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Alongside variously plausible theories of Rey's heritage and celebrations of Carrie Fisher's blunt responses to sexist/ageist banthashit, the last several days have seen a flurry of meta about the new flavor of villain represented by Kylo Ren.

I've actually seen very little firsthand of the "he's just a whiny brat, and therefore not scary" position, though it's frequently mentioned in the opening paragraphs of posts about why his pathetic, unstable brand of evil is scary as hell, thank you very much. Beyond the on-point mockery of things like the Emo Kylo Ren parody Twitter account, people are making a lot of serious comments about toxic masculinity and the like. Gail Simone distilled that line of thinking into a single dead-on tweet comparing him to a school shooter.

That resonance with the very real evil we see on the news every night seems to be missing some folks, some of them the same ones complaining that he unmasked too soon, that he'd be scarier if they'd kept the "mystery." Except that horse left the barn in 1980. Vader was scary at the very beginning because we didn't know what was going on under there; once we started seeing it, the equation was irrevocably changed. It's the flip side of the same reason Finn being a runaway stormtrooper was a stroke of genius. We've seen too much of the humanity under the buckets (whether Anakin's or the Fett clones'), and they can never be ciphers again. But that has no effect whatsoever on my perception of how really freakin' dangerous he is.

We'll be waiting a while to see exactly how Ben Solo came to reject the examples of his elders, but the nature of those examples has been swirling around my head today.

You've got his dad, the scoundrel with a heart of gold that was pretty poorly camouflaged from the beginning.

And you've got his uncle. Which, um, whoa.

Luke Skywalker is, in many many ways, a human-shaped slap in the face to the alpha-male hero stereotype. The physically slight and unprepossessing guy who remains exactly that, even while becoming undeniably one of the most powerful people in the galaxy by age 23. (Though Anakin's height was bound to crop up eventually, and it's worth noting that it's a significant part of why Kylo looks so uncomfortable in his own skin.) The one whose belief in the essential goodness of people saved his father's soul and helped topple an empire. (And dude, how good for his wounded soul is it going to be to meet Finn, the living breathing proof of that belief?)

The one who laughs and cries and gazes in wonder and yells and, yes, occasionally whines with nary a scrap of self-conscious reserve. Luke struggles with a lot of things in the course of the original trilogy, but expressing his feelings is never, ever one of them. And a lot of the credit for that, as I think about it, has to go to the examples he grew up with. If Owen was a little gruff, he was nonetheless open and honest, and Beru was thoughtful and empathetic. Owen insisted on Luke taking care of his responsibilities before doing what he wanted, but never once dictated how he should feel about it. "Do your chores and stay out of trouble" ended up being pretty darn good for him (better than "You're the Chosen One," that's for sure!), and there's no indication that it was accompanied by any damaging messages in the "don't cry, be a man" category.

(Tangentially, Leia's upbringing is pretty much "Do your chores" transposed to the realm of royal/political duty, though of course she was taught to wear a diplomatic mask early on. Little wonder her snark mostly comes out with the people she trusts most.)

Then suddenly Obi-Wan and Yoda are telling him to bury and control his feelings, that they put him at risk of falling to the Dark Side and ending up like Vader. And he tries, oh, how he tries, and he sucks at it, because he's spent his whole life expressing them like a sane healthy person.

He's still trying and failing to shove those feelings down in the throne room, because that's what they insisted he had to do, and surely they know what they're talking about? And it nearly costs him everything... until he figures out for himself how to reject the Dark (and provides Anakin with the example that empowers him to do the same), not by burying feelings but by embracing the constructive ones. The anger and fear are still there; he just chooses to act on the love and compassion.

So. Fast-forward 32 years, and the $64,000 question is whether and how he was able to translate that experience into what he then taught. He came out of RotJ set up for possibly the most epic case of imposter syndrome in human history, with a fraction of the knowledge he should really have for the task at hand, a substantial chunk of which demonstrably did not work for him in the manner intended. How did he pass that on, and how was it received by, say, Ben?

The audience, having seen it happen, knows exactly how the Jedi Order that produced Yoda and Obi-Wan contained the seeds of its own destruction. Luke doesn't (though his quest for the first Jedi temple implies that he's found or at least sought sources of information beyond whatever contact he still has with his blue-and-glowy mentors). There's a lot of hope in his mandate to redefine the Jedi largely from scratch, but also, inevitably, a lot of pitfalls. That it all got blown out from under him in less than a generation, with his own nephew leading the betrayal... Obviously he's wrong to believe it was all his fault, but there's no way he avoided all those pitfalls, and some of them almost certainly contributed.

He doesn't have it in him to keep turning his back on being needed, not with Rey standing right in front of him. Do your chores! But Ben (and probably other students too) turned on him, embracing destruction over his way. Little wonder he couldn't face trying again.

Once he does... Well, I guess we'll have to see.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2016 11:31 pm (UTC)
I love your thinky thoughts.
Jan. 2nd, 2016 11:59 pm (UTC)
I love that they have new things to chew on. :-)

I'm sort of boggled that I really hadn't put this stuff together quite this way before -- how most of the things I've always loved about Luke are the ways he broke the macho hero mold.
Jan. 3rd, 2016 09:50 pm (UTC)
Are you reading the Very Lonely Luke Twitter? :) https://twitter.com/verylonelyluke
Jan. 3rd, 2016 10:01 pm (UTC)
Yes! Just found out about it last night. :-D

There are several others floating around, but that and Emo Kylo Ren are the only consistently funny ones I've seen.

The fact that the official Hot Topic account has been replying to EKR is just the cherry on the sundae.

Edited at 2016-01-04 01:02 am (UTC)
Jan. 4th, 2016 12:04 pm (UTC)
We just went to see the movie for a second time yesterday, so I really love being able to read your thoughts about this. Thank you for sharing them! I just cannot wait to see the next movie! I feel like it's possible we could get Han Solo flashback scenes. When Mas Kanata asks Han Solo what's the deal with Rey, Rey leaves to go talk to Fin, who's on his way out, and we follow them and completely miss Han's answer to her. Interesting.

I love your comparison of Kylo Ren to school shooters. BRILLIANT.
Jan. 5th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC)
Man, I hope you're right! I really want to know the rest of that conversation.

I can't claim credit for the school shooter thing; that was all Gail Simone. But it really crystallizes everything people have been saying about him. However Ben got broken, the result is chillingly similar to what we see in the real world.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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