Kylo Ren and Darth Vader: When Hero Worship Goes Too Far

Kylo Ren and Darth Vader: When Hero Worship Goes Too Far


Jay’s Galactic Espressions

Hero worship has existed since the beginning of humanity. In every time period, from before the Ancient Greeks to today, people have had heroes in their lives.

The “Hero’s Journey” has been visited and re-visited countless times, but what about the relationship involved in the psychology of choosing and worshipping a hero, and how does the hero feel about being the object of worship?

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is obvious that Kylo Ren has an obsessive relationship with his grandfather, Darth Vader. Kylo has come to worship all that he thinks Vader to be. Many times, I’ve asked myself:

“Didn’t Kylo Ren know about his grandfather before and after his role as a Sith Lord? Anakin Skywalker was ‘The Hero With No Fear,’ a Jedi who fought for the good of the galaxy, and who was ultimately redeemed of his dark deeds. Why isn’t Kylo seeing that? How would Anakin feel about his grandson’s focus on the evil, instead of the good?”

Being the hero is not all it is cracked up to be. Heroes are put on a pedestal, and are expected – by the one worshipping – to be the image of perceived perfection at all times. PERCEIVED PERFECTION.

Heroes in any form – positive or negative – are often seen in this unrealistic light. The worshipper focuses on the behaviors, values, and traits he/she wants to see. As a result, the worshipper often becomes a sort of parasite, latching onto the hero, actually creating an emotional bond with that person. This bond can be described as a ‘virtual relationship.’ Regardless of ever having met in real life, the hero enters the dynamic of the worshipper’s social circle. The hero becomes a real, tangible part of the worshipper’s existence, becoming a mirror. This mirror is one that the worshipper begins to see his/her own self-image. As time passes, some morphing of the two personalities occur. It is at this point that the worshipper’s own self-esteem and self-image changes, usually resulting in what the worshipper deems a positive thing (1), regardless of whether it really is or not.

In Kylo’s case, he skipped his own parental generation – people he knew, but whom he considered unworthy of his praise and admiration – and latched onto his grandfather as his moral and personal compass, someone he had never met. Kylo emulates a set of behaviors that suits his own perceived needs, and ignores the full picture. Kylo’s mirror is Darth Vader. How would Anakin Skywalker feel about this: knowing that his grandson was magnifying all the evil that he sought to redeem?

Vader Ren

Hero worship can be – even in its mildest form – somewhat unsettling to the object of affection. It is almost an invasion of privacy in some ways. As a high school teacher, I am more than happy to serve as a role-model for my students. I realize that for some, I may be the only positive influence in their lives, and I am honored to fulfill that role for those who truly need it. I know my status has great power as well as great responsibility, and it feels great knowing that I can be that bright spark in a student’s day – a student that may otherwise have a life full of darkness.

However, I admit that I’ve experienced times when this role-modeling becomes hero-worship, and I am not at all comfortable with that. I have had students go above and beyond what I would consider ‘normal role-modeling’. Students who have obviously formed their personalities, actions and lifestyles after what they have seen from my own. I don’t want to be that kind of hero. It should be flattering, I know, but I almost feel a sense of self-consciousness and violation. My ‘off-days’ and ‘dark moods’ are scrutinized under a microscope, and there’s this impossible standard set up for me, one to be happy, perky and carefree at all times, never in a bad mood, sick, or flawed in any way. When those moods do strike, one would think the world has fallen off its axis, and I am barraged by questions and unwelcome attention. Trust me — every day, I know I’m on the stage, and I play my role accordingly, leaving my personal thoughts and issues at the door – but I am human. I’m not a hero…

There are some healthy aspects of role-modeling, don’t get me wrong. It can provide a sense of stability and positive emotional motivation for someone who needs it. It fulfills a need for human transcendence, one that replaces the extraordinary with the ordinary. ‘Hero worship’ should really be downgraded to ‘hero emulation’ for it to be truly healthy. Emulation still maintains a sense of realism about the person as a whole, and provides an anchor for behavior — one in which we raise the bar high, instead of settling for mediocrity (2). Otherwise, the worshipper ends up losing his/her sense of self instead of finding it.

I believe that is what is happening with Kylo. He is hyper-focusing on the things he wants to see in his grandfather. He wants to be the person he thinks Darth Vader was, and because he hasn’t embraced the full persona of who Anakin Skywalker was, Kylo has lost his true sense of self. Instead of allowing Anakin to be an anchor to his own self, Kylo has a full set of rocks in his pocket, one that will weigh him down, and ultimately drown him.

