When White Villains Get Woobiefied: Kylo Ren Is Just A Monster In A Mask

Notes: The following post will mention childhood abuse (and who gets to have that kind of trauma respected/made up for them to give them weight and validate their actions) and spoilers from the film and novelization versions of The Last Jedi as well as mild spoilers for Last Shot. Images come from StarWarsScreenCaps.Com.


More care has gone into fabricating a sobbing wreck of a backstory for Kylo Ren where he’s been dealing with childhood abuse (that is supposed to explain why he’s somehow the most interesting/compelling character of the sequel trilogy) than has gone into showing any empathy or interest in analyzing the one character in the sequel trilogy who does have that backstory, but gets none of the empathy: Finn.

Today in “that’s literally not canon”, I’m going to be picking apart an article from The Mary Sue about how Kylo Ren’s story is about childhood abuse; one that says things like:

“Rey and Kylo relate to one another about their childhoods, which included parental abandonment and neglect, and abuse, as well as their Force abilities.”

First off:

As far as I know, there’s nothing that shows that Ben’s childhood included parental abandonment and neglect. Nothing. Nothing across two movies. Leia sending her Force Sensitive son (who was in late teens/early adulthood) to train with her Force Sensitive brother is not neglect.

We currently have ZERO canon that shows what his childhood was like, but we know that the whole point of the Ben-to-Kylo Ren transformation was that it came out of nowhere and that nothing in Leia’s relationship with her son prepared her for his full leap not just to the dark side, but to full on fascism.

The most we can say with confidence about Ben before he was Kylo, is that he was radicalized by Snoke who preyed on his insecurities at some point most likely when he was a teenager.

But we don’t know anything about what Snoke did – that presence probing Leia’s uterus back in that Chuck Wendig book does not count — but I suspect we never will considering his abrupt death in The Last Jedi.

Young_Rey_with_Unkar_Plutt.png

Second point: 

Kylo Ren’s (almost entirely made up) backstory where he’s an abused and neglected child is nothing like Rey’s and to compare the two is embarrassing to see.

Rey was literally abandoned. On another planet. Where she had to raise herself.  I’m pretty sure that prior to her interactions with Finn, Rey had never been hugged (that she could remember). And Kylo rubs it in her face that her parents supposedly abandoned her for alcohol so he knows it’s serious.

Ben that would become Ren was basically sent to Jedi Summer Camp when he was a few years younger than I am now.

Rian Johnson’s insistence on reframing Ben as a tortured or frightened little boy – and the fandom’s rush to canonize that – is a problem because it reduces his actual complicity in fascist actions to a sort of “(abused) boys will be boys” kind of mentality.

This rush to give white villains these sob story backgrounds where they’re not “really” responsible for their actions because their parents didn’t love them enough is a fandom thing that should’ve stayed in fandom.

The thing is, that these backstories they give Kylo aren’t canon.

So far, the only thing we know about the wee Ben Solo-Organa from across canon is that:

  • He had nightmares as a child
  • Han was a stay at home dad, but both parents were huge parts of his life when he was a child
  • His parents, worried about him acting out by breaking things, apparently quietly talked about him behind closed doors and Ben didn’t like that

We don’t know anything about how he was raised, sure. However, we also have no proof that he was even vaguely neglected or mistreated by his parents. Whose parents haven’t gone into another room to talk about us when we were behaving badly?

Parents being uncomfortable with their kid’s behavior and talking to each other in an attempt to figure out how to handle that is not a sign of abuse or neglect. Neither is sending your troubled child to the one family member that you think can help manage their destructive behavior.

One of the things fandom ignores in order to create this image of a Ben Solo that needs saving and loving is that Kylo Ren is maybe the most unreliable narrator that we can get. At this point in the canon, his memories of his childhood and what his parents were like are colored by the hatred for them that Snoke undoubtedly nurtured.

His recollections of the past don’t mesh with what we know happened/about Han and Leia from the films and assorted current-canon novels/comics and especially in the novelization for The Last Jedi where he says things like:

But Ben Solo was no more—Kylo had shed his childhood identity and the pathetic weakness it represented. Han Solo’s days of cheating and disappointing people were over. The New Republic was destroyed. And now the Resistance—the last of his mother’s causes—would follow it into extinction.

Somehow, folks are willing to take Kylo’s words at face value and his own monologue as fact despite the fact that Kylo is well… not someone whose words (or thoughts) about others can be trusted.

