Does the new villain Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens live up to his predecessors? Does he surpass them or even live up to the anticipation and hype the movie has garnered in it’s limited run so far? He wields an unstable saber with an odd and seemingly pointless cross-guard and he’s played by Hannah’s weird boyfriend from the HBO series Girls (where he once drinks a glass of milk while sitting on the toilet), so how can he?
When I went into the theater last Thursday I had high hopes despite the potential for let down. I don’t feel I was. He was awesome. Even though I find myself having an awkward feeling about the actor choice, Driver really hit the mark with this role (honestly he’s not bad in Girls it just isn’t my type of show).
The wielder of the Dark Side of the force may never be what Darth Vader was. How could he be? Vader was iconic and paved the way as a menacing black clad tyrant in the ground breaking space opera that revolutionized the genre of sci-fi. However, growing up with Star Wars as a thing that already existed my entire life (I was born in 1980), I have always been jaded with Darth Vader.
For what is likely the broader base of the fandom now, most of us were too young or not even alive to feel the powerful statement “…I am your father”. It’s always been there. I think I probably knew he was Luke’s father long before I really grasped what that meant to the story or could even comprehend the details of what story was being shown to me. Vader is iconic, and cool, and just a standard bad guy.
Kylo Ren however has something that Darth Vader never really had. Depth. The story in The Force Awakens has more depth in general. Because there was already 30-years of character development resting in all of our minds. So when Kylo Ren struggles with the light inside him and talks to the burned out skull and helmet of his grandfather you really feel some deep struggle within him. When Ben Solo kills his father it is incredibly powerful from a story telling point of view.
I’m sure the world had speculated a thousand times over that some of the old guard would die in this movie. We even thought some of the children of our former heroes and heroins would make an appearance. It was written all over the scene as it happened that Kylo Ren was going to kill his father, but it was needed. It helped him evolve as a deep character who was being torn apart by these two warring factions of good and evil inside. Without a mask to hide behind he plunges that weird red blade through his fathers heart and Han Solo falls away.
Even after the scene was complete I don’t know that the character was fully awakened. One thing I liked about this tale was that Ren is struggling with the lightas opposed to the dark and that is part of the story. Stunned by his own actions he is wounded by a bowcaster bolt and struggles to even hold his own against Finn, who is not a Jedi, and Rey who has only just realized she has power. The drizzle covered flesh of Kylo Ren’s face as he battles the heroes echoes turmoil.
So does he stand up to those-who-came-before-him? I think so. He towers over some (Count Dooku). His evil is only just beginning. His cross-guard lightsaber (which he uses to wound Finn sort of showing it’s advantages) is as cool as Darth Maul’s and his cloak and mask are as mesmerizing as any of the others. His personal ties to the Skywalker family and the wake he creates by murdering a character who had been with us for so many years makes him as menacing as Vader (maybe even more so). He will never be what Darth Vader was because he doesn’t have the advantage of being the first to show us this dark thing. But he certainly has taken elements from the best and molded them into something sweet with a lot of potential.
When I took my kids to see this movie on Friday they actually gasped when the blade ignited and it was clear that Han Solo was not going to talk his way out of this one. My oldest even muttered a shocked statement of disbelief when it was revealed that Kylo Ren was Han Solo and Leia’s son. I don’t know what it must have been like to be 12 and hear that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. But when I saw my son react to this new revelation and heard the gasp as Han Solo died I feel that this may be what others felt thirty-years prior. So that may be the testament to how good the character really is and how he will be perceived thirty-years from now. Time will tell.
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