Ren Dead Redemption

by Aslam R Choudhury


[This post will have spoilers for Star Wars Episodes 1 through 8.  So if you haven’t seen them, what are you waiting for?  A New Hope came out like 40 years ago.  Also for Murder on the Orient Express, again, a very old property that’s been made into multiple movies, with varying levels of success.  Oh, and Avengers: Endgame, too.]

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Okay, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and figure I’m not going to curry much favor with the Reylos (those who ship Kylo Ren and Rey) and Bendemptionists (from what I gather, those who are rooting for a redemption for Kylo Ren such that he reclaims his identity of Ben Solo).  I’m neither of those, for the record.

I’ll go on record saying that I hate Kylo Ren.  I don’t mean I hate the character, because I think he is an excellent character.  And I definitely don’t have anything against Adam Driver, because I think he’s a great actor.  From his small role in Lincoln to his turn in the surprisingly delightful Logan Lucky, to his fantastic performance in BlacKkKlansman, Adam Driver has proven time and again that he’s a great talent.  If anything, the strength of my hate for Kylo Ren is a testament to how good of an actor Adam Driver really is.  If you haven’t noticed, this is a post about Star Wars.  

Time to get the controversies out of the way.  

  1. I love Star Wars.

  2. I love The Last Jedi. It is my favorite Star Wars movie.

  3. I think Kylo Ren is an excellent villain; even better than Darth Vader.

  4. An excellent villain I’d like to see die, violently.

Now, I know not all of that is going to be controversial.  Probably (2) and (4), and probably (3) also, come to think of it; but I can live with that.  I think to really understand my stance on Kylo Ren, I think we need to talk about the sins of the father.  Or, really, the grandfather.  I’ll get to the father at some point in the future, but let’s start with Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader.

A brief overview of Anakin Skywalker’s life: slave on Tatooine freed by the Jedi, in order to become a Jedi, who then goes on to become the worst Jedi in the history of the Jedi, slaughtering children, aiding in genocide, working robot-hand-in-hand with their greatest enemy, got basically all his limbs cut off by his best friend and then was set on fire (arrogance, man; Obi-Wan said he had the high ground), switched sides to the Sith, acted as the enforcement arm for Palpatine, force-choked a bunch of dudes, then had the Empire he helped build get dismantled by his son he never knew he had (who was about to join the Imperial Academy, were it not for his failure to secure the Death Star plans—shout out to the crew of Rogue One), only to have the equivalent of a quickie deathbed change of heart when he’s “redeemed” by not killing Luke.  Let’s put that into perspective.  Instead of standing by and watching Palpatine force lightning Luke to death, he picks him up and throws him off an oh-so-popular-architecturally precarious walkway.  So, yes, he saves Luke’s life, but let’s not get him the Father of the Year mug just yet.  Not standing idly by while your son is murdered by your boss right in front of you is kind of the bare minimum of fatherhood.  

But that was it.  He takes the iconic helmet off to look at Luke with clear eyes for the first time and then he buys the moisture farm.  That was all it took for him to be redeemed.  He got a Force ghost and everything.  So using that framework, redemption seems pretty easy in the Star Wars universe.  Just do the least possible to not be the worst dad in the history of time, and boom, redeemed for all eternity, force haunting stuff with your best friend, a tiny adorable green monster, and the guy from Taken.  Like, they could be haunting a Scooby-Doo-style construction site, ski resort, or old hotel, moving people’s stuff when they don’t expect it and having a grand old time.  And for once, it wouldn’t be the caretaker.  I don’t know how many old hotels there are in the Star Wars universe, but there you have it.  

So it should be pretty easy for Ren to be redeemed.  It’s a very low bar based on precedent.  Seriously, it’s so little that basically anyone can be redeemed for basically anything in the Star Wars universe.  But, let’s not forget the key component to Darth Vader’s redemption: his death.  