Fandom has pulled from other details across the new extended universe in order to give themselves an acceptable target for Kylo’s path.

In Bloodlines, Leia is a senator so super freaking busy so of course she must have neglected Ben as a child and Han was smuggling in The Force Awakens so he must have been away on smuggling missions when Ben was a child. I’ve seen people claim, in the wake of the new novel Last Shot, that poor little Ben was raised by droids – something that isn’t supported by the book – because Han and Leia neglected him.

So it’s their fault he turned out the way he was and not his own.

Nothing about the childhood that fandom (and now, a few scraps of canon) gives Kylo is canon. It’s not proof that he was mistreated, neglected, or otherwise harmed by his family prior to Luke’s moment of weakness — which jumpstarted Kylo further on a path he was already on.

And even if it did somehow show us proof that Kylo had the worst childhood this side of a V.C. Andrew’s novel?

That wouldn’t excuse his violent and crule actions or validate the way he’s been woobified into a pwecious little villain baby by a fandom that has proven it thinks he can literally do no wrong.

cool-motive-still-murder.gif

How here’s the third point and where I’ll probably lose some of y’all:

I don’t actually think it’s accurate to call Luke’s actions in the flashbacks of The Last Jedi abusive.

Especially not when many of the people calling it such are then writing off Kylo’s violence – patricide and absolutely emotionally abusive (manipulative) comments to Rey – in order to claim that detractors are reading too much into them.

Seriously, I’m not going to call Luke’s momentary loss of faith in his nephew  abusive in part because we know that Kylo was ALREADY radicalized by Snoke and prepared to do violence –  because of what he does AFTER he drops the building on Luke in what was self defense.

Part of my inability to accept this point of view that reframes Luke as abusive comes from the fact that fandom has been hypothesizing Luke (and Leia and Han) as abusive family figures in Ben Ren’s life since The Force Awakens came out and the one Skywalker of a certain age turned out to be an absolute loser villain who drips toxic masculinity when he sweats.

They use that “well x was abusive to Kylo” headcanon/argument in order to excuse his actions and his own abusive tendencies to Rey. It’s actually pretty transparent because it’s a tactic fandom has been using to excuse the actions of white male villains and antiheroes for YEARS.

(One example is the way that the Thor fandom has embellished Odin’s mediocre parenting to fabricate a backstory for Loki where he was abused as a child by him, Thor, and various Asgardians in order to excuse Loki’s work with Thanos/trying to kill Thor and/or Odin, but I’ve seen imagined backstories of abuse used to erase harm caused by other white male villains in other fandoms.)

The Mary Sue article I’m still not linking to basically tries to reframe Luke as the “real” villain of Star Wars because he “created” Kylo Ren and then won’t sit down to have a heartfelt conversation about their feelings.

No seriously:

“Luke preferred to have a fake lightsaber battle and disappear into the Force rather than simply have a heartfelt conversation with his nephew.”

Luke - TLJ

“U mad, Kylo?”

The entire article serves to blame other people for Ben Ren’s actions (Luke specifically and repeatedly, but at one point the author goes “from Ben’s point of view, his own family was a threat to him, and he had no choice but to turn to Snoke” so… the whole family gets blamed for their Force Sensitive Asshole of a kid) and literally calls Luke complicit in the war that the First-fucking-Order started and is carrying out against a whole… dozen people at this point.

While Luke was considering doing was WRONG (so wrong and fear shouldn’t guide you into hurting the people you love) … So’s the fact Kylo’s next actions after escaping from him weren’t to go to his mom/dad/Chewie and tell them what happened.

His next actions are to kill or conscript his fellow students.

The students he could turn to the Dark Side were left alive to presumably become the Knights of Ren (which Rian Johnson simply… didn’t use at all or reference in The Last Jedi) and the ones that he couldn’t turn, he killed.

On top of that, we have no evidence that Kylo attempted to get in contact with the rest of his family after that. We have nothing that shows him running scared to his parents and telling them what happened. We have no proof that Kylo’s family abandoned him and in fact, the opposite is pretty clearly what did happen considering that in The Force Awakens Leia asks Han to bring their son back.

Making Ben Ren this big sad victim suffering from awful childhood abuse, like the author of that piece and much of Kylo’s own fandom does (especially by juxtaposing Luke’s actions against Rey being abandoned), is supposed to excuse the violence he does across the two films.

