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.
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?
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.