Let’s talk about another young fellow who had a redemption run in Star Wars—local boy Bodhi Rook (well, local if you’re from Jedha) of Rogue One.  The oft-ignored Bodhi was a cargo pilot because (according to Wookieepedia) he couldn’t hack it as a combat pilot.  So his job was to ferry stuff from one place to another.  As far as I can tell, he wasn’t even a troop transport pilot.  He just flew stuff.  And still, he was urged to make things right by Galen Erso.  He had to find a way to redeem himself for his involvement with the Empire.  Let’s do a quick rundown of Bodhi’s redemption:

    • Smuggled Galen Erso’s critical message to Saw Gerrera

    • Was tortured by Bor Gullet

    • Survived the destruction of his hometown by the Death Star

    • Piloted Rogue One in the mission that quite literally saved the Rebellion after it decided to disband.

    • Opened up the communications channels so Jyn and Cassian could transmit the Death Star plans from Scarif to the Rebellion.

    • Was blown up for his heroism.

So here’s Bodhi—a guy who has done little more than ferry materiel from place to place.  He’s basically a 9 to 5er in uniform and had very little to do with actual military operations.  But he still went through all that, being a main member of essentially a black ops team that saved the Rebellion.  Not just a passive actor; he saved countless lives by his critical operations.  If he doesn’t open up the comms line, the shield gate over Scarif never gets destroyed, the plans can’t be transmitted from the ground, and the Death Star reigns over the galaxy as an uncontested juggernaut that rules everyone with planet destroying power.  

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Contrast that with Vader not letting Palpatine kill Luke and the atrocities he was a part of, which I’ve outlined already.  So the bar for redemption can seem quite high if you look at Bodhi.  But both have one thing in common: the death of the redeemed.  One undeservedly touching ending between father and son and one undeservedly violent and lonely obliteration.  

Kylo Ren isn’t as bad as Darth Vader, at least not that we’ve seen.  Nor do I think it’s possible for him to become the hero that Bodhi became; I mean, he’s basically the leader of the First Order at this time, with only the weak and sniveling Hux as possible usurper.  He’s no underdog and I don’t think overdog makes for a good story (no one would watch Rudy if it were about the biggest, strongest, and fastest guy who, of course, performed the best and was a guaranteed starter).  But I still think he needs to die; not just to satisfy my bloodlust, but diegetically as well.  What the manner of his death should be seems like it should be somewhere in between, based on the inverse badness/violence scale illustrated by the Vader/Bodhi scale.  

Oh, but wait.  What about love?  Love is all the rage these days, what with the Beatles and Lin-Manuel’s speech and all that.  Even Wu-Tang had a recent song about the importance of love (“People Say”, a single from 2017).  So why can’t Kylo Ren be redeemed by his love for Rey, who would of course love him back?  Rey can be his redeemer, Ben Solo the redeemed, and they can start a travel agency together or something?  Because that would be terrible.  Ren’s relationship with Rey so far has been one of manipulation, violence, and torture.  Literal torture.  I don’t know about you, but “is a good torturer” isn’t something I look for in someone’s Hinge profile.  But hey, 50 Shades was really popular, so I don’t know.  

Generally, I’m a live and let ship kind of guy.  It’s completely natural for people to want to see characters they love get together and find happiness.  But this ship is a bit different.  The Reylo ship is at its best unhealthy and at its worst kind of sick.  Kylo Ren is not a nice guy.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so.  “[Ren’s] frequent violent outbursts are unpredictable and especially deadly…[a]ny person in a relationship with Kylo could be at risk of becoming a victim of domestic violence…Kylo has abuser written all over him” (Link).  We don’t really know all the causes of Ren’s anger.  He was clearly conflicted going into Luke’s New Jedi Academy, which is what made him so easily corruptible, and Luke’s fleeting moment of weakness was the proverbial straw.  But that can’t be it.  Luke is gone now and Ren has all the power.  But he still seems pretty mad.  

