anghraine: vader's pyre; text: redemption (anakin [vader's pyre])
[personal profile] anghraine
Ugh, Tumblr. My dash is wall to wall beautiful art, shipping/stanning wank, and thousands of notes a day, which is nice (well, except the wank) but also makes it easy for the blue hellbox to swallow me up again.

Anyway, a friend over there asked me for my thoughts on his redemption arc, and... I have some. 

The thing is, the possibility of redemption is raised early–very early. There wasn’t a hint of it with Vader until the film in which he actually was redeemed. While that did end up being accelerated from a more gradual arc that was planned, even so, we didn’t get a whiff of redemption until late in the game. And that’s normal. 

Of all character arc tropes, redemption is probably the most eucatastrophic: the sudden joyous turn. We often emphasize the unfamiliar eu/ἐΰς (good), but catastrophe is just as essential to it–the turn. It has to be a swerve of some kind, sudden and drastic. Redemption is not about everyone-has-flaws, a bit of self improvement, even considerable self improvement. It’s about an essential shift in being.

That is, for a redemption arc to hold any weight, the character has to be pretty damn shitty, and in almost all cases, the redemption has to beunexpected.

So, with Ben Organa, the possibility of redemption is raised very, very early. In a way, it’s raised by Ben himself, monologuing at his (redeemed) grandfather’s mask about the lure of the Light on him and begging for forgiveness for it. (Um?) It comes up again when he’s holding Rey prisoner and out of nowhere tries to comfort her (um???) with “Don’t be afraid. I feel it, too.” Then there’s his mother Leia insisting on the possibility. It’s implied that his uncle Luke also thought him redeemable. Han seems to have written him off–with pain, but nevertheless–until Leia asks him to intercede, but he comes around by the time he confronts him. Ben very evidently wavers throughout his confrontation with Han, sounding outright childlike at points, but in a swerve, rejects redemption and instead kills his father to rid himself of his inner torment over him (um???????????).

This is just straight-up catastrophe–the sudden downturn. So we’ve got the first and most obvious possibility:

1. It’s not a redemption arc; it’s an anti-redemption arc, and all the build-up of the possibility of redemption was done to subvert it. We’re not just getting a journey from well-intentioned but hesitant scavenger to full hero for Rey, we’re getting a journey from confused, temperamental turncoat to full villain for Kylo Ren. He sealed his path with patricide in a neat inversion of Luke’s refusal to do the same. 

This is very possible. It’s a strong mirror of the usual redemptive arc–rather than darkness suddenly and shockingly turning to light, the possibility is so loudly telegraphed that it’s impossible not to suspect it’s going to turn out badly. And it provides a very nice dark parallel to Rey’s.

But tbh, I find it unsatisfying. For one, the idea of sealing a path at all is antithetical to the entire ethos of SW. For another, we haven’t actually been given a reason that the “seduction of the Light” will vanish with Han’s death. In fact, we’ve kind of been given the opposite.

Kylo doesn’t disappear with his murder of Han, after all. It’s pretty clear that he himself is troubled by what he’s done. The inner torment didn’t go away at all! Losing his father at his own hand is upsetting!! Who would have guessed?

(Anyone, Ben. Literally anyone.)

At least, that’s how I read it, and at the very least what seems to have been intended:

Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act. Himself horrified. His SHOCK is broken only when–

This sounds like the exact opposite of the culmination of a villain’s arc from ambivalent and tormented to 100% hardcore evil badass. That’s what he intended to happen, but as seems usual with him, his actions only entrap him more deeply in what he feared. He feels weakened, not strengthened; horrified, not freed from his turmoil; shocked, not satisfied. 

He takes Chewie’s bolt and goes after Rey, pausing only to completely lose his shit at Finn as TRAITOR!!!!!! (It sounds personal, but it isn’t; he noticed Finn’s failure, but doesn’t seem to actually know him, and a random stormtrooper responds the same way.) He’s only more erratic and unstable after Han’s death, and with the advantage in battle offers to teach Rey. The fact that he just waits for her to decide is what gives her the time and concentration to link to the Force. 

