kylo is a confirmed momma’s boy. We know that when he was young he was sensitive and caring and very feminized in his emotions/interests. He craved Leia’s affection, and in general was not a swashbuckling rogue like his father Han Solo.
Link no longer available.
^Young Ben Solo, pre-Temple Disaster.
Like Anakin, Ben Solo was blessed (cursed?) with a massive amount of Force-sensitivity. Leia, sensing this potential disaster if he was not trained properly, separated herself from her son to send him to live with his uncle, Luke Skywalker. Luke began to train him as a Jedi.
The idea here was that if they preemptively controlled Ben’s subconscious, darker impulses, they could keep him from “straying.” It’s a very Freudian concept, but everyone, and I mean literally everyone, misunderstood what Ben responded to. He’s hardwired to respond to his mother, or women who look like his mother. Taking him away from Leia was the worst decision possible.
“I just never should have sent him away,” Leia says to Han in The Force Awakens, “that’s when I lost him.” She speaks the truth. Ben is a bit different from his grandfather in that he did not immediately have another female figure to transfer this desire for maternal love onto, and it is for this reason that he was “corrupted” more quickly than Anakin. Either way—and with almost alarming predictability—he became emotionally unbalanced and easily swayed by outside influences. Most predominantly this influence was Snoke.
By the time we meet Kylo in the present, he is young and beautiful. Not just handsome, but beautiful. I can’t overstate how intentional this styling was. These curls look like they were styled for a fucking Botticelli masterpiece. Look at this shit. How dare they do this to me this is obscene:
Hey bby boi I hear u have mommy issues. When and where u walking disaster, don’t u worry I’ll fullfill tHoSe OeDiPaL dEsiRes fOr yOu-
^Gif credit: @pixelrey
Same Trish. No literally, same.
This beauty and youth is contrasted by the rest of his appearance, and everything about him—from his raw strength to his physical stature and his primal fits of rages—are deeply masculine-coded. Despite this we learn with tragic clarity that he remains a heartbreakingly sensitive person, and this sensitivity shows itself when he is placed into a situation where he knows that he won’t be hurt. This is exclusively with Rey, who showers him with the protective love he so desperately craves. He is incredibly gentle with her in return. Like Anakin with Padme, Kylo’s emotional dependence on Rey is his glaring internal weakness. He’s called on it, multiple times, by Snoke and Hux. He’s punished too.
- The Usurper also lacks a father, to varying degrees.
Again, this is where the story of Anakin and Kylo overlap—where they both fall into the motif of the Usurper, Star Wars specific or not. As he was born through virgin birth, Anakin’s first father figure is Qui-Gon Jinn who dies shortly after the two of them meet.
^Above: the too-soonly departed Qui-Gon Jinn.
His next “father” figure is Obi-Wan Kenobi—his teacher and mentor—but like all Usurpers this role of “teacher” falls short of a true father.
Anakin grows to resent Obi-Wan because he sees him as an avatar of all that is wrong with the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan is also a very real threat that is blocking his access to the Queen, which makes Anakin even more sexually aggressive around Padme. When Obi-Wan tries to physically separate them, Anakin attacks. He tries to kill Obi-Wan, but fails.
Kylo Ren/Ben Solo
Ben’s father was Han Solo—a smuggler and all-around handy person in a firefight—but just because you’re good with a blaster doesn’t mean you’ll make a great father, and to be honest I’m not surprised.
Han has always been a bit of a distant, machismo sort of rogue who never understood the Force and “all that mumbo-jumbo stuff.” He’s a man’s man, which is the exact opposite of his son: a quiet, caring, emotive boy who is deeply connected to the Force. Han appears to take little issue with Kylo being sent off to his uncle, and this lack of care hurts Ben on a personal level. The next father-figure in his life, Luke Skywalker, once again falls into the “teacher/mentor” category like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Like Anakin, Kylo comes to resent Luke (admittedly for very good reasons). Later on, he tries to kill Luke in turn when he interferes with his access to Rey.
- There are incestual/quasi-incestual undertones via sexual fixation on the Holy Mother, combined with a desire to procreate with her.
Usurpers want maternal love and are vulnerable without it. They latch onto women who look like younger versions of their mothers in order to recreate a bond that was taken from them in childhood. Because they find this woman during puberty/just past puberty, it means that their latent sexual desires get mixed up with the familial. They are not aware that they have been hard-coded to respond to women who fills this very specific void. All they know is that they love them, and the mere idea of losing them (again) is excruciatingly painful. They’ll do anything to stop it. It’s actually pretty sad.
^From top to bottom: Shmi Skywalker, Padme Amidala, Leia Organa, and Rey “Nobody”. Nope, don’t look alike at aLL.
In true Oedipal fashion they are driven to take their “father’s” place and procreate with her. It’s why they get so territorial about her attention. It should be additionally noted that this desire for procreation is not premeditated. The Usurper is not a planner and they lack the ability to conceptualize this desire. This is often why they are surprised when pregnancy/children are a result of this union, but are A-Okay with it when it does happen.
Here is their chance to create (divine) life with the Holy Mother—a task which they can not achieve on their own due to their destructive tendencies. They have taken their father’s place in every way, and wrongly assume that the Holy Mother will stay with them because of the child.
We see this reaction most clearly with Anakin, when Padme tells him she is pregnant:
Link no longer available.
