I saw The Force Awakens on opening night and then again the following Sunday, and was just blown away by how amazing it was. The new characters were a particularly bright spot in this shining film. I loved all the new main characters, but I was surprised to find Kylo Ren the most compelling. I have several thoughts on his powers and his story, but we’ll save those until after the spoiler warning.
Last week in my Star Wars Myers-Briggs chart I did something I wasn’t expecting — I typed Kylo Ren as an ENFJ. Many MBTI fans will argue that NF types don’t make good villains — that they’re too in-touch with other people to hurt them. Even with Hitler as a real-life example of an INFJ bad guy, they still argue that NFs are hard-wired to act for what they believe is the “good” of humanity.
this post contains Major Spoilers for The Force Awakens, and for other books and films in the Star Wars universe
And yet, I really get the feeling Kylo is an Idealist type, or an NF personality in the Myers-Briggs system. Most clever and/or menacing villains are cast as Rational types, or NT in Myers-Briggs, but there’s something different about Kylo. People are already talking about how he’s a new kind of villain. One video review I saw described him as, “Not your typical villain, he has very complex motivations.” Another said, “they play very well with what a villain is, and they add some layers to it” and that Kylo is “A great villain, a complicated villain.” The NT villain has been done over and over again in film — people wouldn’t be saying this if they got the sense Kylo was another character along these same lines. We expect NT villains driven by a lust for power and a need for control. Kylo is something else.
The Cult Leader
I’ve said this before, but being in touch with other peoples’ feelings doesn’t automatically make you a good or caring person. Extroverted Feeling used in an antagonistic way is the harshest judge of other people. It’s all focused outward rather than processing the person’s own emotions. When damaged, immature, or even just temporarily angry, Extroverted Feeling types can tear other people apart. Understanding how others work means you know exactly what to use against them. The clearest time Kylo uses someone’s emotions against them is when he asks his father for help reaching his full potential, and then kills him.
We learn very little about the Knights of Ren, but we do learn that Kylo is “Master of the Knights of Ren.” He’s probably the leader, and may even be the founding member. Prior to the films release it was assumed Ren was a surname taken by all the Knights in this order, but since Finn calls him “Ren” and not “Kylo” I suspect this is a name specific to the character. Perhaps “Knights of Ren” should be taken as “Knights who follow/belong to Ren.” He even tries to recruit another follower in the final duel with Rey — “you need a teacher” (and David Keirsey calls ENFJs “The Teacher”).
This is a key reason I chose ENFJ rather than INFJ as Kylo’s type. ENFJs love having followers, and the few times you will see ENFJs playing villains in fiction it’s as evil cult leaders. In addition, Kylo doesn’t strike me as a Hitler-type villain (Hitler is generally typed as INFJ) trying to bring about a new world order — this is more personal and hands-on for Kylo. He’s not commanding from a distance, he’s right there engaged with the fight.
Thoughts on Feeling
One of the key traits we see Kylo display is outbursts of emotion, slashing at consoles and rooms twice with his lightsaber after learning something that makes him angry. You might use this to argue that Feeling is his inferior function — the one he goes to when stressed. An INTP, for example, has Extroverted Feeling a lowest on their function stack. However, emotional outbursts aren’t limited to types with Feeling low on their stack — I’m an INFJ, and I’ve thrown things across the room and knelt on the floor and screamed when I was angry (rarely, and quite a few years ago, but it did happen). I think Kylo is using his Feeling far too comfortably for it to be his least well developed function. ENFJs use inferior Thinking, which you can read more about by clicking here.
Like Fe types, Kylo notices other people — what they’re doing, what makes them tick, how to control them. He knows immediately which Stormtrooper helped Poe Dameron escape because he picked up on Finn’s distress on Jakku. There are also two interrogation scenes in the film that illustrate this point. For the first, Kylo interrogates Poe and we learn he can pull thoughts out of other people’s heads. Even before using the Force, though, he’s already learned a lot about Poe’s character. In the second scene, he interrogates Rey and doesn’t try his Force power as the first step. Instead, he takes off his mask and tries to establish an emotional connection so he can manipulate her, though he does make sure she knows, “I can take whatever I want.”
Another key scene where I feel he shows dominant Feeling rather than thinking comes right after he fails to get information out of Rey. Kylo goes to Supreme Leader Snoke and says that he would succeed if given a second change with Snoke’s guidance. He’s asking for a mentor to teach him, where most Thinkers would ask for help reluctantly because they want to prove they can do everything on their own.
I have a working theory that a Jedi or Sith’s specific skill set is influenced by their personality. I’ve previously argued that any type can be a Force user (i.e. not just Intuitive), and I still think that. My thought here is that any specific powers a Force user has are tied to personality.
Take Yoda for example. He’s an INFJ, and INFJ personality types are known for being the most in-tune with other peoples’ emotions. Some even call them empaths because of the unique way their brains are wired to use Introverted Intuition with Extroverted Feeling. Yoda’s specific Force gift is to see inside other people. In the book Dark Disciple he says he can see the history of a person’s soul, which is what makes it possible for him to tell that Quinlan Vos has turned to the Dark Side when no one else can sense it.