It doesn’t make him ~not evil~. It just makes him pretty much what he was before, only more so. So if he keeps stumbling along, perpetually sabotaged by an underlying good nature, that brings us to two more possibilities, which many of us are labelling “Vader” and “Zuko.”

2. It’s complicating the now much-trodden standard redemption arc. The classic version has already been done in SW, and done well, and is probably one of the most famous examples. The possibilities of Ben’s own redemption constantly call back to Vader’s–even Han’s quasi-write-off comment, “he had too much Vader in him,” reminds us that Vader himself was redeemed. That history is unmistakably present in every word out of Leia’s mouth about Ben. So that’d be too easy and too predictable. Instead of established villain -> redemption, we’re getting a more anti-villain figure make that wrong choice so that the inevitable-seeming redemption has an actual payoff.

2a. In the “Vader” iteration, Kylo will eventually redeem himself, but at a point where he’s gone so far (hell, he might very well have already) that his only option is to give his life. Or it might not be conscious on his part, but the narrative will be constructed so he has to give his own life. In any case, Ben does end up just like his idol, if in the very last way he intended. 

2b. In the “Zuko” iteration, we’re going beyond complication. The loudly broadcasted vulnerability, emotional explosions, possibility of redemption, and desperately trying to please someone who is only using him echo Zuko far more than Vader, though Kylo Ren has gone much, much, much farther than Zuko. However, ATLA was generally more restrained than SW, and the parallels seem especially strong in the inevitable-seeming redemption that is subverted in a betrayal of the anti-villain’s actually caring father-figure. It’s even got the “I thought this would solve my problems but I just feel worse” element. In that case, it’s heading toward a comparatively early redemption–as in, not the final climax of the trilogy–that Ben might even survive.

The big question mark here is Han’s murder. It’s put him beyond the pale to a lot of people. The entire point of it being Han seems to have been exactly that. (Harrison Ford is coming back for Episode VIII, so no, they didn’t have to kill Han to get him to lower himself to one last movie.) JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy have said that they felt the movie would lack guts if they weren’t willing to sacrifice anyone significant to audiences. They wanted it to be someone people care about.

I could be completely wrong, but I think it’s also a way to counterbalance the blinking REDEMPTION ARC RIGHT HERE sign. It needs to be telegraphed for the tragic swerve, but if it’s where they’re going after all, they need something militating against the possibility in the meanwhile to keep it from being inevitable. If it is the Zuko version, the arc would ultimately be less about a villain getting redeemed, the end, and more what happens afterwards.

Nobody has to deal with Anakin Skywalker the man, who fucked up about as monumentally as a human being could for twenty years, and who was a difficult person at the best of times, and whose motivations were purely personal rather than ideological anyway. This wasn’t “I enforced an oppressive totalitarian regime and at least I can cut off the head, although it will kill me.” It was “NO, I LOVE MY SON, I LOVE HIM AND I WILL DIE SO HE DOESN’T, AND HEY PALPATINE I AM NOT YOURS FUCK YOU.” 

If he’d lived–what now? He’s still got ginormous crimes to answer for, yet he’d be incredibly useful against the Empire (but would he even fight them? is he going to be Anakin Skywalker or Vader with a morality chain?). And of course there’s the quandary of to what degree his agency was impacted by the Dark Side, and blahblah it’s a mess. Redemption with death is easier.

The thing with Zuko’s redemption was that, on the one hand, no, he didn’t have to answer for every individual crime he committed, partly because of circumstances but ultimately because Zuko as Fire Lord can do vastly more good than Zuko in jail for lighting villages on fire. Even before then, he was more valuable as an ally in the war, particularly as he was genuinely repentant and supportive. However, he still couldn’t just waltz in with an apology. They found it difficult to believe him in the first place, Katara was perfectly ready to kill him at the slightest misstep, he remained both dorky and abrasive, and he had to learn that his wrongdoing and his trauma are not connected in some cosmic balance. Zuko’s trauma is intense and extremely legitimate, but it doesn’t make shitty behaviour not shitty; dealing with what happened to him and how it shaped him, and what he in turn did to others, are both things he has to do.

