I saw The Last Jedi last week. And anyone who knows me knows I’m all about Star Wars. So naturally, I have a lot of complex thoughts about this film especially. But I’ve noticed a lot of backlash for this film and I think it stems from people missing the mark, so I’m going to break down my thoughts on this film. And just in case it needs to be said, this article will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t see the film and don’t want things ruined for you, go read a different article and come back later.
That said, let’s start with our favorite emo boi: Kylo Ren.
I’ve been seeing a lot of hate for Kylo Ren. “He doesn’t deserve sympathy”, “His actions are NOT justifiable”, and “He’s a manipulator and a murderer!”
And while I think the latter two are valid points, I believe that Kylo Ren, more than any other character in this film, deserves sympathy. Because sympathy means to feel sorrow or pity for one’s misfortune. And Kylo Ren is very misfortunate.
“Oh yea. Cause growing up in a family that loves and supports you is sooooooooooo misfortunate…” I can hear many of you scoffing now. But did Kylo’s family really love him? Let’s break down his past.
Leia and Han were both terrified of his raw force potential. Scared that he might become the next Darth Vader. When you’re young, it doesn’t matter how much your family loves you, if they’re outwardly terrified of you. That, in turn, makes you scared of yourself. And as a great Jedi Master once said, “Fear leads to anger….”
So Ben Solo’s parents sent him away at a young age to his uncle Luke to train in the hopes that he might reign in the growing darkness and raw potential inside him. But think about that. The parents you love are scared of you. So scared they send you away. Regardless of their intentions, as a child, all you feel is abandonment. And if they’re scared of you, maybe you should be scared of yourself too. Maybe you did this. All of the pain you’ve experienced in your short life thus far, all the fear and abandonment…maybe it’s all your fault.
And just then, after you’ve been battling this internalized self-loathing for years, your worst fears come true when you awaken in the middle of the night to see your uncle standing over you with his weapon at the ready. The uncle your parents sent you to in the hopes that he might tame the power that others fear, fears you himself. So much so that he was willing to kill you in your sleep.
That history is tragic. Is it any wonder why Kylo Ren turned out the way he did. Does that excuse his actions? No. But it informs them.
Criminal psychology exists for the same reason. Not to excuse the behaviors of criminals, but to understand them. And in that way, I believe Kylo Ren is incredibly deserving of sympathy. We are meant to feel sorry for him. To feel pity for him. His life is tragic and pitiful, and that is what makes him so compelling as a villain. He’s real. He’s a stone’s throw from real villains in our world.
And to me, that’s the greater lesson of The Last Jedi. Anyone can become a hero, or a villain. You don’t have to come from any one circumstance. Someone with a seemingly loving family can turn rotten. Someone seemingly from nothing can become the greatest of heroes.
The Last Jedi ushers in a new era in Star Wars. One where the characters are real people and the stakes are relevant.