STAR WARS has had a history of complicated, compelling villains. Kylo Ren neatly fits into this category despite being such an unusual choice for a villain in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. This is because Kylo has a large number of weaknesses especially compared to other STAR WARS villains.

Palpatine is a fantastic representation of a brilliant but tyrannical megalomaniac. Grand Moff Tarkin is cold and cunning as he orders the execution of billions of people.

Darth Maul is a silent, ruthless assassin who itches for vengeance against the Jedi. And of course, there is Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith who betrayed all of his friends and allies for the Dark Side.

As opposed to Palpatine, Kylo is no master strategist but an impetuous ball of rage. He lacks Tarkin’s unfeeling edge or Maul’s dangerous aura. He isn’t even comparable to Darth Vader because he is far too emotionally unstable and conflicted.

Kylo Ren
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

If you consider Kylo Ren under the lens of classic villains, he looks like a weak character. Kylo Ren is much more a villainous hero, a protagonist who serves on the side of evil. Rian Johnson, director of THE LAST JEDI, promises that Kylo’s story will be as essential to the saga as our heroic protagonist Rey’s. Understanding Kylo Ren’s character is vital to understanding the Sequel trilogy and how it relates to what has come before.

I’ll Show You The Dark Side

Kylo Ren first appeared to the public on November 28th, 2014 in the first teaser for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. The one shot of him showed him igniting his cross-bladed lightsaber much to the excitement of fans. Since that moment, Kylo became an iconic character and one that served as the visual symbol of the sequel trilogy.

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The trailers made sure to paint Kylo Ren as fearsome and imposing, much as previous ones had done with Maul and Vader. Sure enough, in THE FORCE AWAKENS’ first scene, Kylo Ren tries his best to appear like a terrifying villain when he confronts the Force priest, Lor San Tekka. However, whereas Vader would always have the upper-hand in his conversations, Kylo was unable to make Tekka afraid of him.

Kylo tries to put fear into Tekka by menacingly telling him “I’ll show you the Dark Side.” This line comes off as more of a whisper than a threat from Kylo. When Vader intimidated his foes, they would squeal with fear. Kylo was unable to frighten a senile old man. In total frustration, Kylo crudely cuts down Tekka.

Kylo Ren
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and Max Von Sydow as Lor San Tekka in THE FORCE AWAKENS. Courtesy of Lucasfilm

This scene is genius because it instantly shows how un-Vader-like this new villain is. While Kylo Ren has a deep modulated voice, a black costume and mask, amazing abilities, and a sweet red lightsaber, he is unable to convey the power of Darth Vader. He struggles to show himself off as a threat to his enemies.

Unlike Vader, who was a stalwart and feared symbol of the Dark Side, people view Kylo as an adolescent only playing on the side of evil. He struggles to make people take him seriously.

The Mask

Masks, helmets, and hoods are symbols throughout the Star Wars Saga. It started with Darth Vader who required his helmet after being burnt. His charred body served as a reminder of his crimes on the Dark Side.

Kylo Ren
Kylo Ren Helmet lying in the ashes of his enemies. Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Just as was the case with Vader, Kylo’s mask serves as a clutch. Not one to keep him alive, but to substitute for his lack of power. Kylo Ren uses his mask as a face to deceive people into thinking he’s totally committed to the Dark Side. His mask intentionally mimics Vader’s, and Kylo hopes that if he looks enough like Vader, he will start acting like him.

In the scene where Kylo interrogates Rey, Rey calls him “a creature in a mask.” In perhaps the most brilliant moment of the film, Kylo then puts his hands on his helmet, terrifying music plays, and the mask comes off to reveal… a boy.

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J.J. Abrams intentionally filmed the scene so you’d expect Kylo to reveal a scarred face like that one that Vader sported. From this scene, we learn that Kylo wears the mask not because he has a burnt face but because he doesn’t. He knows that if people look inside him, they will only find a scared boy and the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa.