So if Episode VIII or IX goes in that direction, a huge thing would be–he’s still killed Han, and a bunch of villagers, and fellow students. He’s been a major aid to the horrors of the First Order, whether personally involved or not. Instead of going out in flames of glory and everyone else washing their hands of him, he’d still be around. He’d be invaluable, in fact, in the war–but also a war criminal. What do you do with him?

Obviously, I like this possibility. I was actually slightly disappointed by Vader’s death, even though it hit me emotionally like a Mack truck, because of the implicit handwave. Part of why I like TFA so much is that there isn’t a handwave. I mean, the Empire would or wouldn’t be destroyed by Palpatine’s death, blahblah I don’t care. But Vader’s legacy does not end with his death. His crimes and his redemption continue to affect the current day. Ben even thinks that Anakin has shown him the Dark Side, which all things considered seems vastly improbable–but most things Ben thinks are vastly improbable, so.

Well, that takes us into the final possibility, which like #1, is basically taking the classic of the redeemed villain and taking it somewhere completely different.

3. Ben is brainwashed, and not in the colloquial sense. Snoke has genuinely fucked with his head to the point that he has only the smallest nodding acquaintance with reality. The scene between Han and Ben is a ~suppressive person~ trying to extract a loved one from a cult, down to “your leader is exploiting you”/ “the supreme leader is wise and good.” The entire First Order is a large, militaristic cult, and Ben is essentially their… Tom Cruise, or something. 

In this scenario, that’s why both Kylo and other stormtroopers completely lose their shit over Finn’s “betrayal,” despite not knowing him personally, and also why defection appears to be completely unprecedented. It’s why Han has never seen Ben as an adult; he was recruited at his most vulnerable, either an adolescent or a child, and kept out of contact with… let’s say, suppressive persons. This is why Ben is so childlike. His rages, set up to look like Vader’s murderous disappointment and then just temper tantrums, are not only permissible, but likely encouraged to keep him emotionally immature. It’s why he’s so bewildered at Rey’s antipathy as she sits in his torture chair and his understanding of his own grandfather so warped. It’s why his understanding of people in general, including himself, bears only the faintest resemblance to reality.

It’d also be what’s behind the bizarre framework of the Light Side seducing him. Nobody has ever framed it that way. It’s the Dark Side that’s easier, more seductive; the Light Side is what takes effort and concentration and discipline. Even Rey is tempted by the Dark Side, while the Light takes deliberate, conscious effort. The fact that someone as profoundly undisciplined as Kylo Ren continues to be drawn against his will to something that is actively difficult for most people to reach would suggest that his fundamental nature is in fact very much aligned with the Light. That’s why he’s so much more fractured and irrational than other Darksiders; they at least had some inclination, but Ben has to convince himself that this is what he wants, because… he doesn’t. 

In this version, the Light isn’t tempting him at all–that’s not what it does. It’d be his underlying personality constantly trying to assert itself because his conditioning is so contrary to who he is as a person. It’s not that he would have no choice at all, as clearly he does. But he would be functioning at a severely limited capacity.

There is a hint that his story might be headed that way in the novelization:

“So Snoke was watching our son.”
“Always,” she told him. “From the shadows, in the beginning, even before I realized what was happening, he was manipulating everything, pulling our son toward the dark side.” 

The novelization also mentions that he has a tracking device on him. It might just be fanwank for how Hux finds him in time, but if it makes its way into the films it’ll both be damn creepy and fit in very easily with the rest.

And in that case, his arc will likely involve repentance/redemption at some level, but I imagine it’d be as much about detoxing as anything else.


on 2016-01-08 08:46 am (UTC)
sathari: split iage of Rey and Kylo with the respective captions "Light" and "Dark" (Rey and Kylo- Light and Dark)
Posted by [personal profile] sathari
Wow. I want to add actual useful thoughts to this. But you have covered all the high points so completely that there is nothing useful to add. So instead, you get me wandering around in some side points.

