The response to The Force Awakens brought, remarkably, a few areas of genuine consensus – with a small number of exceptions, Rey is generally beloved while Starkiller Base is usually derided. Other elements are divisive, but perhaps none more than the antagonist/anti-hero/Byronic dark prince/space Hitler/dudebro fanboy that is Kylo Ren.
Not merely in terms of popularity – depending on who you speak to, he’s either the best or the worst thing about the film – but also whether or not he is heading for (or deserves) redemption. Even the fundamentals of what exactly the character is, what he stands for, and how we are supposed to respond to him are the subject of a wide variety of viewpoints.
Kylo occupies an unusual space in a saga with clearly-defined characters – a postmodern figure in a world of archetypes.
Everything leading up to TFA made us believe that Kylo would occupy the same space in the drama as Darth Vader in the original trilogy. He was an ominous figure, his mask plastered over every poster, toy box and tote bag. He was to be the icon of the movie, Vader for a new generation.
Indeed, the beginning of the movie makes good on that promise. In the first ten minutes he murders an unarmed old man, coldly orders the execution of dozens of innocent villagers, and demonstrates chilling and hitherto unseen dark side powers as he effortlessly freezes both a blaster-bolt and our hero, Poe Dameron.