Ren’s own words to Rey were pretty rough.  Even if it turns out his revelation about her parentage was true (which I sincerely hope it is, because to backpedal on that would be really bad for the story, which I should probably outline in a standalone post), his insistence that Rey “is nothing” to anyone but him isn’t romantic.  Those are the words of an abuser who wants the object of his abuse to feel reliant on him.  And, let’s be honest here.  Rey is awesome.  I’m not just talking about her power in the Force, or her snazzy outfits, inventive hairstyles, or skills with a staff, I’m talking about who she is as a person.  She’s a bright and wonderful character, one who values loyalty and positivity, and who is a natural born hero (all the more reason it’s important to me that she not be a part of some genetic hegemony, but rather that she be the child of so-called nobodies) and she deserves better than to simply be the prize Ren wins by being a less shitty person.  

I could talk more in depth about the Reylo ship, but instead I will just point you to an article on The Mary Sue about why the ship is such a bad one, because how bad that ship is isn’t really the main purpose of my writing today (Link).  Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be able to ship Kylo Ren and Rey, but if you do, I hope you look at the arguments against it. 

Okay, so now that I've gotten the Reylo issue out of the way, let’s talk about how I want Ren to die.  My ideal death for Kylo Ren would be, with him standing amongst the wreckage of the now-defeated First Order, when Rey, Poe, Finn, Rose, Connix, BB-8, and anyone else around from the Resistance each gets a stab or shot in, Murder on the Orient Express style, before Rey finally comes back around and stabs him through the heart with her lightsaber.  Okay, that’s pretty grim and gruesome and not really in keeping with the mood of Star Wars, and I don’t see like a half hour sequence of that happening right at the end of the movie to really be an example of compelling visual storytelling, so it’s probably not going to happen.  But I definitely want Rey to be the one who strikes the killing blow (though I love Poe Dameron and think he’s the coolest, partly because I think Oscar Isaac is one of the top talents of a generation, it wouldn’t feel right for anyone but Rey to introduce finality into the saga).  And having Rey kill Ren, her equal on the opposite of the Force, she will finally fulfill the prophecy that started this epic nine movie (plus two movies, plus more movies to come, plus three or four cartoon series, plus more live action series) saga.

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There is a middle ground.  As we’ve established, death often comes with redemption.  So let’s find a death for Kylo Ren that will be satisfying for even the Bendemptionists.  I call this the Ren Dead Redemption.  

Let’s say Ren gets his redeeming moment.  He’s done something to make up for his past actions.  Cool.  I don’t know what it’ll be; maybe he ties Hux’s shoelaces together and makes him trip the next time he gives a huge speech to all his Stormtroopers and they all laugh at him.  But he’s still got to die somehow.  And I still want Rey to be the one who does it.  

Here, I’m reminded of the Legend of Toshin, a samurai.  Of course, I should preface this by saying that the Legend of Toshin is most likely not a real Japanese legend, but rather a fabrication by the writers of legendary 80s TV show Miami Vice.  In the episode titled “Bushido”, Lt. Castillo is confronted by his old friend and CIA buddy, and is forced to kill him and then protect his family.  While with his dead friend’s young son, he tells him the tale of Toshin, a samurai who was the best swordsman in his clan.  He was so good that the shogun became jealous of him and ordered him to kill everyone in a small village to prove his loyalty.  Toshin refused, as doing so would destroy his honor, and he is then made into a ronin, an outcast from his clan.  The shogun orders Toshin killed, sending assassin after assassin.  Of course, each assassin ends up dead.  Toshin, however, knew that his day would come; that eventually he would be bested and he would fall, and until that day, his family would be in danger.  Eventually, Toshin’s best friend was the one tasked to kill him.  They face off and Toshin is faster.  But when it comes to it, Toshin’s strike just touched his friend’s neck and before his friend could stop himself, he struck down Toshin; killing his friend and breaking his heart forever.  However, Toshin’s death was an honorable one and it ensured his family’s safety.  

