Last time I wrote, I spoke about how good Poe Dameron’s character development in The Last Jedi was, how it jumped my expectations of what was going to happen in Disney’s revived version of the Star Wars universe. I also spoke about Finn, but let’s be honest, Poe was the real star of that show.
This time I’m moving onto two character’s whose relationship was the most fascinating thing about the new movie to me. They’re another example of how Disney really threw me for a loop and produced something totally different than I would have ever predicted, especially after being embedded in tradition and reoccurring themes for so long thanks to the old Expanded Universe.
In this post I’m going to be talking about Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and how they’ve changed from when they first showed up in The Force Awakens and how events end in The Last Jedi. They’re two characters I had wildly different feelings about after the first movie and really had to sit down and digest them after walking out of the cinema.
The Force Awakens
When I’d fully taken in The Force Awakens two years ago, I thought Kylo Ren was the most interesting thing about the whole movie. While he seemed very divisive amongst the people who just wanted another Darth Vader character, I loved that Disney had gone and made a completely different subversion of expectation in Ren.
After he removed his helmet and we learned he was Ben Solo, we discovered that he wasnt the same kind of bad guy we’d been led to believe by the trailers. He wasn’t Darth Vader, but he desperately wanted to be, to the point where it seemed he was activly fighting against the light, going to the dark side by choice. Hence his tantrums, it didn’t come naturally to him so he had to muster up his rage through his actions.
Rey was the opposite, I felt she was a major weakness of The Force Awakens. I liked her well enough, her scenes with Finn and Han Solo were charming and she seemed cool and capable, none of that I have a problem with. It was as a character in a piece of fiction I felt she lacked. She was academically uninteresting, she didn’t have an arc in that movie, she isn’t seen to fail at anything, she moves the story along and ends up in a different place than where she started. But she doesn’t go through any major growth aside from learning she is force sensative, which doesn’t change anything about her.
I was pretty bummed that she beat Kylo Ren (injured as he was) at the end of The Force Awakens too. I felt she had become too strong too quickly. There’s nothing wrong with being a naturally powerful force user, I’ve read enough expanded universe that this doesn’t bother me. What did bother me was that she had no obvious route to take as a character, as she’d already beaten her rival and proven herself by the first movie’s end. As the first entry in a long running series this felt like self-destructive storytelling.
However, the totally different and surprising direction both her and Ren’s characters take in The Last Jedi turned my oppinion on her around completly.
The Last Jedi
Like I mentioned in my last post, The Last Jedi feels like a statement of intent from Disney that they’re going to start changing things more than we’d expected. Star Wars has its roots in pulp serials and fantasy. Stories which turn out in very predictible ways. Good vs. evil with good inevitably coming out on top in the end. The majority of the expanded universe stories still followed this tradtion. The Last Jedi is a statement in movie form that we shouldn’t think we can predict how these movies are going to play out in the future. It’s a movie not afraid to buck the expected themes of not just in Star Wars, but in cinema in general.
The entire arc between Rey and Kylo Ren is fascinating to me. Rey spends much of her time on Luke’s planet learning more of what happened between him and Kylo Ren in the past. As well as going through some “training”. During the movie the two interact a number of times through visions, during which Rey starts out hostile towards Ben before beginning to warm towards and sympathise with him. The movie starts down a familiar path when Rey leaves Luke to try and redeem Ben to the light.
This leads to a fantastic confrontation between the two of them and Snoke.
During their interactions Ben becomes more sympathetic as the movie progresses right up until the point where he betrays his master in a classic dark side move. This is an amazing thing about the movie to me, because it is a total surprise moment nobody expected. We all thought this new trilogy was going to follow a classic three movie arc with Ben being redeemed and Snoke being the Emperor stand-in who acts at the final antagonist.
Instead the movie pulls the rug from under us, killing off Snoke with him hardly standing from his chair, and us learning basicly nothing about him. This is all topped off with a final moment between Ben and Rey where they undoubtedly now have a connection, and both try to sway the other to their side, but neither of them is willing to budge from their spot.
Things not going as we expected
It’s here we realise that Ben doesn’t seek redemption at all, he was always going down this path, not because he was tempted by it, but because he chose it. He doubles down on this during his final confrontation with Luke. He might be an angry young man who isn’t evil in the poetic sense. But he isn’t on the hero’s side either nor does he have any interest in being so. It’s somthing I like about this movie a lot. Ren seemed certain to be redeemed as soon as his identity was revealed in The Force Awakens, at the end of The Last Jedi, “redemption” is the last thing I can see happening to the character.
It jumped the traditional light side vs. dark side thing with Rey too. As a powerful force adept with little official Jedi or Sith training, she has no preconceaived notions about the light or dark sides of the force. Thus she doesn’t shy away from a source of dark side energy on Ahch-To. Luke is shocked and dismayed that she senses something so dark and doesn’t retreat away from it, on the contrary she delves right into it. This happens not long after we hear Luke speaking about the Jedi of the old Republic and how arrogant and stuck in their ways they were when it came to the force.
Rey just dives into the source of dark side and come back out afterwards unchanged, but also unfulfilled.
Rey has become a new kind of force user, her and Ben both. neither is a Jedi or a Sith, not in the traditional sense anyway. They have no offical training, they have both been left to their own devices to work things out for themselves with minimal guidince. The construction of Ben’s lightsaber is proof of that.
The Last Jedi is a Great Movie
Rey and Ren were my favourite part of the movie. My issues with Rey after The Force Awakens are a thing of the past. I still think she is a little shallow in parts as a pure movie character, but now the movie has done away with her parents being a plot point, her promise for the future is huge.
I feel like I might be getting more from this aspect of the movie than the casual fan because of my time spent with the Expanded Universe. I can truly appreciate that Disney’s new take on the franchise is willing to break away from both what we saw in the original trilogy, but also the prequels, which established a Jedi Order in its prime. Neither Luke nor Rey seem to have any desire to see a return of that kind of Jedi, despite that being exactly what happened in the Expanded Universe.
What is means to be a Jedi will most definitely change after one or two more of these movies I think. But I’ll get more into that in my next post.
The only thing that makes me sad about the development between these characters is the metaphorical closing of the Falcon’s loading ramp at the end, cutting their connection and leading to what will probably be a purely adversarial relationship going forward. I feel that the story to be told between Rey and Kylo Ren is far from over. But their connection as allies or friends is cut now and I feel that Kylo Ren will eventually become the Darth Vader like figure he always wanted to be, and nothing the heroes can do will bring him back into their fold.
But hey, I’ve spend two posts talking about how the new Star Wars has defied my predictions for the series, I’m probably going to be wrong again. The next and final part of my thoughts on The Last Jedi is coming up on friday.