Speaking of Quinlan, he’s another Jedi with a Force gift that’s specific to him. Psychometry allows him to see the history of an object when he touches it — a comb tells him its owner flexed in the mirror when no one is looking, his master’s lightsaber tells him how he died, a stolen antique points to the smugglers who handled it. This gift fits well with his ESTP personality — they’re very much tied to the sensory, external world of people and objects.
On the Dark Side, Dooku and Emperor Palpitain are both INTJ, and they’re the only characters we see use Force-lightening in the films. It’s generally assumed to be a power common to Sith, though, so perhaps we can’t count them, especially since Son (basically the personification of the Dark Side) uses it in Clone Wars S3E15-17. Foresight is a strong contender for the Emperor’s specific Force power, especially if you’ve read Lords of the Sith. That’s a more of INTJ-type power — their Introverted Intuition acts as pattern-recognition that, coupled with very clever use of Extroverted Thinking, can help them predict future events with a high degree of accuracy.
Kylo Ren has a Force power we’ve never seen before (at least as far as I know; certainly not in any of the films). He can read minds. This is the first time we’ve seen a character in Star Wars use the Force to pull thoughts out of people’s heads, and it’s terrifying. It’s like an evil, and perhaps more powerful,version of Yoda’s gift. So if these powers are tied to personality types, then we might expect to see Kylo also using Extroverted Feeling and Introverted Intuition, but perhaps with Fe dominant as in an ENFJ.
Most Sith are NT types. Darth Sideous/Palpitain and Darth Tyranus/Dooku are INTJs, Darth Vader/Anakin is an ENTJ, and Sith-in-traning Asajj Ventress is an INTP. When you’re tempting one of these types to the Dark Side, the pitch usually includes the instruction to give into your feelings and let the hate flow through you. For types that use Thinking as their primary or secondary function, this is an invitation to ignore their most stable way of making decisions and tapping into less-developed Feeling.
This pitch did not work on Luke Skywalker, who is an INFP. INFPs are used to checking in with their finely honed Feeling side to make decisions based on what feels right. Though Luke does let his aggressive feelings take over for a while and cuts off his fathers hand, when the Emperor pushes him Luke steps back, analyzes how he feels, and turns-down the Dark Side’s invitation.
When Kylo Ren talks with Supreme Leader Snoke, we don’t see a “give into your feelings” pitch. Instead, he’s counseling Kylo to overcome the pesky, sentimental emotions that are holding him back from fully joining the Dark Side. It doesn’t seem to fit very well with the Sith code of “Through passion, I gain strength,” but I suspect it’s part of what would be needed to get an ENFJ to go full-evil. Anakin had to by-pass his Thinking to become Darth Vader instead of doing his duty as a soldier of the Republic and a Jedi Knight. Ben Solo has to by-pass his Feeling to become Kylo Ren instead of staying loyal to his family. Along those same lines, he has to pass the test that other Feeling-type Luke failed — kill your father.
Why Go Evil?
In Anakin’s story line, we saw a Light Side user tempted by the Dark Side. In Kylo’s story we see a Dark Side user who struggles against a “call to the Light.” His nature is rebelling against his dark choices in a way we’ve never seen before. So what could flip such an unlikely villain as an ENFJ to the Dark Side? While it’s not explained in this film, we do get a few hints and director J.J. Abrams provided us with some additional insight in an interview:
An incredible power, an incredible force, and incredible potential that was, like many young people, sort of misguided and unclear. And the story for him is one of conflict, not just internal conflict but external conflict. And it’s what makes him a rather interesting villain.” — J.J. Abrams
Here’s what we know: 1) Ben Solo had “too much Vader in him,” so Leia made the decision to have him train with Luke. 2) Han feels like he failed his son, and Kylo tells Rey that Han “would have disappointed you” as a father-figure. 3) Luke withdraws from the galaxy largely because Ben/Kylo turns to the Dark Side. 4) Kylo sees himself as finishing what Darth Vadar started. 5) Kylo considers his mentor, Snoke, a source of wisdom.
Every type needs to know they’re supported while growing up, but it’s particularly key for ENFJs, and especially ENFJ men. They’re using Extroverted Feeling as their primary mental process — a function that’s used by more than 50% of women in the population and which is stereotyped as “feminine.” In addition to that, young Intuitives often feel misunderstood since they’re only about 30% of the population as a whole. Assuming that holds true in the Star Wars universe, young Ben Solo probably struggled with feeling like he was unusual and out-of-place, especially as his Force powers developed. Add this to the fact that his parents were an ESTJ and an ISTP, it’s no wonder if he felt there was something wrong with him. When Leia sent him away, that probably confirmed an idea that he was something less than his parents hoped and added a feeling of rejection.
I don’t know what Ben was told about his grandfather, but whatever it was made him fascinated with Darth Vader. If he was told or overheard that the guardian/mentor/parent figures in his life who weren’t meeting his emotional needs thought there was “too much Vader in him,” that might have prompted his initial interest — a search for someone in his family who would understand him, even if they were long dead. Then if Snoke stepped in around this time and gave Kylo the reassurance he needed and encouraged him to “be himself” and told him there was nothing wrong with him, that would explain a Dark Side switch. Obviously this is all speculation, but I feel it’s a probable theory.