Beautiful, right?  Really haunting and tragic and a great tale of honor.  It’s a story I’ve really come to love.  Before writing this, I ran it by Japanese historian Dr. Nyri A Bakkalian (whom you can follow on Twitter @riversidewings) and she confirmed that it’s all but certain that the story was made up by Miami Vice’s writers, but it’s still an awesome story.  And I think we can use it as a basis to end Kylo Ren in a way that allows him to be redeemed and still die violently.  All we need is some sort of scenario where he and Rey are facing off while he perhaps needs to stall her for his redemption plan to cement into place.  Maybe he needs to get her to leave because he’s going to self destruct a base or ship or something that they’re on.  And when she refuses, they engage in a duel.  At some point, Ren can get the upper hand, but pull back, allowing Rey to kill him, striking him down, but then realizing what he was up to.  Then, as he lays dying, the two can share a tender (but non-romantic) moment where they commiserate over the loss of Han Solo (and possibly Leia: I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that.  But Rest in Peace, Carrie Fisher) and he can show remorse for causing that loss and for everything else he’s done.  Rey can then retreat to safety, with the knowledge that she did indeed find the good in him, helped him to quell his anger, and that she restored balance to the Force.  

I think this could be the perfect ending for Kylo Ren.  He gets to find redemption and he dies for his actions.  It’s not a wantonly violent death, like I was hoping for, but it’s still a violent death, so I’m satisfied, and I think it fits the story and the mood of Star Wars.  I do also think that this is a reasonably plausible ending for Kylo Ren and one that will be satisfying.  In my last post, I talked about Tony Stark’s sacrifice before I went to go see Endgame, and while it wasn’t exactly predicting the lotto numbers, I was still right about that.  And I’m hoping I’m right about this too.  I’m generally not for placating audiences—the stories should go where the stories should go (part of why I am such a huge fan of The Last Jedi; it spoke to some truths about the Jedi that people are quick to forget because they want to look at the Jedi as superheroes and not as a deeply flawed religious order that needed to be reformed, didn’t reform, and then was nearly wiped out because its policies drove some vulnerable people towards undue influence)—but I don't think this ending is fan service.  Rather, I think it’s a fitting end to the sequel trilogy’s Kylo Ren storyline.  A redemption, but with great sacrifice.  

So, if you’ve read this far, how are you feeling?  Do you want to yell at me?  Do you want to tell me how wrong I am?  How right I am?  How this would be the perfect or worst ending for Kylo Ren?  Well, you can!  Find me on Twitter at either @aslamchoudhury or @StudyRoomPod and tell me what you think.  


No Story Ever Ends

by Aslam Choudhury


(Contains spoilers for Game of Thrones through A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and Star Wars through The Force Awakens, but no Avengers: Endgame spoilers)

Death has been on a lot of minds lately.  How can it not be?  Eras are ending all around us.  Game of Thrones will be halfway through its final season after a two year wait and Avengers: Endgame has opened this weekend.  And A.P. Bio probably won’t get a third season (thank goodness Lodge 49 is coming back).  At this moment, writing this, I don’t know who lives or dies in either, but by the time you read this, you might.  I wanted to get this down now, before I could possibly spoil anything for anyone.  

Why is death the only outcome we find ourselves obsessed over?  Sure, it’s normal, at this point, to harbor fantasies of Tyrion Lannister popping out of a cake or something to strangle Cersei as has been prophesied, but why is there so much gleeful talk about what characters, which heroes, which characters we love will bite the bullet?  Part of it may be a coping mechanism—we’ve had years with these characters, over a decade with some of the MCU heroes—and discussing how they might meet their end may be the only way to deal with the fact that they will.  But it makes me wonder about the cyclical nature of the storyteller and the audience.  Are storytellers death-obsessed, or is it us?  Do we feed off each other?  Are there other satisfying ways to end stories?  I’m not talking about “happily ever after” kid stuff.  But why would I ever root for my favorite characters to die?  I want to banish the thought.  Part of me doesn’t even want to see Endgame because of what might happen.  