- TOTAL side point is that I would give BODY PARTS for ALL THE REDEEMED ANAKIN LIVES FIC EVER. For, as you say, him and the galaxy having to deal with each other and with everything he's done. I wanted this like burning even before TFA. And now I want it EVEN MORE because BEN. Ben STILL IDOLIZING his grandfather TO BITS except Anakin (Vaderkin; let me tell you ALL MY HEADCANON about him ACTUALLY BALANCING THE FORCE and being able to use BOTH LIGHT AND DARK as the situation warrants and the dance of balance is HARD AS HELL but this is VADER) is there and a real person to love and look up to and respond to him, and maybe when Leia's worried about Ben turning Dark, he goes to his grandfather instead of (or maybe after a little while with) his uncle. And Anakin is a much better mentor for him, but more chill in some places and more strict in others, and maybe does teach him to use the Force in balance (oh, man, and Anakin and Luke having all the father-son friendly-family debates about the Light and Dark and balance) and Ben is just a much saner person all the way around. (Ugh, let me roll around in this universe for a while.)

2) ALL THE ZUKO ARC FOR BEN PLS. (I do not even follow ATLA but if that's fandom's name for it, I'm down.) I WANT the complications of "what do we do with General Organa's war-criminal offspring who's also potentially useful?" I WANT everyone having FEELS and Ben being woebegone and try-hard as he does. I JUST WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT. (Okay, I ALSO want ~all the Skywalker cousinsmishes~ because Rey SKYWALKER (DAMMIT) knows about feeling lonely and abandoned and unloved (look, I have headcanon that their ~worst childhood memory~ is practically a mirror image: hers is the ship blasting off and leaving her on Jakku... his is the Falcon blasting off and leaving him with Luke) and... like, that is never erasing every horrible thing that Ben did, but on the other hand she knows, and, hell, she was willing to stay on this terrible junkheap of a planet because ~family~ (and, you know, she didn't know who her family WAS, they could be slave traders or Black Sun or whatever awful thing, but she was waiting for them and she wanted to be with them even not knowing and I think she's self-aware enough to know that about herself--- her family could be awful people but they're HER awful people and as long as they come for her and love her she'll love them right back and never mind this abandonment business, either, or at least SHE THINKS SO). And she would just feel that at Ben. And possibly be all snuggly and determinedly smishy with him, which would secretly delight him even if he'd make token protests before settling into being her human stuffed Wookiee, in the best tradition of Skywalker family quasi-incest snuggles. Because both of them are touchstarved on top of everything else.

3) OH FORCE THE BRAINWASHING IDEA. I... would like it in any universe but this one, honestly, and for a reason I think you will appreciate: I feel like it kind of undermines this being ALL ABOUT THE SKYWALKERS. Though it does seem that canon is giving Snoke more credit/blame than I want; I could handwave Leia's line about "It was Snoke" being her still not being fully up to dealing with how it was ~insert various family stuff of choice here, I just finished writing 20k of my headcanon about this so I have definite ideas but YMMV~, but apparently the novelization (which I haven't gotten round to reading yet, too busy letting a wee Ben Solo Organa angst his little emowoobie heart out at me over the keyboard) has Snoke having been going after Ben since, like, birth, so, yeah. (And Leia shielding him. Which is ALL MY HEADCANON about how Leia's natural/instinctive Force shields are THE STRONGEST in the history of EVER, and that's how she was right there under the emperor and Vader's noses all that time and Vader never even blinked.)

Also, AGREE COMPLETELY with "Ben has to convince himself that this is what he wants, because he doesn't". My headcanon is less "brainwashing" and more "screwed up kid with a weird talent--- Force telepathy--- that a) is kind of screwing him up in itself and b) nobody else in his family shares or knows what to do with and who is desperate for validation and approval and Snoke carefully doles out dribs and drabs of that in just-sufficient measure that he stays clinging on for the next scrap". Which arguably is in fact a lesser version of hardcore brainwashing. (And also that those rages, especially the first one, are him TRYING SO HARD to feel the ~proper amount~ of ~Dark Side rage~, and not really being there with it--- I LOVE watching Adam Driver just CHANGE EVERY LINE OF HIS BODY LANGUAGE IN AN INSTANT, where he's going from this showy forced tantrum and then the officer mentions "a girl" and suddenly he's THERE, there is SERIOUS EMOTION in every line of him as he Force-grabs the guy. He's gone from phony try-hard to VERY VERY REAL in a heartbeat and it's AMAZING.)

