Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Kylo Ren have a lot more in common than just a helmet fetish. From young ages, these two struggled to find reliable father figures that wouldn’t immediately die, abandon them, assume they’re evil, or straight up manipulate them. Across the Star Wars movies, their experiences with dads are nearly identical – but with one more movie left in him, will Kylo Ren fly solo like his grandpa Vader, or fall into another insidious relationship?
To figure it out in the last 36 or so hours before The Rise of Skywalker premieres, let’s look back at Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo’s history of Star Wars dads across the movies.
When we first meet Anakin, he’s totally dad-less, conceived completely by Shmi and the Force. Eventually, when Qui-Gon comes along, he recognizes Anakin as a potentially powerful Force-user and decides to take him under his wing. Said differently, the first father figure in Anakin’s life is only interested in him because he scored exceedingly well on an exam which he never studied for. Although Qui-Gon treats him well in the short time they know each other, Anakin is conditioned to believe from a young age that his worth is determined not from anything he can control, but from a quantifiable value he’s never even heard of.
And, before Qui-Gon can ever rectify that, he’s gone, killed by the notoriously badass Darth Maul. From there, Anakin is ushered into the dad-hood of the Jedi order, beginning with the necessity that he abandon his mother.
Ben Solo is in a similar situation at this age. He doesn’t have the best dad to start with in Han Solo, but the Millenium Falcon’s pilot in truth doesn’t even get much of a chance to screw up. Han and Ben’s mother Leia ship him off to train with his super religious uncle after fearing a turn to the Dark Side. Like his grandfather, Ben was told he was special for reasons he didn’t understand. He wouldn’t find out who his grandfather was for years, let alone why the people who were supposed to care about him were so afraid of him. Even Ben’s desires to follow in his dad’s footsteps as a pilot were disregarded in pursuit of his uncle Luke’s weird religion.
So right off the bat, Anakin and Ben both lose connection to their fathers and are told they shouldn’t be pilots. Rather, they should leave everything they know behind, including their families, and join the laser sword cult.
Now, both boys are being re-educated under the Jedi doctrines, thanks to Obi-Wan and Luke respectively. Emotions are bad, these new Star Wars dads tell their impressionable lads. For reference as to how Anakin and Ben grow into adolescence and through the following movies, let’s quickly take a look at said code:
“There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.”
Obi-Wan is far from prepared to take on the padawan left behind by his master. Given that, their relationship blurs as Anakin matures, eventually becoming more like brothers than parent and child. In spite of that, Obi-Wan and the rest of the masters won’t give Anakin the name recognition of an equal. Mace, though more of an authority figure than a dad, doesn’t trust Anakin with that responsibility. Faced with that, Anakin finds a dad who will give him the power he was told he’s earned.
Luke is similarly unprepared for the trials and tribulations that come with child-rearing. The prominent father figure at this point in Ben’s life would learn to fear the power that the young boy holds. After finally growing accustomed to being a Jedi, and maybe even coming to terms with the philosophies, he’s betrayed. So, Ben becomes Kylo. Thanks to Snoke, he finds out the truth of his grandfather, realizes why he was feared and decides it’s time to prove his mentors right.
Enter, Palpatine. He promised Anakin everything he wanted: power, love – and recognition. Even though all the Jedi knew him as the Chosen One, Palpatine was the first to acknowledge him as more anything more than a knight. In a time when Mace Windu and the rest of the Jedi council denied him the rank of Master, the phantom menace was there with a better offer. Not only could Anakin become a master, he’d be able to have all the things the Jedi denied him, including Padmé. Anakin, now dubbed Darth Vader, found out quickly that even this latest father would prove untrustworthy, though it would be years before he’d finally act on it.
This takes us naturally to the events of Force Awakens and Last Jedi. In both of which, Kylo Ren kills one of his dads in birth-father Han and shadowy evil mentor, Snoke. Not to mention that he also faced off with uncle Luke one last time, though whether he felt him become one with the force or not is unclear. In other words, this episode of Star Wars finds him in between dads and, much like Anakin, looking for power.
Now, as far as we know, Kylo Ren has no lost children waiting for him to redeem himself – but what he does have is the same deceptive father figure, waiting to prey upon another Skywalker. Sidious is back, in what capacity, we have no idea, but that’s what we’re here to figure out.
Beware! Speculation about Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker to follow.
Kylo Ren is an unbridled ball of hatred with no positive emotional ballast, just like Darth Vader following the events of Revenge of the Sith. There’s just one exception. Where Padmé died giving birth to Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren’s lady love is still out there: Rey. We learned in the climax of The Last Jedi that, just like the Sith before him, Kylo Ren wants a partner in crime. He recognizes Rey as an innately powerful force user, in the same way that Snoke and Luke saw that in him, and sees her as an accessory to the bad dad vision he’s striving toward. And also, he’s probably (definitely) crushing on her.
More than that, the thing about daddy issues, is they imply wanting a daddy to tell you what to do and that they’re proud of you. A legendary Sith appearing to Kylo, who already loves the Sith, would be a dream come true.
If Sidious is the same manipulative man as he was all those years ago, he’ll use this against Kylo. Just like he did with Anakin, he’ll use Kylo’s passion as his power; manipulate him and promise everything he ever wanted. If I was a real betting man, I’d also presume that this vision he presents to Kylo is where we see that infamous image of Rey with her red switchblade lightsaber.
So, what we end up with, after examining both Vader and Ren, is a crude copy of what came before. Kylo, whether he realizes he’s serving his idol’s old master or not, walks the same path, with the same intentions. Although it’s more than likely that Kylo Ren is missing an important part of his grandfather’s story: the part where he realized he was a bad person.
What saved Vader was his son, his legacy and the idea of what he would leave behind for Luke. Again, the closest Kylo comes to that is Rey. His father is dead and Sidious will undoubtedly betray him. So, acknowledging that daddy issues really are the true villain of the Skywalker Saga (and that these are not only kids’ movies, but also Disney movies), Kylo Ren will want nothing more than to prove one last father figure wrong. After all, if we’ve learned one thing about Star Wars dads, it’s that they never stick around.