Sure, Game of Thrones, for example, built its rep on subverting expectations.  No one watching that in the middle of season 3, episode 8 had a bad feeling about Robb Stark’s chances going into season 3, episode 9.  That is, until episode 9 actually rolled into town and you couldn’t shake the feeling of a vice grip on your heart until the end of the episode when vice tightened until it could go no further.  The Game of Thrones universe is one of special violence, of course, so something like the Red Wedding was bound to happen.  And, really, when you look at where it happens in the story, it’s setup for where the story goes from there.  And it’s gotten us to where we are now; staring down the barrel of the Night King’s army, dragon and all.  But why would I want to agonize over how I think Davos, Tormund, or Brienne will die?  Why would I not want Tormund and Brienne to get together and open a bed and breakfast together with Hot Pie as head chef?  Do I think that’s likely to happen?  No, of course not.  But I would totally watch that show.  (And if you don’t know me well, this is my go to wish for all my character pairings—they open a bed and breakfast together and possibly solve mysteries on the side, Scooby-Doo style.  We’ll come back to this when I discuss Rogue One.)

I know a lot of things can result in a character’s death, including contract disputes, contracts ending, or getting a DUI while filming on location.  But while death is an inevitability for us, and perhaps for all characters who live in a world as rich and with the longevity as Marvel or Star Wars, do we really need to be there for it?  Does it need to be when a character “fulfills” his or her purpose?  Okay, we’ve come to terms with the idea that Theon Greyjoy is going to pay the ultimate iron price for a seat in the sky when protecting Bran from the Night King, because his faults, his betrayals, and his redemption demand death.  After turning on the Starks and burning two farmboys, I don’t think anyone will shed a tear if the Night King’s army shreds him.  But do I want to see Tony Stark, Captain America, or Hawkeye fall?  Absolutely not.  I want them to open a B&B and solve mysteries.  Okay, maybe not those three.  Tony can’t play nice with anyone; that B&B wouldn’t be standing by the end of the first week.  But my point is that their story isn’t finished when they’ve done something heroic—doing something heroic isn’t the purpose of a hero, and certainly not the type of heroes we’re talking about here.  A hero’s purpose is to inspire us to be more heroic in our own lives.  And that is an ongoing battle—a purpose that can never truly be fulfilled.  

You might say that no matter how these characters find themselves at the end, that the lessons we learned along the way will never leave us.  But I’m not so sure.  Just as at the end of every Rage Against the Machine concert, everyone walks out a revolutionary, every time I watch Winter Soldier and Civil War, I’m reminded of what matters.  Loyalty, friendship, integrity, standing when you know you should stand, even if others are telling you to bend, trusting in yourself, trusting that you’re not the only one who wants to do the right thing.  Maybe I’m too sensitive—but if I lose some of my favorite characters, it makes it harder to go back and watch those movies and be reminded of those lessons.  Yes, it’s all fiction, I know.  Yes, these characters were never truly alive and therefore can never truly die.  But the MCU started when I was in college.  These movies weren’t part of my childhood, they were part of my truly formative years—when I was becoming an adult, when I was traversing crossroads, when I was making big life decisions—and as a result, they are part of me.  Chris Evans’ Captain America is part of me.  And if he were to die on screen, in front of my eyes, how could I not also have a part of me die with him?  But if he stands, heroically against impossible odds, and, with the aid of his friends and found family, walks away victorious, isn’t the message that no evil, no villain, and no wrong is too strong to overcome?  That if we stand with each other and for each other, that we are always unconquerable?  Isn’t important to know that?  

