Guest Post: Kylo Snape? Is ‘The Force Awakens’ the Eighth Harry Potter Story?

Kylo 1Kylo Snape?

by Emily Strand

I know it’s hard to believe. It’s even harder to admit, but until this fall I’d never seen Star Wars. Any of them. I was too young to watch the original films in the 1970s and 80s, and while I know I went to see the one with Jar Jar Binks when I was in college (because who can forget Jar Jar?), it certainly wasn’t my idea, and my brief encounter with the franchise was just that: brief.

You see, I am a Harry Potter person. Although I’m too old to have grown up with Harry, still he has been, for me, the portal of my interest in imaginative fiction of all kinds, including Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, etc. And happily, many of the authors and books to which my interest in Potter has led me, I have come to realize, inform Rowling’s own books. Harry Potter has been, for me, a literary boomerang.

Kylo 2Content in my love of Potter and related works, and blinded by my ignorance of the ‘verse, I had not even heard that a new set of Star Wars movies would roll out beginning this year. Still something (grace? the Force?) pushed me to investigate George Lucas’ epic, just in time for a seamless transition to The Force Awakens. I borrowed all the released films from my niece and began my journey. With my Potter-colored lenses, I immediately noticed resonances with the Potter series: the influence of the hero’s journey, the “rhyming” or ring composition of the plot, minor elements like “life debts” and mis-directive titles (eg. Attack of the Clones and Prisoner of Azkaban), and major themes such as the redemption of ambivalent characters.

Kylo 3These observations made me wonder: how much had Star Wars influenced Harry Potter? I filed the question away for future investigation and readied myself to enjoy The Force Awakens, having become, in just a few short months, almost as big a Star Wars fan as I am of Harry Potter.

So, despite being a very recent convert to all things Star Wars, on December 17, this self-proclaimed Harry Potter person sat in her local cinema, trembling with as much excitement as anyone who has worshipped the franchise since 1977. Yet I’d like to think I came to The Force Awakens with a considerably different (lighter?) set of baggage. I came without treasured vintage collectibles or directorial partiality. I came without preferences for animation style or positions on the film’s genre (fantasy or sci-fi? or who cares?). I came only with my Great Lakes Christmas Ale, and a newly-awakened love of the Star Wars saga acquired, in no small part, from loving Harry Potter first.

f39174246Like Potter, I came to love Star Wars because it is a story set in a believable and comprehensive universe, with genuinely interesting and compelling characters whose adventures propel the viewer’s interest both forward and backward in time. Like my more fundamental love for the Potter story, my love for Star Wars also has to do with what lies at the heart of the story: the Force, that mysterious power that takes the characters beyond the mundane, beyond themselves, beyond hatred and even death, and appears both systematic and magical in its origin and application.

So as I sat waiting for the opening scroll of The Force Awakens, I knew that as long as these elements remained central to the newest film as they are to the franchise as a whole (and how could they not?), I was going to love it. The Force Awakens did not disappoint.

However, I did not expect to find Severus Snape in the film. And yet, there he was, just as bold as brass. And Severus Snape’s film equivalent to a photo-bomb on my Potter-shaped imagination pointed me to a question even more compelling than my first: how much does Harry Potter influence Star Wars?

Kylo 4Let’s talk about Kylo Ren. He’s young, he’s stoic, he’s emo. He runs around in a cassock and mask. He’s got daddy issues. He flies a ship that looks like an overgrown bat. If these aesthetic echoes of Severus Snape (plus the casting of Ren with an actor who is far more believably Alan Rickman’s son than Harrison Ford’s) aren’t enough to convince you of the power of Potter to influence even Lucas’ ancient and venerable franchise, let’s take a deeper look.

Like Severus Snape, who was born to a witch mother and a Muggle father, Ben Solo (Ren’s given name) is of mixed origin. Ben/Ren is the child of one Force-sensitive (Leia Organa) and one Force-skeptic (Han Solo). As Snape inherited his mother’s magical abilities, Ren inherited his mother’s sensitivity to the Force. Both young men entered into formal training to harness this inherited power for the good (Ren with Skywalker, Snape at Hogwarts), but both men, in the course of their training, became seduced by a fixation on the shadows of their own heritages (recall Snape’s self-aggrandizing moniker “The Half-Blood Prince”), and joined an order of mask-wearing evil doers (the Knights of Ren, the Death Eaters). Both men take new titles for themselves, presumably, in part, out of a distaste for associating with their mundane fathers (though Snape does not use his new moniker professionally as Ren does).

f39080230Though both men are besotted with the dark side in their youth, neither can make a permanent commitment to this way of life, especially in light of former attachments (for Snape, Lily Evans Potter; for Ren, familiar and familial figures such as Poe Dameron, Han Solo and Rey seem to test his resolve). Snape is an accomplished Legilimens, and – not surprisingly by this point – Kylo Ren has the same talent for invading others’ minds. Importantly (and most spoilerifically), both men murder their fathers (in Snape’s case, father figure): for each, that figure who represents a last chance at redemption. Finally, both of these father/redemption figures are hurtled from a great height after each murderous confrontation.

