January 2020 Media and Reviews

The Rise of Skywalker’s Activist Historian

Beaumont Kin is a good example of how those within the profession should embrace the activist historian mantle in our own time and in our own, very real world.

*This article includes spoilers from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.*

If you weren’t paying close attention, you may have missed one of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalkers newest and most fascinating characters, especially to fellow academics and activists. This new character speaks to the work we all strive to do on a daily basis: a true activist historian in the Star Wars universe.

His name is Beaumont Kin and as The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary explains, he is one of the galaxy’s top historians “on track to become one of the youngest professors at the Lerct Institute.”[1] Kin studies the ancient histories of the Sith and the Jedi. For those of you who are not big Star Wars fans, the Sith and Jedi have existed in conflict for hundreds of thousands of years. In its very simplest terms, the Sith represent the dark or evil side of the mysterious force and the Jedi represent the light or just side of the force.[2]

Photo of historian Beaumont Kin portrayed by Dominic Monaghan in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

These two entities struggled against one another to rule over the galaxy at varying points in its history. The dark Sith like Darth Vader and Darth Sidious led oppressive, authoritarian regimes like the Empire (reminiscent of Nazi Germany) while the light Jedi like Yoda and Mace Windu guided democratic or more accurately, semi-democratic Republics. In the case of the Rise of Skywalker, a new dark regime, The First Order, led by Kylo Ren, exists as the authoritarian, despotic governing body.  

The traditions of the Sith and Jedi are ancient, formed thousands of years before the events of Rise of Skywalker. Yet few day-to-day individuals in the galaxy are interested in their traditions or care to study their histories. As we have seen in the recent The Mandalorian series, most everyday people within the galaxy do not even know of the Jedi or Sith or believe in the force. Like today’s world, many individuals in the Star Wars universe have little or no interest in far-gone, boring histories, or ancient texts, or seemingly “occult” faiths. They are out of sight and, therefore, out of mind.

Beaumont Kin, portrayed by Dominic Monaghan of Lord of the Rings and Lost fame, plays an important role in fighting the Dark Side. Though historians might not seem like the most important members of an anti-authoritarian fighting force, Kin ends up being indispensable. His unique knowledge of the past, specifically the Sith, proves essential in creating the better world the resistance envisions.

The plot of The Rise of Skywalker surrounds the reemergence of the evil Sith emperor Darth Sidious or, as he is also known, Emperor Palpatine. In the prequel trilogy, Palpatine rises to power through his nefarious political savvy, consolidation of power, the extermination of all his enemies (the Jedi), and by manipulating arguably the galaxy’s most powerful Jedi, Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), to the Dark Side. These tactics are not far off from many of the most extreme, fascist entities of our real world history. Kin has read of these histories in the Star Wars universe and knows what the Sith can do.

Thought to be dead, Darth Sidious reemerges and assembles a large fleet of loyalists capable of supreme power if joined with Kylo Ren’s First Oder (an offer Kylo Ren agrees to). The only way the galaxy can avoid longstanding oppression is by defeating Sidious. Unfortunately for our heroes, Sidious is hidden far away on the ancient Sith stronghold of Exegol, a place few in the galaxy can reach.

While the rest of the resistance is in shock by Sidious’ return, Kin is well aware of him and his capabilities. As a historian of the Sith, he understands that the Sith could use “dark science…cloning…secrets only the Sith knew” to defeat the resistance.[3] He studied the attempts by Sith of old to manipulate life and cheat death and he understood that it would be foolish for the resistance to ignore the threat of Darth Sidious (Emperor Palpatine). He is also well aware of ancient Sith planets, having traveled to and studied on many of them.[4]

In this regard, Kin becomes vital in briefing the resistance in Sith lore and intelligence. He is also essential in aiding our hero, the Jedi Rey, in her quest to find Emperor Palpatine. Rey, and pretty much everyone else in the galaxy, are unable to fully decipher most of the ancient Jedi texts which unlock the clues to Sidious’ location and how to reach him. Kin is there to help by translating these historical texts, as he knows nine languages (including four, ancient, dead languages) and understands the intricacies of Jedi historians’ notes on the Sith. Because translation and meaning are complicated in ancient texts, a simple translation does not always suffice. Here, Kin is essential in applying his understanding of historical context to the often cryptic, confusing translations.

The ancient Jedi texts. Very few individuals can read the ancient languages contained in these texts. Kin is one such individual.

They, together, are ultimately able to determine that reaching the ancient Sith planet of Exegol requires an item called a Wayfinder that Kin recognizes from his historical studies. These are essentially compasses which could lead Sith to remote, far away planets which would otherwise be impossible to reach.

