Spoiler alert: The following discusses certain aspects and plot points of Marriage Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
2019 has been the year of Adam Driver with five movies hitting US theaters: Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, in which he plays a megalomaniac film director; Scott Z. Burns’ The Report that casts the actor as real-life Senate investigator Daniel Jones; Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, where Driver partners with Bill Murray and Chloë Sevigny as police fighting a zombie invasion; Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, in which he is a theater director going through a divorce; and he reprises his role of villain Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Already a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild best actor nominee for Marriage Story, Driver is all but a lock for an Oscar nomination.
It’s truly been a stellar year for Driver, but here’s the weird thing: Marriage Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would make one of the oddest yet most oddly compelling double bills of all time for those remaining rep houses that still book them. On the surface, the two films have nothing in common other than a single actor. But the men Driver plays in them share certain personality traits that make it all too easy to imagine that Charlie, the theater director, is the great-great-to-however-many-powers grandfather of Kylo Ren. The seed for all that intergalactic strife was planted in 21st century New York.
Unlikely, you say? Check it out: They share the same defining personality trait, petulance. Charlie sulks his way through his divorce, further alienating his ex, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). Centuries later, Kylo’s peevishness leaves him to reject his parents Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), embrace his dark side, and eventually murder his father in Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Despite the power he’s amassed since, Kylo’s mood hasn’t improved in The Rise of Skywalker. Instead of acting the winner, he’s a whiner.
Of course, I’m sure there are those that would defend Charlie and Kylo as emo rather than pouty, and maybe they would have a point. At least, it would explain their jobs. Charlie is supposed to be some kind of theater savant, he even wins a MacArthur “genius” grant during the course of Marriage Story. But Charlie is awkward and stunted, and it is hard to imagine that his theater doesn’t reflect that. Part of the reason Nicole leaves is because she feels smothered and much of that has to do with her work in his theater, the place pretentiousness and self-seriousness call home.
As for Kylo, sure, he embraces evil and he’s always attacking his mother’s forces, but his ways clearly don’t spark joy. One wonders what Darth Vader, the granddad he worships, would say about this sad boi, this gangly perpetual teenager who always seems on the verge of bursting into tears. Is this villainy or merely pique? You can almost hear him screaming at his mother, “I don’t want to be a Jedi and you can’t make me!”
Charlie and Kylo also share a certain sense of it is all-about-me-ness when it comes to the women they profess to love. Charlie is left poleaxed by Nicole leaving him, because he never saw it coming, never really saw her, never saw that she was unhappy in her role as an extension of his work, and ultimately, of him.
Kylo’s intensity toward Jedi warrior Rey (Daisy Ridley) is that of a stalker as he insists on their future together despite her protests. And what a future! The only thing he can imagine is the two of them sitting on the Palpatine throne as Sith king and queen. That Rey doesn’t want to embrace her own dark side and has worked damned hard to become a Jedi matters not to Kylo. Nor does it dawn on him that Rey isn’t someone likely to embrace a fate that would involve the wholesale slaughter of her friends. Of course not, because, really, it’s all about Kylo and what he wants. He’s a bad boyfriend.
There you have it. In a galaxy far, far away is a troubled man. And the seeds of that trouble aren’t in his turning his back on the Jedi and his parents or even in killing his dad, but in a theater director in our own galaxy and our own time. That ambition to conquer Broadway sprouts many years later as an ambition to conquer worlds. It’s family. It’s legacy. There is no escape. It’s family dysfunction for the ages. –Pam Grady