Making Kylo Ren Believable Again

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There were several things the first time I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I struggled with, partially because I have enough of a science background that it bothers me when science fiction ignores the science component, but by the second viewing I was able to relax some of those concerns and enjoy the film a little more. Yet, one of the things that I remarked after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the first time when it was released in 2015 was that Kylo Ren, the central antagonist was a weak and ineffective villain. While there were elements of the character that I liked. I could appreciate the effort of trying to create a more complex villain than Darth Vader initially appeared in the original trilogy. Yet, the petulant and insecure Kylo Ren just didn’t feel like a figure that could be the type of leader and physical representation of the First Order that Darth Vader was for the Galactic Empire. Scenes where his temper would cause him to lose control and, for example, destroy a whole set of panels on a starship simply because he received news he didn’t want portrayed a person who shouldn’t be entrusted with the level of authority he was invested with. I had trouble believing in 2015 that anyone would give such an instable individual the type of control that Kylo Ren was given over people, resources and place him in a position of being a figurehead for a credible threat.  I need to admit that now in 2017 I was wrong, Kylo Ren became a compelling villain because in 2016 we put a leader in place who displayed many of the same characteristics.

Kylo Ren continually looks back upon an idealized past where his grandfather, Darth Vader, was the figurehead of a strong empire ruled over by a powerful and cruel emperor. The empire’s brand of peace and justice was carried out through military domination and two planet killer weapons of mass destruction ominously called Death Stars. Attempting to live into this legacy and turning away from the legacy of his parents and teachers he becomes a fallen but flawed character. Continually dominated by his emotions, occasionally effective but often erratic, he needs the continual guidance of the ominous Supreme Leader Snoak.

What seemed an unbelievable character in fiction two years ago is far too familiar now. Others may not have seen it during his campaign but I could already tell that Donald Trump did not possess the temperament for the unbelievably challenging task of leading the United States in a complex and evolving world. Yet, Trump too relied upon some idealized version of simpler past that never truly existed the way he imagined it (nor would he ever define when he thought America was great). If a small fractions of the leaks coming out of the White House are true then we can see the result of living with a leader who can react unpredictably to the slightest provocation and appears to be completely involved with his own image and problems unwilling to engage the difficult work of making policy except by twitter and the hastily crafted executive order. The only question remains who is the person behind the scenes attempting to manage the actions of this unpredictable leader-is it the shadowy Steve Bannon or is it the equally sinister Vladamir Putin or maybe Trump really is the wildcard who is uncontrollable and until he is stopped we will continue walking on eggshells wondering what the next day will bring. Regardless it has made one fictional villain more believable to me, perhaps a small consolation but one has to laugh where one can.

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