First and foremost this post will contain spoilers concerning Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  A lot of spoilers.  MAJOR spoilers.  If you’ve not yet seen the film and wish to remain spoiler-free then I suggest you just save this page and come back to it later.  If you’ve seen the film or simply don’t care about knowing everything keep on reading…

Seriously though, from now on there will be spoilers!

There have been many theories about Star Wars: The Force Awakens concerning the characters, their pasts, and their potential futures.  Everything from “Rey is Obi-Wan’s granddaughter” to “Supreme Leader Snoke is actually a tiny man a’la Wizard of Oz” have been bandied about and broken down by countless fans.  All are fairly intriguing possibilities, some I even root for being truth (I’m looking at you Poe and Finn), but none are as intriguing as those surrounding the main villain of the film, Kylo Ren.  Already a fascinating character – a young man on the Dark side feeling himself constantly pulled by the Light – Kylo is made all the more captivating by one of the main theories about him: He’s not the villain, he’s the hero.  Rather than the angry young man turning on his family, Kylo Ren is a brave lad undercover for the Resistance.  Like I said, intriguing.

I have no particular stake in this theory either way, but I am curious enough to take a closer look at it.  Give Kylo Ren a trial, so to speak, to determine if the theory he is a hero holds any water.  So let’s proceed with the evidence for, against, and somewhere in between to see what shakes out.

The Pull of the Light: 

Throughout the film Kylo Ren notes the feeling of being pulled to the Light side of the Force.  It seems to haunt, even torment, him.  The Light side of the Force is all about honesty, compassion, mercy, self-sacrifice, and other heroic concepts.  Given this it immediately suggests that Kylo is not instinctually as evil as his behavior suggests.  It is not in his nature to be cruel, selfish, or aggressive (traits of the Dark side).  If this is the case, if he is going against his nature, then that does suggest he could be playing a part.  Whether he’s playing a part hoping to fake it until he makes it – which is the surface presentation – or for the greater good is hard to tell, but we’ll give this to the “Kylo Is Hero” camp for the moment.

The Murder of a Father:

Kylo Ren is revealed to be Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa (Skywalker).  With this bit of background you can see why fans might make the argument he could be a hero; between his lineage and Force-power he’d be someone the First Order would want to recruit, but not necessarily suspect of being undercover.  However, it’s just as likely to me that fans want a way around the idea of Han and Leia’s only son turning on them and all they stand for.  It’s terrible and makes the fact that Kylo kills Han completely tragic.

Upon reuniting father and son have an emotional discussion in which Han encourages Ben to come home.  Ben explains that he has a mission that he’s unsure he can complete and asks his father for help.  Han says he’ll do whatever is needed as the young man hands over his lightsaber to his father…then there’s the sound of the weapon coming to life and Han is run through.  Nothing else is seen and directly after there is pandemonium as Rey, Finn, and Chewbacca fire upon Kylo before he escapes.

Naturally this is not a point for Kylo being hero.  There have been some theories that Han was in on it — that he either knew Kylo had to kill him to solidify himself within the First Order or Han actually killed himself with the lightsaber (given it was last shown in his hands) — but I find that a bit of a stretch.  If this was all truly to sell Kylo as on the First Order’s side, why wouldn’t they arrange something more public?  A big capture and public execution before Hux, Snoke, and others who might be watching and making determinations about Ben’s commitment to their side.  Also, public or not, a fair amount of things would have had to fall exactly in the right place at the right time for this agreed upon “murder” to occur.  Then there’s the fact Chewbacca clearly considered this a real murder, a real betrayal, and I’d think Han would let him in on the plan if only to ensure Chewie didn’t hurt Kylo (which he did).

I don’t see any truly logical way around this one…This act falls into the “Kylo is Villain” column.

The Insecurity:

There is one other comparable villain in Star Wars named General Hux.  Like Kylo he is young and working for the First Order, but unlike Kylo he seems utterly sure of what he is doing.  Hux has no moral wavering about what he says, does, or has others do.  He doesn’t waver at all.  He is dispassionate and frequently butts heads with Kylo, even chastising him about letting his personal feelings cloud what needs to be done.  It could just be that Hux has been born and breed to be this sort of militaristic person who doesn’t question orders once given…but then so was Finn and he had so many doubts he defected.

Kylo, on the other hand, seems continuously torn about what he’s doing.  He speaks to the destroyed helmet of Darth Vader asking for the fortitude to carry on and “finish what [Vader] started”.  It implies that Kylo is not comfortable with the evil’s he doing, that he feels unsure of his motives and guilt over his deeds.  Concerning the murder of his father he confesses aloud he’s unsure he can do it and seems very close to falling apart over even the thought of it; he nearly backs out completely until the last second.

