How to build an iconic Star Wars vil­lain in five sim­ple steps

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - WORDS Dan Jolin

1 ___ Give him a mask

All the coolest Star Wars bad guys wear one, so it went with­out say­ing that the new vil­lain orig­i­nally con­ceived as the ‘Jedi Killer’ should get a mask, too. At first, much more Vader-ish skull-bucket looks were toyed with (con­cept artist Chris­tian Alz­mann rea­son­ing that Darth’s style wouldn’t be a “one-off”), then they tried a sil­ver stormtrooper look, which didn’t feel right for this vil­lain but led to the cre­ation of Cap­tain Phasma. The fi­nal re­sult was some­thing of a blend, com­bin­ing Vader’s black, face-en­cas­ing, voice-dis­tort­ing mask with shiny me­tal­lic “spaghetti-type” high­lights, which cos­tume de­signer Michael Kaplan loved be­cause they re­flected any light sources around Ren. They also look, rather ap­pro­pri­ately, like worry lines, and work on a sym­bolic level, too: a hint of the light within this dark, dark soul.

2 ___ Tweak the voice

Kylo Ren’s big, bad grand­pappy de­liv­ered a mod­u­lated bari­tone through a hor­ri­ble robo-asth­matic wheeze, in­stantly landing the idea that he was both scary-pow­er­ful and pro­foundly dam­aged; that mask ain’t just for show, he needs it to breathe. But the an­tag­o­nist for­merly known as Ben Solo doesn’t need his at all, so as sound ed­i­tor Matthew Wood put it, “It’s purely there as in­tim­i­da­tion, to make that char­ac­ter have a stronger, im­pos­ing pres­ence.” Un­like David Prowse when play­ing Vader, Adam Driver was able to hear how he sounded through the Ren voice-box live on set and, said Wood, played it “like an in­stru­ment”, push­ing right up close to the mic in a weirdly in­ti­mate way. With Driver’s in­tense but level tones given that harsh, crack­ling dis­tor­tion — J.J. Abrams’ brief was “Harley David­sons! Chain­saws! Flamethrow­ers!” — the re­sult is odd and chill­ing. Although, as we’d learn, not ac­tu­ally as ef­fec­tive as Driver/ren with the mask off and the voice served raw.

3 ___ Scar him

It’s easy to for­get how sur­pris­ing it must have been for most view­ers when Kylo first re­moved his mask… and re­vealed a hand­some young man, un­blem­ished, nor­mally formed and with ‘good’, long hair, too (Star Wars vil­lains, more of­ten than not, be­ing bald or short-haired). But this was not some sea­soned Star De­stroyer deck-strider, a bat­tle-rav­aged Sith Lord like his grand­fa­ther. Kylo Ren is first pre­sented as a freshly minted vil­lain, re­cently el­e­vated by Snoke, and the em­bod­i­ment of Episode VII’S

ti­tle (al­beit ul­ti­mately shared with Rey). He has to earn his scars, and earn one he does: a whop­per of a fa­cial slash-burn cour­tesy of his light-side neme­sis Rey, so im­pres­sive that in

The Last Jedi he ditches the mask to show it off (well, kinda). Although, yes, the scar did move. Be­cause Rian John­son wanted it to. “It hon­estly looked goofy run­ning straight up the bridge of his nose,” the Last Jedi

di­rec­tor tweeted last year.

4 ___ Make his weapon unique

A lightsaber tells you a lot about the dark-sider hold­ing it. Count Dooku’s was el­e­gant, Pal­pa­tine’s was slick and smooth, and Darth Maul’s dealt a dou­ble dose of trou­ble. Kylo Ren’s, mean­while, is awk­ward and awe­some. Mod­elled more on a heavy me­dieval-euro­pean broadsword than a del­i­cately wrought samu­rai katana, its lat­eral-vent plasma ‘cross­guard’ cre­ates a great ef­fect, but

hardly seems prac­ti­cal. Its blade also flick­ers and writhes like no other, re­flect­ing the rage and in­ten­sity of its wielder. Ac­cord­ing to the lore, both cross­guard and jagged blade are the re­sult of a cracked ky­ber crys­tal, pro­vid­ing a fur­ther con­nec­tion be­tween owner and weapon: both are riven to the core.

5 ___ Give him a con­science

A lead Star Wars vil­lain isn’t a lead Star Wars vil­lain if he doesn’t have a bit of hero in him. Just as Luke and Rey flirt with the dark side, Anakin Sky­walker and Ben Solo were bea­cons of Forcewield­ing light, dimmed and shut­tered by Sid­i­ous and Snoke re­spec­tively. As por­trayed by Adam Driver — ar­guably an ac­tor with greater grav­i­tas than any other Star Wars player since Alec Guin­ness — Kylo’s in­ter­nal con­flict with his own bet­ter na­ture is never far be­neath the sur­face. It plays across his face as he elects not to blast his mother into the cold vac­uum of space in The Last Jedi. It twists his fea­tures as he re­solves to skewer his dad at The Force Awak­ens’ cli­max. It sim­mers away dur­ing those tense ex­changes with Rey. And it erupts with Ve­su­vian fury when he launches into one of his trade­mark tem­per tantrums.

What makes Kylo Ren so damn in­ter­est­ing — more so than Anakin in Re­venge Of The Sith — is not that he is tempted by the dark side and drawn in by a prom­ise of greater power. Rather, evil is some­thing he’s been strug­gling to mas­ter, since be­ing tilted in that di­rec­tion by Luke’s mid­night mis­step. Kylo’s cor­rup­tion is not a down­ward slide. It is a tricky, treach­er­ous up­hill clam­ber.

Left: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) dur­ing The Force Awaken’s cli­mac­tic bat­tle on Starkiller Base. Be­low, top to bot­tom: Clad in his Vader-es­que ar­mour in The Last Jedi; And un­cov­ered in the same film; Bran­dish­ing his dis­tinc­tive cross­guard lightsaber.

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