After being a part of two movies featuring an ever-increasing evil, the time has come to accept the fact that Kylo Ren is a better Star Wars villain compared to Darth Vader. Formerly known as Ben Solo, the villain came back to the far, far galaxy in The Last Jedi with a bang. Adam Driver’s superb portrayal has been one of the best things about The Force Awakens, and he has even bettered that performance by his work in The Last Jedi, which focused on the equation between Kylo’s narrative and Rey’s. It is a fascinating saga of conflict and the opportunity to redeem oneself.
The sequel trilogy has some very prominent similarities with the original trilogy, and Ren consciously takes over the lead villain’s mantle from Darth Vader. The duo has played the part of the main villain, a mighty Dark Side Force user who lures the budding Jedi during their phase of uncertainty and self-realization. But, Kylo Ren is not just an imitation of Darth Vader. Rather Driver’s portrayal is a brand new villain who is distinct from the earlier Star Wars Episodes.
Frankly, Kylo Ren outshines Darth Vader due to his intricacies – his faults, his misconceptions, his emotional side, and his constant rise in power during the movies. Kylo is rising in stature and struggling to deal with Luke, Han, Snoke, and Rey. He is a man of the moment, and occasionally immature and vulnerable. However, his vulnerability is also the core strength of his character. Kylo Ren had a chaotic trip through the sequel trilogy. He appears to be dynamic and constantly evolving as a character, right up to the end of The Last Jedi.
We don’t imply that Ben Solo is mightier or more victorious than his predecessor. But, it is the flaws and failures of Kylo Ren which make him a more fascinating villain. It is not a debate on whether Kylo Ren is more evil or wicked than the Sith Lord; we have seen both Vader and Kylo commit great monstrosities which can’t be evaluated against each other.
DARTH VADER IS A ROLE, NOT A CHARACTER
The original trilogy’s towering villain is Darth Vader. In A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, he displayed the sheer devilry of the Dark Side of the Force and the Galactic Empire. He wantonly chokes his subordinates, finds pleasure in torturing the prisoners and kills savagely. Vader remains constant, and frankly, he doesn’t even need to change, throughout the original trilogy.
In The Return of the Jedi, Luke stated that he believes there is some good in Vader, but, it is not revealed to the viewers till the closing moments of the movie when Vader saves Luke from the Emperor. The climax is a part of the iconic story arc of the original trilogy. However, Vader’s redemption wasn’t built over a period of time; It is just an element of the story instead of a part of his character’s evolution.
It is true that the prequels built an origin story for Anakin Skywalker’s character, and depict Darth Vader’s past during the three movies. But, it is only a backward approach to the original trilogy and the character that he was. We don’t see any glimpses of this conflicted past in Vader’s character during the original trilogy. It must also be noted that with Ben Solo, we get a similar but better detailing of what Episodes I-III had done with Anakin.
It doesn’t diminish his wickedness; Vader is definitely an all-time great movie villain. However, he has his own limits. Darth Vader has a costume which is intimidating and alien. It is his definition, showing him to be a frightening symbol of pure evil. But, it also takes away David Prowse’s scope to act, because it removes the expressions of a human face. Vader’s character is almost entirely about the voice of James Earl Jones. As an audience, you don’t get to see any of Vader’s inner’s thoughts or emotions.
KYLO REN IS AN INTRICATE, CONSTANTLY CHANGING AND EVOLVING CHARACTER
Although Vader is properly developed and totally evil when he landed on the Tantive IV in A New Hope, but, Kylo Ren is undergoing a transition in The Force Awakens, and the same goes on in The Last Jedi. He is still discovering himself and what his future role is going to be. As of now, we have a villain who is unbalanced and unpredictable. He hesitated while murdering Han Solo in The Force Awakens, and then he is not able to get over his own internal conflicts while battling Rey on Starkiller Base. The Last Jedi clarifies that killing his father is not the final nail on his destiny, but, it merely unfolds his evolution further.
Adam Driver’s work in The Last Jedi is greatly enhanced by the removal of Kylo Ren’s mask; after Snoke made fun of his family costume as a childish thing, Ben became angry and destroyed it. This enhances Driver’s depiction of Kylo as a fragile and impulsive character, and it would have been impossible if he had stuck to the Darth Vader style mask. However, what follows is even more crucial.
The Last Jedi shows Kylo Ren being compelled to decide his stature, and it is a story which unleashes further twists and surprises. Kylo is determined to wipe out the past and battles his inner conflicts while trying to create his own position in the galaxy. He has a psychic connection with Rey, and it highlights his personal fears, hopes, and confusions. Rey feels that she could bring Kylo Ren back to the light side, but, in an unexpected turn of events, he killed Supreme Leader Snoke and became the First Order’s leader. It eventually transpires that Kylo is totally greedy for power, selfish and has great ambitions; he doesn’t want to be redeemed. He believes that Rey could be a mighty ally enabling him to further his dream of ruling the galaxy. By murdering Snoke and taking over, Kylo managed to do something that Vader never succeeded in.
Still, it is the underlying emotion which keeps him weirdly relatable. After becoming Supreme Leader, Kylo abandoned the opportunity to annihilate the Resistance, only due to his personal desire of killing Luke Skywalker. This shows that Kylo is not just evil, but, broken as well, and in Episode IX, Kylo will have to get through his hazy emotions and confusions while being the leader of the First Order. Where he would be after the Episode IX (unlikely to survive) would be the final definition of the character, however, if he doesn’t redeem himself, still, it doesn’t reduce anything from the narrative. We have got a clearly painful and emotional journey for Kylo Ren.
You might not find Kylo Ren to be as dominating a villain as Darth Vader. However, The Last Jedi leaves no doubt that he is the most appealing and conflicted villain ever in the Star Wars canon. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether he would survive.