Thursday, December 31, 2015

Experiencing Star Wars' Big Moment as a Dad


Like many fellow Star Wars nerds out there, my wife and I saw the new movie the first weekend it was out. I'm a lifelong fan of the series, my wife is a newer recruit, but we were both equally excited about seeing it in theaters. We had some drinks, ate some food, and sat in for what would be an awesome re-invigoration of the series that has had a couple troubled (to put it lightly) movies in the past. To put it bluntly, I loved everything about the movie. Sure, it played it a little close to the chest with it's similarities to the original trilogy, but let's be honest, wouldn't you after the debacle that was the prequels? Judging by initial reactions, it looks like JJ's gamble paid off and fans everywhere are loving the movie. This post isn't about the movie as a whole, it's more about two characters, a father and a son and their fateful encounter on Starkiller Base. (THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING...SPOILERS AHEAD)

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we learn that Han and Leia continued their relationship after the events of Episode VI and eventually had a child they named Ben. Ben, like his grandfather before him, was force sensitive and from a young age showed signs of the dark side. In an attempt to nip this in the bud, Ben was sent to Luke's school for Jedi where Ben promptly brought it to it's knees and left with a badass helmet and a new name, Kylo Ren. Not much is known of the events that led to this destruction, but we can assume based on the movie itself that Kylo has an obsession with his grandfather, Darth Vader, and he had an outside force pressuring him to embrace the dark side, the enigmatic Snoke. Events transpire in the movie in a way that results in Han, Chewy, and Finn going to look for Rey on the huge Starkiller Base which culminates in a confrontation with the dreaded Kylo Ren.

Up to this point in the movie, we knew Kylo was a troubled character. His furious outbursts show he doesn't have control of his anger like a good little Sith should, and he is dealing with light side emotions for his family, most notably, his father. Snoke even calls this affection out at one point and Ben has to defend himself saying he means nothing to him. So, when Kylo Ren storms onto the scene and Han sees his son for the first time in a long time, he calls out to his son in the hopes that he can bring him back to his mother and turn Kylo Ren back into Ben Solo. Most people knew the second Han shouted out to his son what was going to transpire, but we were left to watch in disbelief as a father confronted his son, and the events that followed.

The conversation itself and the subsequent moments are the single most important moments in the movie for me. Han Solo, the scoundrel, at some point became Han Solo, the father. As any father knows, regardless of your past, when you bear witness to your child coming into the world, you are forever changed. That child will forever hold a piece of your heart and the love will only grow. In Han's case, him and Leia separated after their son fully went to the dark side which means it affected them both tremendously. Leia returned to what she did best (being a leader) and Han returned to what he knows best (smuggling.) This was a coping mechanism to deal with the pain of losing their son to something they would possibly consider worse than death. Their son turned into a monster who massacred at will and was forever just out of their reach. With that in mind, it makes sense that when Han shouts to his son on the gangplank of Starkiller Base, you can hear the frustration, disappointment, but hints of love and desperation in that yell. The next moments would not only define the movie for me, but reassure me that Han Solo was the best character in all of the movies.

Han meets his son and as they talk, you can hear the pain in both of their voices. Han asks his son to remove his mask and he complies and the conversation that takes place isn't one of enemies, but of family. Kylo Ren doesn't exist anymore as Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo speaks to his father, someone he obviously has love for and they discuss the huge burden Ben has had to live with. Ben knows he struggles with the light and dark side of the force and tells Han he needs help with a huge burden that he doesn't know if he can handle. As a loving father would, Han tells his son that he would do anything to help him. It's unclear whether Han knew what would transpire next. There was a sense of finality as Han walked out onto that gangplank and we, as moviegoers, knew he wasn't coming back. Within seconds the conversation was over, and Ben Solo cemented his transformation into Kylo Ren by igniting his lightsaber as it pierced Han's heart and sent the gritty hero falling to his death. Han Solo was dead, but not before he shared one last loving embrace with his child. His child, who just pierced his heart both literally and figuratively, he still had love for. He still saw the beautiful child he raised in that horrible monster that stood in front of him, and he shared one final loving embrace, a caress of the cheek, before he fell to his death. Han Solo was dead, and Kylo Ren was reborn.

Watching this scene was brutal enough since Han is easily my favorite character of the series. In a world of Force users, Han was a scoundrel who played by his own rules and always had an out. He was the man girls wanted to be with and guys wanted to be. Seeing him as a father with a love so deep for his child that he would put himself in harms way to try and bring him back from the dark side just shows how wonderful of a person he was. Han didn't risk his neck for just anyone, but in the end, he risked it all for his son. I didn't fully feel the effects of this until I was thinking on the movie the day after seeing it. That moment stuck with me as I interacted with my son the next day. I wondered to myself if Han Solo, in his fantasy Star Wars world, watched his son play as a child with parental love just as I was with mine. Was this going through his mind when he embraced Ben for the last time before his death? Was his mind focused on the good times he spent with his child when he embraced death? Possibly, but for me, that's the story I'm going with.

This picture ruined me for a couple minutes
There are countless rumors out there about Kylo's future. The most prominent is what you probably took from the movie itself - Kylo Ren needed to stamp out his light side emotions, and they fully rested on his love for his family and his father. By killing his father, in his eyes, he stamped out the one thing that was keeping him from fully embracing the dark side. I'm going with this theory because it's the most obvious and until I see otherwise, it's the clear path they are taking. I envision Kylo Ren will continue to struggle with his emotions, now more than ever, and the outcome he envisioned won't be as clear cut as he initially thought. Snoke knows what Kylo Ren did to his father and that is the last piece in his master plan of building up Ren into his apprentice. We don't know who Snoke is, but popular theory is that he is Darth Plagueis (Palpatine's Master) and if there is one thing we know about Plagueis, it's that he had the ability to "cheat death" meaning that Palpatine's murder of his master may not have been final. That's a theory for another time though. The other theory about Kylo Ren is that he is working to take down the First Order from within and he is actually a good guy. It's a little hard to envision this at first, but when you look at their scene again but with this in mind, I can see where it came from. Instead of wanting to kill his father because he wants to become closer to the darkside, he has to kill his father to trick Snoke into finishing his training and eventually taking down the First Order. This makes Han's sacrifice that much more intense since it would prove he knew he was telling his son to kill him. It's a little far fetched and other scenes in the movie don't really play into this, but it's worth mentioning, namely because we have no idea where the heck this story is going. I would love for this second theory to play out as it would be one hell of a plot twist in the future.

I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I thought it was a brilliant return to form for the series after some bumps along the road. Han and Kylo Ren stole the show for me, but the rest of the movie was fantastic in it's own right. I'll be waiting for the sequels to hit so that I can see, like everyone else, where the story will head from here. While most people will be looking to Rey and her possible parentage, I'll be keeping a keen eye on Kylo Ren, the man formerly known as Ben Solo, to see if his father's sacrifice, a last act of fatherly love, will have the affect Han wanted it to as Kylo Ren continues his training into the dark side.

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