How To Destroy A Villain In Two Movies: A Speculative Analysis Of Kylo Ren

Greetings my fellow Star Wars junkies! I’ve been busy detoxing with the more wholesome fare of Detective Pikachu and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but it’s now time to wander back into cinematic equivalent of heroin.

This week we’re looking at a guy who’s gone from interesting mid-level villain to less-than-credible galactic-level threat to useless appendage.

Yes, we’re talking about Kylo Ren! Join me under the cut!

Nerd In Evil’s Helmet

Let’s face facts: Kylo Ren has always been something of a loser. And yet, he’s the only villain that people have cottoned on to, while substantially more evil and effective villains get ignored.

Why is that? Honestly, I have no idea. Kylo Ren’s resume sure isn’t impressive: he massacres a mostly defensive village, gets mocked by Poe Dameron, has his prisoner escape, loses the droid he was sent after, captures Rey and spends the rest of TFA getting his ass-kicked by her. His performance in the next movie is not better, with the final act of the movie being basically one long humiliation.

If Darth Vader was, to paraphrase George Lucas, ultimately a pathetic man in a suit, then Kylo Ren is a pathetic teenager in a suit trying to act like a man. In a way, this does fit with Rian Johnson’s claim that Star Wars is about adolescence, with Kylo’s maturation being very delayed (he’s in his thirties in the movies), but… it’s still making your heavy into the Jason Macendale Hobgoblin. And we all know Kingpin’s opinion of Macendale:

That would be an insignificant loss. A pathetic little man who, when beaten by a superior foe, runs like a whipped puppy to someone else to get his dirty work done. Who then obtains the equipment of his deceased enemy, makes some useless modifications, and uses this power to dispatch hapless underlings. Whom are you trying to impress? Not me.

And then there’s the Arranger’s opinion of Macendale:

A boor. An idiot. An incompetent. A prattling fool who steals another man’s identity.

Hmm. Both of these quotes sound an awful lot like Snoke’s speech to Kylo Ren in TLJ, no? With the minor difference that Snoke proves to be almost as much of a loser as his apprentice!

Well, like teacher like student, I guess?

A Level In Badass?

Rian Johnson, at least, appeared to be aware that Kylo Ren is fundamentally a loser. Snoke mocks him, Hux barely tolerates him… the only people, in fact, who give Kylo Ren any consideration at all are Luke, Leia, and Rey. And even Luke spends his final moments hammering home just how much of a loser Kylo Ren is.

So Rian, understandably if controversially, decided to have Kylo Ren take a level in badass and kill Snoke, usurping his position and becoming the big bad of the series.

Except it doesn’t work. While Kylo’s performance against the Praetorian Guard is decent, he’s backed up by Rey and facing people who aren’t as strong in the Force or armed with lightsabers, putting them at a massive disadvantage. He then ties with Rey in a contest over the Skywalker saber, despite at least ten years on her and more training.

And all of this takes place before Luke humiliates his nephew for the laughs! So much for taking a level in badass.

Oops, Mommy’s Dead! What Now?

Speaking of the last act in TLJ, here is the part where Rian Johnson screwed up the most. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault: he didn’t know Carrie Fisher was going to die.

But she did die and Rian put a number of final confrontations into TLJ’s final act: killing Snoke, Luke’s extended humiliation of Kylo Ren, and a way too easy to interpret as a final confrontation with Rey.

That’s a problem, because Kylo Ren needs to confront all the people who he betrayed/failed, and all the people who did the same thing to him in order to have any emotional closure to his arc. After the deck clearing exercise in TLJ, Kylo only has one person left to confront: General Leia Organa, princess of Alderaan.

Aaaand she’s dead. Carrie Fisher died before TLJ was even released, and long before filming on TROS could begin. J.J. Abrams managed to come up with a clever way to deal with this for most characters: repurposed cut footage from TFA. This works for Rey, Lt. Connix (played by Billie Lourd, Carrie’s real-life daughter) and probably Poe. Other characters, like Finn and Rose Tico, didn’t have the emotional connection to Leia and therefore don’t care so much.

But it doesn’t work for Kylo Ren, because as far as anybody can tell there is no such cut footage with confronting his mother. While recent articles indicate that at least some of the repurposed Leia footage has been re-shot (specifically on the side of the other characters in the scene), there’s still some hard limits on what you can do with that kind of footage matching. So it’s unlikely that Kylo Ren is going to get the emotional closure his arc needs and will have to be papered over with confrontations with other characters, namely Luke and Rey.

But we’ve seen these confrontations before, and they’re just not going to have the same impact this time around.

It gets worse, however.

Palpatine’s Back, Baby!

The return of Star Wars original big bad kills any attempt by Kylo Ren to become a bigger badass. In all likelihood, Palpatine is going to be behind everything and Kylo Ren is going to be revealed as nothing more than an empty puppet dragged along on a string.

The Master of the Knights of Ren

Or as I like to put it, Kylo’s only hope at remaining relevant in The Rise of Skywalker.

The Knights of Ren are, most likely, Kylo’s friends who betrayed Luke with him. They are less likely to put him on a pedestal (like the Star Wars fandom), imagine goodness where isn’t any (the Star Wars fandom, Rey, Leia) or dismiss him entirely as a loser (me). They’re fresh emotional ground and have a genuine emotional connection to their boss, allowing us to see Kylo Ren as he really is and making up a little bit for the fact that his arc will have no emotional closure.

I’ve seen a couple of different theories about the Knights of Ren fit into the story. For my money, I think the Knights of Ren will help Kylo: first, by fighting the Resistance and then by helping Kylo defeat Palpatine when Kylo realizes he’s an idiot who’s in way over his head.

None of them will survive the movie of course, because that’s just how Star Wars rolls. But they might help Kylo Ren be just a little bit less of a loser for once in his life.

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