He is reckless, obsessed, and craving more affection. Now that she is pregnant, he wants to declare to the whole world that she is his Queen, but the Holy Mother holds him back. Their relationship is consensual, but as stated earlier in the essay she is looked down upon by others for loving him. She fears being separated, but in a different way.
How this relates to Kylo Ren
We have not yet reached this stage with Kylo Ren, but it should be noted that Padme’s pregnancy—and the announcement of said pregnancy—did not occur until Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, which was the third arc in the story. So like, there’s still time. For uhhhhhh, whatever JJ has in store for us. I’m trying not to reach too deeply into the parallels but Jesus it’s hard.
It’s also really important to point out that there was a metric ton of womb symbolism in The Last Jedi, and it all ties into Kylo’s latent, subconscious desire to procreate with Rey. The entire fight on Crait, for example, is one giant metaphor for him:
- Flipping the fuck out and trying to shoot down the symbol of his father’s virility (The Millennium Falcon).
- Attempting to impregnate the Holy Mother’s womb (AKA the Rebel Base, where his real mother waits) with a giant phallic object (the battering ram).
- Inseminating the womb via that giant phallic object with a golden “holy light.”
- Luke Skywalker—the prodigal son—is then birthed through a flaming, vaginal-shaped opening that comes straight out of a Freudian wet dream.
- When Kylo enters the womb of the Holy Mother—because lbr that’s where he wants to live—he doesn’t see his mother, but Rey, his intended Queen. She’s standing on this icon of his father’s virility and rescuing “children” that are not his.
I cannot make this s**t up. I literally cannot make this shit up this is why I said it was so bold—
Kylo’s going to keep at this, by the way, in that he has been bound to do this ever since he was sacrificed as a Space Virgin at the altar of male Skywalker idiocy. The thing with Usurpers is that they are compelled to seek “divine union” with their Queens. Either they procreate or die.
The Corrupting Male Figure
- Once corrupted, the older man turns the Usurper into a Dog of War.
This one is pretty straightforward for both Anakin and Kylo, as it also marks a turning point in the worsening of their crimes if we were to look at this from a redemption angle. For Anakin this is the part in the Usurper’s story where he makes the switch from Skywalker to Darth Vader: brutal, harsh and a symbol of terror, now corrupted by the Emperor and “freed” from Padme’s good advice.
Ordered by Palpatine to keep the peace, he commits countless atrocities in the name of the Empire.
For Kylo this is the point where he makes the switch from Ben Solo to Kylo Ren. He too is a symbol of terror for the First Order. Now corrupted by Snoke—without the good advice of the yet-to-be-found-Rey—he loses his way. He commits a string of atrocities, and everyone—including his own men (like the ex-Stormtrooper Finn)—view him as a curse that is not worth saving. Even his own father has (initially) given up on, and the only people who still hold out an iota of hope are Leia and Rey—a trait hardwired into them, I should state. A mother cannot help but love her child, and a Holy Mother cannot help but care for her broken lover.
Burn It All Down
- If the Holy Mother has abandoned him, the Usurper spirals into nihilism.
Again, pretty blatant. When Padme rejects Anakin he spirals hard, taking his anger out on everyone around him.
When Padme dies this anger morphs into nihilism. Padme’s no longer there, so what’s the point? He kills without compassion or feeling. There is no meaning to immortality without her.
Once Rey abandons Kylo he too lashes out, hurt and alarmed that she has left him.
He doesn’t know how to cope without her, and it’s a defense mechanism to try to protect that very soft underbelly he’s hiding. Now that she’s slammed the door in his face, I’m sure that Kylo will toy with nihilism in Episode IX. Rey’s the only good thing he still had going for him, and she’s basically kicked him out of their bed to sleep on the couch.
I do think this nihilism will diverge a bit though, because as mentioned before I also think that Kylo will get a redemption arc, to make up for where his grandfather failed.
The Holy Mother/Queen
Before I move into the next section I want to give one last shout-out to the women in these narratives, and how Padme and Rey mirror each other. Remember, for a woman to fit a Holy Mother motif—alongside being the love interest of the Usurper—she must also be:
- Externally feminine to contrast the Usurper’s masculine appearance. She must also be in possession of a vast deal of internal power .
- Driven by creation and protective of those that are weaker than herself, and
- Devoted to a higher cause or an authority figure.
As with Anakin and Kylo fitting the motif of the Usurper, we can see Padme and Rey fitting the Holy Mother trope to a T. Both Padme and Rey are externally feminine: delicate, doe-eyed, and almost waifish in order to showcase their femininity against the Usurper’s masculine appearance.
Each woman possesses a vast amount of internal power along with a strong sense of self. For Padme this is shrewd political intellect and her ability to put her foot down when faced with Anakin’s (often) unreasonable demands for her affection. For Rey this internal power is the Force. She’s a spiritual prodigy and a Holy Mother in a very literal sense, and like her predecessor she clings to her ability to make her own decisions. She rejects both Luke and Kylo’s ideologies and makes her own.
Padme and Rey are equally driven by creation and protective of those that are weaker than them. This can be found in the overarching themes of the story, with Padme being a ruler entrusted with the care of her people, and Rey being the heart of the Resistance. It can also be seen in their self-motivated actions towards individual people. In the Clone Wars Padme is frequently seen helping others via her own hand. Rey is even more obsessive over those she considers “children,” and is incredibly quick to resort to violence when she feels that they are being threatened. This applies to all those she cares about—from BB8, to Finn, to Kylo himself.