Because, make no mistake, the odds we face are impossible.  Each day, the news is always bad news.  We see hunger, murder, rape, harassment, bullying, the erosion of the rule of law, the erosion of basic human dignity, and other atrocities on a daily basis.  It’s so much and the mountain is so high that it begins to make sense that we shouldn’t even bother to try to climb it.  We shouldn’t intervene.  We shouldn’t say something.  It’s not my problem.  I’m too small to do anything about it.  Even if I wanted to, I’m too powerless to stop it.  I’m guilty of it too, I admit; I’m no hero and I stand on no boxes that once contained soap.  But I want to be better.  And whether it’s childish to look to fictional heroes for the courage to try to do so, for better or worse, it’s what I’ve got.  Real heroes exist, of course; firefighters, soldiers, teachers, nurses, doctors, and many others, too many to name.  But these ones—dreamt up by men and women years ago—they’re the ones that can speak to all of us at once.  

Of course, death is part of the story.  There has to be real stakes to invest us as the audience, otherwise everything just ends up Agents of SHIELD, and no one wants that.  That show is terrible.  And death is a natural part of life, so it makes sense to be a part of the stories we tell.  But to this day, I still can’t watch The Rains of Castamere again.  I’ve seen it once, when it originally aired, and I haven’t been able to do it again.  I don’t want that to happen to the movies for heroes I cherish so dearly; movies that don’t just entertain, but inform the soul and help shape who we are.  If I can’t go back to these movies over and over, if I stop being reminded that the good it takes to conquer the bad that exists is worth the effort, won’t I start to forget those lessons?

There can be so-called good death.  Death that is important to the story and important to the characters.  Let’s take Han Solo, for example.  His death, while it tore my heart asunder, didn’t take anything away from me because it was the ultimate act of a father who showed actual, real unconditional love for his son, no matter what he’d become.  When Han’s final act was to touch the cheek of Kylo Ren as he murdered him, an act of love, I knew that Han’s death would stay with me forever, but in a good way.  He is the smuggler.  He is the general.  He is the failure.  He is the father.  He is all those things at once, in life and in death.  But it’s not easy to write a death like that.  I’m not going to pretend that I won’t always get teary-eyed when I see it happen, or when I think about, but there’s a peacefulness to it.  That kind of peace is hard to find, in worlds real and imagined.  And, if I’m completely honest, Tony’s story does seem to be mounting towards a beautiful sacrifice, much like Han’s, and if it comes to that, I think I’ll be able to live with it.  But, damn, will it be hard to see.  

So, I’m not saying that no character I love should ever die.  Just that they shouldn’t die only for the spectacle of their death.  And I know this has mostly been about Captain America, but he’s not the only one.  He’s just the one I love most.  He’s the one who inspires me most.  I truly, truly hope that when I go see Endgame tomorrow, I get to see Cap, Black Widow, and the other heroes I love ride off into the sunset.  Even if we don’t get any more movies with them, just knowing they’re out there, righting wrongs in the periphery will make me feel better. 

I just think that this real world is a better place with our fictional Captain America in it.  I am now, have always been, and will always be, Team Cap.  I get it; as Marvin Gaye told us, “there’s only three things for sure; taxes, death, and trouble”.  But when the man who stood a weakling in an alley getting his ass beat and as Captain America taking a beating from Iron Man says “I can do this all day”, I’m with him till the end of the line.  

If you’ve gotten this far, it’s only fair I do some housekeeping.  The Study Room Podcast is currently aiming for a mid-August first episode, but until then, Adam and I will be hoping to intermittently put up blog posts, like this one, for you to enjoy.  Catch us on Twitter as @aslamchoudhury, @afm144, and @StudyRoomPod for more musings, news, and entertainment.  

-ARC


We are now The Study Room

by Aslam R Choudhury


More to come! Over the last few years, cars have gotten full with technology and worse to drive, but media has changed drastically for the better! It’s gotten over the hump of being too reliant on CGI and now uses it to enhance storytelling instead of trying to replace it. Remember, there was a time that Captain America: Winter Soldier didn’t exist yet, and that world has been rightfully dispatched. Also, The Last Jedi was amazing.

And we’re a we now. I’d like to welcome Adam Marthens as a contributor and co-host to our upcoming podcast!

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