Cultural Junkdrawer – Who the %$#@ is Kylo Ren?!?!?!

Let’s just get this part outta the way…

Loyal readers, people who went to the third page when they googled Star Wars The Force Awakens, folks who meant to go to some cosplay porn site but found themselves here, cats who sauntered across their ape-slave’s keyboard accidentally entering in this site… I need to address an issue that has us, as members of a global community, deeply divided.

Kylo Ren.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard or not but there is a new Star Wars movie coming out next month. This little known fact has managed to capture the interweb’s attention dragging people away from their usual on-line activities (TED conferences, coordinating famine relief efforts, making the world a better more inclusive place) to talk about this little known cult movie with a small (only about three billion people) but fiercely loyal fan base.

Talk has only grown since the debut of the first trailer earlier this year. Among the subjects bandied about are:

“Why are the soccer balls in the Star Wars universe sentient?”

“Did Lando ever rescue his secret love, Lobot, from the Empire?”

“Why have I spent countless hours and dollars on all the expanded universe material over the last twenty plus years to now have it erased from canon?”

“Does Chewbacca finally get that sex scene we’ve all been hoping for?”

“We’ve all been hoping for a Chewbacca sex scene, right?”

“Why do Han Solo and Indiana Jones look so much alike, are they brothers?”

“Does Dash Rendar ever come back?”

“Who the hell is Dash Rendar?”

“He was the Han Solo fill-in during the Shadows of the Empire multi-media bombardment of the early-90. He helped/tried to bone Princess Leia.”

“Nope, not ringing a bell.”

“He had a super Nintendo game for crissakes!”

“Was that when Nintendo made good games… I can’t remember, it’s been so long…”

“I play the Star Wars role playing game and I have a 26th level Jedi defiant. He once force choked a Rancor. When is J.J. Abrams going to put Spock Suncatcher in one the movies? I’ve written him several times about it.”

“WWIG88D?”

“Is Kylo Ren Luke Skywalker?”

This last fan theory has been gaining momentum since the debut of the newest trailer on, of all things, Monday night football a few weeks ago (talk about penetration into pop culture). The reasoning goes something like this: “Hey, we haven’t seen Luke Skywalker very much in these trailers I’ve watched six hundred times but we’ve seen a lot of this new bad guy, Kylo Ren. Even though they don’t have much physical similarity outside of two legs and two arms and it is well known that Kylo is played by Adam Driver and not Mark Hamill I think this new bad guy is Luke gone to the dark side.”

It seems a stretch to me and in this column I’ll try to debunk the theory and offer some alternatives.

Of course all of this is pure speculation and I could very well be wrong. We’ll see come December 17th (like any of us are going to wait till the actual release date to see it the first time). If I’m wrong you get to do a Nelson from The Simpsons type “Ha-ha” on me. But nothing else or I’ll find you and kill you.

Here we go…

Luke is Ren because: We see Ren and not Luke. The foundation of this theory is based on the lack of Luke-like presence in the trailers. On that rationale alone I could speculate Admiral Ackbar, Nien Numb, Boba Fett, and Donald Trump could be Kylo Ren.

OK, smart guy, then why isn’t Luke in the trailers (unless he is in the trailers because he’s Kylo Ren)?

J.J. Abrams – Yes, Luke is conspicuous in his absence. But this is J.J. Abrams we’re talking about here; does anybody know… for sure… what the hell that freaking polar bear was doing on the island on Lost? How ‘bout where that Kaiju came from in Cloverfield, or why Star Trek Into Darkness was so lame? (I actually liked Into Darkness. Let the hate flow. – Editor) He is the master of leaving you with more questions than answers. It stands to reason that he might be holding something back for the actual MOVIE.

When the on-line chatter speculating about Luke being Ren started popping up it was possible Abrams came up with a great way to torment his and Star Wars fans in the way he does best; let ‘em tie themselves into knots over what ISN’T said. To add to this are two fan generated factors: 1 – Whining about how everything is shown in the trailer. Not this time kid. And hasn’t it generated tons of speculation on podcasts, columns (including this column), tweets, and every other platform we use to communicate nowadays. Which brings us to… 2 – The fanboy tendency to over examine every little frame of the trailer to extract as much info and levee as much judgement as possible. Fan theories are a simple outgrowth of that! Also see #1. We’re doing Abrams and Disney’s job of marketing the film for them. We’re extra-marketing the movie! “Is Luke Kylo Ren” is just a fan-induced viral marketing campaign for this movie. (I talked about this last year with Guardians of the Galaxy.) Once again some amazing marketing Kung Fu on Disney’s part. (I intend to do an analysis of how The Force Awakens marketing helped destroy box office records opening weekend for next month’s Cultural Junkdrawer)

From a character point of view Luke fought temptation from the dark side when dear old dad offered him a job or his life on cloud city. He also blew off the emperor when it meant possibly saving his friends and the entire rebel fleet in Return of the Jedi. Yoda trained his ass. That bad mojo at the Dagobah tree stuck with him. Luke knows all too well what would happen if he went to the side that claims to have cookies; those are raisins not chocolate chips. Luke knows that.