The Holy Mother is also devoted to a higher cause or an authority figure. For Padme this is the Republic, and she defers to the guidance of Obi-Wan Kenobi as the quintessential Jedi Knight. For Rey, her devotion lies to the Force. She defers to Han Solo, then Luke Skywalker—two of Kylo’s father figures, one who is associated with the “thieves she calls friends” and the other with “murderers and traitors” (Kylo’s words in TFA).
So yeah. This is A Thing that is happening, and it’s so blatant I can’t ignore it. I’m not sure how JJ Abrams will twist this narrative between Anakin and Kylo Ren, if he twists it, but all the bones for this Usurper and Holy Mother motif—in the vein of Star Wars—are there.
How Redemption Arcs Play Into All This (AKA is Kylo Getting One?)
So over a year ago I wrote a very long meta about redemption arcs and how they function. This meta did not make a judgement call on whether or not Kylo would be redeemed, but approached his redemption as a theoretical concept—i.e. if he’s being redeemed this is what to expect. Part of the reason for this was to show people how redemption arcs worked, on the sausage-making level. The other part was simply because we didn’t have enough information on Kylo Ren for me to make a firm commitment. Despite people claiming that Kylo’s redemption was assured (or not), it really could have swung either way at the end of The Force Awakens.
Now that we have a new movie and additional background info via the visual dictionary and art book, the questions that I keep on getting asked are: does your assessment from 2016 remain the same? Are you still neutral on redemption? Do you think Kylo will be redeemed, or will he fall?
The answer is yes: I absolutely think Kylo Ren will be redeemed. At this point he’s so emotionally conflicted and utterly miserable—with such a genuinely terrible backstory—that it would be horrifically cruel to have him fall. After the tragedy of Anakin and Padme (flawed as it was in its execution) I don’t think the series will go there.
(Video: George on “I’m being torn apart” motif)
“Show me grandfather, and I will finish what you started,” Kylo says in TFA, which in hindsight is a meta-commentary on his own narrative arc and how it mirrors Anakin’s. Namely, if shown the right way, he will return to the light and save Rey where Padme wasn’t: two things that Anakin failed at that brought great disorder to the Force.
I mean on a personal level I want him to be redeemed, which is shocking to me because I’m normally completely blasé to these things. It’s a testament to the skill of Rian’s writing and Adam Driver’s acting that I feel such sympathy for a fictional character. Kylo’s been through so much, and as you can see from my blog I’m having a hard time processing it:
Unfortunately I have a sinking feeling that Kylo’s redemption is going to be painful, if JJ follows through on it. I mean Kylo’s already in pain—he’s been in pain for decades, we learned in The Last Jedi—but he’ll need to suffer a bit more and make a selfless sacrifice for the general audience to think that he’s worth saving. As I mentioned in my previous meta:
Redemption hurts on the physical level, in the bodily punishment doled out in relation to your crime.
This forgiveness-through-suffering is hardwired into the narrative. It’s is an eye-for-an-eye set-up central to the human experience; one where we believe that only through sufficient punishment does the aggressor deserve redemption; that their victims can achieve justice in turn.
So as part of this essay (and to wrap up an already very long divergence), I want to touch on what I wrote last year about redemption and how this plays into Kylo’s narrative. My analysis will be different this time, based upon the new information.
In my original meta I broke the redemption arc down into nine crucial steps that must adhered to. I also explained the caveats that must be there before the redemption arc can begin. A lot of people freaked out about the end of The Last Jedi when Kylo became the “Renperor,” but to be honest you really shouldn’t. He’s literally following the steps of a redemption arc to a T.
Those that get redemption arcs are usually victims themselves, or people who were victimized before they went down the path to darkness. If you were a victim of injustice—and then you visit injustice upon others—it’s assumed by the narrative (and by the mob mentality of the readers) that the crime itself, on some level, was “not your fault.” You were made bad by your environment, and as such you can still be saved. You don’t get redemption if you were a bad apple from the start.
Now Kylo Ren has always been a contentious character when it comes to the question of “is he a victim or not?” People have taken up an usually fierce hatred towards him because he is:
- Het (from the context clues we’ve received so far), and
- Comes from a position of material privilege within canon. He’s a literal prince from royal lineage (Organa) and religious lineage (Skywalker). He’s also the de facto ruler of the Knights of Ren and the First Order.
As he’s very high up on the socioeconomic scale with a giant military machine at his fingertips, people argue that Kylo can never be a victim in comparison to those that came from relatively little. Rey “Nobody,” the abandoned daughter of alcoholic junk dealers, is an excellent example, or ex-stormtrooper Finn, stolen as a baby to become a child soldier. In a lot of ways I totally understand where this sentiment comes from, in a real-world context. As a woman who has tried to navigate male-dominated spaces only to be shot down on the regular due to my gender, I carry a lot of anger towards those that have wronged me. It’s very easy to transfer this anger onto those that have the same physical characteristics of those that have held me back, even if they had nothing to do with it.
Unfortunately as the astute blogger @seankayos pointed out, “a cage of gold and gilded genetics is still a cage no matter how you slice it” (direct link no longer available). Abuse is still abuse, and a person’s pain should not be graded along a sliding scale of victimization where the one who suffers the most is crowned victorious. That is an extremely unhealthy notion, and one I am vehemently against, on a personal level.
