Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoilers ahead.
One of my main anxieties before seeing The Force Awakens was Kylo Ren. For the new Star Wars to really “work”, it needed to have a convincing villain, a complex character who I wanted to both root for and against. After my first viewing, my biggest relief was my utter delight with the character of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Ren was the one thing I have been wanting to see in Star Wars movie, a force-user who was also seemingly insane. He throws tantrums, his lines are filled more with biting sarcasm than actual threat. The one time he does throw a threat at General Hux, you don’t get the sense that Hux is all that threatened. He’s menacing in a completely different way than Darth Vader.
One of the saving graces of the film is that no time is wasted in establishing that Ren is from an important family and, mostly likely, the important family. We’re told early on that his father is Han Solo and then, in dialogue with the charred mask of Vader, it is confirmed that he is a Skywalker. The figure of Darth Vader looms large in Ren’s mind. When he and Rey go back and forth between each other’s minds, a brilliant scene, what is exposed is that Ren’s primary fear is that he is not as powerful as his legendary grandfather.
This, to me, is the real power of the character. Darth Vader is an uber-masculine figure. Dark, foreboding, quiet and strong. He is what my generation both remembers and imagines of our grandfathers. We grew up with the stories of our grandfathers fighting in WWII. They were “the greatest generation”, strong, tough, and quiet. My generation, on the other hand, is the father-less generation. We’re children of divorce and abandonment. We’ve been raised by mothers and grandmothers and as a result we’re more outwardly sensitive. We hate our fathers for what they’ve done to us and we wish we could be the men our grandfathers were. I love Kylo Ren because he is me. Much has been made of the fact that Ren not only throws fits, but he cries when confronting his father in the fateful scene. Similar criticism was thrown at Anakin’s crying in Episode 3 as he makes his turn to the dark side. And this, whether the filmmakers’ intention or not, is the brilliance of the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo. Ben wants to be the projected image of his grandfather but he is much closer to the reality of his grandfather. Not the silent menace of Darth Vader, but the powerful, whiny ball of insecurity that was Anakin.
And here’s the thing, he is powerful. TFA is movie with no wasted scenes. Throughout the film, a joke is made of how powerful Chewbacca’s crossbow, which after all of their years together, Han seems to be discovering for the first time. So it’s not inconsequential that Ren is able to shrug off the blast he takes from a weapon that has been shown to catapult lesser targets through the air. He’s clearly wounded. He beats his wounds as if the pain is fueling him and it likely is. We can imagine a future version of Ren delighting in the wounds he’s received both from his father’s co-pilot and from Rey. We can see him using these injuries as excuses to further mechanize himself like his idol, to become more machine than man.
The future for Kylo Ren is compelling. He and Rey seemed to have the same kind of interwoven destinies that Luke and Vader had, but what the nature of their relationship will be is unknown. We also know that he has dark history with his uncle. We know that he and the knights of Ren were involved in wiping out Luke’s first class of Jedi. What might their reunion look like? And most importantly, in my mind, what will his relationship be like with his mother? He doesn’t seem to have the same animosity for Leia that he did for Han (though he seemed to have no qualms about blowing her up with the rest of the resistance), but certainly their reunion will be be fraught with emotions.
The biggest question left for me is can Kylo Ren be redeemed. Maybe that’s the biggest question I have left for me too. Can me and my generation be saved?