Image from this comic by Andi Espinosa.
Since finally getting to see the new Star Wars movie about a month after everyone else did, I’ve found myself immersed in the surrounding discussions of it. Like, why the fuck was Han so excited to use Chewbacca’s weapon for apparently the first time in the decades they’ve been friends? How come in 30 years has none of the computer tech advanced past 16 color raster graphics, blinking lights and LEDs? Also is Kylo Ren technically yet another Disney queer-coded villain, and how awful are you for empathizing with the Nazified little shit in a queer way?
Okay maybe I’m participating in different conversations than y’all.
I’ve been seeing a lot of talk lately about how Kylo Ren is the modernized face of impotent nerd rage. He’s like a one-man Gamergate, without all the Nazi imagery… oh wait. And, honestly, many of the traits that could be read as queer have been gradually integrated into uneasy heteromasculine posturing the past few decades, as addressed by fans and critics thinking of him as “emo“. There is a lot to be said about imagery of nerdbro ego projection and predation in many of his actions as well.
Above borrowed from this comic strip.
And yeah I get that. I’m sure even more can be said in that regard. I’ve personally been humoring the idea that Kylo Ren’s encounter w/Han Solo is a commentary on neo-masculinity. Like Han represents old-guard swagger and grit and “benevolent sexism” and is a masculinity relic… he’s literally a cowboy. An artefact of a different age of manhood. Kylo Ren represents the new face of such: internally tortured, confused, with wildly inappropriate idealizations and bad posture. Watch Kylo Ren walk around uneasily in his uniform next time you see the film, see how forced his movements are. Kylo’s nervous stilted gait represents the new guard carrying the torch for men’s advocacy. Kylo winds up doing what he does (SPOILER: murders his dad) cuz of his misplaced interpretation of how masculinity works: aka a compulsive desire to “prove himself”.
But we’re not actually suggesting that Kylo Ren is queer. Or at least I’m not. But we have to keep in mind what queer coding is. We also need to differentiate queer coding from queer-baiting, a more modern trope of hinted sexuality, which also appears in the film.
Spoiler alert, but I’m gonna be hammering on and on about this sort of thing over the course of several upcoming articles (not about Star Wars tho). In this case, I believe whether Kylo Ren is queer-coded or not may mean different things between folks older or younger than 30. Folks like us grew up with less media representation. Some of us may be a bit more sensitive or in-tune with the “nod-nod wink wink” aspects of this than folks growing up in an era where a character can actually be queer without also having to be a mass-murderer to satisfy some garbage moral clause.
To me Kylo’s unmasking scene in the torture chamber more than a little bit resembled when Ra unmasks himself in the first Stargate movie. The hard, cruel gray and black immobile feature-obscuring mask giving way to reveal a soft androgynous face and sensitive eyes. In the case of Stargate, particularly, strategically revealing the face of the actor that played a trans woman in The Crying Game just a couple years before, one of the most iconic and recognizable trans characters in film (for good or for bad).
And it’s not like we haven’t seen the “prissy evil son in the shadow of an impossibly badass father whose shoes he may never fill” dynamic before.
Also, this is Disney we are talking about. The company that pretty much wrote the book on queering up their baddies.
Coincidence? I think… actually yeah probably coincidence.
The thing about Star Wars movies, however, is that just by existing they change the face of everything they touch. While doing so, they completely reinvent the visual language surrounding such, from fashion to archetypes and of course special effects. These changes become so widespread because damn near everyone winds up seeing them.
Well everyone that matters, anyway.
Perhaps this really is a calculated narrative side-step to replace tired Hollywood Golden Age homophobia with biting commentary on evolving male ego. If so I have to admit I’m impressed.