Kylo is privileged, but privilege does not exempt you from abuse or being a victim of circumstance. Kylo was an extremely Force sensitive child that was “born into a legacy that was too big for him.” Targeted while still in the womb by Snoke due to this latent Force sensitivity and Skywalker lineage, he was an emotional child who craved affection/assurance. While his family loved him, they didn’t know how to deal with him. His father, Han Solo, has never been comfortable with the Force. His mother was understandably busy with her role in the New Republic. Still known as “Ben” at the time, he was taken in by his uncle Luke Skywalker to train as a Jedi. For an emotionally sensitive child who has been coded as mentally ill (another topic for another time)—and for a budding Usurper who craves the affection of a Holy Mother—it doesn’t matter how much material privilege you comes from. What Kylo seeks is emotional privilege, and he’s not getting it. If he’s being groomed that separation anxiety and depression—like Anakin’s—will turn into aggression towards the father figures that keep him from it.
Luke sensed this darkness, but didn’t know how to deal with it. In a moment of panic he tried to kill him. Luke deeply regrets this action and immediately tried to walk back on it, but it was too late. Ben Solo snapped and destroyed the temple, killing half the students and taking the others with him. Honestly I can’t even say that Ben didn’t do it as a flight-or-fight response, because the movie points out that he was terrified. He fled to his abuser, Snoke, because he had nowhere to turn. He’s already been conditioned to be distrustful of the father figures in his life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Snoke told him lies about his mother purposely abandoning him.
Above all, the Usurper wants the power to take the Queen for his own. Snoke offers this power, explicitly, and while Kylo may not consciously realize that he wants power for that reason, he does know he needs it.
Isolated, traumatized by his uncle’s “betrayal,” and seemingly rejected, Ben Solo became Kylo Ren. His father gave up on him, and Kylo believes that he gave up on him, so when Han tries to convince him to come back Kylo kills him. Not because he wants to, per say, but because Snoke makes it very clear that he needs to end him in order to gain more power. He cannot see beyond his own learned helplessness, so he follows Snoke’s guidance. Usurpers aren’t natural leaders.
It’s really important to note here that this is how trauma works. If you are traumatized by a specific event or person, you will not be miraculously swayed by the visible reminder of that trauma suddenly telling you to “rejoin” the people that tried to kill you. The fact that Han Solo is literally standing between Kylo and his budding Queen does his father no favors. It takes ample amounts of non-conditional love and acceptance to convince a deeply injured person to accept help—to make themselves vulnerable enough to receive help from another person by opening up about their trauma. This is especially true when the character is coded as mentally ill. Mental illness is no excuse for bad behavior. But it does not mean that a person is beyond redemption: that they are undeserving of love, or unable to love someone else in in return.
Anyways, all of this is to say that it’s unrealistic to expect Kylo to suddenly accept offers of help or “return to light” from the people who are triggering him. It’s unrealistic of Rey to expect this of him in The Last Jedi, because while she’s not triggering to him, by asking him to return to the man who tried to kill him she’s committing the act. Of course he lashes out, with the full weight of all his stolen phallic power behind him.
As an aside—this combination of mental illness, gilded genetics and material privilege/emotional bankruptcy is very common among redemption arcs. From my essay Redemption Hurts, on another infamous redemption arc involving Sasuke Uchiha:
Sasuke was a product of outwardly-privileged but secretly unfortunate circumstances. (He) was born into an extremely powerful but incredibly aggressive, warlike clan with a propensity for madness. … Their client village, Konoha […] ordered Sasuke’s beloved older brother Itachi to slaughter their entire family, including Sasuke’s mother and father. […] While trying to escape, Sasuke got help from a former Konoha nin who was very, VERY thinly coded as a child predator—Orochimaru. After Sasuke broke free of Konoha, he ended up trapped with him for a couple years, working under Orochimaru’s thumb. […] Sasuke was then hunted by surrounding client villages as a criminal. Each of these villages either wanted to:
a) Kill him.
b) Imprison him, or
c) Pluck out his eyes for the sharingan, the scarlet letter of his clan’s power and their Achilles’ heel in terms of madness.
So Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is absolutely victim of circumstance, both in-canon and as a trope. We’ve got all the caveats needed for a villain worthy of a redemption, and we can see this play out on screen.
The Force Awakens
Step 1: The Initial Crime
The initial crime is the thing that starts the redemption arc rolling: the keystone that drops the antagonist down the Dark Side, so to speak.
So now that we have (most of) Kylo Ren’s backstory, we can definitively say that his initial crime is not attacking the village on Jakku—it’s attacking the Jedi Temple and the killing Luke’s Padawans. Granted, this was prompted by Luke’s actions, but it doesn’t change the fact that he killed some kids. To keep with the whole “Anakin and Padme in reverse” theme, when you take a look at Anakin’s initial crime, the parallels between Kylo and his grandfather are pretty clear:
If we’re looking at Anakin/Darth Vader, the initial crime would be killing the younglings at the Jedi Temple. […] These are all very serious crimes from which there’s no turning back from (especially the purposeful killing of kids). You can only move forward with the consequences.
