I heard a recent sermon series on forgiveness that hit me in profound ways. It asserted that sometimes we fail to establish boundaries, then become angry with others for overstepping our natural limits, but our anger is directed less at the person in our life than at ourselves.
Boundaries are difficult to assert, but life-saving, if you can manage it. People are more comfortable knowing where the limits are since it brings a sense of certainty to the uncertainties of life. Children in particular need boundaries from their parents. It’s true that as they get older, they will test those boundaries, but it brings them a sense of assurance and sameness, in knowing where their parents stand.
One of the things that most stands out in The Force Awakens is the sense of external structure sought by Kylo Ren. Each of the characters we meet in the new franchise arrives in a mask. Finn removes his helmet, revealing a human element to the Stormtroopers, and sheds his protective armor once crash-landed on the planet. Liberated from an oppressive structure that forced the eradication of human emotions and compassion, Finn dons a bomber jacket and transforms his identity, by pretending to be “with the Resistance.” Our first introduction to Rey is in goggles and a scarf, to protect her from the sand and external elements on her desert planet. She abandons it once she returns to the compound, and then to home, and goes without it for the rest of the film. But, while finishing her dinner, she does don an old fighter pilot helmet, hinting at her deeper desire for significance and adventure. Both characters strive against external restraints and break away from their former boundaries.
Kylo Ren, on the other hand, actively pursues confinement, both in a literal and physical sense. He covers his face with a mask that obscures even the sound of his voice. He imprisons his body in heavy clothing, which makes him more intimidating. He becomes a novice of an evil government which intends to eradicate freedom throughout the galaxy. He hands himself over, willingly, to Snoke, for advice, orders, and training… a young man desperate to escape… what? His parents, their legacy, to connect with an unrealistic, uninformed impression of his grandfather, who faced similar imprisonment as an agent of the Force. He’s so desperate to control everything about his life that his own feelings of compassion, and the “pull to the light,” cause him to beg for these emotions to be taken from him.
Those who feel too much often crave release the most. It’s unusual for a villain, or anyone in a story, to seek more boundaries instead of less. History, and stories, are full of free spirits breaking free from bondage, the constraints of society, the expectations placed upon them due to their position, or sex, or upbringing. Is Kylo seeking boundaries because his childhood lacked them? Is he really angry with his father, or is he angrier with himself? Beneath his desire for darkness, is there a self-loathing that he cannot escape his intense emotions, that he cannot control himself, that he cannot become the great Jedi that family expectations have for him? Has Kylo chosen the dark side, because of his own fear of failure, his own weakness for the darkness? Does he feel safer inside confinement?
What leads a person to desire a life of fundamentalism and control? If Christ came to liberate, to set us free from sin, to show us a new way of life that frees us from those inner demons that weigh us down, why do some people choose a life full of rules, of punishments, of penalties, of clear-defined boundaries? Is imprisonment safer than the unknown; a life of pure intellectual freedom? Does it remove the hardship and difficulty of free choice, of dealing not with situations on an individual basis, to the best of our understanding, but with a rule book that frees us from intense inner deliberation and thought? Do some people feel so unworthy of love, and fear their own evil so much, that they prefer constraints, rules, and punishments for failure, over open acceptance and loving arms?
Openness can be frightening. The unknown is an abyss of possibilities. It’s easy to read into Kylo Ren’s psychology; to infer between the lines, based on what we know of his parents. Han is a smuggler who never stays in one place very long—probably an absentee father, whose arguments with Leia led him to absences of months, to let his temper cool. Leia, as a powerful princess and then general, had responsibilities all across the galaxy. Did little Ben Solo go with her to all those different worlds, enter all those different schools, in essence, be an “army brat” in space? How often did he make friends only to lose them? Did anywhere ever feel like home? How much time did he spend with Luke? Some? None? What pressures fell on him, as the son of a Princess/General and War Hero, the nephew of the last great Jedi, and the grandson of the most terrifying force in the universe? When he murders his father, in an attempt to sever his last tie to the past, is he truly full of resentment toward an absentee father, or full of self-loathing? Does his rootless existence, his sense of uncertainty, the lack of structure in his own life, lead him to seek it in voluntary confinement?
If so, how sad, and how true to life. The great tragedy of existence is that it’s in our human nature, when presented with freedom, to seek constraints. Sometimes we invent our own rules; sometimes we ascribe them to a higher power, but the greatest sorrow of all is when we look freedom in the face… and put back on our mask.