Okay, I think I have tangented at you enough, lol. OH! But you are also making me VERY GLAD not to be on Tumblr, just sayin'.

on 2016-01-19 09:28 am (UTC)
sathari: split iage of Rey and Kylo with the respective captions "Light" and "Dark" (Rey and Kylo- Light and Dark)
Posted by [personal profile] sathari
- The "deliberate" thing comes from watching his body language--- I was really weirded out the first time by how... precise and methodical... he was during the first rage, especially in the way he ignites the lightsaber; it felt like he was forcing himself, rather than like an irresistible impulse. Now, some of that could be Doyleist rather than Watsonian, something to do with how the special effects work to make lightsabers happen, maybe? Or else it could've been an attempt at showing that he's kind of dissociative during his rage? (The line from the movie Anatomy of a Murder describing a character apparently in the grip of an irresistible impulse/dissociate reaction is "like a mailman delivering the mail" comes to mind though that movie is like a half-century old, and I haven't looked up anything more recent on the subject.) But his body language is so oddly contained in that scene for someone supposed to be losing his shit (and I refuse to call it bad acting from a Julliard-trained Broadway actor--- who is also a former Marine and should know something about how his body moves, lol--- nor bad direction given that Abrams seems to have been pretty damn clear everywhere else). And especially the mood whiplash from that very... precise or constrained body language to the much more... uninhibited/impulsive feeling reaction to "the girl" just kind of... lights up for me, like it was huge.

-IMO his fundamental character is kind and relatively mild (more Padmé than Anakin/Luke/Leia) and what he's driving himself to not only do but be as Kylo Ren is so utterly antithetical to who he is that he's cracking under the psychological strain.

I am SO RIGHT THERE WITH YOU on his fundamental personality, so much. And the strain that he's under.

And I think you are overall right that they may well be going for the cult approach to Ben/Kylo!

But I also don't really want to think of Han, Luke, and Leia as failed parental figures...

I think that is exactly where we differ on our interest in Snoke's involvement! Because I am like INSANELY excited about a storyline that is, "Yes, these people are awesome--- but that does not make them awesome parents or teachers because parenting and teaching are their own separate skillsets that not everyone has". Like, they all three love Ben and want what's best for him and try to do it, but they don't actually know what to do with and for him? (Ahem. I might have really strong feelings on the subject of "parenting is a skillset and a set of dispositions and not all people everywhere have those ones, much less have those ones come naturally for the particular kid they get" and also, "No, not everyone who is good at a thing is good at teaching the thing, teaching is also a separate skillset, that's why 'education' as a field is a thing that exists", and I would cry happy about having that all up in my Star Wars trilogy, in the same way that I can cry happy about how the PT is the story of the importance of successfully identifying AND TEACHING gifted kids from backgrounds that don't fit the dominant culture's expectations, lol.) So having it be largely Snoke's fault just feels like a cop-out from this amazing-to-me story about how these glorious legendary (in their world and ours) figures are nonetheless not actually good at parenting/teaching this particular kid, even though they love him dearly and want what's best for him not least because of a lot of the things that made them awesomely legendary in other areas. (E.g.: Luke! Picked up Jedi skills like that *fingersnap*! He doesn't know how to teach people for whom it doesn't come naturally!) Whereas for someone who doesn't want to see that, Snoke's involvement is naturally a lot more interesting? IDK if that makes sense.

(I could blather about my headcanon on the specifics of the mismatch between Ben and his talents/disposition and all three of his parent/mentor figures, but. Headcanon, possibly digression, etc.)

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anghraine: from the 2005 p&p: darcy standing at a piano while georgiana plays it (Default)
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