Unnecessary violence that is entirely Kylo’s choice to commit.

That’s the whole purpose of woobifying Kylo and inventing a history of being abused for him: it serves to place the responsibility for Kylo’s actions squarely on Luke’s shoulders even years later while.

The author’s article literally cares more about the fact that Kylo won’t get closure because Luke died trying to distract Kylo than the fact that in addition to lashing out against Leia and Han (ordering his men to aim at a part of the ship that was supposed to kill the former and successfully killing the latter), Kylo is just straight up a bad guy.

Hell, Luke gets the lion’s share of the blame for Kylo’s turn to darkness and his violence than the mysterious alien figure that like… actually facilitates his turn to evil and served as the catalyst for the rise of the darkness in Kylo.

What the hell?

Kylo Luke

Everything about this flashback (such as the fact that it’s Kylo explaining the “real” story to Rey and how the way it’s shot makes Kylo look like a young boy when prior to The Last Jedi he was in his 20s for this) is supposed to garner sympathy for Kylo’s bad behavior – from Rey and the audience.

Now let’s talk about woobification and who gets to be the poor widdle baby:

From 2015, the Star Wars fandom has been trying to make Kylo into the real victim of the series and the character that needs defending the most because he supposedly had no choice to join Snoke or turn against his family.

However, you know who actually didn’t have a choice in their time with the First Order and whose experiences with neglect and abuse are seen as a non-issue to fandom?

Finn.

Blurry Baby Finn.jpg

See that blurry baby boy in the bottom left of the screen? That’s Finn. The First Order has had him in their grasp since he was an actual baby. Almost everything that fandom’s Ben Solo has gone through in the eyes of fandom? Finn most likely actually experienced.

We know that Finn was taken from his family at a young age.

We know what the training in the First Order is like thanks to Before the AwakeningFinn’s Story, and the Phasma novel and that said training frequently consisted of dehumanizing treatment where teenagers and young adults could expect to be killed for not being fast/smart/mean enough for their commanding officer.

We know that Finn -by virtue of literally not having a choice, by being brainwashed into the First Order(they condition their soldiers), by being a child raised to KILL for a fascist org – IS in fact a survivor of childhood abuse.

By virtue of what the First Order represents and what we’ve seen them do in the canon film and supplementary material, we know that Finn is undoubtedly a survivor of physical, emotional, and mental abuse at the hands of his superiors and fellow soldiers.

We see it in how the mention of the First Order triggers incredible fear and anger in him while on Takodama in The Force Awakens.

But a while a whole bunch of people in fandom – particularly Kylo fans and folks that ship him with Rey — actually don’t give a shit about Finn beyond crawling out of the shadows to insist that they really do like him when folks talk about racism that comes from that section of fandom. They see him as someone who robbed the First Order of a valuable resource — himself — and who is a traitor to the cause…

And why would they care about Finn when they can give all their love, attention, and empathy to Kylo – along with Finn’s canon personality and origins. (Long before The Last Jedi, fandom gave Ben Ren Finn’s barely there backstory of being forced into the First Order…)

“Kylo has no choice”/”Luke and/or Snoke made him do it” takes are a luxury that Kylo has BECAUSE he’s a white male villain of a certain age and hotness. Characters of color – regardless of alignment – never get that luxury from fandom or media (outlets).

Finn just isn’t treated properly. He’s referred to as a traitor and a joke by the narrative and by fandom. His pain is glossed over or given to Kylo Ren and folks call for his death is pseudo-intellectual articles that swear he needs a redemption arc — one that ends in death in particular.

Hell, he’s vilified for neutral or even positive behaviors.

I’ve seen tons (sometimes hundreds) of people co-sign and share posts on Twitter and Tumblr that call Finn a “benevolent misogynist” for daring to hold Rey’s hand in The Force Awakens or saying that “at least Kylo Ren didn’t lie to Rey”.

Fandom treats the male lead of The Force Awakens (who should have been the male lead of The Last Jedi) more critically than they do the actual series villain. And they do it because only certain kinds of characters get to be humanized and woobified and rarely are those characters people of color –especially Black people.


