While many people did not enjoy the sequel trilogy of Star Wars, myself somewhat included, most people can agree that there was one highlight that kept us invested in the story. Kylo Ren was that reason for me.
Ben Solo was raised as a force sensitive kid. The offspring of Han Solo and Leia Amidala, Ben was strong in the force, being of the Skywalker bloodline. He was taken in by his Uncle, Luke Skywalker, to help rebuild the Jedi order. Ben was a natural at the force, growing to be a fantastic Jedi. However, one fateful night, Luke sensed great power coming from him. In a moment of weakness, Luke allowed his mind to wander towards ending the life of Ben Solo, fearing that his power was too great, and would lead to the resurgence of the Sith. While the moment was fleeting, the damage was done. Ben had seen that side of his uncle, and things would never be the same. Ben would flee the Jedi temple, and join the remnants of the empire, becoming what his Uncle had feared. Adopting the name “Kylo Ren” after the house of Ren (a group of darkside inclined force sensitive warriors), he became a leader of the First Order, and ushered in a new war between the Empire and the Republic.
Kylo’s story is one of tragedy and hardship; of living up to expectations that are unfathomable. With Darth Vader being his Grandfather, Kylo felt that he had big shoes to fill, uttering the words “I will finish what you started”. He isn’t your average villain, and is far from the masterclass that was Darth Vader. However, for me, that’s what made him so interesting. This is not the master of the dark side that Vader was. Kylo is very much still young and inexperienced. J.J. Abrams could have just given audiences the second coming of Vader, but where would be the fun in that? The whole point of Kylo is that he’s not Vader, that he idolizes Vader but falls short of becoming him. Kylo’s lightsaber is a perfect symbol of that. It’s a jury-rigged device, a home-made contraption that sometimes seems slightly on the fritz. Like Kylo, it’s unstable and dangerous because of that.
In the Force Awakens, we get a main plot about the journey to find a long lost Luke Skywalker. However, the subplot is about the battle for Kylo Ren’s soul. Despite the evil inside him, Kylo does not completely belong to the dark side. Leia senses good in him. Snoke warns him against being seduced by the light side. Kylo himself feels the pull towards the light, praying to Darth Vader’s mask to show him the power of the dark side. When Han tries to convince him to abandon the dark side, Kylo genuinely seems to consider it. However, his lack of confidence in himself sways his conscience from side to side. Kylo, in a moment of pure emotional overload, kills his father, hoping to sever his connection to the light side of the force so that he may fully adopt the darkside. This was not the case, however.
Throughout the story of the sequel trilogy, we see Kylo walk the line of the darkside. He never fully dives below the surface of it, and seems to emerge into the light side from time to time. In The Last Jedi, he even teams up with Rey briefly to overthrow Snoke. He then offers Rey the same opportunity Vader offered Luke, to rule the galaxy together. It isn’t until Rey and Kylo’s last battle that he finally has a turning point. Killed and resurrected by the force, Kylo’s view point shifts, and we get a call back to that fateful moment with Han Solo, and a revisit to the line “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it”. We see the juxtaposition between the two scenes, and the inner conflict that Kylo had been going through. Did he mean he didn’t know if he had the strength to sever his ties with his family and join the darkside? Or was it that he didn’t have the strength to leave the darkside? This internal struggle is what made Kylo Ren so interesting to watch. His vulnerability makes him captivating at times. His emotions, his anger, all make him more relatable than a killing machine like previous Sith lords and even other villains in the Star Wars. You can feel the inner struggle in his actions, and you can hear it in his words. When he tells his father that he’s torn apart, you can feel it.
The last part I will touch on is the nature of characterization between him and Rey. These two are the main characters of the trilogy. A classic light vs dark. While many people may not enjoy the sequel trilogy, one thing I found particularly enjoyable was seeing a light sider with dark side tendencies like Rey, and a darksider with light side tendencies like Kylo. These two have such a great parallel that they run the story quite well together. It comes full circle to what I said in the first blog post I made. Kylo Ren is a perfect foil for Rey. Both are young and inexperienced with the force, but their drive and raw talent push them farther into the story and the world. They play off of each other, feeding on the other’s doubt and insecurity, and experiencing the other side of their point of view. They are connected, and seeing a villain and protagonist communicate and grow from each other in a story is an intriguing concept, and one that I would love to see explored more in the future.