Once Kylo takes off his helmet, he is vulnerable. He tries to look into his Rey’s mind but is overcome by her strong will. She finds in his head a singular truth when she tells Kylo “you are afraid that you will never be as strong as Darth Vader.”

The Sins of The Father

Another thing that is important to remember about Kylo Ren is that he is truly the result of everything that has come before. We look at RETURN OF THE JEDI, and we think that Luke, Han, and Leia are completely victorious, and the rest of their lives will be perfect. Kylo Ren proves that was not the case.

Kylo Ren
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Courtesy of Lucasfilm.

Ben Solo, Kylo’s real name, is the result of the failures of his family. Firstly he shows that Leia and Han failed him as parents. Leia was so dedicated to bettering the overall universe and being a fantastic public servant that she ignored the evil that was creeping up on her own family.

Han may have noticed that something was deadly wrong with Ben, but Han often avoids and runs away from conflict. When things go bad for his son and then for his marriage with Leia, Han left them to return to work as a smuggler. Han’s sacrifice at the end of THE FORCE AWAKENS is his attempt to rectify his sins as a father and not walk away from his family.

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That leaves us with Luke, Ben’s uncle, and former master. We still do not know what Luke and Ben were doing on their secret missions across the galaxy. I am sure more of Luke’s 30-year disappearance will be explained in and after THE LAST JEDI. I believe that Luke did something to fail Ben, something that Luke is ashamed of. THE LAST JEDI will be about Luke coming to terms with his involvement in Ben’s fall to the Dark Side.

The Chosen One

Mark Hamill stated in an interview that Luke thought that Ben Solo was the fabled Chosen One. The Chosen One is a Jedi prophecy of a person whose destiny is to bring balance to the force. I love the Chosen One prophecy because Lucasfilm will never reveal who it is.

There are those who think it is Luke because he overcame great odds as a hero and redeemed his father. Then there are those who believe Anakin was the Chosen One. He experienced both the Light Side and the Dark Side of the force and then destroyed the Sith by killing the Emperor. The idea that Ben Solo is the chosen one is interesting because unlike Anakin and Luke, he has never been able to dedicate himself fully to one side of the force.

Kylo Ren is the representation of conflict and turbulence. If he is the Chosen One, perhaps that is the writers’ way of showing that the Force itself is essentially complicated. The Force is a mix of good, bad, light, and dark. Only when Ben Solo can reconcile the different parts of his multifaceted personality can the Force be balanced under this reading of the Chosen One prophecy.

Help Me Finish What You Started

As opposed to Luke and Anakin, who were seduced by darkness, Kylo Ren finds himself repeatedly plagued by urges from the light. Fighting in a war against his mother and father has taken a toll on him. Kylo wants to dedicate himself to the Dark Side of the Force fully. He thinks the way to do this is by emulating Darth Vader completely. This is because he knows little about the pain and suffering that Vader felt on the Dark Side.

Kylo Ren
Vader’s burnt mask in THE FORCE AWAKENS. Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Kylo believes the way to achieve strength and power is to cut all of his ties with the light. That means he must kill Leia, Luke, and Han. This is why he pleads with his father asking him to “help him” free himself from his pain. Kylo assumes this agony is the light when in fact it is the dark side consuming him.

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In THE FORCE AWAKENS novelization, writer Alan Dean Foster reveals Kylo became weaker, not stronger after killing his father. It is ironic that in trying to become more like Vader, Kylo Ren received all of Vader’s weaknesses while he failed to obtain what made Vader so powerful. To mark his inner weakness, Rey slashes Kylo’s face, branding him as a follower in Vader’s path of suffering.

Kylo Ren’s Theme

There are so many qualities that make a fantastic STAR WARS film, but my favorite is John William’s score. When people talk about William’s music, they remember the blaring brass and loud, emotional themes. They often undervalue how complicated William’s music is. Take, for example, Kylo Ren’s theme. At first listen it sounds like any other sinister theme in a movie. However, on second listen you realize that the theme is much more complex than previously thought.