Step 2: A Worsening of the Crime(s)
After the initial crime is committed, there needs to be a worsening of the crimes: a series of repeated behaviors instead of a one-time event. One-time events can be looked at as tragic accidents or mistakes (see: not worthy of redemption, or the suffering that goes into one), whereas a worsening of the crimes shows that the antagonist is fully committed to their role.
If Kylo wasn’t going to become a villain on the path to redemption, he would have turned himself in a long time ago. Instead, driven by mental illness and abuse, The Force Awakens became all about a worsening of these actions while contrasting it with Kylo’s adoration for his intended bride.
He attacks the village and kills Lor San Tekka.
He tortures Poe.
When he gets word that Rey is hiding out on Takodana—a sci-fi stand-in for a literal garden of Eden—he bombs the promised land that shelters his bride and kidnaps Rey. Playing the guise of a “murderous snake” dressed in black, he tempts Eve from the Garden where she spent her childhood/unsexualized years with Adam.
When Rey rejects his first round of advances and flees the bridal bed—she is not yet ready to become the Holy Mother—he loses it. When the male figures in her life try to interfere, Kylo kills the father figure and attacks Finn (coded as Adam), as both of them are blocking his sexual access to the Queen. He physically knocks Rey out in an effort to keep her from running.
On a surface level Kylo is attempting to show us he’s fully committed to Snoke’s ideals, but his very selfish, very obvious motives—as we learned in The Last Jedi—are all about gaining access to Rey. Usurpers focus obsessively on their Holy Mothers. It’s a point that The Last Jedi makes brutally clear. Kylo’s been watching Rey since they first met and thinking about her even when they were apart. Again, just like grandaddy.
The Last Jedi
So now that we’ve had two full movies back-to-back, we can safely predict which steps happened in Episode VIII and what will happen in Episode IX.
Step 3: A Reckoning
After a worsening of the crimes, the antagonist needs to have a reckoning. They need to […] be forced to come to a revelation about their crimes, either through circumstances of their own making or another character’s. […] This confrontation doesn’t necessarily have to be successful—often times, it isn’t—but it has to happen, in order to kick-start the redemption arc into high gear.
The whole movie is a reckoning for Kylo in the sense that:
- He has to come to terms with the fact that he’s working for the First Order, an organization that he doesn’t really believe in but also can’t quit due to extenuating circumstances.
- That Snoke is not there to help him. That Snoke is his abuser.
- That he’s all alone, and he craves affection. Usurpers need to be cared for.
- That he loves Rey enough to risk it all—this girl that he met literally less than a week ago in canon. He falls hard and fast, but Usurpers always do with their Queens. It’s just a bit breathtaking at how quick this change is.
That said, the true moment of reckoning is the fight in the throne room, after he and Rey have killed Snoke and the Praetorian guards. Now this part also fits very heavily into the Usurper/Holy Mother arc, and I should be very clear that they are happening simultaneously.
The Usurper, having self-actualized his need for power in order to retain his Queen, has killed or vanquished all male (father) figures in her life in order to take her for himself. He is very, very sure that she will join him in sexual union. When Kylo proposes to Rey to let her rule the galaxy with him, it is absolutely a marriage proposal. The subtext is that he wants kids, too, but I highly doubt either of them realize this.
Rey—in true Holy Mother fashion—rejects his proposal. She doesn’t want to reject him, because the relationships between Usurpers/Queens is always consensual, but he’s hurting the people she loves. She just wants him to step up and take responsibility so he can be her true equal, but by refusing to do so—by resorting to violence—he has failed in that task and left her no choice.
This happened with Kylo’s grandfather too—another Usurper, who was confronted by the avatar of his Holy Queen (their son):
If we’re looking at Vader, this reckoning would be coming face to face with Luke: with the personification of his past, his failures (both on a personal and familial level), and all the responsibilities associated with it.
In hindsight—now knowing what I do—I would say that Vader’s Reckoning could also be Padme begging him to stop with his plan for galactic domination. Unfortunately shit goes sideways, for both grandfather and scion. I think part of the reason why shit goes sideways is due to Anakin and Kylo’s mental instability, but also because this is the way Usurper/Holy Mother plots work. Rey loves Kylo, but she cannot in good conscience further his delusions: its a form of tough love, this act of her throwing him out of the nest.
Rey is willing to marry him now—willing to become his Queen and share the marriage bed in a way she wasn’t in TFA, because the Holy Mother is the Bride self-actualized—but she won’t do it at the expense of the other “children” in her life.
Step 4: A Refusal of that Reckoning
After the reckoning comes a refusal of that reckoning—the denying of responsibility or guilt (especially if there’s pain involved).
Like his grandfather, Kylo refuses this Reckoning when it is offered. He refuses to stomp bombing the Resistance escape pods, or return to the light, and suffers for it through betrayal/loss of his Queen.
Step 5: Suffering
After the refusal of that reckoning, suffering is at hand. Sometimes suffering happens throughout the entire redemption arc, but it usually kicks into high gear when the antagonist refuses to acknowledge their guilt. This is the punishment meted out by the writers for the audience’s satisfaction; the pain one deserves for doing something wrong in the mind of the mob (which is what the audience is). […] The length and method of this suffering also varies, and sometimes it’s psychological as well.
