Star Wars eras are outlined as a lot by their villains as by their heroes. Whereas Emperor Sheev Palpatine is the overarching evil mastermind behind your complete Skywalker Saga, he’s by no means actually been the face of the franchise. That honor falls to the grim reaper of the galaxy, Darth Vader. His intimidating stature (supplied by bodybuilder David Prowse), booming voice (courtesy of James Earl Jones), and menacing helmet (designed by Ralph McQuarrie and sculpted by Brian Muir) have made him an immortal popular culture icon.
However what about his successor from the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)? Positioned as the brand new hotness amongst cruel enforcers of area fascism, it appears the person as soon as known as Ben Solo by no means actually obtained his due as a top-shelf villain in cinema’s most inescapable franchise. With the Skywalker Saga now years in our rearview, it’s time to reevaluate the query: Who’s the higher character, Darth Vader or Kylo Ren?
Darth Vader is definitely cooler than Kylo Ren
Judging by pure cool issue, there are treasured few villains in cinematic historical past who can deal with the OG Sith Lord himself, Darth Vader. We’re speaking a couple of determine so imposing and assured that he makes sporting a respirator look rad as hell. He’s outer area’s best film monster, an unstoppable half-human menace whose powers are restricted solely by the accessible particular results. Vader is so superficially awe-inspiring that we’ve to remind ourselves sometimes that this man is a mass assassin and that gushing about him to this extent might be a foul look. (RIP to these younglings, Keep in mind Alderaan, et cetera.) Our level is that, since 1977, Darth Vader has been the usual by which all different Large Bads are measured. He’s the postmodern Dracula.
So, naturally, his grandson, Kylo Ren (aka Ben Solo), had some large boots to fill when he debuted in Star Wars: The Power Awakens in 2015. All the things about Kylo Ren’s Sith Lord persona is spinoff of his well-known forbearer, from the black helmet whose form implies a pained grimace, to his cape, to his distorted voice. Simply because the First Order is actually a Galactic Empire cowl band, Kylo Ren is a Darth Vader impersonator. Sick crossguard lightsaber however, that makes the final of the Knights of Ren much less cool, by definition.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t make him a worse character. Fairly the opposite — Kylo Ren being a pale imitation of Darth Vader is exactly what makes him an attention-grabbing antagonist.
Kylo Ren’s inadequacy is what makes him an awesome villain
The commonest knock by followers and critics towards The Power Awakens is that it’s much less of a follow-up to Return of the Jedi or a brand new starting for Star Wars as an entire than it’s a remake of A New Hope. Reverence for the unique Star Wars seeps via each pore of J.J. Abrams’ reboot, however it’s laborious to disclaim that it feels a bit like a Best Hits album. That won’t do any favors for the brand new heroic trio Rey, Finn, and Poe, however within the case of the brand new movie’s villain, the truth that Kylo Ren can not escape being considered as “the brand new Darth Vader” is definitely constructed into the textual content.
Rey could also be a fan of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, however she isn’t hung up on being the galaxy’s subsequent nice hero. Kylo Ren, then again, has plainly modeled himself after his grandfather and tried to assert his legacy, however it’s not figuring out for him. The Darth Vader we see in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Again (and, to a lesser extent, Return of the Jedi) is irrepressible and self-possessed. To fail Darth Vader is to ask demise, and the act of killing you gained’t even elevate his coronary heart fee. In The Power Awakens, Kylo Ren aches to exert this sort of authority, however he doesn’t have it in him. When issues don’t go his means, he vents his frustration by trashing tools with a lightsaber, a show of bluster with no actual penalties. It takes murdering his father, Han Solo, to present him the boldness to go full-bore evil, and that confidence dissolves mere minutes later when untrained Jedi potential Rey fights him to a stalemate.
This permits us to spend the next movie, The Final Jedi, watching Ben Solo full his transformation into Kylo Ren. Humiliated by his failure at Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren doubles down on his violence and aggression in a determined try to show that he might be taken severely. He steps out of Vader’s shadow, smashing his off-brand helmet, blasting his pricey mom Leia Organa into open area, and slaying his grasp, Snoke. He not has any illusions about changing into the stoic, faceless enforcer of the brand new Empire. He turns into his personal man, a rageful tyrant who will burn the galaxy down if it fits him. Being “the subsequent Vader” not pursuits him; He desires to be the primary Kylo Ren, a brand new type of terror who is less complicated to impress however more durable to foretell. This can be a extra attention-grabbing journey than Vader — or his alter ego of Anakin Skywalker — travels all through your complete saga.
Darth Vader and Kylo Ren’s arcs are each incomplete on display screen
Sadly, because of the uneven high quality of Star Wars media, neither Darth Vader nor Kylo Ren receives full and coherent character arcs of their big-screen appearances. Regardless of dedicating a full six hours to Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace, the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy fumbles by depicting Anakin as an unstable laborious case far too early, making his transformation from Jedi prodigy to Sith executioner really feel inevitable quite than tragic.
It’s solely within the animated midquel sequence, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, that Anakin Skywalker comes throughout as a hero or a good friend, and even this may’t completely clean out Anakin’s erratic arc from the movies. Vader’s eventual redemption in Return of the Jedi additionally feels comparatively sudden, notably now that the character’s journey is so unfold out throughout a long time of media, however his actions and motives within the Authentic Trilogy get fleshed out considerably within the 2015 Darth Vader comics sequence, which reveals Vader’s secret efforts to undermine Palpatine all through their partnership.
Likewise, Ben Solo doing away with the mantle of Kylo Ren and redeeming himself through heroic sacrifice in The Rise of Skywalker feels much less like a development of his character and extra of a contrivance to return him to the station or “Vader Lite.” Simply as Vader turned towards Palpatine to avoid wasting his son, Ben Solo activates a dime after the demise of his mom and provides his life to rescue Luke’s successor, Rey. (Ben and Rey share a kiss earlier than his demise even supposing they’re form of cousins, which is definitely very typical Skywalker conduct.)
Additional, recasting Kylo Ren’s mentor Snoke as a mere puppet for a revived Emperor Palpatine, who has been “each voice [Ben Solo] ever heard inside his head,” robs Ben of what little company he has in his personal story, in addition to the chance to develop into one thing new, extra akin to Palpatine himself than to Vader. Had Ben/Kylo’s story been permitted to stay a pure tragedy about an insecure youngster of privilege changing into irretrievably seduced by fascism, it might need allowed him to make a stronger closing impression.
Because it stands, it’s laborious to argue that Kylo Ren is the superior character, however it’s a disgrace that the storytellers’ choice to keep up the “rhyming stanza” construction of the Skywalker Saga undermined any chance of Kylo Ren changing into an iconic villain in his personal proper.
Winner: Darth Vader (however Kylo Ren greater than holds his personal).
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