Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been in theaters for over a month now, and though the film has received widespread acclaim and broken more records than I can count, it still has its share of detractors. Notably, these misguided individuals have issues with its villain, Kylo Ren. But most, if not all, of their issues with the character are based on the fact that Kylo Ren is actually a character, and not just a cool character design. Of course, these same people tend to claim that Darth Maul, a character who literally did nothing but look cool, is a good character. But let’s take a quick look at why Kylo Ren is not only one of the best characters in the series, but is infinitely cooler than both Darth Maul and fellow fan-favorite-despite-doing-nothing character, Boba Fett.
Kylo Ren’s critics tend to refer to the character with labels such as “whiny” and “emo,” presumably because the character possesses actual emotions and isn’t just a one-dimensional “silent badass” archetype. But a character having emotion doesn’t make them emo (after all, this is Star Wars we’re talking about, not Final Fantasy), it makes them interesting!
What makes Kylo Ren work is that he is conflicted. He is dedicated to the First Order and Supreme Leader Snoke, but he’s still human, and remembers what his life was like before he turned to the Dark Side. He wasn’t always a space-nazi sorcerer, and there’s part of him that struggles with his decision to join the Dark Side in the first place. In a bit of a reversal of Anakin Skywalker, he’s tempted by the Light Side of the Force, so he’s actually hesitant to perform some of his evil deeds.
How about Darth Maul? Well, he was bad because reasons. And Boba Fett was just a clone of another dude who was a bounty hunter, and decided to follow suit. But, y’know, they said like a total of ten sentences between them. So they’re so cool!
One could argue that Kylo Ren is a proper realization of what George Lucas tried to pull off with Anakin Skywalker in the prequels (but again, with something of a role reversal with his conflicts). But seeing as The Force Awakens has infinitely better writing than the prequels, and Adam Driver is an infinitely better actor than Jake Lloyd and Hayden “the anti-actor” Christensen, you actually care about the character’s struggles. Granted, the fact that he continues to choose evil decisions makes him pretty detestable by the end of the movie, but it’s the right kind of disdain you feel for the character. You hate him for what he’s become, but are intrigued that there’s an actual character behind the actions. You may even pity him at times.
What about Boba Fett? Well, he has a jetpack and a cool helmet. So he’s so awesome!
Some people bemoan the “tantrums” that Kylo Ren throws every time things don’t go according to plan. But I feel these “tantrums” further magnify the contrasts Kylo Ren has to Darth Vader. Whereas Vader would often murder his own henchmen (while keeping his cool) whenever things didn’t go as planned, Kylo Ren will destroy everything in sight with his lightsaber while restraining himself from actually killing one of his flunkies.
I think this works brilliantly. By the time we were first introduced to Darth Vader in Star Wars (or A New Hope or whatever you want to call it), he had grown old and fully absorbed in the Dark Side. His demeanor was calm and collected, but he was ruthless. Kylo Ren, by contrast, is younger and more of a hot-head. But because he’s still struggling to commit himself to the Dark Side, he won’t go killing his own men willy-nilly.
What about Boba Fett and Darth Maul? Well, I honestly already summed up their entire characters in the brief sentences I’ve brought them up. There’s literally nothing to them but cool character designs.
Much like I feel Rey is the kind of hero that feels long-overdue for the series, I feel Kylo Ren serves as a great addition to the Star Wars villain front. And thankfully, the sequel trilogy isn’t going down the “villain of the week” road of the prequels, so we can see Kylo Ren develop more as a character in the next two installments. Will he eventually seek redemption? Or will he become a slave to the Dark Side? It certainly serves as an interesting prospect for the character, and it gives Kylo Ren a sense of depth that Boba Fett and Darth Maul could never dream of. No matter how cool they look.
So while Kylo Ren will be back to add more to his character, fans and writers will continue to retcon the unceremonious deaths that fittingly fell upon throwaway characters like Boba Fett and Darth Maul in continued attempts to pretend like there was ever anything to them.