Now it is important to note that Kylo Ren is one of those unlucky characters who has always been suffering, but his pain is brought into high gear when he refuses to acknowledge what he’s done. Rey leaves him and returns to the father figure/master that tried to kill him. It’s the worst sort of betrayal for the Usurper, because the loss of his Queen is psychologically traumatic. Kylo is left alone in charge of a giant military machine, without anyone to trust, and attempts to express this rage, impotency and fear through violence. So he’s in a great deal of pain, but he’s not at granddaddy levels of pain yet:
I’m not saying that Kylo will BBQ it like his grandfather, or even that his suffering will encompass the entirety of Episode IX, but we’ve got some pretty nasty things coming down the tube for him.
Episode IX (Untitled)
I’m not gonna get into how I think these steps in a redemption arc will play out in Episode IX, as I cover my predictions for IX at the end of my meta. It is important to lay out which steps are still remaining, however, and what they entail, so to quote Forgiveness Hurts:
Step 6: Acceptance
After suffering comes an acceptance of guilt. This acceptance is supposed to come about “naturally,” but the subtext of it is that—through punishment—the antagonist is forced to see the “error of their ways.”
Step 7: More Suffering
After the antagonist—soon to be a reformed antagonist—accepts their guilt, more suffering is involved. […] instead of suffering in order to see the “error” of their ways, suffering is foisted upon the antagonist in order to build up sympathy with the audience.
Step 8: A Selfless Sacrifice/Penance
After all that suffering […] the antagonist needs to make a selfless sacrifice. They need to go all out to win the audience over, to show they are humble and pious and willing to lay down their lives to make amends.
Step 9: Forgiveness
After committing a selfless sacrifice, forgiveness is finally at hand, from the victim to the aggressor. Finally, the antagonist’s redemption has been “earned.” […]
THEN, one of two things happens. Either the reformed antagonist gets:
a) A new life/second chance, if there was ample amount of suffering involved.
b) Death, if there was no suffering involved, or not enough in relation to the initial crime. Forgiveness doesn’t come free (i.e. the bigger your crime/the more conscious you were of making it, the less likely you are to get out of the story alive).
Vader had to die because his crimes were too severe. One right (for Luke) does not make up for the countless other wrongs. And there is a chance that Kylo might die in order to receive redemption, especially since he’s Renperor now—it all depends on what he does in IX and how quickly he has a kid. I just think the chances of him dying are pretty slim, well, considering:
Rey is still alive, unlike Padme, which is huge. The Holy Mother hasn’t fully rejected him—she’s just fled. If Rey had rejected him permanently she would have killed him in the throne room when he was unconscious. This gives Kylo something to cling to. He’s also clearly conflicted/on the edge—Anakin kept falling into rage, but Kylo’s falling deeper into despair now that the anger has cooled off. If he dies after showing us that complexity—and with the additional coding of him being abused/mentally ill—it sends a really bleak, nihilistic message for the end of the movie. A “you fuck up once and you’re done” sort of deal. Rose Tico’s in-movie commentary on “it’s about saving what you love,” become pointless.
There’s also the inescapable fact that Kylo is the last confirmed Skywalker. Like definitively. Unfortunately Kylo has no known siblings/cousins, so if he dies that’s the end of the Skywalker dynasty for good. I know we’re moving past the Skywalker dynasty (thank god), but if you want a chance at a legacy scion, it’s either through him or nothing.
As I stated in Forgiveness Hurts:
If you killed off the Skywalkers there would probably be riots. People get very attached to their faves and established canon, and while it’s still possible that Kylo Ren becomes the Renperor (another meta for another time), the idea that Disney would kill him off—without having another Skywalker waiting in the wings—is very unlikely.
I mean, we’re already seeing this outrage happen real-time—Luke Skywalker, anyone? So Kylo needs to live, for both plot and real-world monetary reasons. He needs to save Rey and she needs to save him, on a fundamental, equal level. The Star-Crossed Lovers need to get it right this time.
Some Additional Caveats
A few final caveats of the pacing of these events that will (theoretically) play out in Episode IX, so please keep them in mind:
These markers are only chronological if you’re telling a linear story (i.e. point A goes to point B, then to C).
If you’re telling a non-linear story, these events must still happen in this order, but the manner in which they’re told can be fiddled around with (i.e. suffering can come before the initial crime, etc.) Examples of non-linear storylines would be a narrative that is dependent on flashbacks, memory distortion, or time travel.
A Brief Note on Bastila and Revan
I’m not going to get into Bastila and Revan too much in this essay even though I’ve written about them in-depth before. To be honest—while I was correct about their influence on the conceptualization of Kylo Ren and Rey—I think we are moving past them and into another narrative direction entirely. Their story was more central to The Force Awakens, not The Last Jedi.
I mean it’s very obvious that Kylo and Rey share a lot of surface-level comparisons with Revan and Bastila that were intentional: the Force Bond, their shared appearances in The Force Awakens, and the fact that they are the quintessential Dark/Light side romantic pairings that is a core part of Star Wars. But these elements are not archetypal—they’re in-world canon stuff—so that’s why the similarities have begun to peter off.
Revan was not an Usurper, in trope terms—he was a Messiah/Crusader. Bastila was not a Holy Mother, despite having a child, and Revan—despite his shortcomings—was not mentally ill. He was not a hot mess, like Kylo is. His relationship with Bastila was not stricken by separation anxiety or the deep fear of impotence that Kylo feels when faced with competition for Rey’s attention. Revan was born to lead, Kylo was not. It’s as simple as that.
