“How did my father die?”
“A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.”
Three key sentences spoken back in Star Wars: A New Hope about the fall of a Skywalker and the rise of Vader and it took an entire prequel trilogy and a few decades to pay them off. In fact, if you think about it in certain terms, back in the day A New Hope “yada yada”-ed that singular, most crucial element of the entire Star Wars mythos. Oh sure, there’s the Uncle Owen crack about Luke’s father, but back then we were too busy being dazzled by the whole damn thing (“Stay on Target!”) to give it too much thought. Now with The Force Awakens’ reveal that virtually the exact same thing that happened to Anakin happened to Ben Solo, we’ve got a new generation getting a Star Wars yada yada of a crucial backstory. Last time it took 28 years to see the resolution of the yada yada through to the end, and while we’ll have a new Star Wars every year for the foreseeable future, I seriously doubt we’ll make it that long this time without seeing it in some form. It has to be reconciled a lot quicker than Obi-Wan’s bullshit explanation to Luke was.
Unless things change with how they tell Star Wars movies, it’s a given that the yada yada in The Force Awakens – of virtually the entire Kylo Ren backstory, the next-gen Jedi betrayal, the falling out with Han and Leia and of course with Luke, the obsession with Vader and the luring by Snoke to the Dark Side – all likely aren’t going to be seen in this new trilogy. That may seem like a bold claim, but consider: even if Luke does spin some grand tale to Rey about what happened, that would be telling and not showing. Star Wars, at least the episodic theatrical releases, have always been a Point A to Point B narratives. Pick a starting point and go until the end. In other words, no flashbacks allowed (at least prior to this episode). Unless Rian Johnson, Colin Trevorrow, Kathleen Kennedy, and the rest of the story team have decided to go off the standard Star Wars playbook, the meaty part of the Ren descent to the Dark Side – which is still an ongoing process – has already been yada yada-ed right out of this new trilogy.
A New Hope could get away with the yada yada, because we didn’t know the gravitas of Obi-Wan’s abridged summation at the time. All that was important about Vader was that he was a menacing agent of the Empire; a ruthless and heartless traitor and a literal embodiment of evil. But he was instantly iconic; the greatest villain in cinematic history. He extinguished the Jedi fire, tortured princesses, blew up planets (well really it was Tarkin, but he probably just beat Vader to it), killed Jedi masters, and wasted Biggs and a bunch of other swell Red Squadron fellas…. Who he was under the mask and iron lung suit, at least in that particular movie, was less a burning question than a pique of curiosity to file for a later date. A disappointing (not back then but certainly now) confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader in the Death Star hangar bay were all the answers we got at the time. But at the time it was enough.
The situation is not the same for Kylo Ren and The Force Awakens however; because now we know all that came prior. We know the players, the temptations and the consequence; we’ve seen it all before with Grandpa Skywalker. But the notion that since we’ve already caught the Skywalker matinee, we can skip the second showing with the grandson understudy and pick up Kylo in full evil-wannabe stride may make for a tighter story, but not necessarily an entirely satisfying one. There is the like-minded notion in scriptwriting that it’s good to get into a story as late as possible and leave as early as possible. It makes for tighter stories and less flabby scripts.
But is it possible there was just a bit too much tightness in The Force Awakens? Ren offs his old man; a dramatic but ultimately hollow experience because we were only told what happened between them years before. The difficulty in that scenario playing out was in seeing the (telegraphed) death of a beloved character, not in how it affected Kylo Ren. Be that as it may, however, the Ren story unfolded as it had to under the long-established rules. Because Ren’s betrayal of his family and the new Jedi Order happened years before, and Star Wars’ traditional storytelling model doesn’t allow for it to be shown in The Force Awakens, at least not in anything more meaningful than a brief glimpse by a force-sensitive young woman in a vision. And even that was a minor insurrection to the way Star Wars has always been depicted in these episodic installments. Remember, we never actually saw Luke’s vision about Han and Leia in Bespin. So where does that leave things? Fortunately this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Wars, where you have to wait years or decades for answers. No, there are some very real possibilities in the offing.
Firstly, the model can be changed. Episodes VIII and IX may indeed give us flashbacks. Best possible version of this? Keep it to Force visions. Have Luke and Rey explore in depth what happened to Kylo. Have Luke take Rey on a precis of his own experiences with his father and his journey since the end of Return of the Jedi. And make sure Harrison Ford steps back in for a cameo as Han (“…old friends long gone…”). Or – and this is the grandest option – a Kylo Ren standalone movie is called for. This offers a lot of opportunities, particularly a more meaningful return of Han Solo. One issue with this though is that it’s definitely not going to come out before the new trilogy is wrapped up, and by then it may not even be necessary. The upcoming Han Solo standalone film might also significantly touch upon it. One thing I know though, it’d be a better experience than taking three films to tell the tale.
Other avenues include covering it in a Star Wars game, much like Star Wars: Bounty Hunter did for the backstory for Jango Fett. Another possibility is that there’s always the next Star Wars animated series to do the deed in long form after Star Wars: Rebels finishes its run. Wild notion of the day: a new Tartakovsky microseries on Kylo Ren and the rise of The First Order. It could also be handled in the inevitable flood of new in-canon novels. Although considering that an already established (and at the time in-canon) expanded universe cried out in terror and was suddenly silenced in the resurgence of the franchise, I’m not running out to buy one.
So, although we did get another yada yada on another bad guy, the modern Star Wars has quite a few more outlets to explore untold stories across all types of media. Don’t be surprised if you catch up with that backstory at some point in a novelization, video game, special edition blu-ray, tv series, cartoon or, hell, maybe even an actual movie.