I will Finish what You Started: Sounds like Kylo Ren is just a Star Wars Fanboy

We’re a little more than a month away from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and you can feel the excitement in the air (or in life forms living inside your cells). Right now, the internet is alive with rumors and speculations, friends are discussing characters, even the people at work have theories. My last article on Luke Skywalker proved that I too have caught the Star Wars bug.

The excitement is out there, and the movie does look amazing – but there is one thing that is bugging me.


Kylo Ren is a total Star Wars fanboy.

When examining the history the Star Wars franchise, one thing becomes apparent very quickly: they/we like toys. So much so that a throwaway character like Boba Fett (who is simply referred to as “bounty hunter” in Empire Strikes Back) became a central figure in the mythos based largely off of action figure sales. Hmm, maybe toys is too general – masked figure toys. I mean, it is largely what a lot of the most popular Star Wars characters – Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Jango Fett, General Grievous – they all have at least most of their faces masked, and all have been used as major merchandising figures.

From the 1990s on, nearly every Star Wars packaged design featured a masked villain on the box art.
From the 1990s on, nearly every Star Wars packaged design featured a masked villain on the box art.

Enter Kylo Ren, next in the “everyone looks cooler with a mask” way of thinking. So right away, Ren represents what Star Wars fans think looks cool. Yet that is just appearance, let’s hear him speak:

Okay, wow – obsessed with Vader much? It’s sounding more and more like Kylo Ren is part of the “Acolytes of the Beyond,” a group that is obsessed with collecting Star Wars action figures – I mean objects representing the Dark Side of the Force (Vader’s possessions appear to be all the rage).

So Ren is a collector… a moody, anti-social young man who spends his days talking about something that happened thirty years ago. Seeing it yet? Let me guess, is he pale under that helmet?

Oh wow, he looks pale. He should get out more.
Oh wow, he looks pale. He should get out more.

It can’t be by coincidence that Kylo Ren bears so much resemblance to the community he is becoming a part of. Some could also see him as director J.J. Abrams himself, trying to finish what Darth Lucas started so many years ago… but that is just going into specifics. Abrams is an admitted fanboy, who hates the midichlorians of Phantom Menace with as much passion as anybody.

Kylo Ren would not be the first representation of a fanboy gone bad.
Kylo Ren would not be the first representation of a fanboy gone bad.

The question is: will it work? Will it be intelligent? Will it be fun? Or will that scene of “I will finish what you started” be only a serious version of something like this:

Only time will tell… although it would be kinda funny to have Captain Phasma be the only “adult” villain in the movie.

Kylo Ren: “I will finish what you started.”

Captain Phasma: “Sir, are you talking to the helmet again?”

Kylo Ren: “NO – what? No! I was just… meditating on the Dark Side! I have far, far too many things to do in my busy dark lord schedule… it is a cool helmet though, right?”

Captain Phasma: “Yes sir.”

Still better than Jar Jar.

How Merchandising Killed the Alien

In 1979, one of the most iconic monster designs hit the screens. Ridley Scott’s Alien brought a creature never before seen. An unholy mix of insect, snake, scorpion, and human skull – the alien looked nothing like anything ever before made. The work by artist H. R. Giger in creating the alien cannot be overlooked. It was terrifying, it made people scream and today… today it is one of the most mainstream, tired looking creatures out there. Wow, how the mighty have fallen in the past thirty-five years.

Close ups and shadow shots allowed the alien to remain largely unseen throughout most of the first movie. A great way to enhance the terror.
Close ups and shadow shots allowed the alien to remain largely unseen throughout most of the first movie. A great way to enhance the terror.

The destruction of the alien’s ability to terrorize did not happen overnight and is not determined by any single factor. For one thing, and this is true of any creation: the novelty wore off. Alien was brand new in 1979, but the creature has reappeared in five (kinda six) sequels since. Some of those films, such as Alien: Resurrection and AVP: Alien vs. Predator belong more in the action genre than in horror, so the alien was not always portrayed in the same terrifying way in those films. Horror sequels always suffer from the basic principle of ‘it’s never as scary the second time you see it.’

Yet there is another factor, one that separates the alien from many of the other iconic horror figures of the last forty years: merchandising. Merchandising that began back in 1979 with the release of this toy from Kenner:

alien+box_lgYes, there is no better way to undermine terror than to put it into the hands of a child. Yet this in itself was not the downfall. The toy did not receive a wide release and has become something of a collector’s item. Obviously parents were less than thrilled with the creation of an action figure for an R-rated movie and… well, it also does not look like a thing that most young kids would want to cuddle with at bedtime. So this toy, while it is the first, is not the creation responsible for taking the terror out of Alien. It is simply where the merchandising began.

New Alien figures would not exist again until 1992. This time Kenner released a whole slew of toys, ones that included very obvious changes. The Alien was not scary anymore. Nothing could make that more clear than this:

This is series 1 of Kenner's launch of Alien toys.
This is series 1 of Kenner’s launch of Aliens toys.

Based off the second movie, this line featured the gorilla alien, the scorpion alien, and the bull alien: all designs that were never featured in any movie. They were created in admittance of one thing: the original alien design was looking kinda old at this point. To keep kids interested, Kenner would have to continually reinvent the image, adding a new animal every time. This line of logic is nearly identical to Hasbro’s Transformers line. Yes, by 1992 – Aliens were the new Transformers. It did not stop there. Kenner would continue to create toys over the next few years, eventually bringing in the Predator franchise as well (years ahead of the crossover films).

I don't think this is every toy... but you get the idea.
I don’t think this is every toy… but you get the idea.

With the Alien image already gone, the merchandising eventually shifted away from children’s action figures to video games. There are twenty games based off the Alien franchise alone – without involving the Predator. For the most part, this video games were geared toward an older audience. Kids who had grown up playing with Kenner toys (like myself) could now take their experience interactive. The franchise has enjoyed several really well-made video games, with my personal recommendation having to be 2001’s Alien vs. Predator 2. The series has also suffered through low moments. Well, just look at Aliens: Colonial Marines

Behold the terror!

It is interesting to note that this year features the first Alien ‘horror’ experience in quite some time. Alien: Isolation tries to recreate the horror of the first movie, with the player taking on the role of a human who is trying to avoid and survive a single alien. The game has received wildly mixed reviews, with some calling it the return to horror that the franchise has been needing and others calling it a second Colonial Marines. Personally, I have not played the game so I cannot give it a review. It simply appears that the developers are trying to do the impossible. After all –

alien_isolation_6-100371845-origHow can this really be scary anymore? Just look at how terrifying Giger’s mighty alien has already become:

That child looks soooo afraid... that he won't get another toy.
That child looks so afraid… that he won’t get another toy.

If it wasn’t as scary the second time, how can it still be scary the fifty-second time?