Kylo Ren's Ashes Of His Enemies Has Sparked #AshGate Among 'Star Wars' Fans
Yesterday morning I heard that J.J. Abrams had revealed in the special features of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens DVD that Kylo Ren collected the ashes of his enemies after murdering them. Yesterday night I logged onto Tumblr and found that the entire fandom had caved in on itself. An offhand comment from Abrams has now sparked what Tumblr users have already dubbed "#AshGate" over the course of a few hours — and when you look at the time and commitment that fans have put into conjecturing about Kylo Ren and a possible redemption arc, you can't really blame them for the pandemonium.
As a person who is high key hoping for some kind of Kylo Ren redemption arc (we can fix it, you guys!) and is a sucker for all things problematic fave, I have to confess that I, too, was a bit thrown for a loop by the news. So far most of what we know about Kylo Ren and his turn to the Dark Side is that he was seduced by Snoke, and that after a rocky, inconsistent childhood and a sense of not belonging, he joined the Knights of Ren and the First Order despite his undeniable pull to the Light. The entire movie is hinged on his struggle to eradicate the persistent Light in him, bringing a truly torturous depth to the murder of Han Solo, who was supposed to represent Ren's total acceptance of the Dark Side.
And yeah, he's a Bad Dude (TM). He has murdered countless people, including an entire class of Luke's padawans; he is not above torture to attain his means; he's generally fitful, unpredictable, and merciless. But we see the Light that Leia insists is in him in that hesitation before he kills Han Solo, in the way he is fascinated by Rey's power, and even from Snoke's clearly voiced doubts in Kylo Ren's embrace of the Dark Side. From the way things were set up in the movie, the viewer could deduce that most of the Darkness in Kylo Ren the result of clever manipulation from Snoke, and Kylo Ren's thirst to prove himself to his master. Bad Dude (TM)? For sure. Tortured And Manipulated Bad Dude Who Is A Victim Of His Circumstances? Still a possibility, in the narrative we were presented — which opens up the possibility for the redemption arc that unrepentant trash humans like myself are hoping for.
Enter this bucket of ashes. If we're to accept this as canon — that Kylo Ren has been perching his dead, evil grandfather's helmet on a pile of ashes made up of people he's murdered — we veer very sharply out of redemption arc territory. This is not in line with the vision of Kylo Ren as an angsty, tortured villain who deep down in his heart is not a killer. This sick "trophy collecting" mentality is more in line with that of a psychopath — of someone who is genuinely proud of being a murderer, and wants the reminders in his private quarters as a reminder of it. With this new information, he seemingly just went from Draco Malfoy level of "oh no, that's bad, don't do that!" to Tom Riddle level of "WHOA THIS IS PURE EVIL INCARNATE ABANDON SHIP" in about three seconds flat.
Again, we can argue that it's technically not canon, since it was removed from the movie. So a lot of fans are wondering: was it removed from the movie because of a time issue, or because they realized how devastating this characterization would be for the idea of a redemption arc? And if it was cut from the movie for the latter reason, why would Abrams mention it at all? (Answer: He probably, yet again, overestimated the emotional stability of this fandom ... which, to be fair, is SURPRISINGLY EASY TO UNRAVEL.)
Perhaps the most interesting analysis of the ashes comes from Tumblr user liberlibelula (full post available here), who conjectures that Kylo Ren doesn't collect them as trophies, but rather as a means to perpetuate the image he is so desperate to project.
So here are my thoughts on the ashes:
All in all, his enemies were probably very much dead when he cremated them, and we all know Kylo Ren is one to push things off limits to convince himself and others of how dark and edgy he is. The enemies are dead and left to rot. If I were Kylo, I’d probably burn them rather than leave them to become infectious. Two birds of a stone: You remove the bodies and you make your followers freak out and fear you even more. Because cremating your body count is one thing; keeping their ashes? Man, this Kylo Ren is a psycho and nobody should come near him for good or bad. He’s nuts, period.
And that’s EXACTLY what Kylo Ren wants.
Liberlibelula interestingly goes on to expound on another theory regarding the unexpected mercy of the ashes.
Another grain of thought that you might agree with or not:
Burning people is, in a lot of cultures, quite a respectful thing. Kylo might have been doing some silent penitence in doing so (the pull to the Light), despite then keeping the ashes to remind himself of his purpose and his darkness.
This is the conflict of Kylo Ren, and perhaps he himself doesn’t know the actual reason why he does this. Because if he were truly sick, he’d leave a trail of corpses behind to the vultures, to spread horror. Because if you’re the victim’s family, what is worst? To see them decompose after Kylo Ren has visited your planet, or find a pile of reduced ashes? I’d rather take the ashes, thank you very much.
And Kylo must be very aware of this bit of compassion, so what does he do to make up for it and maintain his persona? BUCKET OF ASHES.
Hux, Snoke, did you see what I’m doing? I’m terrible. I’m a monster. Witness me, Darth Vader, witness me, mother, father, Ben Solo. I’m a monster and way beyond redemption.
Of course, a lot of fans took this to mean the exact opposite — proof that Kylo Ren was irredeemable, and that Leia was overly optimistic or blinded by her love for her son Ben Solo to think that he could be. Regardless of what fans think the ashes represent — or whether we should factor them into the narrative at all — at the very least we can always depend on good ole Emo Kylo Ren to help put the madness in perspective for us.
In the meantime, if anybody needs me I'll be neck deep in Tumblr metas trying to soothe my ridiculous fandom heart.
Images: Disney; Giphy