I didn’t have a firm idea of what I wanted to write this week, but I have been thinking about this one for a while, and just thought I’d talk about Star Wars’ newest bad guy, and why he’s so great. Needless to say, Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers lie ahead.
A New Villain for a New Series
Now, it’s important to acknowledge, right off the bat, that Kylo Ren’s entire character revolves around him being emotionally unstable; he’s unsure of what he feels and who he is, frequently throws temper tantrums, and is always trying to prove himself. This makes him one of the most interesting villains we have seen in the series.
The Star Wars franchise, aside from Darth Vader, the Emperor, and Tarkin, has not exactly had amazing villains. Sure, that’s mostly the prequels, but still. The Trade Federation? General Grievous? Darth Maul? Count Dooku? Aside from character design and Christopher Lee’s performance, there isn’t much there. Even in The Force Awakens, it just feels as though they’re recycling what they villains which worked in the past: Supreme Leader Snoke is another Emperor Palpatine, and General Hux is like Tarkin. They feel familar. As opposed to all this, Kylo Ren is someone new, and troubled, and badass, and it all entirely works.
Kylo Ren, as opposed to all the characters listed above, has one major distinction: he’s volatile, he has no control over his emotions, and more clearly gives into his emotion. It’s an important distinction; for all the mention in the Star Wars lore there is about the Dark Side and the Sith basing all their choices on emotion, Kylo Ren is the only one who actually shows any kind of emotion. The only other large show of emotion is during the prequel trilogy, in which Anakin/Vader is gradually descending into evil. All the other major villains are just cold, calculating, and placid-faced men or robots. (Just once, perhaps, I’d like to see a high-ranking imperial/First Order officer who’s just absolutely crazy.)
But this is my point: we’re told constantly that emotion leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side. But the Empire/First Order is an institution seemingly devoid of emotion. This would be an irreconcilable paradox, if not for Kylo Ren. Where Vader would kill people if they did not serve him properly, doing so without anger but out of pragmatism, Ren simply takes out his anger by destroying stuff.
One of the most interesting thoughts I had while watching The Force Awakens was about Kylo Ren’s obsession with Darth Vader, and how he’s trying to fill a similar space that Darth Vader was in the original trilogy.
Most people could tell you all about how The Force Awakens’ plot is more or less copied and pasted from A New Hope, and since the plot points are obviously there, I don’t particularly feel the need to rehash them. In this parallel, Kylo Ren is clearly meant to mirror Darth Vader.
But the way that Rey tells him “You’re afraid you’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader” makes it feel as though the franchise might be tacitly struggling with its fanbase. They have a plethora of fans who will complain if a new film is nothing like the originals, or if it’s too similar. They’re dwelling on the past, and desperately trying to emulate the magic that has brought the series such success in previous installments. As Kylo Ren is trying to emulate and surpass Darth Vader, the new movies will likely be trying to emulate and surpass the originals. And sure, that might not have been what the writers, producers, etc. might have had in mind, but Kylo Ren’s obsession with the past seems to mirror what’s going on in the rest of the film.
The most popular theory regarding Kylo Ren is that he’s actually working undercover to take down Supreme Leader Snoke and the First Order. There are some very obvious indicators for this. First, there’s his pseudo-prayer to Darth Vader’s helmet. He laments his call to the light, and asks Darth Vader to show him the way. “I will finish what you started.”
Growing up the child of Han and Leia, and the nephew of Luke, do you think that there’s any chance that he didn’t know that Darth Vader turned to the light in his last moments? Likely not. Now, if he doesn’t know about Vader’s redemption, then this is just him blindly following the dark side. But it seems far more likely that Ren would be aware of that kind of thing.
And then there’s the scene where Ren kills his father, let’s examine what conversation takes place between them:
Kylo Ren: “I’m being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?”
Han Solo: “Yes. Anything.”
Kylo Ren doesn’t actually say what he needs help with, because he ends up killing Han in the following moments. Well, this theory argues that that was it: Ren needed Han’s permission to kill him, as a means of keeping his cover. He asks Han to sacrifice himself to the mission, and keep his son safe.
Now, I’ve only briefly summarized this theory, but a more involved version of it can be found here.
So how about it? Did you like Kylo Ren? What do you think of the double agent theory? And how about when Kylo Ren stops that blaster in midair? Fuckin’ awesome.