The Big, Bad…Sheep in Wolf's Clothing?
If you want to see this film really zig where the rest of the Star Wars saga zags, look no further than the skinny guy in the mask.
We say "skinny" instead of "ominous" or "terrifying" because frankly, Star Wars has been there and done that. Imagine sitting down and creating Kylo Ren. You want him to be scary, but he's coming on the heels of Darth Vader and the super-creeptastic Emperor.
Yeah, the Emperor is hard to top.
Luckily, J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan weren't in the mood to put another scary dude in a black cape and leave it at that. Instead, they went the opposite route, turning their central baddie into someone more conflicted, a little sadder…and a whole lot whinier.
Basically, he's an enfant terrible: a guy with a whole lot of power and not much maturity to guide it. He wants what he wants when he wants it, and he's really not all that interested in being told no. But he doesn't keep a lid on his emotions the way, say, Darth Vader does.
Vader tended to focus all that bile and direct it in a very specific direction. Ren, on the other hand, is kind of all over the map: lashing out randomly, letting computer bulkheads taste his wrath, and generally throwing a fit instead of making a chilling example of those who have angered him.
So, yeah, the kid's got some anger issues. No wonder he keeps his grandpa's skull on a table so he can feed his bile from time to time.
At the same time, he's conflicted about the whole dark side thing. He talks about being pulled in different directions by the dark side and the light, as he does when he and Han finally have it out:
REN: I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain.
That gives him some massive insecurities to work out, too. Vader—and most of the other villains in Star Wars—are pretty confident in their evil. They've picked their sides, they don't regret their choices, and if Force-choking the life out of you will convince you, then kiss oxygen good-bye.
Ren, on the other hand, is constantly trying to prove himself. He views his inner conflict as a weakness and sets out to do awful things as a way of getting over it. Oddly enough, he turns to the spirit of Darth Vader to do that…even though Vader had the same problem and eventually came back to the light. (Seriously, kid, didn't Uncle Luke explain that to you? We're betting he did…)
You can see that during his Special Private Time moment with Vader's ashes (yeah, not creepy at all):
REN: Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again the power of the darkness, and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.
A lot of that stems from his background and the fact that he used to be Ben Solo instead of Vader Lite. Unfortunately, being in this family means you have an extra-heavy load of daddy issues, as well as resenting the heck out of your elders in general.
He starts out as an apprentice, being trained by his uncle, Luke, as part of the whole Jedi reclamation thing that starts at the end of Return of the Jedi. What happened next is a bit fuzzy, at least as of this writing, but it's clear that he went bad in a serious way, destroyed the other apprentices, and sent Uncle Luke scuttling off to an island in the middle of a huge ocean on a planet no one can find.
As far as teenage rebellion goes, that's pretty hard to beat.
…and Daddy Issues and Mommy Issues
In fact, "annoying your parents" seems to be a big part of Ren's deal. He's mad at his dad for not being there—something we can definitely see since Han isn't exactly the most reliable guy in the galaxy—and frankly, his mom, too. Details are sketchy (they need something to talk about in Episode VIII, after all), but at least some of it has to do with being abandoned.
As Leia explains when she reunites with Han:
HAN: There was too much Vader in him.
LEIA: That's why I wanted him to train with Luke. I just never should have sent him away. That's when I lost him. That's when I lost you both.
Luckily for her, he's pretty focused on his dad, as he tells Rey when he has her in his clutches:
REN: And Han Solo. You feel like he's the father you never had. He would have disappointed you.
Family issues are nothing new in the Star Wars saga, of course, but few of them have triggered the kind of response that this one does. We figure they aren't going away just because Kylo Ren ices his pop…and that sooner or later, this Dark Lord of the Sith is going to end up paying the fiddler big time.