Lately, I have been contemplating about the Star Wars universe and the direction the new trilogy is heading. I remember the feelings of joy I had as I watched Kylo Ren being introduced to us in The Force Awakens and then being excited as I saw the growth and direction that he is heading in The Last Jedi. It saddens me, then, to see people hating on Kylo Ren because he “is not Darth Vader.” I want to take the time here to show why he actually is a great villain and the biggest complaint people make with him is, in reality, what makes him unique in the Star Wars universe.
As we are told as we watch the trilogy, Ben Solo believes that Vader was the strongest force user to ever exist, and in order to become as strong as Vader, tries to imitate Vader. Yet, at the very first scene for both individuals, we are told two very different stories. For Vader, when he walks into the room after the storm troopers have killed everyone, he is standing straight, imposing, calm, and in control. To use a phrase from Nietzsche, he is the Ubermensch, the super man. When Kylo enters the scene, on the other hand, he is hunched over, out of control, and in a rage. He is like a wild animal on the hunt, his anger is animalistic instead of “elevating” him. Vader is a super man, Kylo is less than a man. Both individuals are scary and threatening in their own way, but the way they approach it is very different.
This difference stems from their anger and how they use it. Vader has what I call cold anger. It is quiet, it is always there. However, it focuses him, makes him sharper and enhances his skills as opposed to hindering him. Kylo, however, has what I call hot anger. It is loud, aggressive, and makes him wild and unpredictable. Both are scary to interact with, but I am far more terrified of the cold anger then I am of the hot anger. And I think many people who saw this movie are in a similar situation, which is why they complained about Kylo and claimed that he is not Vader. But that is the point.
In the next movie, The Last Jedi, we see Kylo evolving and stepping out of the shadow of Vader. He throws the idea of becoming Vader away, he lets go of the past. This enables him to do some things that have never been seen in the cinematic Star Wars universe, the apprentice betraying their master. We also see a change in how he uses anger and presents himself. Before, his movements were very pronounced, exaggerated, when he used the force, especially when he was using it in anger. After he killed Snoke, he started to use the force without moving, just like how Vader would kill people with the slightest movement of his hand, or even with no movement at all. He is still loud, but so too was Vader at the beginning, and we see a bit of the hot anger during Rogue One.
What makes Kylo unique as a star wars villain, and even as a movie villain, is that here, we see the right hand man turning against his master. That is a rare occurrence in cinema. Not even Vader killed his master. “But he did! He threw the emperor down the Death Star!” No, Vader had ceased to be Vader and was now Anikin at that point. He also did not kill his master to take his place, but to save his son. Kylo, on the other hand, killed his master to take his place. But what I find to be the greatest irony is that, by attempting to throw away Vader and throw away the past, he has now started to become more like Vader. He is still not Vader, which again, is the point, but we are seeing him becoming more and more tied down by the past that he tried to throw away. Vader was tied down by his past and it was his past that eventually redeemed him, even though he tried to throw it away when it seemed to be lost to him. Kylo is angered by the idea that he will never live up to the greatness of the past, the past is lost to him, and is trying to throw it away.
Will the past redeem him? I have no idea. While there are most certainly parallels between his story and Vader’s, Kylo is so unique in this area of the Star Wars universe that I have no idea what will take place. This is what makes him a great villain if you think about it. We had a general idea what Vader was going to do for the original trilogy, but now, we have no idea what Kylo will be doing. What direction is he going to take with the First Order, what is his plan for the galaxy? Vader simply wanted to fight against a galaxy that took everything from him, but why does Kylo want to fight and what has caused him so much anger? I suspect these questions will be answered in the final movie of the trilogy, much like they were answered in the final movie of the original trilogy.
Because of this I don’t see Kylo as being like Vader, one of the greatest villains of movie history. That is okay, because it’s the point of Kylo’s character. He is striving towards an ideal he holds onto, yet he keeps falling short.