It seems to this Star-Wars-via-Harry-Potter fan that the connections between Kylo Ren and Severus Snape are more than aesthetic. Although Snape’s redemptive trajectory is clear now that the Potter series is complete, Ren’s is still shrouded in mystery. Given the similarities I outlined above, it seems safe to suppose the redemption of Kylo Ren will be essential to the coming Star Wars installments, even if, like Snape’s redemption in the Harry Potter books, it is not the story’s main focus. But anyone interested in the cross- pollination between the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises will keep a close eye on Kylo Ren.


  1. Yes, this post is so on target! I was thinking so many of the same things.
    First, I came at Harry Potter/Star Wars from exactly the opposite direction. I have been a Star Wars-obsessive since 1977. Yes, I’m that old. I had to be convinced to read Harry Potter, so binged on the series when I finally did get into it. And I told a friend—Harry is Luke, only with more time to develop the story and the character, the way we always wanted!

    As I watched The Force Awakens last week, I too was making the Snape connection with Ren, and in particular the scene in which Ren has Rey captive and is invading her mind, and she’s resisting. Shades of Harry and Snape in the dungeon basement! Then I picked up the Alan Dean Foster novelization of The Force Awakens, and I just reached that scene. This may have happened in the movie as well, but I don’t remember it. I was thinking as I read how much the scene was like Harry and Snape in that disastrous Legilimens lesson, only Harry ended up getting into Snape’s memories and fears, as well. And then, in the novelization, Rey reverses things and invades Ren’s mind and tells him she knows of his fears that he will never be as strong and powerful as Darth Vader! Like Snape, Ren is thoroughly rattled!

    I look forward to seeing Ren and Rey’s story develop.

  2. I almost laughed when Ren took off his mask. Accio light sabre! Wingardium leviosa Rai! I was trying to remember what the word for light sabre was (I was VERY tired) after the movie and asked “what is that light wand called?” The interesting is how much Rowling was influenced by the original Star Wars and then how much did her work then influence “A new awakening”. A feedback cycle which results in a very derivative movie – a movie which was designed to reflect much of the original Starwars!

  3. Louise M. Freeman says

    During the fight in the snowy wood, I leaned over, poked my husband and said “The light saber chooses the Jedi.”

  4. The first time I saw Kylo unmasked I thought “Isn’t he in the wrong film?”

  5. Agree, there’s a lot of similarities between the 2 universes, kilo may have plotted that kill with Han, who knows..

  6. My wife looked over to me in the theater and said, “he reminds me of Snape.”

    Good post! Giving me more to think about as I digest the movie.

  7. Great Article!
    There is one thing Harry Potter and Star Wars have in Common…
    His name is ALAN HORNE…
    He was the studio head During
    Harry Potter
    Star Wars force Awakens.

  8. I am a huge fan of both series. Not only is there a resemblance between Ren and Snape, but there is a definite resemblance between Snoke and Voldemort! I googled this theory and found this site. I knew I could not be the only one making this connection.

  9. I’m not too familiar with Star Wars (Yes, Yes, I know!), but the people around me are trying to change that. I just had to say that as soon as I saw Kylo Ren/Ben gifs around the internet, I caved in to watch TFA. However, I didn’t make the connection, even though Severus Snape is my favorite character in every universe. Oh well. I’m still not convinced Star Wars is my thing, but you’re convincing me to try it out more, being a fellow Potter fan.

    So with all that said, I might be wrong, but it sounds that Kylo Ren resembles Voldemort in more ways (just not physically!). Killing his father-figure seems like a stretch when the reasons for killing their fathers/father-figures were different motivations. For Kylo, it seems like it might be killing the parts of him that makes him weak (like Tom Riddle/Voldermort), plus both Kylo and Voldy take on their new names. However, maybe we’re to expect a lot more interesting backstories for Kylo Ren in the future, eh?

  10. Emily Strand says

    Great comment, Amber! I do encourage you to check out Star Wars, ESPECIALLY if you’re already a Potter fan. And I guess I went with connections btw Kylo and Snape (instead of Voldy) mostly because of by my initial (and lasting) aesthetic impressions of Ren, as well as both Ren and Snape’s roles as support-to-the-uber-baddie in each story. But I agree there are some striking resemblances with Ren and Lord Thingy as well. Well spotted!

  11. He has similar hair.

  12. Anyone else agree?

Speak Your Mind