Originally posted on Patreon November 10, 2020.
I used to like Kylo Ren.
I have a lunchbox I bought from Gamestop, stickers, a bunch of tees from various nerd stores, and essentially okay, I was that person who bought Kylo merch back in the early days of the sequel trilogy.
Unfortunately, his standom ruined that for me with their insistence that Kylo was just a little baby who didn’t do anything wrong and the way a large amount of the fandom sees nothing wrong with harassing people who are even mildly critical of their ship.
As a villain in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren was disconcerting and timely. He represented entitlement and toxic masculinity and his existence as the now corrupt son of Leia and Han caused us to wonder “how the hell did that even happen”.
At a time when we were seeing all of these white people driven to racism – supporting the thing currently in the White House, spreading racist propaganda, and just turning to that particular Dark Side – over “economic anxiety”, it felt important to have a villain that was not necessarily relatable but representative of the current generation.
(Friends, he is reminiscent of the school shooter stereotype and the totally not racist men marching on Charlottesville. That’s not a reach.)
I didn’t want to smooch Kylo Ren like many other fans did, but he was a villain that I loved to hate within reason – especially after he killed Han Solo.
I don’t have a Kylo Ren problem.
I have a big ass Ben Solo problem, though!
As I’ve said in the past, Ben Solo is more fictional than most fictional characters.
Prior to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, the soft and sympathetic Ben Solo was a character that was born from and thrived in the depths of the Rey/Kylo fandom. Unlike Stanakins – die hard fans of Anakin Skywalker who love him at both halves of his existence before and after embracing the Dark Side – these Ben Solo stans rewrote the menacing and unsettling villain who echoed the rise of white supremacy all around us to…
The softest boy.
A widdle baby.
Back at the start of the sequel trilogy, fans struggled to understand why Kylo Ren was evil. They couldn’t fathom that the last Skywalker – if you don’t count what Rey was clearly actually supposed to be prior to The Last Jedi – was a bad guy responsible for killing his father and for shattering his uncle’s faith in humanity. He had to have a reason. Right?
So from 2015/16 when the sequel trilogy’s fandom was in its infancy, they decided to write the explanation that they needed. Rather than recognize and embrace the fact that Kylo did just turn without any traumatic backstory needed, they gave him one.
There were “cute” comics about how everyone from Leia to Chewbacca was emotionally abusive to the little Ben Solo. Folks wrote stories about how Luke Skywalker mistreated baby boy Ben at his Jedi training camp and essentially said those students Kylo killed deserved it. And then there was the “Palpatine/Snoke made him do it” headcanon.
Am I saying that the sequel trilogy cribbed its notes from fandom? A little.
Was it a bad storyline there and a worse one in canon? Oh god yes.
Fandom from the jump decided that someone had to be responsible for Kylo’s turn to evil… and that it wasn’t going to be him. Aside from the stories where they headcanoned everyone in his life as an abuser who abandoned him until he had no other choice but to become evil, there were the stories that focused on some other presence grooming poor baby Ben until he had to become evil. This push to pass the problem on to someone else was helped by a moment in The Force Awakens where Han and Leia discuss their wayward son:
Han Solo : Listen to me, will you? I know every time you… Every time you look at me you’re reminded of him.
Leia : You think I want to forget him? I want him back.
Han Solo : There’s nothing more we could have done. There’s too much Vader in him.
Leia : That’s why I wanted him to train with Luke. I just never should have sent him away. That’s when I lost him. That’s when I lost you both.
Han Solo : We both had to deal with it in our own way. I went back to the only thing I was ever any good at.
Leia : We both did.
Han Solo : We lost our son. Forever.
Leia : No. It was Snoke. He seduced our son to the dark side. But we can still save him. Me. You.
Han Solo : If Luke couldn’t reach him, how could I?
Leia : Luke is a Jedi. You’re his father. There is still light in him, I know it.
This moment supposedly serves as confirmation that Kylo Ben could not have ever done anything wrong because he wasn’t in control of his actions. (See also Empire’s End and the novelization for The Force Awakens.)
Mind you, Kylo Ren is a character on the opposite side of thirty. We see him actively make (very bad) choices across the sequel trilogy while an adult. Whatever happened in his part? He’s had room to grow and he chose to be a little shit fixated on space fascism.
I have always liked villains and antiheroes in the media that I consume. When I was in the DC fandom, I loved playing with Batman’s gallery of rogues. I was obsessed with Harvey Dent and Poison Ivy and I was absolutely a member of the “Jason Todd Did Nothing Wrong” Squad. When it comes to Star Wars, I love Thrawn the most out of all of the villains I’ve ever come across in that franchise and have the embarrassing ass fan fiction on my laptop to prove it.
I love villains like Kylo Ren because they are disturbing, menacing, and exciting to root against if you’re into that.