Physically Mark Hamill has… filled out.

The dark side may have cookies but the light side has those chocolate volcano cakes… with caramel topping!

The dark side may have cookies but the light side has those chocolate volcano cakes… with caramel topping!

Kylo Ren looks kinda lean. A leanness that comes from being evil… and hanging around Lena Dunham!

Black is slimming but c’mon guys!

Black is slimming but c’mon guys!

It’s reductive – This Robot Chicken skit sums it up nicely:

Abrams is too good a writer to fall into that trap. Making Luke the bad guy just FEELS wrong especially if every plot point is labored over to NOT be like the prequel trilogy.

Mark Hamill flatly denies being Kylo Ren.

IMDB – A quick look at IMDB reveals two things: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. To the best of my knowledge they are different people. I don’t think I can put it any more simply.

NOOOOOOOOOOO! It’s a misdirection to throw us off the scent! Like when they said Cumberbatch wasn’t Kahn…

NOOOOOOOOOOO! It’s a misdirection to throw us off the scent! Like when they said Cumberbatch wasn’t Kahn…

 

NOOOOOOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOOOOOO!

 

The theory that Luke is Kylo Ren is similar to pro-creationist arguments, Sunny D ingredients, or the plot of Man from U.N.C.L.E.; it just doesn’t hold up under even a moderate amount of scrutiny.

But then who the %$&# is Kylo Ren?

I have some alternate theories and most of them make better sense in context.

1 – Kylo Ren is Luke Skywalker -. WHAT! Are you high? You just spent nearly a thousand words claiming that’s NOT the case. True, but I could be wrong. OR what if somehow the Emperor got ahold of enough of Luke to clone him. This was thought of before in the book series Dark Force Rising where Admiral Thawn and C’Both got Luke’s hand from cloud city and cloned an evil one from that. Not that any of that has happened now in the Star Wars universe.

Meh, more likely than Luke directly being Kylo but still a long shot.

2 – Kylo Ren is a clone of Darth Vader – I’m surprised I haven’t heard this one a bit more. Obviously Ren is into collectibles, he does have Vader’s melted helmet and he talks about “finishing what you started”. Ren could be a twisted clone of Vader with an obsessive fixation on his original template and gaps in his information about the Sith Lord. Makes a lot more sense especially considering the status of legends and the reverence vibe that I get watching the last American and Japanese trailers.

3 – Kylo Ren is a Clone of Emperor Palpatine – “The first order” is a faction of a fragmented Empire. OK but man they are a well-equipped faction. Not to mention that Kylo is a Sith lord. I bet not too many other factions have that in their arsenal. Imperial troop transports be damned! Palpatine wasn’t a “seat of his pants” kinda guy; this is a dude that engineered a galactic war, controlling both sides, and set himself up to be the big boss no matter which side took the crown. He also had access to cloning technology for decades. The Emperor foresaw his defeat at the hands of Luke (Vader told Luke as much). It isn’t that big of a leap to think that this clever, evil guy had some clones of himself ready to go as soon as he snuffed it. Even if he beat Luke he was getting Dick Cheney old so there is another reason to have some back up bodies. The solution to “You can’t take it with you” is don’t go anywhere. Shortly after the Emperor died on the Death Star II a clone chamber fired up in a distant corner of the galaxy and out came a baby Palpatine surrounded by a whole fleet of star destroyers and other Imperial hardware with instructions to grab territory and hold on to it while he grew up. The “finished what you started” line might not be to the Darth Vader mask. It could be Ren looking into a mirror.

4 – Kylo Ren is the son of Han and Leia (or possibly the son of Luke and ?) – Twins separated at birth is a classic plot element of melodrama. Don’t even try to tell me Star Wars isn’t melodrama by the way. In fact Star Wars has done it before. More to the fact – Kylo and Rey are siblings in this theory; Ren and Rey… BAM!

