Sleep No More: A Character Study of Kylo Ren and Macbeth


This piece was written by guest contributor Willzgirl (Twitter: @notafoolishwit)

Kylo Ren is a tragedy wrapped in a mystery. Two movies in, and audiences still have very little information on the Sequel Trilogy’s elusive villain. But the path that he has trod has some similarities to one of history’s most famous villainous protagonists, Macbeth from William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. However, there are major differences in these two’s respective stories that lead to very different outcomes. Even inspired by classic tragic hero tropes used by Shakespeare, Kylo’s story crafted by Lucasfilm is still very much his own and is essential to the Sequel Trilogy.  

Though many forget, Macbeth starts his story as a hero with all the potential in the world. He is regarded highly by his king and country. But within Macbeth is an ambition for more, an ambition awakened by a mystical outside influence that he chooses to trust with little question. And with the encouragement and loyalty of his wife, he kills his own king. That act almost destroys him and the guilt of it consumes him. He is constantly at war with his two natures, that of a loyal and heroic warrior and a power hungry monster. He even states in Act II that he hears a voice saying, “Sleep no more-Macbeth shall sleep no more” (2.2.35)  due to the ghosts of his past that haunt him. The only way to silence that war and his own ghosts, is to commit more violent acts, first against his friend Banquo, and then against the innocent House Macduff. All that time he is certain he is doing right, driven by prophecies he ultimately misunderstood. 

Although Kylo Ren’s story does not follow these events exactly, he also chose to change his life because of a force he trusts without complete understanding.  Just like Macbeth, he is encouraged by another who sees his potential, although in Kylo’s case it is a mentor figure, and not a romantic partner. Just like when Macbeth kills his father figure in King Duncan, Kylo Ren kills his father Han Solo and the choice nearly destroys him. But like Macbeth, he chooses to silence his conscience  with more and more violence, and these decisions continue to haunt him. Kylo Ren has acquired many ghosts over the course of the Sequel Trilogy: his father, his uncle, his master, and the many people whose lives he has destroyed to get where he is. In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker states to Kylo, “Strike me down in anger and I’ll always be with you, just like your father.” This quote not only gives the impression that Luke is well aware of Kylo’s struggle, but sets up that he will be visited by the Force ghost of his uncle in The Rise of Skywalker, perhaps when he is struggling with all he has done. 

Kylo must also face the fact that his greatest motivation might be a lie. One of the stand out scenes in The Force Awakens has Kylo speaking to the mask of Vader asking him to show him the power of the dark side again. This implies that it gave him a vision previously, just like how MacBeth returns to the witches to ask for another prophecy.

Darth Sidious’s iconic laugh was heard at the end of the first trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, signalling his return. Darth Sidious, or Palpatine is well-known for orchestrating Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader by playing on his flaws including pride, possessive love, and fear. Similarly, the witches play on Macbeth’s pride and ambition. And just like how the audience suspects Palpatine’s evil intentions long before Anakin due to his suspicious nature, the witches’ dark and ambiguous nature makes the audience question their prophecies long before Macbeth does. It is not a stretch to think that the spirit of Palpatine sensed a weakness in young Ben Solo and sent him a vision which would change his life for the worse. 

If there are obvious similarities between Macbeth and Kylo Ren, what does that suggest about the latter’s fate in The Rise of Skywalker? After being haunted and losing the last remnants of his humanity, Macbeth’s story ends with his defeat by Macduff due to confidence in his invulnerability. The Last Jedi ended with Kylo Ren as the Supreme Leader of the First Order, which he appears to still be in the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker. It’s also clear from the recent Vanity Fair article, that Kylo will have at least one more duel with the series’s protagonist Rey. 

While Rey shares characteristics with a few characters in the play, the most notable is Macduff. So if Rey is the Macduff in this story, what does that mean? Macduff goes after Macbeth because he is responsible for the death of his family. The Star Wars Shadow Council writing staff has long suspected that Kylo played a part in the separation of Rey from her family, and perhaps the death of Rey’s mother. Even if this is not the case, Kylo’s actions caused the death of Han, her father figure, and Luke, who may be revealed as her biological father. The conflict between them is not resolved. At the end of The Last Jedi, Kylo tells Rey that she is nothing and has no place in the story. Macbeth dismisses Macduff of having no ability to defeat him. Both will be proven wrong. 

On this path, Kylo will die at Rey’s hand due to his own inability to question the path that he was on. However, there is evidence that it will not follow this direction. The Sequel Trilogy from the beginning lets the audience know that Kylo Ren is evil. He performs despicable acts throughout both movies and by the end of The Last Jedi, he can easily be called worse than Vader. However, these movies have hidden Kylo Ren’s full story. Although many have theorized, including myself, we actually do not know why he fell to the dark side. Why keep so much hidden if it will only confirm what the audience already believes? His whole story has to unfold in The Rise of Skywalker. If I am correct, this story will solidify Kylo Ren and Rey as the two halves of Anakin’s legacy and bring them together as a family. The Skywalkers are trapped in a vicious cycle started by Sidious and through his return, and the descendants of the man he destroyed, the cycle can be broken and the family can finally move forward. This cannot be done by Rey or Kylo alone. 

Macbeth’s story was ultimately the story of one man, and that is not and never has been Kylo’s story. He may not be the Skywalker of the story, but he is half of the legacy. His dying means that nothing changes and no progress can be made in the family. He will just be another Vader.  That does not mean Kylo should not face consequences, ideally he should spend the rest of his life repenting for what he has done. And leave the Skywalker legacy on the shoulders of Rey, who has shown she is worthy through actions, not just birth. 

Macbeth and Kylo Ren are both tragic heroes that chose their paths to villainy. Their roads are washed in the blood of both friends and foes. However, they play very different roles in the stories they inhabit, and it is those differences that will mean a different ending for the son of Solo. 

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