How Kids Play Into This
Because all the signs are pointing to it. I think it’s really important to stress that:
- These kids might be entirely symbolic (I’m trying not to jump the gun). Unfortunately,
- Lucasfilm has also been a lot bolder with their storytelling choices than I expected.
This leaves me really undecided on how these kids will manifest in this story. All I know is that they will.
I think a lot of my reluctance stems from the fact that I was really against “reylo” children in any form for the longest time. It’s not because I’m anti-children in narratives, or anti-women becoming mothers before the story is through. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mothers and expecting mothers—like all women—deserve to have their stories told. Just because a woman wants to have kids does not mean that she loses her agency or that her story is worth less than those women who do not. I guess I’m just worried about how they will treat this particular aspect of Rey’s character, given Star Wars’ treatment of mothers once they pop out a kid. The franchise has a notoriously bad record of using the breed-and-die trope, and I do not want that to happen to Rey. I’d be crushed. But just because I’m apprehensive about a particular aspect of a text does not mean that I can ignore the signs that the plot is heading in that direction.
The fact is: Rey wants family/belonging. Hers are dead, and she’s a Holy Mother—driven to take care of others—so since her family is dead she’ll try to create her own. Star Wars is all about death and rebirth. It informs every aspect of the franchise and where it’s headed, both pre-and-post Disney sale. There was also all that womb/phallus/vagina/impregnation imagery in The Last Jedi that was so blatant I cannot ignore it:
I mean, it’s foreshadowing on such a heavy-handed level it left me a bit woozy. On an archetypal level, it’s also worth reminding everyone that Usurpers/Holy Mothers always propagate. As previously stated they consummate their relationship and create new life, or one/both of them die.
So yeah. KIDS. Maybe two years of fanfiction featuring babies will warm me up to this idea, idk. I was super against “Ben Solo” prior to The Last Jedi and now I’m a redemption stan, so crazier things have happened.
Is All This Intentional?
Yes. I mean myself and other folks who liked this narrative were looked over for two years by a fandom that told us that:
- We were hysterical harpies reaching for proof, and
- Being knowledgeable on a subject/taking pride in our intelligence/expertise towards a subject was something to be ashamed of, but
We got the last laugh. The film is pretty close to what we predicted, especially when it comes to archetypes and symbolism, so yeah. I can safely say that what we saw in The Last Jedi (and what we’ve seen throughout the Sequel Trilogy) was intentional. This does not mean that I’ve caught all context clues within the films, or that I will be right about everything. Writers know their own stories best, and I am not writing this story: I’m just enjoying it. So please keep that in mind when reading my meta. It’s not the be-all/end-all to the series.
Conclusion and Predictions
So now that I’ve gone through my whole thesis (and we are 63 pages in), where do I think all of this is headed? What do I think the outcomes of this very blatant imagery will be, and how accurate/confident am I in these predictions?
I’m okay. As mentioned in my Last Jedi – Prediction Roundup post, I’m fairly conservative with my estimations, but I got more than 80% of them correct the last time. The only areas I fell through on are where I thought Disney/LF wouldn’t have the balls to push through with something that might be considered “controversial” (i.e. mutual Reylo). So I’m being less conservative than I have before, but I’ve got this quaking fear that the Mouse is going to be so ballsy with Episode IX that even my very blunt predictions will fall shockingly short.
I also think Reylo is end-game. Like Kylo and Rey’s story—no matter if it ends tragically or with hope—is too central to the story to drop. JJ Abrams started this whole dynamic. He’ll finish it:
I really don’t know how to feel about the whole kids thing, regardless of whether it stays subtext or becomes literal. That said I’ve really enjoyed both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi up until this point, so I think by now I’m just going to have to trust their vision and enjoy the film when it comes out. I mean the story is so far along there’s no really stopping this train. I’m not needed to explain it.
Kylo’s redemption arc will occur, regardless of whether or not he survives it. He was too emotionally brittle and portrayed too sympathetically in The Force Awakens not to be. After the whole “I will finish what you started ” and the parallels with Anidala, its clear he’s going to succeed where Anakin failed—both with Padme and with going back to the light.
In terms of individual predictions, beyond these two major ones:
Rey and Kylo Ren
- Kylo and Rey will be unable to hate each other, and will suffer for being separated. Each is a calming force on the other when in close proximity. You can see this in how docile Kylo becomes around Rey. In turn he calms down her impulsiveness. Without each other as stabilizing forces they’re going to be very irrational. They’ll make mistakes. Like Kylo has thrown a tantrum every time Rey leaves him for two films now. Rey jumps the gun when he’s not there. They’ll fuck up bad.
- Both Rey and Kylo Ren will come to regret their decision to leave one another. Kylo is already suffering from extreme loneliness. Rey will probably experience a particular sort of loneliness where she’s surrounded by others, but feels like she’s missing out on what could have been. We already see hints of (sexual) recognition when she gazes contemplatively at Finn tucking in Rose, and how her smile falters. Rey is too kind to get in the way of this relationship—I think she’ll be supportive—but she’ll crave that closeness that they have.
- Rey will continue to flirt very overtly with the Dark side, despite going back to the light. Kylo’s her shadow. She cannot exist without him just like he can’t exist without her, as she’s his source of light. The Force Bond will potentially make this worse, so they’re not going to be able to quit each other anytime soon.