How would Anakin feel about all of this? If it were me, I would feel a mixed sense of guilt, unease, worry, sadness, and torment. I would not want my legacy to be perpetuated in that way. I would want to scream: “That’s not the true me! Zoom out, and you’ll see more of the true picture!” I would feel a direct responsibility to show Kylo the truth, yet at the same time, I would want to pull back into oblivion, and try to ignore and deny the harsh truth before me – that my past failures and evil deeds are all that’s left of my legacy to my grandson.anakin force ghost

Perhaps that is what Anakin is feeling at this point: The torn-apart feeling of being a hero. Perhaps Episode 8 of the Star Wars saga will shed light on what Anakin will ultimately do with this situation, and his grandson.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them!


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(1) Comeau, Dr. Raymond. “Hero Worship – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Ezine. Ezine Articles, 09 Sept. 2009. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <—The-Good,-the-Bad-and-the-Ugly&id=2900801>.

(2) Schreiner, Michael. “Heroes to Emulate Not To Worship.” Evolution Counseling. Evolution Counseling, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <>.
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  1. Ryder
    February 18, 2016 at 15:56 Reply

    You are right now with this, Jay! I loved it. There is a fine line between worship and emulation, and worship does seem a little too obsessive. This can be applied in a lot of today’s situations! Great job.

    1. Jay Krebs
      February 18, 2016 at 21:06 Reply

      Much appreciated, Ryder!
      Kylo Ren is definitely on that obsessive end. I think a lot of us have been “obsessed” with a hero at some point in our lives, be it a sports star or other celebrity, but have been able to draw a line. He is so far past that line…and like you mention, we’re seeing me and more of that these days.
      I appreciate your thoughts! 🙂

  2. Pam Bruchwalski
    February 18, 2016 at 19:48 Reply

    This is such a great entry, Jay. You make valid, important points about both fictional and real life situations. One question that lingers about Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader is what the galaxy actually KNOWS about each side of this complicated man. When Anakin was seduced by the Dark Side, did “everyone” know who it was who lived beneath the mask? Likewise, did the average Joe ever find out that Darth Vader was really Anakin…REDEEMED? Clearly Kylo Ren doesn’t know, or he chooses to ignore that part of his grandfather.

    As for real life, you make such great points. The feeling of obligation to be “up” all the freaking time, even in the ways *I* experience as a mother and at times, a leader, is so daunting. It’s impossible and draining. But for YOU as a teacher…wow. As if teachers need one more way in which they feel they have to jump through hoops and always, always be “on” and right and…”perfect.” It’s a terrible burden and an unrealistic expectation of ANYONE to have of you, students, administrators, parents…anyone. I can see where it would be incredibly unsettling to have a student, in particular, hold you up and put you on a pedestal. Emulate your great qualities, sure. You have so, so many. But to hold you to an impossible standard by trying to please you or be just like you…

    No one needs that.

    Let’s hope that Anakin appears in Episode 8 to help right Kylo Ren’s wrongs because that boy needs some serious help! 🙂

    1. Jay Krebs
      February 19, 2016 at 15:23 Reply

      You make some really great points here, Pam!

      The idea of what people in the galaxy actually knew about Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker is fascinating to me. I’m sure there were whispers, stories, myths and legends, but what type of information was the galaxy-at-large actually exposed to?
      As for what Kylo/Ben knew, I also wonder what he was told by his family…and perhaps even more importantly NOT told.

      Thank you for understanding that teachers are human, too! I think society as a whole tends to forget this simple fact sometimes. I appreciate the fact that most people I encounter still hold the profession in high esteem and with much integrity, and even somewhat of a sense of awe, but that can also be a double-edged sword….and impossibly draining, as you said.

      Yes – keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll get a chance to see Anakin in ep. 8 or 9…! I feel like if Anakin could be a guide to Kylo/Ben like he was for Ahsoka, using the Force ghost/Whills technique, we could be in for quite a ride!!

  3. Erica
    February 19, 2016 at 04:42 Reply

    I have been thinking so much about this aspect of TFA too! The idea of Kylo wearing a mask that he doesn’t need just because Darth Vader did. It’s…just so sad. I think you’re right that Anakin would be crushed to see Kylo missing the point of his life — missing the whole picture. In all honesty, when I think of Kylo, I think of the Columbine High School shooting. If I remember correctly, those boys worshipped Hitler and even carried out their attack on his birthday. That is what Kylo is like — a kid doing evil in someone else’s name. I’m worried that he will do many far worse things than Vader in an effort to live up to his perception of his grandfather.

    And what pressure it must be to be a high school teacher! I feel it to as a yoga teacher. I am not always serene, but that’s what my students expect to see from me. However, I work mostly with adults. Teens are a whole different story, so, wow, good luck with that!

