Kylo Ren’s Disturbing Power

In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren’s Force ability to mentally probe others and read their deepest thoughts is portrayed as violating and painful. I think it is safe to say that the way Kylo uses the Force to invade the minds of others is a form of torture, and yet it is disturbingly intimate.

I had not realized how much the power echoed sexual assault, however, until I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization. Not only does it embellish the scene, but it has affected my viewing of the scene in the film.

As with the film, the book’s first presentation of the mind probe power is minimal, with a quick cut away to the aftermath. “A hand extended toward the shackled prisoner. Silent agony followed soon after.” And Kylo demands that Poe tell him what he wants to know. That’s it.

The two scenes in which Kylo Ren interrogates Rey also match the film by being far more involved. Alan Dean Foster substantially cranks up the invasive, disturbing language for these sections.

From the capture and first interrogation:

Shutting down and belting his lightsaber, Ren contemplated his immobile captive. Reaching up slowly, he touched her face. The pressure he applied was not physical. Refusing to meet his gaze, she looked away, straining with the agony of resistance, hardly daring to breathe. If only she could get a hand free, a leg–but no part of her body responded to her commands.

Surprised by what he was finding, Ren lowered his hand. Relieved of the mental intrusion, she sucked in great, long draughts of air.

. . . .

He touched her anew. This time the pain of trying to stave him off brought tears streaming down her face. He was within her mind and her thoughts, and there was nothing–nothing!–she could do to keep him out. To resist. But she kept trying, trying…

. . . .

She could hardly swallow as she strained to pull away from him, anything to pull away, to get him out.

She wanted to scream, but he would not allow it.

And from the second interrogation:

“I would have preferred to avoid this. Despite what you may believe, it gives me no pleasure. I will go as easily as possible–but I will take what I need.”

She knew that trying to resist him physically would not only be useless but would likely result in unpleasantness of a kind she preferred not to imagine. So she remained motionless and silent, her arms at her sides, as his hand rose toward her face. He touched her again, as he had in the forest on Takodana.

And hesitated. What was that? Something there. Something unexpected.

As she strained to resist the probe, he pushed into her, brushing aside her awkward attempts to keep him out. While he investigated her mind, he spoke softly.

. . . .

Tears were streaming down her face from the effort she was making to withstand him. Increasingly desperate, she did try to strike out. But just as on Takodana, her body refused to respond.

. . . .

All the rage and terror bottled up inside her came out as she turned to meet his stare.

“Get–out–of–my–head.”

It only made him lean in closer, enhancing her feeling of complete helplessness.

. . . .

Where the strength to defy him came from she did not know, but if anything, her voice grew a little stronger. “I’m not giving you anything.”

His response reflected his unconcern. “We’ll see.”

Immediately following this, Rey overcomes Ren’s mind probe, unlocking her own latent Force ability–clearly to the surprise of both her and Kylo Ren.

It’s still impressive that she turned the tables on Kylo, but the scene as written nonetheless felt…bothersome to me, due to the excessively heavy-handed language of invasion.

I won’t claim any extensive research into discussion surrounding this topic, but I was somewhat surprised to see that the disturbing implications of this scene largely seem to be limited to a forum on TheForce.Net, where a surprising number of people argue against (what seem to me and apparently several others) the obvious implications of the scene. Of course, here I’m specifically talking about the book and they are discussing the movie; as I noted in my review of the novelization, there are enough distinctions and contradictions between the two that while the movie informs the book, the book does not really inform the movie, and any particular insights into characters or events provided by the book are probably limited to the book itself.

Still, watch the scene again if you have any doubts. It’s disturbing. The book heightens the sexual assault imagery, I think, but it’s all there in some form in the film–Rey is restrained, Ren says he can take whatever he wants, and Ren appears to enjoy asserting dominance over Rey and being able to subjugate her and penetrate her mind.

What’s amazing to me–and evidenced by the aforementioned forum–is that there is still a vocal contingent of people shipping Rey/Ren, or Reylo, or whatever else they want to call it. Even if we downplay the sexual assault imagery (and I do think it’s a little less on-the-nose in the film, but that’s just my two cents), Ren tortured Rey. No healthy relationship is likely to grow out of that–especially a romantic one. It would make sense in the context of the prior films that Ren might ultimately be redeemed (Anakin, after all, murdered a master of the Order, a room full of children, and his mentor/best friend; directly contributed to the death of his wife; assisted in the destruction of an entire planet; tortured rebels just to torment them; and attempted to kill his own son). But “redemption” doesn’t need to mean that all past sins are simply forgiven, or that there is a big reset on a deeply toxic and troubling relationship (again looking at Anakin, he bought his redemption with his own life). Reylo adherents seem to be picking at straws, and while no romantic relationship is necessitated by The Force Awakens, it is rather bizarre to me that they would favor Reylo over the obvious chemistry and mutual attraction between Rey and Finn.


P.S. There also seem to be people who see little to no distinction between the “mind probe” Force power and the “mind trick” Force power. I think the distinction is important; the former seeks to dominate/penetrate a mind, while the latter only seeks to convince/persuade/influence. Wookieepedia does a good job as usual in breaking down the differences between the mind probe and the mind trick.

7 thoughts on “Kylo Ren’s Disturbing Power

  1. Thank you! My gods, the number of people on Tumblr I see shipping Reylo because they find that scene to be filled with sexual tension rather than violence makes me want to throw things. It’s one thing to have an affinity for gross ships and be able to admit that they are problematic. But I really don’t understand watching that scene, hearing the words that come out of his mouth, and think, “healthy chemistry.”

    “…(again looking at Anakin, he bought his redemption with his own life).”