For those of you who have not seen the movie, our hero Rey does ultimately find the ancient Sith planet of Exegol and its leader with the help of a Wayfinder. Although we do not see much of him in the film, the resistance would have made little or no progress in defeating the evil Emperor without the activist historian Beaumont Kin.

But what makes Kin an activist historian like those of today? First, he gave up personal gain and prestige to help fight an injustice which injured countless beings in the galaxy. Dark-side wielders tended to hold prejudiced beliefs towards non-human “sentient” and animal lifeforms, destroying their planets, stripping their resources, and committing mass murder. Kin could have been a wealthy, prestigious professor at almost any university in the galaxy, but he instead chose the fight he believed in, one aiding “sentient” and “non-sentient” beings alike.[5]

Second, he acts as a public historian amongst the resistance. He freely gives lectures and shares complicated concepts on the ancient Sith and Jedi to the resistance fighters in ways they can all easily understand and use to their advantage in their upcoming battles. He does not isolate himself to the archives, or even the college lecture hall, but uses his knowledge for the greater good of all and this requires the methods of a public historian.

Third, he studies with his eyes on the past, present, and the future. When he was still researching at Lerct Historical Institute, “most of the faculty were taken by surprise” when the evil Kylo Ren, the First Order, and eventually the Emperor came to power. Kin was not surprised. He had seen such injustice carried out by the Sith in the past and expected their return.[6] He believed the history of oppression could repeat itself. This is reminiscent of 2016, when many in the academy were shocked by Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. For many of us who study with an activist slant, this was far from shocking. We, like Kin, witnessed the rise of far-right regimes in the past. We, like Kin, understood surprising results are possible and that the masses can often be misled or lied to by their leaders. And we, like Kin, mobilized soon after, choosing to work for others, not just ourselves.

Most importantly and finally, Kin mobilized when he saw evil—not just through his words, but in his action. When the evil of the First Order did emerge, as he foresaw, he leaped into action, volunteering not only his historical knowledge to the resistance, but also his whole self. He “plunged” into all sorts of training under Rose Tico (engineering) and Kaydel Connix (combat) so he could be as useful as possible in the resistance.[7] He was not just a historian in the resistance, but he lived the resistance.

This being said, J.J. Abrams’ depiction of the activist historian in The Rise of Skywalker leaves much to the imagination. Kin, like many of the day-to-day resistance members like Tico and Connix are largely placed as secondary characters, with limited screen-time (most of Kin’s life details are relegated to the film’s visual dictionary). So essentially, Abrams is here placing the historian (and everyday resistors) in the background—a location to which many generations of historians have been relegated. Even further, Kin, a White man, extends the historically stereotypical depiction of the historian as White and male. Abrams could have chosen a non-white, non-binary, or female historian to play the role of Kin, but instead chose the traditional, exclusionary depiction.

Overall though, Kin is a solid example of how those within the profession should embrace the activist historian mantle in our own time and in our own, very real world. It was truly unexpected, but The Rise of Skywalker is one of the first films I have seen which not only includes, but highlights an activist historian, something we should all be grateful for in our trying times. Sadly, the film did not include nearly enough of Kin and other day-to-day resistance fighters like Rose and Kaydel. Their stories are necessary and speak to the challenges of today. Hopefully, future installments in the Star Wars canon will further emphasize the efforts of the everyday, non-force wielding activist.

Further Reading

[1] “The Rise of Skywalker The Visual Dictionary,” 2019, 92.

[2] Note: there are varying degrees on ambiguity in these titles depending on the individual or the context i.e. some are further in the light and some further in the dark than others, and some are conflicted between both.  

[3] “The Rise of Skywalker The Visual Dictionary,” 2019, 92.

[4] Ibid.

[5] In Star Wars, the term sentient is used to describe thinking, conscious beings, whether human or non-human.

[6] “The Rise of Skywalker The Visual Dictionary,” 2019, 92.

[7] Ibid.

Michael T. Barry Jr., Editor-Managing, is currently a doctoral candidate at American University in Washington, DC. He studies African American and Muslim American history and is writing his dissertation on the history of Islamophobic ideas and anti-Islamophobic resistance in America. Barry has contributed writings to outlets like Black Perspectives, The Gainesville Sun, Truthout, The Blackprint, and The Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Michael is also a documentary filmmaker, specializing in oral history. His films “U Street Contested” and “The Universal Soldier: Vietnam” have won and been nominated for numerous awards, as they have screened at film festivals and historic venues across the country. He teaches modern American history at Montgomery College in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter at @MTBarryJr.

2 comments on “The Rise of Skywalker’s Activist Historian

  1. ALawlessLog

    Thanks Michael, a great spoiler for activist star wars nerds and a clear portrayal of what is means to be a public activist intellectual.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ALawlessLog

    Reblogged this on Digital learning PD Dr Ann Lawless and commented:
    nerd delights

    Liked by 1 person

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