    It’s so great to see someone addressing this topic, and you did it so well! Love this entry!

    1. Jay Krebs
      February 19, 2016 at 15:32 Reply

      Whew – you gave me chills when you compared the Columbine tragedy with Kylo’s psychological state – good call – and definitely something to consider!

      There’s a lot of research into what makes the inner mental and emotional workings of a school shooter, or any crowd-type assailant for that matter. Believe it or not, much of it points to an unhealthy play life as a child, a sense of detachment from the parents (usually due to on or both of the parents having some sore of career that takes them away from the direct upbringing of their child), and a child who was raised in a somewhat entitled/privileged household. (The only reason I am familiar with this research is due to my experience with child development, by the way!!) Hmmm….Kylo Ren…?

      I think about your position as a yoga teacher all the time – you must really have a lot of pressure to uphold the Zen-like image of perfection, as well!

      It also reminds me of comedians…we often see so many tragic demises, and at young ages, of career comedians who felt too much pressure to uphold that image all the time. Funny in front of the cameras, but tormented on the inside…so very, very sad!

      …and THAT’s why teachers need our summers and breaks lol!! We would go completely insane if we had to deal with this 12 months a year – 10 is enough…!

      Glad you enjoyed the entry! 🙂

  4. Audra Weiker
    February 19, 2016 at 06:54 Reply

    When I first saw the photo of Kylo with Darth Vader’s helmet, just sitting there looking at it, my first thought was “This is not good……not good at all!” Then I wondered as to how long it will take before Kylo actually sees the whole picture of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens in his story part of this new set of trilogy.

    Thanks for posting this…….was a great read!!!!

    Vader’s Girl

    1. Jay Krebs
      February 19, 2016 at 15:37 Reply

      So glad you got a chance to stop by, and I appreciate your kind words!

      Yes – one can almost FEEL the misery and emotional torment just rolling off of Kylo Ren. It’s almost palpable!

      I do hope we will get more insight on Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. It would really help bring more closure and clarity for all involved!!

  5. Melinda
    February 20, 2016 at 17:20 Reply

    Jay, what a powerful blog! 🙂 I loved reading it! 🙂

    I must tell you that upon watching “The Force Awakens” the second and many subsequent times, I couldn’t help but think, “What was Ben thinking? How could he possibly want to have any affiliation with the Dark Side considering who his parents and uncle are?” Leia, in particular, could share the horrors of watching her home world be obliterated at the flick of a switch on one madman’s order (that’s part of how I view Grand Moff Tarkin — drunk on the power that was entrusted to him). Maybe Ben couldn’t absorb what that meant when he was a young child, but once he reached his teens (at least), he should have been able to understand the full importance of what his mother experienced … not only losing her home world, but her beloved family as well. Why would Ben want to be part of a regime that would inflict that kind of pain and horror?

    Maybe we’ll get some answers down the line. I hope so. Especially since I really didn’t get (as in buy) Leia’s comment to Han when she told her estranged husband that she lost both Ben and Han when she sent Ben to train with Luke. Quite frankly, if I had a child who was strong in the Force, and I wanted him/her to be under the tutelage of someone who could help shape him — and that someone happened to be the strongest Jedi in the galaxy (and my brother!) — I would have sent my child off to train with Luke, too!

    When I think about Anakin, and his turn to the Dark Side, I think of him doing the wrong thing for the right reason (or, at least he thought it was the right reason). Ben … Ben, on the other hand — well, what in the Star Wars Galaxy could he have been thinking when he decided to give himself willingly to the Dark Side and Supreme Leader Snoke — (like I said) given who his parents and uncle are? Anakin metamorphosized into Darth Vader, and wore that mantle until his death, because he truly felt there was no alternative for him — not after the atrocity he had committed only moments before kneeling before Darth Sidious. In Ben’s situation, however, his parents were still alive, hoping the best for him. Ben’s uncle was trying to lead him down a path that would, basically, be his rock.

    And yet, Ben opted to worship the worse side of his grandfather? It doesn’t make sense to me. I imagine much will come into the light in the next two films. I suppose I’ll just have to be patient.

    Given the fact that Anakin had once fought for right, freedom and justice, that he clung to the Light Side of the Force, and then was led astray to follow a dark path indeed — and then was lucky enough to find his way back to the Light — I would agree with you — that he would be distressed knowing that his grandson had made the same mistakes he had made. Anakin wouldn’t want to be worshiped for all the evil he committed.

    Great blog, Jay! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a topic that fits so well.

    MTFBWY 🙂

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