On the identity of Kylo Ren

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So, I watched The Force Awakens again recently; I maintain my original judgement, that it’s a fun film with great characters, but ultimately a very derivative plot. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure most of the people there were also rewatching it; there were no big laughs at any of the moments there were the first time around, so I’m assuming that was because the other people there were anticipating the jokes, rather than that they didn’t find it funny. Glad to see lots of people liked it enough to watch it twice (or thrice!), in any case.

There was, though, one sticking point for me, and that was the identity of Kylo Ren – or, more specifically, how it was revealed to us.

From this point on there will be spoilers.

Consider, if we jump back to 1980 for a moment, The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone is familiar with the twist which takes place at the end of the movie, of course – Darth Vader is Luke’s father. That’s thought to be one of the most impactful moments in cinematic history, and it’s certainly one of the most memorable; you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t know that Luke is Darth Vader’s son. (Which, I suppose, is something of a shame, because it means it’s rare that people are able to actually experience the twist. But that’s beside the point.)

Part of the reason why this is such an effective reveal is the way we come to learn the information – it’s built up as a surprise, and delivered during an already tense moment. It was foreshadowed previously; Darth Vader and the Emperor have a conversation about “the son of Skywalker”, but they never get any more specific than that.

You can see it here. (Incidentally, there’s a rather clever moment where the Emperor says to Darth Vader “Search your feelings; you know it to be true”, which is echoed later on, as Darth Vader says the same to Luke upon revealing his identity as Anakin Skywalker.)

In any case, though, what’s crucial is that the Emperor doesn’t simply say “your son”, or “the son of your former self, Anakin Skywalker”, or anything that would pre-empt the coming reveal. The exposition is built up as a dramatic moment, rather than as a piece of throw-away dialogue (which is, notably, the problem in Revenge of the Sith when we learn Palpatine is Darth Sidious).

In The Force Awakens, though, we have an almost complete reversal of this scene – rather than saving the revelation of Kylo Ren’s identity for his confrontation with Han Solo on the bridge, Supreme Leader Snoke says something along the lines of (and look seriously spoilers!) “Han Solo… your father”. This is very much not a big reveal – there’s no big gasps from the audience, there’s no shock or surprise. It’s just not structured as a reveal.

I suppose in some ways that makes sense; in The Empire Strikes Back, this information was a reveal to Luke as well. Here, all the characters know the information already – it’s not a surprise to Snoke or Kylo Ren or Han. Why, then, structure it as such? Well… for the audience. After all, if it’s not going to be structured as a reveal to us, why Kylo Ren? Why not just tell us in the lead up to the movie? Announce Adam Driver as Ben Solo, Han and Leia’s son?

Because a twist reveal is just more fun, to be honest. But what we got didn’t really function as a twist reveal.

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So, let’s structure it thus: we remove any reference to Kylo as Han and Leia’s son until the final confrontation on the bridge. Prior to this, you can just keep it vague; Han can say things like “I saw him, Leia. I saw… Kylo Ren” and Leia can respond with “I wish you wouldn’t call him that”, to which Han responds “That’s who he is now. That’s all he is now” and suchlike. We don’t reveal who he really is until Han calls him by his true name on the bridge – and, hey, that becomes a cool character moment for Han too, because it’s a more overt symbol of how he’s trying to connect with his son, in that it’s the first time we see Han acknowledge Kylo as his son.

But… if we’re going to go for a big reveal, why not push it further? Let’s see if we can top The Empire Strikes Back.

You know what I thought was kinda silly? Naming Han and Leia’s son Ben. I could buy Luke naming his son Ben, but Han and Leia were more likely to call their child Lando or Chewy – Han barely knew Obi-Wan, and didn’t exactly seem to like him, and I’m not convinced Leia had even met Obi-Wan. It was fan service that didn’t really land properly, in terms of the actual characters.

You know what they might name their child, though?

Luke.

So let’s run with that, and take a page from the book of the speculators and theorists: we’re going to have a fake out, and imply that Kylo Ren is Luke Skywalker, fallen to the dark side.

We’ll modify some of the earlier dialogue; Han can say things like “I thought I knew him” when Rey and Finn ask about Luke Skywalker. Han and Leia’s conversation would be more “To him, I was just family. But you were his best friend. You can reach him.” We’d also, I think, add in the idea that Leia doesn’t know exactly what happened to Luke, and make it seem that Han does – he can disparage the idea of looking for a map, saying that they might not like what they find, that sort of thing. Obviously Han doesn’t, but we want to preserve the eventual reveal.

Then, on the bridge, rather than calling out Ben, Han will say “Luke!”.

And everyone in the audience is shocked! They gasp! What a surprise… and how confusing it is when Kylo Ren removes his mask (it’d have to be the first time, so earlier scenes would need rewriting) and we don’t see Mark Hamill, but… Adam Driver? (Obviously, they wouldn’t have announced the casting of Adam Driver ahead of time.)

The conversation between Han and Ben Luke Solo will go similarly, but removing any outright references to how they know each other, until… this mysterious other Luke stabs Han. And as the music swells, and Han strokes Luke’s face, he says:

“I love you, son.” “I know, father.”

And then, with that callback to one of Han’s most iconic moments, we learn the true identity of Kylo Ren.

That, I think, is a lot more impactful than Andy Serkis’ throwaway exposition.