Purely from what’s onscreen, without searching for any hidden meanings, Kylo’s a young man trying to be tougher, more frightening, than he actually is.  This isn’t exactly an unprecedented thing for any male (or female) youth and equally unsurprising would be such a person getting in over their head and deciding they have no option but to keep up the front.  This could certainly be the case with Kylo: He wants to be feared, a badass, and after being manipulated by Snoke he ends up falling to the Dark side where he really doesn’t belong…but rather than backing out and heading home Kylo presses on determined not to be seen as weak.

Even if he isn’t undercover this insecurity shows he could still become a hero by being honest with himself and doing the right thing in the end so I’ll throw this to the “Kylo Is Hero” side .

The Tantrums:

One of the most significant (and sometimes amusing) behaviors Kylo Ren indulges in is tantrums.  I could call these rages or violent outbursts, but they all play out like the tantrums of a toddler.  I’m not certain if this is a matter of having more anger and/or less control than others, but it makes him more dangerous than any other character in the film.  Hux and Snoke are dangerous, but really only to those who stand against them.  They are both controlled individuals, there’s little risk of them flying off the handle and killing those on their side, but that’s not the case with Kylo.  When disappointed he just goes off, destroying the closest thing with his lightsaber and causing nearby Stormtroopers to decide patrolling elsewhere is the wisest move.

In the real world this sort of behavior tends to lead to men (and women) who are in and out of trouble with the law.  Those that fight at the drop of a hat and are abusive within their relationships.  Those that explode only to come back after cooling down to apologize and swear they won’t do it again.  But they usually do it again, over and over, until eventually they kill someone in the heat of passion.

For that reason alone I’d have to say his tantrums point to “Kylo Is Villain”.

The Saves:

Ironically, despite those tantrums, Kylo does tend to avoid killing others.  He destroys consoles and chairs, roughs up First Order soldiers, even beats on himself, but is only clearly shown murdering two people.  One is Han and the other is a man named Lor San Tekka who’s helping the Resistance find Luke and seems to know who Kylo really is.  That’s not as many as one would expect from a guy with uncontrollable anger who wants everyone to think he’s the ultimate badass.  (Side Note: It’s implied there are more pre-film, but none are blatantly shown.  Also I’m not counting destroyed planets as that seemed more Snoke and/or Hux’s doing.)

Kylo has plenty of opportunities to kill, but seems to go out of his way to prevent others from being destroyed even when it might be easier (and wiser) to do so.  He takes Poe prisoner, Forces information out of him, then orders him transported to a cell…Why?  Kylo has the needed information; it would be smarter to execute the Resistance’s best pilot and move on, but he doesn’t and during transport Finn helps Poe escape.  Kylo even insists that BB-8 be taken unharmed despite Hux pointing out it would be just as beneficial, if not more so, to take the intel from the droid after it has been destroyed.  Rey too seems somewhat spared; even after realizing how strong she is in using the Force Kylo leaves her alone with a single guard from whom she promptly escapes with little trouble.

After touching Luke’s lightsaber for the first time Rey is overwhelmed by visions from the past and future.  Exactly whose they are is a little hard to tell, but many seem to either be hers or Luke Skywalker’s — or, at least, those are the two that make the most sense.   Within these flashes there is one key scene involving Kylo Ren’s apparent attack on Luke’s Jedi students.  In the vision Rey is put in the position of potential victim as one of the Knights of Ren stands over her, seemingly about to kill her, when Kylo’s lightsaber runs the man through.  If this occurred as Rey’s Force-fueled images suggest than it’s the most significant life-saving act Kylo performs.  It suggests that not only will Kylo go out of his way to not kill, he’ll go out of his way to save those he should kill as someone working in the First Order.

Whether it was Rey or Luke – the point-of-view of Rey’s visions are not clear – the Force-fueled image heavily suggests that Kylo killed an ally to save a proclaimed enemy.  This fact along with the other “saves” undoubtedly go into the “Kylo Is Hero” pile.

The Verdict:

First off, I don’t think the theory that Ben Solo is actually just undercover in the First Order as Kylo Ren is true.  It’s a good theory, an interesting one with at least a bit of circumstantial evidence to support it, but it’s still incredibly unlikely.  A lot of things would have had to happen just right for things to work out as perfectly as it seems they have…also I think, as the leader of the Resistance, his mother wouldn’t just know, but would have been in charge, of such a delicate plot and there’s no evidence of that at all.

There’s a lot of evidence for Kylo Ren being a hero and a villain.  In some cases it would seem the same information can be read both ways.  So who is this guy?  The villainous Kylo Ren or the heroic Ben Solo?  Neither.  Both.  The most accurate answer is probably that he’s a young guy that’s somewhere in the middle.  He’s not some psychopathic villain, but he’s not really a heroic guy either.  It’s what makes him so fascinating to start.

What’s to come in the next movie(s) is hard to say, but at the moment it seems possible – though not probable – that Kylo Ren could turn out to be a hero.  Possible because he shows signs of compassion along with hesitation and guilt over the more terrible things he does, but not probable given both his explosive rage and how he was left at the end of The Force Awakens – scarred, enraged, and presumably more determined than ever to destroy.

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