I finally realized who Kylo Ren reminded me of: Omar Sharif as Sharif Ali Ibn el Kharish in Lawrence of Arabia. Then I noticed some other similarities as well…and not just sand, but that too. There’s an unique dynamic between Ali and Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) that seems echoed between Kylo Ren and Rey in The Force Awakens. And, yes, I’d say part of that echo involves romance.
The roles of dark and light are reversed in Lawrence. Yes, O’Toole as Lawrence is the fair, naive and unwilling hero who is initiated into a new world by Sharif Ali. However, Ali, in that fantastic black robe and headdress that had to be inspiration for Kylo’s dress and mask , remains the moral center and light in Lawrence’s increasingly darkened and conflicted mind. While Lawrence descends into a nightmare of blood and egoism, Ali sends him back to the “light.” He screams at him to “go back to England. English blasphemer!” He literally just sends him back to the white folks, who are the bad guys. The imperialist users and abusers of the Arabs. Because ultimately that’s what Lawrence is.
In Force Awakens, we may not get that nifty switch-up. But Ren’s character does initiate Rey’s character — forcibly — to a new world as well. He basically dumps her into the deep end of the pool of The Force. And she just has to learn to swim or die.
The characters’ backgrounds and attitudes echo each other as well. Lawrence and Rey are bastards and orphans. Ali and Ren are princes of important families they esteem (at least to Granddads). Their beliefs inform their lives, so you get the cries of “Blasphemer!” and “Traitor!” Different words for ideological apostates. And while Lawrence’s claim that “nothing is written” turns out to be a lie. Rey, the “nobody’s,” lack of initiation in the crazy world of Light and Dark allows her to intuit her way to the right path.
Yeah, OK, now romance. Now, there are no women in Lawrence of Arabia, just a few wide shots of shrouded figures. But there is romance between Ali and Lawrence, as there is between Ren and Rey. And while I adore the gender flip of Rey the Conquering Hero, I kinda have to give the prize to Lawrence of Arabia again because the romance and gender roles are played out by males at a time when this subtext had to be extremely subtle. Ultimately, Ali and Lawrence cannot inhabit the same world. And The Force Awakens leaves Ren and Rey with a giant chasm opening between them, but obviously that relationship isn’t over. But, their dynamic can’t play out like Vader and Luke’s (Father and Son). It’s going to play out through male and female through the darkened lens of the violence used against Rey and then turned back onto Kylo. Because that’s how Star Wars works.
Hey, who knows? Perhaps we’ll get the Dark and Light reversal like Ali and Lawrence in Ren and Rey. We shall see. I’m just super tickled to find new ways of seeing Lawrence of Arabia — one of my favorite films of all time — and The Force Awakens — quickly becoming a new favorite through the lenses of one another.
I have to give credit for the many wonderful cinematic references in The Force Awakens, not simply within the Star Wars saga, but to the rest of the cinematic galaxy. As M. Grand’s imaginary publisher proclaimed after reading his grand ouvre “Gentlemen, hats off!”