Analysis of The Force Awakens — Kylo Ren: A Villain’s Journey

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Kylo is tied with Rey as my favorite new character. Having searched out spoilers, his characterization was actually one of the few surprises of the film for me. I suspected long before seeing the film that he was Han and Leia’s son and knew that he was a Vader fanatic, but his volatile and emotional nature were new to me.

Kylo could have easily been a carbon copy of Vader, but he is nothing like the focused and confident Sith Lord of New Hope and Empire and is much more like the Anakin of the prequels. In fact, I like his characterization and performance more than that of Anakin. He is less pouty and whiny while still conveying a conflicted and emotionally damaged person. Adam Driver gave an incredible and nuanced performance, even when hidden behind the mask.

While Kylo is trying to be like Vader through his appearance and actions, it is all a facade. One of my favorite moments showing this is when he has an unguarded moment with Snoke while out of his helmet. When Hux, a rival for Snoke’s approval, comes into the room, Kylo immediately straightens and puts on a stoic face. He is embarrassed by his show of weakness to someone he sees as an inferior and competitor.

My favorite aspect of the character, however, is his inability to stop the call of the light side. This inversion of the call of the dark side is fascinating. Kylo believes that the Galaxy was weakened by the destruction of the Empire and that the strength of the dark side is necessary to bring about order and stability. It was the “sentimentality” of Anakin that destroyed this order.

We know from the novelization and other sources that Kylo and Snoke know of Vader’s turn to the light, but they see it as a momentary weakness. When Kylo speaks of finishing what Vader started, he is referencing the fact that Vader failed in his last moments due to this love for his son. It is this knowledge that motivates Kylo to kill his father in an attempt to do what Vader could not. He believes that this act will sever his connection to the light and make him strong. However, the novelization hints that the act actually weakened him. In fact, it suggests that he is somewhat surprised and taken aback that he actually killed Han: “Stunned by his own action, Kylo Ren fell to his knees. Following through on the act ought to have made him stronger, a part of him believed. Instead, he found himself weakened.”

While Kylo and Snoke find Vader’s actions before the end to be “exemplary,” it is still a mystery as to exactly what Force philosophy Kylo and Snoke hold to. In multiple sources it has been stressed that Kylo is not a Sith, but a new kind of dark side user. There are a few moments in the novelization where Kylo is trying his best to remain unemotional. His training involved learning how to live devoid of emotion, but he finds it increasingly hard to maintain. Kylo even tells Poe, when Poe tries to avenge Lor’s death, that “revenge is little more than an adolescent concession to personal vanity.” But isn’t that how the Sith tap into the dark side, by embracing their anger and hate and seeking revenge? The Sith certainly learned to harness their emotions and wait in the shadows for the right time to get their revenge on the Jedi, but they were far from unemotional. In fact, this new philosophy almost seems more like the old Jedi Order in the suppressing of attachment and emotion. Could this be a glimpse into a new way of using the dark side of the Force that is different than the Sith? I certainly hope so. I have always wanted to explore other Force philosophies beyond Jedi and Sith.

According to J. J. Abrams in an Entertainment Weekly interview, “Long before we had this title, the idea of The Force Awakens was that this would become the evolution of not just a hero, but a villain.” As Rey progresses as a hero, Kylo will progress along the villain’s path. This gives us the fascinating possibility of a dark side version of Yoda’s training of Luke. But will Kylo ultimately stay on that dark path, or find some level of redemption like his grandfather before him?

Until next time: May the Force be with you. Always.

Chris “Darth Hound” Miller

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