Related:

Star Wars Retrospective: Rewriting the Prequels

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Christmas Invasion

doctor who the christmas invasion review russell t davies james hawes david tennant billie piper noel clarke camille coduri penelope

Did you miss me?

So I’m not really sure if anyone noticed, but today is the tenth anniversary of The Christmas Invasion; the first Doctor Who Christmas special, as well as the first introduction of the Tenth Doctor, as played by David Tennant.

Early last year, for the ninth anniversary of series one, I reviewed each of the Christopher Eccleston episodes, as part of a Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series, celebrating and commemorating this incarnation of our favourite hero. Naturally, then, it seems appropriate to do the same with the Tenth Doctor – my Doctor. The 2006 series was the first that I really, properly engaged with as a fan, so it’s naturally pretty close to my heart. (Realising it was ten years ago is making me feel more than a little old. Doctor Who has, at this stage, been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t. That’s weird to think about.)

We’ll get to the introduction of the Doctor in a moment though; this episode is also important for kicking off the new series tradition of Christmas specials! The closest thing to a Christmas special in the classic series was, I believe, The Feast of Stephen (missing from the archives, but home to the famous “Incidentally, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home” line), so this was somewhat unprecedented – but Jane Tranter had been so impressed by series one that a Christmas special was commissioned.

And it works – of course it works. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t make sense really, when you think about it. You’ve got Russell T Davies writing, who’s always had a firm grasp on the emotional core of stories, particularly when it comes to themes of family, which is something well suited to Christmas. More to the point, though, you’ve got the very nature of Doctor Who itself – the classic juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane, the frightening and the normal, is perfectly poised to give us a properly scary Doctor Who Christmas. And that’s what we get! Murderous brass band Santas and Killer Christmas trees. It’s exactly the sort of thing that’ll resonate with the kids over Christmas

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And, just like any Christmas, we spend time with family – in this case, the characters we grew to know and become familiar with across the last season. Rose, Mickey, Jackie, and even Harriet Jones (former MP for Flydale North, currently Prime Minister, in case you didn’t know who she was!) have central roles in this episode, while we wait for the Doctor to appear.

It’s a clever thing to focus on these characters, particularly given that the Doctor has just regenerated. For one thing, it emphasises the fact that, despite the lead actor being recast, we’re still watching the same program – all these characters we’ve got to know and love are here, they exist, and they continue to play an important role. Frankly, it’s also just a lot of fun to see these characters here; I know that’s not quite how it would have been viewed ten years ago, but honestly, watching this I got really nostalgic remembering these characters. Going into the episode, part of me was expecting it to be a little hokey, and a little crap, but it wasn’t – The Christmas Invasion is a genuinely good piece of television. That’s in part because of how strongly drawn the characters are – Jackie Tyler is a gift, I tell you, a gift.

More than that, though, by focusing on these other characters we see the Doctor’s regeneration framed as a loss; it’s a concept that I don’t think was ever explored in such depth before. Billie Piper does a great job of selling how emotional Rose is at the Doctor’s regeneration, essentially treating it like she’s been abandoned, and in many ways, she has been. The Doctor – her Doctor – has left her. Christopher Eccleston isn’t there anymore. Rose, just like the audience, is having to get used to a new Doctor. It’s through her that we are able to process the change, and, indeed, are eventually able to accept it.

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The Christmas present, though, is the Doctor. Anticipation has been building for nearly forty minutes when he finally appears – yes, we’ve had teases here and there, but never a proper look. And when he does finally appear, it’s immediately a moment of triumph; the Doctor’s arrival is signified as we begin to understand the Sycorax, breaking down a boundary that the rest of our heroes had faced so far.

Right from the off, the Doctor is charming. It’s a lot of fun to see him on screen, whether it’s casually dismissing the Sycorax so he can catch up with Rose, Mickey and Harriet Jones, or destabilising everything the Sycorax had achieved so far with just the push of a button. The simple fact of the matter is that David Tennant as the Doctor is a genuinely charismatic and entertaining character – where Chris Eccleston last year was more withdrawn, making the audience approach him, David Tennant’s Doctor has been designed to be loved right from the off. (A personal favourite moment of mine is his quoting of the Lion King, actually.) It follows through all the way to the end, as the Tenth Doctor sits down for Christmas Dinner with Jackie, Rose and Mickey – something the Ninth Doctor never would have done. He doesn’t “do domestic”, as he said in Aliens of London/World War Three.

Despite this, though, there’s a ruthlessness and a steel to the Doctor; he kills the Sycorax leader (”No second chances. I’m that sort of a man.”) and deposes Harriet Jones with a mere 6 words. It’s one of the earliest hints of this Doctor’s arrogance and hubris that will ultimately prove to be his undoing – but that’s a matter for another Christmas, really, a few years from now. For now, though, it’s an interesting character trait in an incarnation of the Doctor we’re still only just getting to know; as fun and charming as he is, there’s something distinctly alien lying beneath the surface. And that’s something we shouldn’t ever forget.

In the end, then, The Christmas Invasion is a perfect introduction to the new Doctor. We’re shown him gradually, with short scenes here and there, before he eventually steps up to save the day in the final act. The Tenth Doctor proves himself to Rose, Mickey, and Harriet Jones – but more to the point, he proves himself to us.

On top of that, we’ve got an imposing threat in the Sycorax, a compelling plot with the Guinevere One Probe, strongly drawn characters with our returning cast, and, of course, a truly Doctor Who juxtaposition of the alien and the mundane to create the scariest Christmas ever.

9/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

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