The best and worst character of Force Awakens
Kylo Ren started out so compelling. He was a strong character for the vast majority of the movie. But he has three (and a half) scenes where he just fails to measure up to my hopes for an aspiring, yet failing, Darth Vader devotee.
The Best Evil Apprentice
I have to love Darth Vader… but he was too powerful and too well defined by episode 4. It is meant to be that way however. He is meant to stand in the background like an ominous yet inevitable fight in a ever present, approaching future. An unavoidable final boss, that you see clips of throughout a very long grueling journey. He is not meant to change.
But Kylo Ren is different. He is new, young yet bold. He starts out strong. He is ominous when he stares down the unwilling storm trooper. He is full of expressive anger when he slashes at the computers. He is full of intimidation when he sits down for the interrogation of Rei.
And when he “prays” to Vader’s helmet. We get signs of someone who is struggling, and burdened by this struggle against the light.
I am almost on his side.
He humanizes the dark side. Turns it into the anger and fury of a man with goals that he can’t accomplish. I can easily see a righteous person acting in much the same way, while fighting the evils of the world.
I almost want him to win. To become dark and overpower the universe. He plays the anti-villain so cleverly. The stormtroopers are comedically avoiding him from a professional fear that just says “nope” and avoids him at all costs while he is angry.
Later, grabbing Rei, and sending a presence towards Fin that causes immediate hopelessness sends chills down my spine.
Here is a guy that knows he does not measure up to Vader. He questions the draw to the light side. But he manages the role of a young aspiring Darth. An outward strength and inward weakness that is immediately identifiable and draws one in to want to know more.
He sits down, facing a fearful yet hopeful Rei. There is a tension. There is failure, and then more tension. I expected anger…
The Worst Loser
But I got a whimper.
Off comes the helmet, and one of the most exciting characters in the movie so far… whines like a petulant child. And it is not the face. I do not care about the face. It is how his acting goes from 11/10 to -1/10 almost immediately.
This is the worst scene in the move for Kylo. The actor’s attempt to portray an attempt to humanize Kylo to Rei is unconvincing. It is not so much the fact that he is attempting to portray a lack of experience. It is the resulting composure that destroys all my anticipation for who he might be.
You can be confused. You can have internal struggles. You can even portray the naivete of youth using rude or over-hammed frustration. But you can’t explain the rollercoaster of confidence that Kylo acts out.
I would understand if he acted that way and then crumpled before his master. But he stands defiant in front of his Master. If it were merely a survival technique, we would have seen it before, but he is not even apologetic. Maybe it is because his master treats him like a spoiled prince. Maybe it is because he is a sociopath (wouldn’t that be exciting). Maybe I am just really frustrated at his master. I mean, what…?
Is this Emperor Pal-patine. A sudden moment of Buddy Anti-Christ? Maybe that is what is distorting the believability to me. Maybe I forget that Palpatine was lenient to Vader at some point.
But this doesn’t seem to be a cannon characterization of a dark side master. Sure, some of the extended universe had this behavior, and the online MMO had forgiving teachers of darkness(and, oh boy, does the MMO humanize the dark side). But I cannot remember it from anywhere in the movies.
People are about to hate me.
Kylo Ren does something shocking. Well, no so much. My prediction meter nailed it from 100 yards. Maybe it’s because it was Anakin Episode 3 all over again. Instead of the switch to Palpatine, it’s a kill moment.
Kylo Ren does not convince me that he killed Han.
I felt the scene was strong, mostly. I felt that Han played it straight. He left some ambiguity about whether he had a split-second moment of anticipation of the kill, and even his shocked face while falling doesn’t change that. “No, you’re not going to…. why?” is valid here.
And Kylo was playing it perfectly…
Right until the actual deed is done.
At that moment I get a blank stare and few tears, and even if it was supposed to be ambiguous, I don’t feel like it accomplished anything. He literally does not change. He doesn’t express grief nor relief in any abundance that is satisfactory for someone who just committed a gateway act of murder. He almost seems confused, and disconnected… distant…
I’m aware that there are favorable interpretations of that scene.
Some people are convinced by it. Some make a good case for the need of ambiguity. However, ultimately I feel, it was a wasted opportunity. I don’t feel that blankly expressed ambiguity was the right call. Even the tearing up wasn’t convincing. I was sitting there hoping there’d be at least a tight-fisted glare, head tilted down. I can imagine a stumble that would have worked perfectly. But he held steady, relatively emotionless.
Again, the scene was mostly perfect. I can not express this enough. I just regret there not being a more powerful emotion. This is a movie, not a real life adaptation.
Making the characters conform to reality stops when it is no longer entertaining.
I just happen to believe that for that split moment, it was weak. There should have been something there other than a tear and blank face.
Out with a Wimper
So the final fight takes place. There is a true mastery of the art in this scene. The metaphors abound. He does magnificently, until he realizes he is about to be defeated, and out comes the petulant child.
Maybe that is just his character. Maybe he has a psychosis. Maybe being opposed is some kind of trigger for his PTSD, and that will be explained later.
But right now, it’s not a compelling mystery.
Right now we have no time to investigate. The world is splitting apart and you are left with the image of a crybaby whining about being beaten once again. I get that this plays into the “I am weak” theme, but it is just not a compelling way to pull it off. I honestly do not care about this character any more.
So what happened?
I really wonder if it was the same man playing with the mask on. Where did he go? Did they switch his director mid-movie?
I want that guy back.
For the sequel, bring back the disturbed burdened insanely mad yet defeated masked anti-villain I loved. And kick his 2d blank face to the curb. Do not mistake this for me wanting his mask on 24/7. But at least have the actor express a face that measures up to the mask.
Look, I know sometimes characters start flat so that when they fill in, the growth is more exaggerated. But don’t do this. This is Star Wars. The epic space opera where hamminess defines power.
Give me back the computer slashing tantrum. Display his immaturity through vicious unrelenting maddening frustration. Not by him whining to a dark master about the enemy having a stronger force.