Kylo Ren is dividing opinion among Star Wars fans. When The Force Awakens was first released in cinemas three weeks ago, many fans complained that he wasn’t the supremely evil supervillain he was cracked up to be in the trailers. Some disgruntled Star Wars fans believed that he would have been a memorable character if he was powerful, fearsome and bearing a close resemblance to a certain Darth Vader.
However, in the film, Kylo Ren is shown to be extremely vulnerable, struggling with the call to the Light and questioning his own allegiances to the Dark Side. Indeed, he is a deeply conflicted, tortured character who has suffered a tremendous deal of emotional damage. He is ruthless, obviously, as he murders his father Han Solo in cold blood – but some sections of the fandom cried out for more.
Well, wading through the various complaints about Kylo Ren since the film has come out, Redditor quakeroatscdc has provided the most comprehensive, exhaustive analysis of the character to date. Addressing the perceived disappointment with Ren, ‘Quaker’ believes that people are failing to see the hidden complexity in the character, one that gives him the potential to be one of the greatest Star Wars characters of all time.
“He is not merely an adversary for the protagonists of the film to overcome. He is, rather, a far more complex character than that, to the degree that some might consider him to be the central character of this new trilogy: he possesses a very dualistic nature, and is full of internal conflict, at war with himself between a powerful, fearsome, ruthless, courageous persona and a vulnerable, empathetic, uncertain internal self. On one hand, he desires to pursue and fulfill his ambitions, and on the other hand, he is still just a kid with emotions and an attachment to his family.
“There also exists a slightly more tender side, such as when he first meets Rey and complies with her request for him to reveal himself to her, exposing his weaknesses but also connecting on a more personal level with her — before she resists and enrages him. He is forced to balance all of these different aspects of his being as these pressures weigh on him and shape his identity. What we witness in the film is a deliberately flawed individual who overestimates his abilities, whose idea of himself contradicts the reality, and who pays the ultimate price. He is the most three-dimensional, multifaceted, intricate, realistic character that the Star Wars franchise has ever seen.
He then goes on to explain why Kylo, or Ben Solo as he’s known to his family, is so conflicted and racked with murderous rage and ambition. He likens him to a young boy who’s been forbidden from pursuing a career in the creative arts by a restricting father. This, according to the Redditor, has placed an immense amount of anger in Ren because he feels oppressed. In embracing the Dark Side and serving Supreme Leader Snoke, Ren escaping what feels to be a suffocating environment with his parents, Han and Leia. It almost echoes Anakin’s descent into the darkest of Dark Sides in Revenge of the Sith.
Kylo is not a fearsome leader, nor does one become a heartless individual overnight. He is completely unready to be the person that he wants to be, and as we see in The Force Awakens, he overestimates his own abilities; he has likely never been tested by another force user, and he has only been tasked with relatively easy tasks. At this point, he thinks that by acting like Darth Vader he will be as formidable and powerful as Vader. This is not how identities work, though. The world is far more complex, and a mere disguise will not change who he is. The outfit that he wears represents the individual that he strives to be — that he pretends to be. Underneath it is still the boy who abandoned his family. The interior and the exterior contrast heavily with one another: his outward appearance and actions are representative of the person he wants to be; inwardly, he is reflective, contemplative, but also impulsive; he is fragile and vulnerable; he is emotional. Kylo Ren — Ben — is far more human and complex than he would ever admit to being. His rage comes from his frustration at the discrepancy between the reality of his being and the flawless, formidable individual that he strives to become; any time he meets failure, Kylo enters an unstable state of emotion.
The character of Kylo Ren has far deeper roots than simply the classical David and Goliath trope that most expected based on past series villains. He is not at all the Goliath that people thought him to be nor should he be considered that. Kylo Ren shares many similarities with Hamlet, one of the most famous characters in all of literature. In Hamlet, the titular character is dualistic: he possesses an outward persona that he uses to deceive others as to his true nature, pretending to be something that he is not. Inwardly, Hamlet is contemplative, but also impulsive. He is visited by the ghost of his murdered father, whose great shadow and the expectation of vengeance weigh Hamlet down throughout the play. Hamlet must kill his uncle and become thus the true king of Denmark. Kylo Ren, likewise, is seduced by the idea of his grandfather, and his twisted beliefs and desires have made it necessary for him to seek vengeance and assume his grandfather’s role. The image of Kylo Ren and the disfigured helmet of Darth Vader is an allusion to Hamlet’s reflection upon the skull of Yorick.
We have seen an adaptation of the Hamlet story before from Disney: 1994’s The Lion King. In that film, Simba’s impatience and immaturity, i.e., “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” lead to the events that ultimately kill his father, drive him away from home in shame, and result in his uncle’s rise to power. In a vision, Simba’s father, Mufasa (played by James Earl Jones — also the voice of Darth Vader) tells him to take his place as the one true king. Simba is afraid to confront his past, much like Kylo is.
Ben’s story in The Force Awakens follows the same path as Hamlet’s, and is a total subversion of Simba’s narrative: what he believes to be enlightenment and his own redemption is in fact the path towards a much darker place spiritually.
Hamlet’s character is ambiguous, and his complex, selfish nature serves as the basis for Kylo; the first four paragraphs by Sylvia Morris here explain this to those unfamiliar with Hamlet:http://theshakespeareblog.com/2011/12/is-hamlet-a-callous-egocentric-villain/
“According to author John Updike, “Hamlet is in fact the callous, egocentric villain of Hamlet”. This view was recently quoted in a posting on the Shakespeare Bulletin board SHAKSPER.
