Is Kylo Ren Okay?

Re-watching the films yet again in anticipation of the release of The Last Jedi, I found myself uniquely struck by the scene in The Force Awakens when Kylo Ren is seeking guidance to withstand the temptation of the Light Side.

“Show me again the power of the darkness,” he asks of Anakin, kneeling before the deformed helmet of Darth Vader. We know he is definitely referring to Anakin, since he not only speaks to the helmet but addresses his “grandfather.”

This was always a powerful, emotional, creepy moment and showed just how deranged and obsessed Kylo Ren was. Keeping The Last Jedi in mind, I feel that this moment has to be elaborated on further in one of the sequels, by Episode IX if not VIII.

I remember a lot of rumors swirling about the Force ghost of Anakin Skywalker prior to the release of The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, I can’t point to a particularly credible source; there are many of the usual clickbait culprits with similar headlines, all cawing over the same old shreds of “news.” In example, see this Screen Crush article that purports to show concept art of Anakin’s spirit from Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I have not ever looked through this book and cannot independently verify its contents. The bottom line: the rumors suggested that Anakin’s Force ghost was developed and could have potentially transitioned between Anakin and Vader. It’s an interesting idea, and a compromised Anakin who is still partially claimed by the Dark Side could explain why Kylo Ren’s conversation with Anakin’s spirit would not have revealed Anakin’s apparent repentance and redemption.

In the old EU, there were many sorts of Force spirits, including those of powerful ancient Sith, so this idea does not seem so out of the realm of possibility. But the prequel films began to limit the scope of who could be a Force ghost: in The Phantom Menace we see that Qui-Gon does not become transfigured into a spiritual form; in Attack of the Clones we hear Qui-Gon’s voice during Anakin’s attack on the Tuskens, and Yoda is concerned; and then in Revenge of the Sith, we learn that Yoda has been learning about greater mysteries of the Force from Qui-Gon, who has uniquely learned how to survive death and will train Obi-Wan as well. The Clone Wars show also gives Yoda an arc to learn a little about the greater mysteries of the Force. This re-frames the dissipation of the bodies of Obi-Wan and Yoda in the original films as unique, and it also adds a considerable degree of mystery to Anakin’s own transition. In the new canon, the conclusion to be drawn so far is that Dark Siders are unable to undergo the transition that enables them to retain a personality in the afterlife. Regardless of why that is so, it does nothing to make clear how exactly Anakin would have the ability to transition–a selfish act, rescuing his own son, though self-sacrificing, should not be enough to make up for killing children and other innocents for decades, torturing many more, and being indirectly responsible for the deaths of billions. And Anakin would not have had any obvious opportunity to commune with anyone to teach him this power.

So we could see yet another reinvention of what a Force spirit represents in The Last Jedi. Though this does not mean that we will see Anakin’s Force spirit. What if Kylo Ren has been communing with a deceitful, even evil, Force spirit? Or an invention of Snoke’s? What if Kylo Ren’s communications with the dead are in fact entirely fantasy?

What if Kylo Ren is mentally ill?

What if Kylo Ren has not been talking to any Force spirit at all, but rather his own delusions? What if he experiences hallucinations, hears voices, receives commands? We know that his problems emerged when he was young, that Han and Leia sent him off to be trained by Luke because they weren’t sure of how to handle him. He sounds to be deeply troubled. And his manifestation of the Dark Side is almost always raw and unbridled. He lashes out with tempter tantrums. He is emotionally vulnerable, his voice quavers, he has difficulty committing to a single path. Perhaps he experiences psychotic episodes. Perhaps he suffers from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or some other uniquely Star Wars mental illness entirely.

I don’t know if this is a wise direction to take things. On the one hand, a redemption arc seems a lot more plausible even for a patricidal enforcer if he is acting under the impairment of his mental illness. On the other hand, it would be troubling to suggest that one can embrace the Dark Side simply by having a preexisting mental health condition.

Nonetheless, it certainly could offer a rather complicated and tragic narrative if handled very, very carefully. And it would explain how Kylo Ren could have received such a wrong message from his grandfather–it wasn’t his grandfather at all. Surely the evil Kylo Ren would be viewed as long-suffering Ben Solo then.

Regardless, we should have a partial answer to some of the above soon enough!

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