THE CASE FOR REN

Empire (Australasia) - - Greatest Villains - BY HE­LEN O’HARA, EDI­TOR-AT-LARGE

DARTH VADER AND Kylo Ren were in­tro­duced in iden­ti­cal fash­ion: black-clad, strid­ing into en­emy ter­ri­tory with im­pla­ca­ble con­fi­dence and us­ing the Force to ex­tract in­for­ma­tion. But the dis­tance be­tween them widened, be­cause while Vader never sur­passed that iconic in­tro­duc­tion, Kylo Ren only be­came more in­ter­est­ing as we got to know him.

Vader was a fan­tas­ti­cal sight, a black-clad bo­gey­man straight out of night­mares. The stature, the cloak, the mask and wheez­ing breath: they’re alarm­ing and alien. But five films at­tempted to give him more in­ter­est and com­plex­ity, to ex­plain what he was try­ing to achieve when he tor­tured a princess or stood be­hind a planet-killer, and only de­tracted from that im­pres­sion of cold, re­lent­less death. He’s not a fig­ure who permits depth. There was pathos, ad­mit­tedly, in his plea to his long-lost son to join him, but he of­fered no ide­ol­ogy, no in­cen­tive be­yond the doubt­ful value of his af­fec­tions. Sure, as Anakin he whined some­thing about or­der and seemed fond of the mother he didn’t see for a decade, but be­yond that, none of his ac­tions make much sense. He’s just a Bad Guy (and a ter­ri­ble boyfriend).

Kylo, how­ever, has even more power and men­ace: he al­most ca­su­ally freezes a bolt of pure en­ergy in the air and — spoiler — doesn’t just seethe be­hind his boss’ back, but acts against him. He adds an un­pre­dictable, al­most ir­ra­tional edge. We don’t need Leia to tell us that this guy is bold. Nor do we need Luke to claim that there’s good there; we can see it in tiny hes­i­ta­tions of body lan­guage even be­fore he aban­dons the af­fected hel­met. Vader was noth­ing with­out the hel­met; Kylo gets bet­ter when he shows his face.

A less ob­vi­ous short­com­ing, but one that view­ers will nev­er­the­less in­tuit, is that Vader doesn’t mean any­thing. He stands for gen­eral fear, maybe, the gen­eral ‘dark side’ of our worst na­tures, but there is no metaphor­i­cal meat to him. Kylo is a bet­ter vil­lain for our times, an avatar for the form­less, mis­di­rected rage that seems to drive our cur­rent pol­i­tics. He’s the in­ter­net troll, the priv­i­leged boy lash­ing out when the world doesn’t give him ex­actly what he wants, when he wants it. But there is good in him, if he’s will­ing to al­low it. It took Vader a life­time to re­alise that em­brac­ing anger and im­pulse was an aw­ful way to sur­vive; Kylo’s al­ready grasp­ing at the edges of that truth.

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