The Force Awakens was an incredibly polarizing movie. The Last Jedi, even more so. Some of the most vocal complaints that came pouring out of fans in the aftermath of these two films were directed at Kylo Ren, the new generation of Star Wars villain. He was too young, too emotional, too human to make a good villain. Some people would even go as far as to say that he was just too damn pretty to make a good villain. But in an era of new stories, franchise reboots, and beloved series coming back to life, Kylo Ren is exactly the Star Wars villain we need—and deserve.
There have been many different iterations of “villain” throughout the history of Star Wars. There was Anakin/Darth Vader, who was led astray. Palpatine, an ancient trickster. The morally ambiguous bounty hunters, Jango and Boba Fett. There’s even Jabba the Hutt, who, while isn’t necessarily the most intimidating, is a rather and opportunistic pig nonetheless. Count Dooku, Supreme Leader Snoke, Darth Maul—the list goes on and on.
All of these so-called villains were antagonists at one point or another throughout the many arcs of the movies, but most of them—with a few notable exceptions—were flimsy Star Wars villains at best. Some got very little screen time; others barely got any backstory. They could (and should) have been written better, but there just wasn’t enough time available to explore the backstory of every individual standing in the way of the hero’s journey.
Kylo Ren is the only villain that has truly broken that mold. He, like many other Star Wars villains, was dropped into The Force Awakens with little to no introduction. He is a “creature in a mask,” and while it was obvious at first that he was incredibly powerful in the Force—we were left wondering who he was, and how he came to be the First Order’s darling.
It is revealed, of course, that he is Han and Leia’s son—but even then fans were left wondering: “How did he fall so far to the Dark side?” We’ve seen this before with Darth Vader, and to a lesser extent Count Dooku, we know that Force-sensitive individuals can land anywhere on the moral spectrum. However, having the son of two of the most influential Star Wars protagonists be the villain of the story raised question after question in viewers’ minds.
The Last Jedi built on this, bit by bit, slowly revealing more of Kylo Ren’s story along the way. The most shocking thing this movie did was taking a Star Wars villain and truly humanizing him in front of the audience. We saw how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren. Then we saw how Kylo Ren could be broken down into Ben Solo once more.
When Kylo Ren finally killed Snoke, I knew that he would forever be a different breed of villain. In fact, calling him a “villain” is an oversimplification of his character because at the end of the day Ben Solo is a human like you or I.
His entire arc so far shows the duality of mankind. We have both potential for “good” and for “evil” as humans, and people rarely are completely on one side or another. Star Wars has long enforced the idea that Force users must be one of two options: they are either Jedi, or they are Sith. But the truth is, humans are simply too complex of creatures to be split so easily down the middle.
Ben Solo has done many evil things. But when you look at the big picture, so has his father. So has his mother. So has Rey, Finn, Poe, and any other number of Star Wars characters. Luke Skywalker, the series’ golden boy, even abandoned the rest of the world for his own selfish reasons—but no one would ever say that he was a Sith. So why do we villainize Kylo Ren in such a manner?
While Star Wars Episode IX is still a long way off, I would bet money that we see Ben Solo redeemed to the Light during this film. Darth Vader had a similar redemption arc, but his was cheapened by his mortal wounds. Repentance on your deathbed is easy, living with the consequences of your actions is much harder.
Ben Solo was betrayed by his family, manipulated by his mentor, and rejected by the one person he thought he had found a partner in. While this doesn’t excuse his evil actions, it does explain them—and that’s why Kylo Ren is the Star Wars villain we deserve. He is a truly human representation of the Jedi and serves to show the duality of man. When Kylo Ren is redeemed, he will have come full circle. He will have shown how easy it is to turn to succumb to hatred, how difficult it is to acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused, and how hard it is to live with the consequences of your actions. He will be the first villain to have gone through such an arc, and I have no doubt that it will play out beautifully on the silver screen.
Kylo Ren is human, and that is what makes him the most authentic Star Wars villain of all.