How Rey embodies the “Wild Woman” archetype in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and why Kylo Ren is the Dark Man in her dreams (but not in the way you might think)
I would first like to say that this is my first ever meta and I’m not exactly sure about how far it’s going to go. But I know that I have something good here and I hope to get lots of positive feedback and possibly learn something new about my writing abilities.
I will be using mostly quotes from Dr. Clarissa Estes’ book, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Please check her books out, they are truly magical and full of wonderful wisdom.
When Rey touches the Skywalker lightsaber, which has been kept safely in Maz Kanata’s vaults for ages, much like the enchanted rose in Beauty and the Beast, a darkness sweeps over her; the so-called “dark man” has come to her dreams. In Beauty and the Beast, as in The Force Awakens, the dark man takes the shape of a very real character in the story, a character who goes on to play a significant role in the heroine’s journey towards spiritual and psychic consciousness and awareness. For Belle, he is the Beast, a hideous and often impulsive being, who holds her captive in his cursed, lifeless castle; for Rey, he is Kylo Ren, master of the mysterious Knights of Ren, apprentice to Supreme Leader Snoke of the First Order (derivative of the original Empire), and grandson of the Sith lord, Darth Vader. Both Belle’s and Rey’s curiosity leads them to a place where few have been in some time, a place where the secrets which hold the keys to their psyches’ freedom are locked away and kept in the darkness—until the heroine dares to break the lock and shed her own light on the shadows.
Before examining the connection between these two stories and others like them, the dark man archetype must also be shed light upon in order to better understand the direction in which they take these heroines in their stories. According to Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., the dark man is, “The natural predator of the psyche…a universal initiatory dream among women…”(Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, pg.66). For most women, in real life as well as in stories, this shadowy antagonist usually takes the shape of someone/something very dangerous (I.e. Terrorists, rapists, and/or thugs). In the case of Belle and Rey, it takes the shape of a monster/killer, but, curiously, one not so one-dimensional as most others are. The Beast was once a prince. But he was greedy and selfish, possibly even narcissistic, until a sorceress, disguised as an old beggar woman, comes to his door one night, offering a rose, and, after being turned away by the prince, casts a spell upon him and his castle, rendering him a beast. A remarkably similar story-line goes for Kylo Ren (Ben Solo), himself once a “prince” of sorts (son of Han Solo, a smuggler, and Princess/General Leia Organa, daughter of Anakin Skywalker), though he had a very different beginning. When it was discovered that he was Force-sensitive, he was sent away from his mother and father (causing a very early wound to open up in his subconscious, making him more vulnerable to his own psychic predators) to train with Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight and brother of Leia Organa, in order to help him control his power. It is evident that, early on, he displayed some darkness which must have been passed down to him through his connection to Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. At some point in his training, unclear exactly when, he is manipulated by a predator who calls himself Snoke, appealing to his weakness of not being accepted fully for who he is by his family, and turns against his uncle, aiding in destroying all that Luke had worked to achieve as a Jedi master. When this happens, not only is Luke Skywalker, the force for good in Ben’s life, driven into self-exile, but he takes on the guise of Kylo Ren and pursues the dark side as his grandfather had. ‘
In both cases, the monster/dark man in the heroine’s journey’s have stories of their own to tell, and this will be addressed progressively throughout this meta; the point herein is that the guises that these two dark characters have taken on have become the dark man in the heroines’ personal journeys. Just as Belle is about to touch the rose, the Beast creeps up behind her and, in a fit of wild anger, forces her to get out and frightens her into nearly leaving him for good, almost banishing his chances of ever being human again through her love. And, in Rey’s vision, brought on when she touched the lightsaber, Kylo Ren enters her focus twice, both times making a severe impression on her, his dark robes, formidable mask, and red lightsaber causing her to stumble into the realization that there is a sinister force in her life that must be fought and dealt with if she is to ever progress as a whole character. Both the Beast and Kylo Ren represent the frightening challenge which Belle and Rey must overcome and destroy in order for new life and new changes to occur.
1. Who is the Dark Man?
In order to truly understand how this archetype of the Dark Man applies to heroines such as Rey and Belle, one must delve deeper into the mystique of the feminine psyche; for therein lies a place where none may go but the woman herself, a place where all manner of frightening terrors visit her in her sleep. These terrors, shadow-beings as I like to call them, are messengers of both light and dark, life and death, and the mixture of these two contrasting shades is what the Dark Man represents. He is the most important messenger of all, the one who causes the heroine at the start of her adventure to wake up, smell the whiff of smoke coming from somewhere in her small, dim house, and, finally, to get up and either stoke the flame or subdue it. Clarissa Estés vividly describes the process of waking up from the deep sleep in this way in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves,
“…The dreamer is alone, often in her own home. There are one or more prowler-types outside in the dark. Frightened, she dials the emergency phone number for help. Suddenly, she realizes, the prowler is inside the house with her…close to her…perhaps she can feel his breath…perhaps he is even touching her…and she cannot ring the emergency number”(ch. 2, pg. 66).
One could say that the Dark Man is the emo version of the handsome prince who awakens the princess and lifts the curse of complacency and tameness. He gives her dreams a flare of vitality, casting the surrounding shadows in her life into finer detail, but he is neither a harbinger of life or death. The dark man is also not necessarily dark, not really evil or ill-meaning in any way; he serves his purpose by touching the most inaccessible territory of a woman’s soul, flips a switch on the colorless wall, and, in an instant that seems to have taken eternity to build up, she knows what she must do. In more ways than one, dark man hands the heroine the keys to all the locked doors she’s passed by walking through her life. All she has to do is realize which one will unlock the portal that will set her free.
Waking up from the deep sleep is never easy, never comfortable, and cannot be perfectly mapped out in any sense, as is shown by the Force-vision scene in The Force Awakens; Rey is drawn to the mystery of the lightsaber hiding in Maz’s storage space, just as she will later be drawn to the mystery that is Kylo Ren, the dark man in her vision. As she moves toward the shining object, her breath quickening with anticipation and fear, she must know in some part of her mind that what she uncovers will change her life forever (though whether for better or for worse remains to be seen). Estés imagines this scenario perfectly:
“The dream usually causes women to jolt awake, striving and anxious…The dreamer awakens instantly, breathing gutturally, heart like a crazy drum”(Women Who Run With the Wolves 66). And so it does for Rey, prompting her to turn away from the call of the Hero’s Journey, running into the woods of Takodana as though her own destiny were chasing her like a ravenous wolf. She believes she can find her family, that they can find her, if she can only get back to square one and wait for them to come. But she cannot now, and knows this fact with every inch of her being, which is why, in a psychological sense, the vision that she had was so vivid and alarming, why her Dark Man seemed to pursue her throughout it and never let her be. Rey will never be at peace until she can find the source of her nightmares, do battle with them, and conquer them, once and for all. Her first step into a broader consciousness is about to begin in earnest.