- Rey’s sexual flirtation with the Dark side will be revealed. Like the novelization could have some missing scenes about this (and I’ll correct my predictions if they do), but at the moment the only people who really know that Rey and Kylo were on the verge of banging were Snoke, who’s dead, and Luke, who is a Force Ghost.
- I’m not sure if Chewie knows all of it, but I’m sure he suspects.
- I’m also not sure if Rey will reveal the truth to Leia, or what’s happening with that arc now that Carrie Fisher is dead. But Rey is going to be exposed for this “infidelity” and the person to do it will probably be Finn. She has the strongest emotional connection to him, so it will hurt the most.
- Leia’s death (if there is one) will cause a physical meeting of some sort between Kylo and Rey. Not sure what type yet, because Carrie’s real-life death could potentially switch the arc in ways I cannot predict—but I think her death will be an impetus for moving the plot forward (past a time jump) and for Rey and Kylo to reconcile, on some level.
- We will see a resurgence of a new “King” to divert Rey’s attention from Kylo. It could be a literal King (i.e. a man to whom she defers to in authority), or the Rebellion itself. Kylo will not like this, and will interfere in some form or fashion. It might even play into Rey and Kylo’s Force bond being exposed, which will then prompt others to try to stop this union.
- Another Big Bad will not be introduced. An evil element from The Last Jedi could rise up to overshadow Kylo’s power, but it’s extremely unlikely, especially with a shorter time-jump. Hux is the fall guy, and DJ doesn’t care enough. Phasma is dead (I think?) Maybe the Dark side of the force itself? That might get too esoteric for general audiences, though.
- Hux will take a stab at power. He won’t necessarily be successful, but he’ll go for it. The Rule of Two is still at play, even if Hux and Kylo are not “Sith.” I’m not sure if he’ll die anymore though! I was wrong about him before, and I really love the way that Rian expanded his character.
- They aren’t gonna walk back the Finnrose stuff. I would have said “yes” if they hadn’t kissed, but by having Finn and Rose kiss—and then having Finn ditch Rose, a woman of color—for a white, “Holy” princess the minute that white princess becomes available… well. It kinda puts Rose and Rey on this sliding scale of desirability based on skin color, which is awful.
Heyo, nothing to see here. Just another phallic object, a womb, and a callback to Padme’s pain.
- The final conflict will be between Kylo Ren and Rey. She’s the only one that can calm the Usurper—the one that will be able to get close enough to pull the trigger—and in all honesty I do not think they are capable of killing each other.
- Kylo will never actually “hurt” Rey—the closest he ever came to that was the tree—and the longer they know each other the less likely he is to inflict damage on her.
- Like did he even know Rey was on the Millennium Falcon? I don’t think so. I have watched this movie almost half a dozen times, and I can tell you with certainty that the last time he mentions Rey it was to have Hux tell him that she had escaped in the “supreme leader’s shuttle.” When he saw her standing on the Falcon, he appeared shocked. Does this new (canon) Force Bond tell him where she is at all times? Or is it more a situational thing?
- If Rey wanted to kill Kylo, she could have easily done it in the throne room when he was unconscious, but she didn’t.
- Either Kylo will be severely wounded and will come close to death, or Rey will.
- We’ll get a Pieta trope, which is the reverse of the Bridal Carry—the Holy Mother cradling her son from the ashes so that he may be reborn, bringing the story between them full-circle.
- This near-fatal wound that one of them receives will either come directly from each other, or from someone trying to kill one of them (and the other party stepping in to save them).
- The film will end on a message of hope, with Kylo and Rey reconciling their differences in order to bring balance to the Force. They are the last remaining avatars of both respective sides, so it falls to them to end the cycle of violence.
Is there anything I’m worried about?
- Episode IX starting off with Rey literally pregnant/having kids a la immaculate conception/virgin birth. I’m already extremely wary of this trope and all its pitfalls, so I don’t think my brain could handle that much procreation right off the bat. Please LF, if you are going down this route, ease me into this gently. I’m fragile.
- The whole breed-and-die thing. Part of the reason why I’m so wary of this stuff is that Star Wars has a long-term reputation for fridging mothers once they have a baby (see: Padme, Bastila, Lyra). If something like that happened to Rey, I’d riot.
- Kylo dies. I was totally neutral on his death/redemption before, but they’ve made him so sympathetic with so much internal conflict that it would be straight-up cruel to kill him.
- The Knights of Ren are never explained. That’s one thing that wasn’t really answered in The Last Jedi, and I’m still curious about it.
- Rose and Finn’s plot needs to evolve. It can’t just be dropped or it’ll feel really weird to have this whole second arc of the second movie never really go anywhere.
- A flat-lining of sexual tension. Like this movie was so sexual. Both symbolically and literally, and now that it’s been explored in the subtext it needs to be pushed further (as was the subtext of Kylo Ren/Rey’s dynamic from The Force Awakens to The Last Jedi).
One last thought to leave y’all with, before I wrap this essay up:
I wonder why there’s zygote symbolism on the wall behind Rey.
Alright folks, that’s it! Talk to y’all later.
3 thoughts on “KILL THE KING AND TAKE THE CROWN: KYLO REN, REY, AND USURPER/HOLY MOTHER”
Simply fantastic analysis. Even if JJ does not go your way, reading this has enhanced TLJ for ages to come. I have always loved the movie, and now I know why. Thank you!
Thank you Carmen! Glad you enjoyed reading.