    Yep. There’s some (understandable) resistance to redemption arcs, particularly when they involve abusive characters, suggesting that such story lines restore the humanity of the villain at the expense of victims, downplay trauma, etc. I think it’s story specific, some will do it better than others (I have a specific example in mind, if you happen to watch Agents of SHIELD).

    But the Return of the Jedi is one story that handled redemption in a way that I think is extraordinary, at least from a storytelling/narrative perspective (which I will get to in a moment). When I was a kid I always wondered what Luke was hoping to achieve by forgiving his father and how just plain awkward it would have been to bring Vader back to Leia. “No, it’s good now. He’s cool.” Certainly, he would have been tried for war crimes. And why should anyone be expected to forgive Vader? He did terrible things! Incidentally, one of the best aspects of Rogue One was showing just how awful Vader was (in most bad-ass way possible), full of rage and aggression.

    It was only until I was much older that I realized that Vader’s redemption was never about Vader (or Anakin, for that matter). It was always about Luke and reinforcing the inherent superiority of the light side of the force over the dark side (just as Yoda claimed). His last lines, “You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister… you were right…” illustrate this. It’s about Luke being correct, not about his own inherent goodness. His redemption serves a much bigger purpose in the Star Wars universe, which is to reinforce its core philosophy.

    So the question I ask of redemption arcs is always, what function does it serve for the broader story, the universe’s lore, etc.

    And to bring this back to Skyrim/Elder Scrolls, which I will always do, there is some very, very minor discussion of the ethics of illusion magic in the story. It doesn’t get a lot of attention though. At some point, maybe I’ll get into it more.

    Boy, I talk a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. So according to uesp.net, “llusion is one of the six schools of magic. It is similar to Alteration magic in that it seeks to change the world around the caster so normal physical truths no longer hold, but while Alteration magic is bound by the laws of nature, Illusion magic is not. Its weakness comes from the fact that while Alteration affects the entire world, Illusion magic affects only the caster and the target.”

        Which led me to think that illusion spells, depending on the level of intensity, involve manipulating the mind of the target, which raises all sorts of questions about autonomy, personal (mental) space, etc. Is it ever ethical to strip someone of their agency? Are there times when it is justified? Are some spells better than others? For example, is casting a temporary invisibility or silence spell in self defense justified? What about casting a calm or charm spell, which causes the target to react in ways they may not otherwise?

        Stuff like that.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, that’s all very interesting, and (as far as I can recall), the games never really directly confront the ethics of the school, do they? The closest I can think of is one of the character creation questions in Morrowind, asking what the player thinks about the use of hypothetical telepaths.

          Actually, come to think of it, that’s interesting in and of itself. The Elder Scrolls might have the same split of invasion versus coercion as present in Star Wars. Potential telepaths are morally ambiguous because they can pry into people’s thoughts and strip information from them. However, illusion magic, which merely alters perception, is by contrast widely accepted and unquestioned. It would be interesting to survey fantasy works and see if that coercion/invasion split is a fairly common dichotomy…

          The more I think about it, the more interesting this topic gets. I wonder if we can broaden this to other types of magic. Another good/evil coercion/invasion divide I see is between conjuration and necromancy. Conjuration coerces a daedra, or spirit, or undead, to act on behalf of the caster, whereas necromancy violates an otherwise lifeless corpse. Of course, this gets messy given the presence of Reanimate in Oblivion and Skyrim. Frankly, I don’t see how Reanimate fits into the School of Conjuration. Nothing is being conjured; that’s just straight-up necromancy magic practiced on a fresh corpse.

          Like

          1. Yeah, the games kind of gloss over the implications of magic, although there are examples in the lore that could be used to provoke such a discussion. I’m thinking specifically of when Jagar Tharn imprisoned Uriel Septim VII and took on his form.

            Funny you should mention necromancy! It becomes a major plot point later on in my story and it’s relationship to the School of Conjuration actually comes up. I looked at how the developers/writers got rid of Mysticism (and I have an explanation for that) and have, over the course of the games, moved spells around. I explain this as being a function of academic politics (again, bringing my background into it). In the very chapter I’m working RIGHT NOW (and I will finish it dammit), I go into my headcanon on conjuration magic and how it requires contact with a plane of Oblivion (for weaker spells, it’s a superficial connection, for more advanced spells, it requires direct, albeit extremely brief, contact).

            Anyway, I’m still in the early stages of coming up with my necromancy headcanon, but basically I treat it as a hybrid spell (most spells are actually) that is both Alteration, Conjuration, and Mysticiam based (but it’s conjuration component is closer to the magic that creates bound weapons rather than summoning a demon). And at the end of the day, the organization of the spells and the schools of magic is a function of academic decisions (which can be sometimes political and arbitrary, when not practical or logical).

            Liked by 1 person

  2. As a low-key Reylo shipper (and still pretty conflicted about the whole thing), I’d simply point out that Ren treats her very differently than Poe. Rather than leaving her to be manhandled into the shuttle, he picks her up and cradles her in his arms. He calls her his guest. He doesn’t lie to her and try to torture her by saying he has her friends or that they were dead. I’m not saying he’s a nice guy, by any stretch. His invasion of her mind is quite different than the deliberate torture he subjects Poe to. I think he’ll be redeemed, ultimately – there’s too much good in him, but given what we’ve seen of The Last Jedi, I suspect it won’t be a Vader-esque redemption; it will be something else entirely. Just food for thought.

    Like

    1. Yes, his invasion of her mind is somewhat different from his invasion of Poe’s mind. I’d say that it’s worse. We certainly see more of it. But I will definitely agree with you that there will probably be some form of redemption for Kylo, and it will probably look rather different than Anakin’s redemption did.

      I appreciate the comment!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s