How? Apparently there has been a lot of fighting since that Ewok rave at the end of Jedi. Thirty years, in fact. A lot can happen in thirty years of war. Han and Leia could’ve had twins and, in a savage fight with an Imperial faction, lost them and thought them dead. Or they were kidnapped and Rey escaped on Jakku and keeps her head down while trying to figure out who her parents are. Could it be Captain Phasma asking the question “Who are you?” eliciting Rey’s response “I’m no one.” Meanwhile Kylo is raised by acolytes of Palpatine or just imperials. When the force powers manifest in Kylo he’s raised up as the heir to the Empire and has the whole First Order to back him up.

It may seem a bit reductive but the theory holds water; in the Japanese trailer Ray tells BB-8 that she’s “waiting for her family”. Kylo Ren might know of his connection to Vader and thus the reverence he has for him. It could also explain why Luke is missing; he’s been searching for his niece and nephew for years or, more tragically, knows Ren is his nephew and is trying to figure out a way to save him from the dark side.

There is already a precedent set for twins in the Skywalker family. And I’m sure Daisy Ridley is an excellent actress, but her physical resemblance to Natalie Portman (I mean look at the cheek bones) has to be a factor in her casting. If there is going to be an outlandish theory about the plot of a Star Wars movie this is where the safe money is.

5 – Kylo Ren is Luke’s rogue padawan – There is nothing to suggest this, at least from what I’ve seen (and we’re at almost 2500 words here) but it’s possible Luke found Mr. Ren, sensed the force in him, and started the training. Ren was all – “This dude sounds like the Joker and that’s cool but I’m down with the dark side!” and bailed. Who knows, maybe Ren ganked Luke making him a force ghost or regulating him to flashbacks. This is unpleasant to think about. I blame my roommate for this theory. I blame myself for the idea that Luke is dead. I get dark sometimes.

6 – Kylo Ren is Vader’s apprentice – Ren would have to be an alien race that looks human but ages differently to still look young, hipster-thin, Hot Topic skinny boy jeans wearing Adam Driver. But it’s somewhat plausible. Makes sense why Ren is such a fanboy of Vader to the extent of having his melted helmet and cassette single collection (spoiler – a surprising amount of Milli Vanilli). This is a longer shot than the Washington Nationals winning the pennant but might be worth dropping a few bucks at Ceasar’s palace if you’re in Vegas and between buffets.

7 – Kylo Ren is a dude named Kylo Ren – The subtitle of the movie is The Force Awakens. This movie takes place roughly sixty years after the Jedi purge of Revenge of the Sith. By A New Hope the Jedi have faded to legend and/or a hokey religious order. Even Imperial officers like General Tagge throws shade at Vader about being a fake. Vader choked the shit outta his punk-ass over that comment. If Luke brought balance to the Force, aka: got rid of the Emperor and was the last Jedi, aaka: Force house cleaned. There aren’t many people around to verify “The Force” or what it can do. If “The Force” started manifesting in people thirty years after Return of the Jedi those people don’t have a lot to work with as far as information. Kylo Ren could be making it up as he goes along with only legends about Darth Vader to work off of. Another interpretation of the “finished what you started” line. It would also explain why Ren sees Vader as a conqueror and a hero of the Empire and knows nothing of his redemption on Death Star II.

The legends element is, without a doubt, a part of the story; the scene where Han of all people tells Finn and Rey that all the stories are true with a believer’s sincerity clearly indicates that. It’s just a question of how much it influences the story beyond thematic relevance. The idea of legendary heroes and great deeds fits perfectly into the Star Wars tone and mythology.

Further, J.J. Abrams (being a superfan himself) is speaking directly to us with Han’s reverence. Abrams is from a generation that grew up with Star Wars as more than just a movie or a merchandising watershed. Star Wars is to Abrams, like it is to most of us, the closest thing to a religion we’ve ever sincerely experienced. I think that this sense of reverence and myth making is important to the overall shape and tone of the new story.

In any event in a little over a month we’ll all find out the answers. Or, knowing Abrams, we’ll find out some answers, get a smoke monster, and have an ass load more questions. Right now The Force Awakens exists in a beautiful/dangerous state of anticipation/expectation where it is/might be everything we’ve ever wanted from this series. Some are bound to be disappointed but even in its ubiquity (dark side and light side make-up anyone?) there hasn’t been a backlash yet. All but the most jaded of us are giddy with excitement. Whomever Kylo Ren is, Star Wars is still a legend.

 

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