I really like all the new characters in the latest Star Wars trilogy, but was surprised to find Kylo Ren the most compelling. One of the main reasons has to do with his personality type. 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.
And yet, consistently through the two films featuring him as a main character, Kylo is portrayed as an Idealist type, or NF personality in the Myers-Briggs system. Most of the bad guys in Star Wars so far have been NT types, but there’s something different about Kylo. And people noticed that as soon as they saw The Force Awakens.
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.” And of course you have the other end of the spectrum, the people who hate how emotional Kylo is and call him a whiny crybaby. People wouldn’t be making observations like this if he was just like any other villain. We expect to watch movies and see NT villains driven by a lust for power and a need for control. Kylo is something else.
I type Kylo Ren/Ben Solo as an ENFJ type, which leads with a function called Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Fe is the mental process that makes decisions based on how it will make other people feel. In a healthy type, it’s concerned with maintaining harmony in interpersonal relationships. Most Fe types want to be in harmony with the people around them. Kylo wants people to be in harmony with him (or else).
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 your 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. Kylo does this again and again. He plays on Rey’s emotions when interrogating her. He uses Han’s emotions against him when when he asks his father for help reaching his full potential and then kills him. He shows Snoke exactly what he expects to see in Ren’s mind, then uses that as a way to kill him. And when trying to get Rey (an ISTJ) to join him near the end of The Last Jedi, he knows exactly which buttons to push to get an emotional response.
Empathic Force Powers
As an Fe type Kylo notices other people — what they’re doing, what makes them tick, how to control them. He knows immediately which Stormtrooper helped Poe Dameron (an ESTP) escape because he picked up on Finn’s distress on Jakku. There are also two interrogation scenes in TFA 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.”
I have a working theory that a Jedi or Sith’s specific skill set is influenced by their 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 (an ESTP) has turned to the Dark Side when no one else can sense it.
Kylo Ren’s mind reading is a Force power we’d never seen before TFA (though Darth Maul uses it in a Rebels episode released after this film). Kylo was the first character we’ve seen 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 with Fe dominant as in an ENFJ.
The Cult Leader
We know very little about the Knights of Ren, but we do learn from The Force Awakens 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 (an ISFJ) 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.”
David Keirsey calls ENFJs “The Teacher.” The reason for this is also 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.
In The Last Jedi, Kylo continues showing a strongly idealist (NF) streak. His pitch to Rey when asking her to join him is right out of the NFJ villain textbook. It’s the same kind of argument you see in INFJ Ra’s Al Ghul use: the world is broken, so we need to wipe it clean and rebuild something that actually works. Something that’s ordered in a way that appeals to his vulnerable, little-used Introverted Thinking process.
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. Someone might use this to say that Feeling is his inferior function — the one he goes to when stressed — so I want to take a moment to address that argument.
An INTP, for example, has Extroverted Feeling 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 Introverted Thinking (Ti) as their inferior function, which you can read more about by clicking here.
When we see him go into “stress mode” it looks more like the ENFJ’s inferior Thinking than the INFJ’s inferior Sensing. I’m sure General Hux would say Kylo is excessively critical, displays convoluted logic, and has obsessive behaviors when in the “the grip” of his 3-year-old mental process. In contrast, a stressed INFJ is usually characterized by obsessive focus on external data (Kylo ignores such data), overindulgence in sensory pleasure (not something we see from Kylo), and adversarial attitude to the outer world (his rage is more focused on specific people than the idea that the world is out to get him).
Most Sith are NT types. Darth Sideous/Palpitain and Darth Tyranus/Dooku are INTJs. Darth Vader/Anakin is an ENTJ. Sith-in-traning Asajj Ventress is an INTP. When you’re tempting one of these types to the Dark Side, the pitch usually includes an 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 (an INFP). And it wouldn’t work on Fe-dominant Ben Solo. When Kylo Ren talks with Supreme Leader Snoke, we don’t see a “give into your feelings” pitch. Instead, he tells 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 you’d need 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 Feeling-type Luke failed — kill your own 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? Here’s what we know:
- Ben Solo had “too much Vader in him,” so Leia made the decision to have him train with Luke.
- Han feels like he failed his son, and Kylo tells Rey that Han “would have disappointed you” as a father-figure.
- Ben/Kylo destroyed Luke’s academy after waking to see his mentor holding a lightsaber over him.
- Kylo sees himself as finishing what Darth Vadar started.
- Kylo considers his mentor, Snoke, a source of wisdom.
Every type needs to know they’re supported while growing up but it’s particularly vital for ENFJs, especially ENFJ men. They’re using Extroverted Feeling as their primary mental process — a function that’s used by more than 50% of women 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, gave Kylo the reassurance he needed, encouraged him to “be himself,” and told him there was nothing wrong with him. … well, that would explain a Dark Side switch.
The final push Ben Solo needed to send him over the Dark Side edge was waking up to see Uncle Luke igniting a lightsaber to kill him. My little brother once sneaked into my room with a glow-in-the-dark lego and I was so startled I slapped it clear across the room. Ben Solo has the Force and thinks his life is in danger, so his reaction is even stronger. He pulls a house down on Luke. And then he either takes the other students with him as his followers (perhaps becoming the Knights of Ren) or kills them, and burns the temple.
I see Kylo as desperate for a mentor figure who would actually be there for the “real” him instead of one that was so terrified of his potential to be like Vader that he thought about killing him. This comes up in another key scene in TFA where he shows dominant Feeling. 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 chance with Snoke’s guidance. He’s asking for a mentor to teach him, where most Thinking types would ask for help reluctantly because they want to prove they can do everything on their own.
A Connection-Driven Villain
I love that as a villain, Kylo’s driving motivation is far more about connection (or lack thereof) than power. His major choices, in TLJ in particular, all have to do with who he is and isn’t connecting with. We learn that in the past he lashed-out at Luke and all his students when he believes his mentor was about to kill him, and we see a similar thing happen when he kills his current mentor Snoke. Snoke has been telling Ren the whole movie that he’s pathetic and easily controlled, so when Snoke demands Kylo kill the one person he’s formed a new bond with (Rey), Kylo kills Snoke instead.
It’s a very Sith-like move to kill your mentor and take an apprentice, but that’s not exactly what Ren is trying to do. He’s been building an emotional connection with Rey and his pitch to her is less let’s-rule-the-galaxy-and-bring-order (like ENTJ Vader) than it is we’ll-bury-what-hurt-us-and-build-something-new. And that’s on top of his assurance that she means something to him personally after they learn that she comes from nowhere and is a “nobody” (director Rian Johnson has confirmed that Kylo, at least, believes he’s telling the truth in this scene). Even if the rest of the universe doesn’t care about them they could share a connection that would reshape the entire galaxy. For ENFJ Ben Solo, everything is about relationships.
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- Aftermath Trilogy: Empire’s End (as a baby)
- Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel (as a toddler)
- Bloodline (appears in flashback)
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- The Force Awakens (novelization)
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- The Last Jedi (novelization)