Friday, February 26, 2016

STAR WARS: The Franchise Awakens - The Boy in the Black Mask

After Rey’s capture, EPISODE VII departs from its own story for a while to prepare a satisfactorily exciting spaceship finale, but the original story thread is maintained through her experiences in Kylo Ren’s custody. In fact, her original confrontation in his interrogation room is the scene that essentially embodies both the theme and title of the movie. It is in this scene that we see Rey’s true awakening to her connection to the Force.

We see something awakened in Kylo also in this scene. This is where we finally see him unmasked and realize that he’s not just a Darth Vader knockoff. He’s an honest-to-God cosplaying Vader wannabe.

"What do you guys think? Not enough black in the outfit?
I should probably get a cape and a helmet, right?"

This introduces the question of how Rey knows Kylo. Aside from her vision in Maz’s castle, Rey has never seen Kylo Ren before her capture. As far as we know from the rest of the film, she has no idea who or what he is. Yet, curiously, she characterizes him as a creature in a mask who has been pursuing her. This comment prompts him to unmask and reveal that he is nothing more than a confused young man playing Vader, but why does she believe he’s been pursuing her if she’s never seen him before?

The obvious answer is that she knows he’s leading the First Order and they have been pursuing her ever since she met up with Finn. That may be all she meant. But given what we saw in her vision (cross-referenced with some of my prior wild theories), it’s possible that Rey is somewhat familiar with Kylo and has run from him before. Kylo certainly seems to know Rey or at least know of her, since he immediately becomes more interested in capturing her than he was originally bent on finding BB-8. Could the vision have been literally showing us that Rey has encountered and eluded Kylo Ren before?

In any event, Rey doesn’t know who Kylo is any more than we do. She is as shocked as anyone to discover that, rather than being a disfigured monstrosity, Kylo is just a boy. His need to show her this is significant within the story. It’s obvious that Kylo wears the helmet both to intimidate his enemies and to reinforce his sense of identity. Kylo Ren is a persona that Ben Solo created to abandon his humanity, but something about Rey prompts Kylo to want to display that human side, to make himself vulnerable to her.

"You wanna hear some of my poetry?"

Kylo’s attempt to extract information about the map betrays an even more profound vulnerability. The awakening that Snoke previously mentioned was presumably referring to Rey, though we don’t know that for sure. What seems clear is that this is Rey’s true moment of awakening. Her vision was her first glimpse of a connection to the Force, but this moment is her first display of real power.

Kylo’s contact with Rey’s mind is interesting in a lot of ways. First, he sees that her perception goes way beyond what we saw in the vision. The ocean she used to envision as a child sounds like the one she discovers at the end of the film, right down to the island where she finds Luke Skywalker.

Learning this, we see that Rey hasn’t been awakened to the Force overnight, even though her power is just starting to manifest. The Force has been calling to her since she was young. It may even be that Luke Skywalker has been calling to her.

We get some hints about Kylo’s past here as well. In the novelization Han and Leia lament, as they do in the film, that Kylo had too much Vader in him, but the novel further explains that Snoke had been after Ben Solo since he was young. It suggests that Leia’s decision to send Ben away to Luke was an effort to save him after some earlier indiscretions demonstrated that he was having difficulty controlling his powers. Kylo tells Rey that she would have ended up disappointed in Han Solo as a father figure, suggesting that Han had failed Ben as a father prior to Ben’s fall from grace, possibly leading to his need to identify with his grandfather.

"I met a really nice girl today, Grandfather. It was a little weird at first,
but I think we really made a connection."

The most startling revelation for the characters comes when Kylo’s attempt to invade Rey’s mind inadvertently gives her insight into his own. Once Rey manages to drive him back and divine his deep-seated fear of never living up to the legacy of Darth Vader, Kylo retreats to seek Snoke’s guidance.

Kylo’s misguided regard for Rey is also evidenced here, in the fact that he chooses solely and exclusively to interrogate her. Poe was tortured conventionally in an effort to extract information, only to be interrogated by Kylo when those measures proved ineffective. Rey is shown a little more respect. This might mean Kylo secretly doesn’t wish to see her harmed, just like he felt the need to reveal himself and his humanity to her. It could also be that Kylo doesn’t think conventional interrogation will help, since his plan is to somehow extract the exact physical dimensions of the map from Rey’s brief memory of having seen it one time. But Kylo doesn’t even know that she has seen it, so there’s still the possibility that the map is simply an excuse and his new goal is simply to keep Rey prisoner.

Kylo seems to be more interested in Rey than Snoke is. When Kylo reports his failure to overpower Rey, the Supreme Leader is more annoyed than anything else. After announcing his disgust with Kylo, he demands that the girl be brought before him. But he still doesn’t appear to be interested in her; he’s more concerned with teaching Kylo an object lesson about the power of the Dark Side. This might give us some insight into Snoke’s actual abilities. Despite Kylo’s insistence that Snoke is wise (not powerful), we don’t see any evidence that Snoke is anything more than a master manipulator. The presence of another Force user would actually be a threat to him in this case, since Kylo is the only Force user that he is capable of controlling.

Rey vindicates Kylo’s admiration and Snoke’s concern later on. Having gotten a glimpse of how the Force can be used to touch minds, she decides to experiment on the stormtrooper keeping watch over her. This stormtrooper is playfully nicknamed JB-007 because he is played by Bond actor Daniel Craig, making an unconfirmed cameo in the film. Sources behind the scenes have stated that it was Craig while he himself has denied it , but the internet has decided it was Craig and the stormtrooper sounds like Craig, so that’s good enough for me.

After an initially clumsy effort, Rey begins to let go and trust in the Force, commanding it well enough to influence her guard to release her and hand over his weapon so she can make her escape. This is a defining moment for her character, not just because she is proactively getting in touch with her innate power and developing some discipline as to how to use it, but also because she is demonstrating that she is fully capable of rescuing herself.

This arc in the story has allowed us to get a better understanding of Kylo and Rey. We see who they are as individuals, but also the interesting dynamic that will begin to define their relationship with each other. The obvious contrasts become clear, but so do some interesting similarities. Again they appear to counter-balance and complement each other, two necessary halves of a whole state of being.

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