However, Ben Solo is none of that. What he’s brought to the table via Rian Johnson’s revisionism and then JJ Abrams’ slapdash attempts at fixing said revisionism is… weaksauce anti-villain energy – and then, only in the latter film.
Back in 2018 when I was very big into hating Ben Solo and his annoyingly hornt fandom, I compared and contrasted the differences between Kylo Ren and fandom’s Ben Solo in “Who the heck is Ben Solo?” where I pointed out that:
Ben Solo and Kylo Ren aren’t the same character.
One’s a vaguely interesting villain with the potential to be terrifying that has, as of The Last Jedi, gone under-explored in favor of trying to canonize his woobifcation (thanks Rian!).
The other is peak white villain woobification combined with a hefty dose of fandom racism.
We’re constantly told to “let women like things” and that “women just like villains” used to shore up the opposition to folks who express even the mildest, vaguest dislike of Ben Solo.
Those two things were a repeat mantra I saw when Ashley Reese did her Snapewives article in October from the situationally illiterate (in that they stop being able to read when it’s a Black woman critical of “their” thing) Rey/Kylo shippers that descended into her mentions for at least 48 hours after her piece went live.
There were memes like “being mean to other women doesn’t make you prettier” and the insistence that Ashley was both “putting other women down for their innocent interests” and engaging in activism for writing the article. Someone talked about how not wanting Kylo to have a redemption arc was actually wrong because we should want “restorative justice” and said Ashley was basically defending the carceral system and fascism. People even tried to get her in trouble with Jezebel!
And it was all over a piece about how Ben Solo fans now seem like successors to Snapewives back then because of their aggressive desire to protect a white man from:
- His own canon
- Fans who dislike him
- Criticism at any level
And Ben Solo is not worth it.
One comment that I saw and roasted was a two part tweet response to Ashley that said:
When will the cool clickbait feminists realize it’s great to make critiques and analyze characters in intersectional contexts BUT it’s not very feminist to beat up on other women & femmes and assume they’re too subservient to analyze their own interests just bc they like villains
WE KNOW THEYRE PROBLEMATIC BABE!! Just bc we like the flavor of villains doesn’t mean we’re stupid?? I’m a pleasure activist & if I center my pleasure on characters who I believe can and should be redeemed then that’s a manifestation of how I hope our world can heal thru pleasure
Please think about that: that person has decided that an intersectional approach to fandom analysis was actually violence (using the literal language of such by saying Ashley “beat up on” women/femmes with her piece).
On top of that, there’s the insistence that her pleasure activism center Ben Solo because he is a character who “can and should be redeemed”.
These are also the same fans who insist that the reason that Ben Solo gets dunked on is because only they understand him and truly love villains. Even though these are the folks who defanged him on purpose. These are the fans who turned Kylo Ren into the widdle baby Ben Solo. They are, following Rian, the people who ruined Kylo Ren for me because he was no longer the wolf, the menace, the monster –
He became the boring blank slate fandom got to rewrite to be a good boy healed by the love of a good woman.
Think about how writer Sophy Ziss describes Kylo in “Let The Debate Begin: Is It OK To Be Attracted To Kylo Ren?” where she writes that:
If Kylo Ren existed IRL, he’d ride a motorcycle, terrify your parents, and you’d hopefully stay a galaxy away from him on account of his murdering his father in cold blood. Without Emperor Snoke pulling the strings, Kylo emerges as Star Wars’ chief villain. If it feels weird to have a big ol’ crush on The Guy Formerly Known As Jedi Knight Trainee Ben Solo, that’s probably a good thing — it should. Pop psychology suggests that people love a challenge, though, and Kylo Ren is the ultimate fixer-upper: He has a solid foundation, and you know just what to do with the rest of it.
Because that is the fantasy: getting to tame a brute and making him love you as a reward for the labor you’ve done. Ziss calling him “a fixer-upper” is apt in that aspect: that is what he is to his female fans who claim to love him as he is but then have spent the past 5 years harassing anyone that dared to point out his popularity is because he’s a gloomy villain played by a guy who’d do well as the hero in a haunting and hornt gothic romance.
But not all villain fans are made equally.
Or with the same amount of common sense.
I love villains as they are.
I love their menace. I love figuring out what makes them tick.
I even love those anti heroes that walk the line between heroes and villains because it shows how close we are to the edge.
Kylo Ren could’ve been continued the trend he started by being incredibly timely. He could’ve been a villain on par with Darth Vader or Thrawn – menacing, manipulative, and incredibly mean in a way that fans and canon didn’t try to make excuses for.
Instead, in order to bend to the whims of a hard to please fandom that wouldn’t know responsible and fun villain stanning if I wrote them a map to it, Kylo Ren became Ben Solo to please them –
And the franchise suffered for it.
That is my big Ben Solo problem.