“He is an emo-wimp. A whiny little brat that loses to an untrained girl. Kylo Ren basically is weak in all respects.”
View this as the essence of a lot of comments about Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While I can see the opinion that he does not fall in line with the traditional Sith archetype, this is no reason to label him as an incomplete and two-dimensional character. Let’s examine Kylo Ren and see what he is made of.
A gasp, or rather unwanted laughter, burst out of most people in my theatre when Kylo took off his mask for the first time; revealing a young and somewhat innocent-looking boy that carries little to no threatening aura around him. People wanted a badass-looking Sith like Darth Maul or something along those lines. To that the only response can be: What is the mask for then?
Kylo clearly has no physical injury like Vader that would necessitate a life-support system like his suit. He needs the mask to create a threatening aura, well aware that he is not that intimidating on sight. And what would be the point of an evil-looking mask if an even more evil-looking face would be underneath? Completely pointless. And, of course, his mask and general style is kept very much in line with Vader’s appearance. So the mask works double duty as both intimidation and imitation device.
People also accuse him of not being a ‘real’ Sith, as if something like that actually exists. In their mind, a Sith is a rage and anger-filled black robe with nothing else to it. The best example would be Darth Maul, a character that begins and ends at anger. He is an interesting design for sure, but there is little else to him besides that (not counting any novels or the Clone Wars series, just the movies). And yes, Kylo does not fit that scheme, he actually has emotions besides rage and anger, even though he also has those in excess. The Dark Side always seemed like the easy road, if you could not manage to stay a Jedi you automatically transferred to the Dark Side. But Kylo casts a new light on the basic dichotomy that is at the centre of this universe. Light and dark are nothing more than terms and neither of them possess an inert hierarchy. Light does not equal good in any way, this is simply the Jedi-version of it all. Therefore, a devoted Sith can also feel the Light Side tempting him. Even a Sith can lose his/her way and fall victim to the light.
All of this emotional turmoil going on inside him may seem very pubescent to some. The talking about emotions and being torn apart does carry a bit of teenage angst at its core, but at the same time, this is exactly what Anakin was supposed to be going through in the prequel trilogy. Nobody noticed, however, since it was buried under inept writing and bad directing. Therefore, his transformation seems to leap ahead every now and then, giving the impression Lucas sometimes forgot he was supposed to develop characters. That is why Anakin’s transformation from “I love my wife” to “I murder children” seems so out of place. Much less so than Kylo’s turn from unsure Vader enthusiast to father-killer.
Killing Han Solo certainly shocked most people, but the scene was actually quite well done. Once again Kylo’s struggle is emphasised and the fact that he takes off his mask (his image of strength, since it represents Vader) only shows that part of him is still clinging to the light and he could still be turned around. But Kylo’s wish is to be more like his idol Darth Vader (not Anakin Skywalker, mind you) and he asks for the help of his father. Killing him is symbolic for Kylo Ren of cutting his ties to the Light Side; he does something unspeakable and with full awareness of the consequences. It takes strength to kill someone while looking at him directly, and Kylo could have found a way to simply kill him without having to see it, but he chose this way. This is his transformation moment.
Afterwards we can clearly observes his new-found confidence. He does not wear his mask any longer, since he has no need for it anymore. He has become a true Sith in his mind. The mask serves no purpose, since his appearance is now that of a dark warrior that need no longer be hidden. And sure enough, Adam Driver portrays him far more confident, now with his mask off. When he was forced to stand next to Hux earlier in the film without his mask he felt visibly uncomfortable. Knowing that he loses authority every second, but now he is able to confront his enemies directly. All of that in stunning lightsaber battle.
But some people were also disappointed with that, since you can never please them all. They think it to be ridiculous that Finn and Rey both manage to hold their own against Kylo, a trained lightsaber combatant. Let’s put aside the fact that Kylo was severely injured and probably bleeding to death and in the constant threat of losing consciousness (that is why he kept hitting himself so that the pain would keep him awake), Finn was trained in close combat, since we can see that these electric batons, like everyone’s favourite Stormtrooper is using, are part of the equipment. Therefore he can also somewhat effectively wield a lightsaber which does not mean that he doesn’t get beaten anyway. Rey, on the other hand, had to survive alone on a planet full of impossible odds and is still alive. She probably has developed her own fighting style with her staff and a saber is not that different.
Speaking of sabers, let’s take a final quick look at the controversial cross guard-saber. Now that the design has been slightly reworked (and makes parrying now possible) a lot of the comments can be written off. What is more interesting is the facts what it tells us about Kylo; the weapon is very crudely-made and not at all elegant, leading us to assume that he did not have the patience when building it. The crystal is unstable and crackles and the whole thing seems like it could explode any second, very symbolic of his character throughout the movie in fact. Yet, at the same time it is menacing due to these facts as well. When swung it emits a low growling sound like that of a beast. Not the high sound a normal sabre produces, but a deep guttural sound that should instil fear in the opponent.
All of that only leads me to conclude that Kylo Ren is a far more interesting and well-rounded character than most people make him out to be. It all depends on how they handle him in the future, but as for now I regard him as an interesting villain that finally breaks the shackles of character types in the Star Wars universe and sheds new light on what it means to be a Sith or a Jedi.
We might have to wait a bit longer for Episode VIII than expected, but if it delivers on the level that Episode VII did, I am happy to wait.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]