Thursday, February 18, 2016

STAR WARS: The Franchise Awakens - Children of the Force

This is an excellent time to explore the roles and names of Rey and Kylo Ren. Kylo’s name seems to be at least partially derivative of the names Skywalker and Han Solo, containing many of the letters and sounds you find in those names. Kylo Ren is also a sort of phonetic inversion of Han Solo. But is that all it is?

I thought about certain mythological archetypes, such as the Norse mythology. Rey could easily be a variation on Freya while Kylo would be a variant of Loki. This even works when we see the wizened figure of an older Luke Skywalker, grey-bearded and cloaked in grey like the classical image of Odin that inspired the look of literature’s quintessential wizard, Gandalf the Grey.

He also matches the classical image of a homeless guy.

But the roles that Rey and Ren play seem to be more based on the balance of Yin and Yang, Kylo representing the masculine Yang while Rey represents the feminine Yin. An interesting observation here is that the Yin is – while considered to be passive – associated with the dark while the more active Yang is associated with the light. It should be noted here that these are not designations of evil and good. The dark and the light together compose the Tao, which, in the words of Joseph Campell (and practically those of George Lucas), “inhabits every created thing.” 

In the novelization of EPSIODE VII, Snoke tells Kylo that he is a creation of both the darkness and the light (presumably because he is descended from Princess Leia and Darth Vader). This is analogous to his grandfather, Anakin, who was, as far as I can tell from the prequels, the son of a good woman, Shmi Skywalker, and an evil Sith Lord, either Darth Sidious or Darth Plagueis (either of whom would be using magical means to inseminate her).

"Now that I'm Master of the Dark Side, I can finally make babies without
ever having to touch a woman! WORTH IT!"

Anakin and Kylo are children of darkness and light this way, just as Luke Skywalker was, being the son of Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker. Whether this lineage creates a predominance of darkness or light is difficult to say. If we look at this from a historical perspective, the mother figure has typically been the “good” parent while the “evil” tendencies came from the father. Shmi was a simple slave who was immaculately impregnated by the Dark Side, making the Skywalker side of Anakin the source of his goodness of character. 

"You were impregnated with a magical miracle baby and left behind to live the life of a slave?
You'd think that'd be the kind of thing I should look into, but I've got this trade dispute to sort out."

When he abandons his good self he abandons also the Skywalker name, taking the traditional Darth title of a Sith Lord. This is later broken when Anakin’s son, also bearing the Skywalker name, appeals to the last remaining goodness in him – which is derived and associated solely with his connection to the Skywalker line – and Anakin overcomes the Darth Vader persona to become both a self-redeemer and (it would seem) a world-redeemer. 

"Sorry about enslaving the universe and killing and torturing everyone you love, but I saved you
from that psychopath after I gave you to him on a silver platter, so what say we call it even?"

Anakin’s children were conceived with Padme, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, meaning “the jewel is in the Lotus”. Padme means “lotus”, the sacred flower borne by the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who looks down on all sentient creatures with compassion.  Padme is responsible (genetically or symbolically) for Luke and Leia’s compassionate nature, so again we see the good side of them being inherited from the mother’s side.

So what about Kylo? His darkness is arguably inherited from his mother’s side because she passes the blood of Darth Vader on to him. Han is good, if not completely noble or perfect, so Kylo doesn’t get his bad nature from his father. This is further evidenced in the fact that Kylo abandons his family name, Solo, and takes a new title in order to complete his transition to the Dark Side. But his grandfather’s evil is not only a generation removed, but it is in some sense an illusion. Kylo’s perception of Darth Vader and what he was trying to accomplish is antithetical to the redemption of the character we witness in EPISODE VI. Some outside force (or inner delusion) is driving Kylo to re-capture the mantle of Darth Vader, but he is not directly inheriting this imperative from either of his parents. Given this, he has inherited both good and evil from his mother’s side, which is exactly what the Yang represents. He is the aggressive male component of the whole, but there is also light in him. 

Rey is not passive, but we see the compassion in her character. We don’t know her lineage, but there is a suggestion that there is some darkness to her as well. The name Rey could be a derivative of the word “ray”, possibly indicating that her purpose is to enlighten, which is precisely the purpose of the Bodhisattva. But where does she come from? Raised alone on the unforgiving world of Jakku, Rey is far from serene. She is aggressive and has been conditioned to be so. There is darkness in her, which manifests in her initial confrontation with Finn, then later in her refusal to accept the Force at Maz Kanata’s, and finally culminates in her duel with Kylo Ren at the end of the film. Who were her parents, then? Who was her mother? The answers to those questions would give us a better idea of her role in the story.

Some theories cite similarities in Rey’s musical theme in the score and Luke’s original theme in EPISODE IV, which could be construed as a hint that she is in some way connected to the Skywalker line. The similarity could also be explained as a thematic connection between her role in this film and Luke’s role in EPISODE IV rather than a literal in-story relation between the two characters. Even more interesting are snippets of the Imperial March from EPISODE V playing backwards in parts of Rey’s theme, connecting her more to Darth Vader. Is this a hidden hint at a relationship between Rey and Vader? And since the theme is inverted, are we meant to infer that Rey is like Vader or that she is his opposite?

In any event, Rey and Ren both have roots in darkness and light, neither of them fully representing either principle. Kylo appears to come from the light but choose darkness while Rey comes out of the darkness to choose the light. This is the necessary balance of the Tao, which requires the existence of both. The reason the Jedi and the Sith are always worrying about the balance of the Force is because they’re always trying to wipe each other out. How can there be balance if only one side of the argument still exists?

Going back to the final image of Luke as a grey old wizard at the close of the film, that look isn’t just suggestive of an Odin or a Gandalf type of figure. It also plays into something mentioned in the novelization. Just as he did with the novelization of the first film, Alan Dean Foster opened this book with a quote from the mysterious Journal of the Whills, stating that the difference between the dark and the light is only made right through the resolving of the grey “through refined Jedi sight”. This too hints that the key to “balancing” the Force is not the destruction of either side, but an acceptance of both. Perhaps Rey and Ren, each in some way representing both, are not meant to fight each other, but instead find some way to peacefully coexist.

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