While the evil grasp of Kylo Ren is felt throughout the theme, there is an overarching tragic part of the music. The strings wail as though to scream like Ben Solo’s inner soul. The theme also shows the conflict and turbulent energy within Kylo. The music sounds very chaotic and nervous which reflects Kylo’s own form of darkness.

Contrast this with Vader’s own theme, the famed Imperial March. The “Imperial March” symbolizes pure power, order, and efficiency. As the theme of the Empire, it suggests complete control. These are all things that Kylo Ren lacks and that is why this theme does not convey the same strength of “Imperial March.” Williams manages to tell us all we need to know about Kylo Ren, simply through his music.

Adam Driver

Adam Driver isn’t the first person people think of when considering potential actors for a villain. In interviews, he is very calm, laid-back, and reserved. His acting style reflects this as he’s not someone who will chew on the scenery. In his best movies (SILENCE, PATERSON, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL), Driver subtly plays his characters often through little dialogue but instead through his diverse facial expressions and commanding physicality. Driver always challenges himself to go further into the psychology of a role.

Kylo Ren
Adam Driver in GQ.

This is what made him the outside but perfect pick for Kylo Ren.  Hayden Christensen portrayed Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side as teenage rebellion. To distinguish Kylo Ren from Anakin, Lucasfilm needed an actor to capture the vast range of emotions necessary for this complicated character. Adam Driver takes this role that could have been a cliché and transforms him into a complex STAR WARS character.

Kylo Ren’s Journey into THE LAST JEDI

When we pick up with Kylo Ren in THE LAST JEDI, he will be physically and mentally damaged. As Adam Driver has said, Kylo has realized that

“patricide is [not] all that it’s cracked up to be.”

He will spend time with his master, Snoke, learning how to fully embrace the Dark Side after this fateful decision in his life. In the trailer, Kylo states “Bury your past. Kill it… if you have to.” This line plays over the image of Kylo Ren smashing his mask. This suggests that Kylo Ren will try to become more his own, not as a Vader-imitator, but as his own person.

Kylo Ren
Kylo Ren in THE LAST JEDI. Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Kylo will continue as the sword of the First Order, a hero to his people. Losing the lightsaber duel to Rey will undoubtedly have an impact on him. I believe Kylo has established a connection with Rey and he does want to ally himself with the young Jedi.

Both Rey and Kylo felt betrayed by people in their pasts. Kylo may suggest that the two work together to right the wrongs done upon them. It will be up to Rey to decide whether to work with Kylo or whether to reject his partnership. Nonetheless, Kylo, like Rey, is trying to find out where he fits in this greater galaxy.

4 Comments

  1. Aaron Young

    December 15, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Mac,

    I absolutely agree! I love Kylo! He is one of my favorite character in all of STAR WARS and in recent movies. I think people like to write him off cause he isn’t Darth Vader. But mimicking Darth Vader would have been a dumb decision for this new trilogy to do. Especially after watching LAST JEDI, I am even more interested with this fabulous character and with Adam Driver’s performance.

    Thanks for reading and for your wonderful comment!

    Reply

  2. Mac Dvora Sintes

    December 15, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you! After all too many reviews that settle for Kylo being wholly evil, a whiny brat, incomparably vicious and remorselessly cruel, finally, an analysis that captures Kylo’s soul. Kylo, as Adam Driver says in Rolling Stone, is much younger than Driver himself, not much older than Rey. He is stunningly powerful in the force,, physically courageous in the face of pain and possibly death, and as terrified and confused as a lost toddler in a forest. I don’t see him as irredeemable and I think the character was written to elicit our compassion. In my case, it did.

    Reply

  3. Aaron Young

    December 13, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Jesse,

    You are absolutely correct! Thanks for the correction. “Creature in a mask” is a much more interesting line anyways! Nice pull and hope you enjoyed the article! Happy Last Jedi!

    Reply

  4. Jesse Mitchell Lindsey

    Jesse Mitchell Lindsey

    December 13, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Slight correction: Rey calls Kylo Ren a “creature in a mask” not a “freak in a mask”.

    Reply

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