Ben Solo felt like he never fit in. He couldn’t understand why his parents were so unlike him. When he was little, he’d look up at the stars and wonder where he came from and where his real parents were. “They’ll be back,” he told himself, “one day.” But instead, Snoke came. Snoke came to prey upon the boy’s link to the Force, the undying life-energy the alien needed to maintain his immortality and his power.
That’s what narcissists do — they prey on empaths. And without a doubt, every emperor throughout history — on Earth and in a galaxy far, far away — was a narcissist. Narcissists are energy vampires. They use false empathy to get what they want. They’re incapable of real empathy or love, and they’re very persuasive charmers who know how to seduce those who are sensitive and attentive to the feelings of others. Anything they give always comes with strings attached. And for Ben Solo, the strings Snoke has attached to him are far-reaching and unbreakable…up until now.
In this series of posts, I’ll take a closer look at what makes Ben Solo Kylo Ren, what got him into the mess he’s in. If he’s going to escape Snoke’s clutches — and he does want to; the “Supreme Leader is wise” line is false bravado — Kylo will need to face his vulnerabilities and adopt strong, enduring protection strategies. These vulnerabilities aren’t weaknesses per se. With the right training, he can use them to his advantage and to the advantage of the galaxy. But at the beginning of The Last Jedi, he’s standing at a crossroads. He’s facing the worst dilemma he’s ever faced. Does he push further into the darkness, or turn back?
A couple paragraphs ago, I suggested that Kylo Ren is an empath. Huh? How can that be? He’s killed people in cold blood! He killed his own father! All true, but — and this is what doesn’t make him a psychopath — he regrets it. He feels remorse and he feels, intensely, the emotions of others — particularly Snoke’s.
Let’s back up. What’s an empath? Empaths are highly sensitive individuals who recognize, relate to, and physically feel in their own bodies the emotions and pain of others. As an interrogator, that’s what makes Kylo Ren so effective. He can instantly tell when someone’s lying or withholding information. Kylo is extremely intuitive and can sense energy around him. Emotions are energy. And he can do this without tapping into the Force. Why? Because he has an intensely reactive neurological system and he lacks the normal filters most people have to block stimulation. He’s a human radar for any type of sensory input. To him, the world is supercharged with fascinating — and overwhelming — details. It’s like he has 50 fingers on each hand, 10 pairs of eyes, 20 pairs of ears, 8 noses, and 12 tongues. And within his brain, he has a hyperresponsive mirror neuron system.
Dr. Judith Orloff states, “Researchers have discovered a specialized group of brain cells that are responsible for compassion. These cells enable everyone to mirror another person’s pain, fear, or joy….In contrast, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists are thought to have what science calls ‘empathy deficit disorders.’” (2017, p. 9-10).
What did Snoke reprimand his pupil for in regards to the girl? “You have compassion for her….I perceive the problem. It isn’t her strength that is making you fail. It’s your weakness!” (Foster, 2015, p. 207-208).
Spoken like a true psychopath. But Supreme Leader is right. Compassion for the enemy is a bit of a problem for the First Order.
And yes, Kylo has compassion for Rey — a lot of compassion. He senses her loneliness, her feelings of abandonment, her longing for family, and he deeply resonates those feelings. She’s an orphan with incredible resilience and he’s totally fascinated by and enamored with her. What’s more…he knows her from somewhere in the past, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. More about that plot possibility when I post my predictions for Reylo just prior to the release of The Last Jedi.
Kylo also displays his empathic abilities when he hones in on the distraught FN-2187 (Finn), the stormtrooper who can’t bring himself to fire on the helpless villagers. Kylo stops and slowly turns to stare at the him on the way back to his shuttle. If you look carefully at that scene, you’ll notice Kylo doesn’t actually see FN-2187 commit treason. He can’t at that angle with the range of vision his helmet provides. Trust me, I cosplay in a replica of the bloody thing. Plus, his peripheral vision is also blocked by the hood. Kylo has to actually turn his head to see the trooper just standing there — long after the villagers were gunned down. First Ren senses something’s wrong through the Force, so he stops. What makes him turn towards Finn (as opposed to somewhere else) is his ability to sense the trooper’s anguish. It gives the dark lord pause, but he doesn’t do anything about the fact that FN-2187 is disobeying orders. If the trooper had been facing Darth Vader, Vader would have Force-choked him. So, why doesn’t Kylo act as Vader would? After all, he wants to be the new Vader, right?
I think Kylo doesn’t punish FN-2187 because he feels what the trooper feels — that he doesn’t belong in the First Order and he secretly wants to leave. That’s why Lor San Tekka makes him so angry when he says, “The First Order rose from the dark side. You did not.” San Tekka is like a parent telling a teenage child, “You’re better than this. You don’t belong with this gang.” Kylo knows it’s true, but he’s in too deep. It’s too late. He’s stuck. All he can do is scream, “I’ll show you the dark side!”
Maybe Kylo reports FN-2187 to Captain Phasma later, but I can’t believe Phasma didn’t notice FN-2187’s problem herself. That’s her job. She gave the firing squad the order. She confronts the trooper not long after the execution of the villagers, but we don’t know if it’s because Phasma knew about the issue herself, or FN-2187’s unit or Kylo ratted on him. Interestingly, it’s Kylo Ren who identifies FN-2187 as the traitor who stole a TIE and helped Poe Dameron escape before General Hux and Phasma do. Ren does this because he’s an empath. He senses the turmoil in Finn…and he has a certain amount of compassion for him because he understands that turmoil. He doesn’t even kill Finn in the final skirmish. He just incapacitates him. If he wanted to ensure Finn was dead, he would have run him through or cut off his head.
So, how can Ren have compassion for Rey and Finn and not the villagers? Simple. He can’t get away with letting the villagers live. He had to make an example of them. But he can let one nonfunctioning trooper slip through his fingers. As for Rey, he’s found a kindred spirit. It’s written large all over his face — before she slashes it, that is.
But there are bacta tanks and badass bandaids for that.
@MyKyloRen 17 November 2017
Foster, A. D. (2015). Star wars: The Force awakens. New York: Del Rey.
Orloff, J. (2017). The empath’s survival guide: life strategies for sensitive people. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.