Listen to me for a second about the reason I am beside myself with apathy toward The Force Awakens: Kylo Ren. It’s really a shame, too, because the first time I saw that cross-hilt lightsaber of his flare up in the teaser I felt like I was 12 again.
The short of it is that there’s almost no way to make sense of the man behind Kylo Ren’s mask and not shotgun a hole in the metaplot of the six Star Wars films. A lot of this hinges on the fact that Ren possesses Darth Vader’s helmet, implying history between the two Sith Lords. Theories abound concerning Ren’s identity, so let’s address them.
The favorite Kylo Ren secret identity, by my reckoning, is Luke Skywalker. I can’t imagine why people believe this, because it reeks of bad Hollywood plot twist. Not to mention the fact that Luke is in the dramatis personae, and having him moonlight as the head of the First Order is just flat nonsense.
However, my issue runs deeper. The central theme of Luke’s character arc is bringing light into the darkness. Luke’s inherent goodness, especially in the face of evil, is what saves him. It is so powerful that it redeems his father as well. Having him fall to the Dark Side, off screen, during the 30 years that pass between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens would mean trampling on any kind of thematic coherence established by the original trilogy. Even the prequels made a passing attempt at echoing that theme through Obi-Wan and his attempts at saving Anakin.
The thing is, if Ren isn’t Luke, then he’s someone Luke knows, or has known. How else would Ren have that helmet? So next in line comes some weird theory I’ve heard about Ren being Lando Calrissian’s son, or even Lando himself.
This makes less sense than midi-cholrians, and you knew that potshot was coming. Lando isn’t a Force user, and his existence in the original trilogy at all served little purpose beyond showing the other career path of a smuggler like Han Solo: You either go legit and retire, or die with your boots on as a gunslinger. “But maybe the Empire took his son! Why else would Lando try to betray Han and the rest to Vader?” asks my convenient strawman enemy. Someone putting a gun to your head is compelling enough, but try a sword made of coherent plasma. Because that’s all that happened between Lando and Vader in Cloud City. There’s really nothing in the original trilogy to justify this theory whatsoever.
Next is the Jar Jar Binks theory, and it is my favorite, because it reeks of parody. Anakin was his friend, so Jar Jar has motive, and the idea that he was secretly always against the Jedi is one of those weird retroactive justifications of horrific writing that occasionally work. It should terrify you that, of everyone introduced in the six Star Wars films so far, Jar Jar Binks has the best narrative reasons for following in Vader’s footsteps. In the right hands, Jar Jar as Ren could be the cheap paperback equivalent of Hamlet. But if memory serves he got blown up in Revenge of the Sith, or at least it was implied enough that it’s true for me.
Last is the idea that Ren is just some schmuck that Vader had been training as an apprentice between Episodes III and IV. That’s nearly two decades of time-skip, so it’s not unreasonable. They even made two video games based on that very idea, and one of them was actually good.
Two issues here though. The first is that we never see the guy in the six films. If he’s roughly Luke and Leia’s age, this wouldn’t be so bad. He could easily be someone like that Youngling that asks Anakin why he’s in the Jedi Temple in Revenge. You know the one. But that means somehow explaining away why he never makes a single appearance in the original trilogy.
The second is that the “Rule of Two,” the whole process where a Sith master takes an apprentice, was established in novels that are now only dubiously canon. But I know about as much about the Star Wars extended universe as I know about the sport of polo, so hopefully that is the nerdiest thing I ever say. Granted, Palpatine had Darth Maul, then Count Dooku, and finally Anakin as apprentices, so it’s not like the practice doesn’t have grounds in the six films. Palpatine just only has one apprentice at a time, and only once he’s become a Sith Master.
Y’know, on second thought, this last theory does make some sense, and I hope that’s what they go with. Hell, if Abrams is smart, he won’t even address this in Awakens. Vader had no backstory until The Empire Strikes Back, and they’re clearly trying to channel Vader without parroting him, so why not put off explaining Ren until Episode VIII? If his holding that helmet is the sole shred of backmatter on Ren we get in Awakens, I just might see the damn thing.
But, god, I really hope it’s Jar Jar. The sorrow of grown nerds sustains me.