That’s quite a condemnation of probably the most famous of all fictional characters, and certainly Shakespeare’s best-loved hero.
He’s what makes the play so endlessly fascinating for both actors and audiences. We can all identify with elements of the complex and contradictory character Shakespeare created. Hamlet may be callous and egocentric, but aren’t we all, sometimes?
This painting, from around 1515, shows a beautiful and soulful young man contemplating a skull, signifying death. It was painted by a Venetian painter, and now hangs in the Ashmolean Museum,Oxford. We’d all, probably including John Updike, prefer this renaissance image of poetic melancholy. The Hamlet Shakespeare gives us, though, is full of contradictions.”
Ben and Hamlet both believe, to a large degree, in what they are doing, that they are in fact redeeming all of their faults, but the path reflects their own twisted, selfish desires. The very human side of Ben, though, knows that what he is doing is wrong, that morally he is off base and that he must blind himself to any guilt that he might have. This is Snoke’s first challenge for him — to sever his emotional attachments. During that meeting in the film, Kylo’s conflict manifests itself as he tries to protect his father; he tells Snoke that the name does not mean anything to him so that he can assert his lack of attachment without having to kill Han. Snoke tells him that Solo is in the way, which forces Ben to kill his father: this is yet again a ghostly figure instructing him to kill somebody in order to achieve fulfillment.
The emotional and moral challenge that Ben faces against his father on the bridge is beautifully played by Adam Driver. He is unprepared to commit to his actions and his fate, as the part of him that loves and misses his family is still present, and there exists the sentiment that time heals wounds. Kylo ultimately seals his fate by killing his father, express on film through Driver’s distressed facial expression and body language; he is kneeling, in deep thought about what he just did; this leaves him vulnerable and completely unaware of Chewbacca’s blaster, which wounds him and snaps him out of his grief. The screenplay itself emphasizes this. http://www.squareeyed.tv/2016/01/04/leaked-star-wars-the-force-awakens-script-answers-some-of-our-biggest-questions/
“The script gives us some understanding of what, exactly, Kylo Ren was thinking right after he brutally murdered his own father. The screenplay tells us that “Kylo Ren is somehow WEAKENED by this wicked act,” and that even though he did it willingly, he’s “horrified” by what he’s done and is in shock over his actions. But, that shock is almost immediately broken when Chewbacca roars in anguish over the loss of his dear friend and shoots him, snapping him out of his stupor of disbelief and pulling him toward the next act of the Dark Side.”
Kylo is torn apart by this decision, full of regret. At that point, he feels like he just made the worst mistake of his life. Mistakes and regret are things that people can empathize with; one can not help but feel as sickened by this tragedy as Kylo does.
One deleted scene sheds greater insight into the attachment that Ben still has for his family: http://www.squareeyed.tv/2015/12/31/star-wars-the-force-awakens-deleted-scenes-20-sequences-cut-from-the-final-film/
“But the cooler scene involved Kylo Ren and the famous space ship. After sensing Han Solo may be near, Kylo Ren finds Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon, in the snow outside the base. Kylo actually boards the ship and enters the cockpit, where he begins to have an emotional moment. Maybe it’s that he remembers this place from his childhood. Maybe it’s because in an alternate life he would be in this seat right now next to his father. He lowers his head and says “Han Solo…” Now, that’s a scene I almost wish had remained in the film. Maybe it slowed down the story as it was reaching towards its climax, or perhaps it made Kylo Ren too sympathetic?”
J.J. Abrams and company wanted to do something bold. They wanted to do something that Star Wars had never done before. This is what Abrams had to say about Kylo Ren:
“He said he took inspiration from real world fears. Anyone raising a child knows the parental anxiety that they might grow up wrong, make poor choices, and then keep spiraling into self-destruction.
“All of us bring our own experiences to it,” Abrams said. “As a father, as a friend to people who have children, I know what it’s like to see struggle, to be part of struggle. I know how painful it can be. I know how real it is. And this is, of course, an insane extrapolated version,” he added with a laugh. “Patricide is not ideal.”
Like the “Join me” father-son issues that permeate the original trilogy, The Force Awakens just takes the common clashes and heartbreaks of family life and stretches them to mythological proportions.”
The story of Kylo Ren is that of a tragedy. His narrative and arc are just as crucial to this tale as any of the other protagonists’ stories. Rey happens to be the opposite of Ben: patient, meditative, headstrong, transparent and courageous. These attributes place these two characters on parallel paths as complements. How their relationship unfolds, and how Ben’s story is told are crucial elements to consider. Those who expected Kylo Ren to be a mere obstacle for the protagonists to overcome should indeed know that he in fact could be considered the central protagonist himself.
On one of the international posters (Korean), Kylo Ren is even featured as the central character:
He is not merely a Vader clone nor is he supposed to be. He is far more nuanced than that. He is a tortured individual who has far more depth than any other character that has ever appeared in the film series — the product of strong characterization and a lot of thoughtful thinking to focus on characters. This is a character who transcends the previous standards of characterization in Star Wars and thus needs to be recognized as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Star Wars characters ever. He is, in many ways, the Hamlet of Star Wars, but he is not Hamlet himself: he shares numerous analogues in his narrative, but he is also built on real life experiences and struggles — a unique character full of moral and personal ambiguity. He is the tragic figure of this story whose vision and reality do not align, whose struggle to take his rightful place tears him apart. Everything that he is contradicts everything that he wishes to become, and his pursuit of this ambition has the exact opposite effect, exposing his weakness and his humanity.