While I’m not going to argue that Kylo Ren’s trauma at Luke’s moment of potential violence in his late teens/early adulthood is totally invalid in some way. I just don’t think it makes him into an abuse survivor. His valid anger at Luke’s moment of weakness doesn’t excuse ANY of his actions towards his parents or anyone else like… two wrongs don’t make a right and Kylo zooms past that on his power grab.

Kylo doesn’t just zero in on revenge against Luke for scaring him and essentially threatening to kill him. He makes a point of wanting to wipe his parents and their legacies off the galactic map because he thinks that the only way for him to move forward and gain more power, is for the past to die and stay dead.

The article from The Mary Sue, like much of fandom itself, goes above and beyond to redirect the blame for Kylo’s actions to anyone but him. The article blames Luke, turning Kylo into an abuse survivor and Luke into a monster ostensibly responsible for the state of space for almost giving into a moment of fear.

Fandom spends so much time making sure that we understand that not only is Kylo the real victim of The Last Jedi (typically because of LUKE, not SNOKE in the wake of The Last Jedi) and a survivor of childhood abuse at that, that they kind of just… make shit up in the process in order to make sure that Kylo is seen as a sympathetic character. Even though… he’s not really.

Let’s be very real here: This sort of steaming hot take is only possible because he’s a “handsome” white male villain and fandom loves a white male villain they can redeem and claim isn’t responsible for his own actions.

Straight up.

starwars-lastjedi-movie-screencaps.com-11880

Kylo would never be treated the way Finn was in this scene. Additionally, if he somehow does get a scene like this in the final film in the trilogy, fandom would use it to humanize him, not to mock him.

 

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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8 Responses to When White Villains Get Woobiefied: Kylo Ren Is Just A Monster In A Mask

  1. Pingback: When White Villains Get Woobiefied: Kylo Ren Is Just A Monster In A Mask — Stitch’s Media Mix – Geeking Out about It

  2. It’s the same for black people in real life.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kiki says:

    I agree with everything except the idea that the film supports Kylo Ren’s take on things. My memories are months old but I never thought that the flashback scenes made Kylo Ren look that much younger than he is now. And once Luke confesses to Rey it made clearer to me Ren’s obvious efforts to manipulate Rey by presenting his own self-serving sob story. What I enjoy about this trilogy is how Kylo Ren is unapologetically presented as toxic, narcissistic, and destructive without too much explanation/justification so far because…wth could justify his villainy at this point? It’s all about him and his grand destiny. I am… genuinely shocked that others manage to feel too sorry for him…? There is no clearer example of obnoxious, oblivious privilege. Yikes.

    There is no way Luke’s momentary dark impulse amounts to *abuse*. How is that an unpopular opinion?

    One of the things I truly appreciate about SW fans is the insight into Finn’s character from the novelizations. It really shows how much the films are missing. Lame 😒.

    When I rewatch TLJ I’ll keep your comments about Johnson’s framing in mind. I love to hate Ren so much it never occurred to me that I ought to see him as some abused sad sack. He killed his Dad and that’s, like, among the *least* of his crimes so far. Fandom is scary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the problem isn’t so much in the source material, as that fandom will glomp onto the smallest inch of a hint that a white male char is really not at fault for his behavior. While they refuse to do the same for female and/or characters of color.

      Like

  4. AmyCat says:

    LOVE your description of Ren as “an absolute loser villain who drips toxic masculinity when he sweats.” I also agree 100% that Finn should be getting SO MUCH MORE attention and sympathy (both on-screen and off). And I think you’ve NAILED it that this “whitewashing” (pun intended) of Kylo Toxic Ren is due to his white privelidge. The one thing where I disagree with your article is that you describe him as handsome. He *could* be handsome, and the actor appears good-looking when out of character, but “handsome” to me is negated by his pouty, whiny demeanor.

    Like

  5. Andrew Karlson says:

    Yes! Thank you for this. A sympathetic reading of Ben Ren is only possible through a generous helping of incel logic. He’s not complicated; he’s not conflicted; he’s not nuanced: he is an evil man who made terrible decisions and is complicit in literally billions of murders (everyone seems to forget that the First Order blew up five planets in TFA).

    Like

    • I think the problem there is the notion of how one death is a tragedy, while a million deaths are a statistic. There’s just too many of them, so people can’t fathom it. The problem of course is that Ren is just as excused for those we see him flat out murder onscreen.

      Like

  6. M.R. says:

    Good article, and it sums up why this fandom’s approach to abuse is disturbing.

    Like

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