We had only just met him in the opening moments of The Force Awakens before he is brutally murdered by Kylo Ren. Sitting in a small hut, Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) offered a valuable item to Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), an item which will be critical to the plot of the film. Their conversation also offers brief but important context as the movie opens, with the elder providing his thoughts on the state of the galaxy, the Jedi, the Force, and General Leia Organa. “To me, she’s royalty,” he points out when Dameron mentions the General, an obvious nod to Leia’s more familiar title of Princess (both in universe and among the audience).
The dialogue between Lor San Tekka and Poe Dameron is abruptly cut short when BB-8, the pilot’s droid, bursts through the door with a warning: the First Order is approaching. Seeing troop transports on the horizon, Dameron tells Lor San Tekka “You have to hide” to which the older man responds, “You need to leave.” At this urging, Dameron runs through the small village, a village teeming with commotion as it prepares to defend itself against the First Order incursion.
Only a short time later, the village will be overrun by stormtroopers, and a massive black shuttle will descend. Out of the shuttle will walk Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and he will head towards the center of the town where Lor San Tekka is being help with the remaining villagers. Now, Lor San Tekka will engage in another dialogue, this time with a man shrouded in darkness whose face is hidden by a terrifying mask. It is Ren who speaks first.
Kylo Ren: “Look how old you’ve become.”
Lor San Tekka: “Something far worse has happened to you.”
Kylo Ren: “You know what I’ve come for.”
Lor San Tekka: “I know where you come from, before you called yourself Kylo Ren.”
Kylo Ren: “The map to Skywalker, we know you found it. And now you are going to give it to the First Order.”
Lor San Tekka: “The First Order rose from the Dark Side. You did not.”
Kylo Ren: “I’ll show you the Dark Side.”
Lor San Tekka: “You may try. But you cannot deny the truth that is your family.”
Kylo Ren: “You’re so right.”
Finally agreeing with the elder, Kylo Ren springs into action. Igniting his lightsaber, he raises it above his head and attacks. San Tekka only has time to raise his arms in defense, covering his face, before he is cut down by the crackling red blade.
While I had mixed feelings about The Force Awakens the first time I saw it, the murder of Lor San Tekka was a moment that left me with no reservations. To be blunt, I thought it was brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of gratuitous violence for the sake of entertainment. I do, however, appreciate a death which is meaningful, where the loss of life, even in its obvious brutality, adds to the story in a worthwhile way. And this is how I see the death of Lor San Tekka. While he is a very minor character in The Force Awakens, his murder- tied to the dialogue immediately preceding it – adds terrifying and frightening depth to Kylo Ren, this new villain in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
A Closer Look
From the very outset of their conversation we learn something rather stunning: Kylo Ren and Lor San Tekka already know each other, and their connection clearly goes back years. Kylo Ren mocks the man’s age and appearance, a clear indication that he can recall at time when this old man was younger. But this ageist mockery opens Kylo Ren to a piercing retort from Lor San Tekka: “something far worse [than growing old] has happened to you.” If Kylo Ren knew a younger Lor San Tekka, then Lor San Tekka remembers when the villain was NOT an agent of darkness.
Ren does not take the bait. Instead, he immediately turns the conversation to what he is seeking, stating “You know what I’ve come for.” Instead of addressing Ren’s object of desire (undoubtedly the object given to Poe Dameron) San Tekka takes Ren’s words and flips them by going deeper into the personal connection. “I know where you come from,” he says, “before you called yourself Kylo Ren.” It was Kylo Ren who opened this dialogue by making it personal when he mocked the man’s age, but now Lor San Tekka has flipped-the-script, calling the villain’s adopted name/title into question by citing his knowledge of Ren’s life before his turn to darkness.
Again, Kylo Ren does not respond directly to San Tekka’s comment. Instead, he stares at the man and declares what he wants: “the map to Skywalker.” “We know you found it,” Ren continues, clearly annoyed as he begins pacing, “and now you are going to give it to the First Order.” To this, Lor San Tekka flips Ren’s words once more, directing the conversation once more into their personal connection. “The First Order rose from the Dark Side,” he remarks, “you did not.” It is not just that Lor San Tekka knows villain’s real name, but he also knows the man calling himself “Kylo Ren” was raised in the Light Side.
This hits a nerve. Now, Kylo Ren deliberately moves in front of San Tekka so the two are once again face-to-face. “I’ll show you the Dark Side,” the villain declares, a clear threat meant to intimidate. Unsurprisingly, the threat does not have the effect Ren anticipates and the old man maintains his composure. Instead, San Tekka responds by acknowledging that Ren “may try” showing him the Dark Side, but that Ren “cannot deny the truth that is your family.” It is now that Kylo Ren has had enough. “You’re so right,” he calmly responds and then viscously cuts Lor San Tekka down with his cross-guard lightsaber.
That Kylo Ren chooses this moment to kill Lor San Tekka, after the elder mentions Ren’s “family,” is telling. It is the most direct hint we are provided in the exchange regarding the identity of Kylo Ren, an identity which is revealed over the course of the film and reaches its climax in Act III. There is only one family Ren could possibly belong to, but it is also clear that Lor San Tekka and Kylo Ren have very different interpretations, differing “truths,” of that family’s story. And by murdering Lor San Tekka, Kylo Ren offers his interpretation, his truth.
Yet, this act is not only about Ren’s interpretation of family, it is also about his interpretation of self. With the ferocious stroke of his crackling red blade, Kylo Ren formally declares his identity as an unhinged monster who embraces the Dark Side of the Force. In the act of murder Kylo Ren proves that he is not the man Lor San Tekka once knew, and he wants nothing to do with who he was prior to his dark conversion. In this regard, the murder of Lor San Tekka is not just about a villain murdering a defenseless old man, an obvious act of evil which leaves little doubt about how this dark figure operates. No, it also symbolic, a way for the villain to kill his former self by-proxy. Through the murder of Lor San Tekka, Kylo Ren symbolically murders Ben Solo, and it should come as no surprise that as The Force Awakens progresses that Kylo Ren continuously seeks ways to destroy the man he once was, an obsession which ultimately culminates in another horrifying murder in the form of patricide.