Kylo Ren is not, and probably never will be, my favorite Star Wars character. But damn, Adam Driver delivered an absolutely amazing performance in The Last Jedi, and his acting combined with Rian Johnson’s writing and directing may have been the best I’ve seen in a Star Wars film–certainly the most raw and visceral and nuanced characterization present.
Johnson wrote the character down quite a fascinating path. By the end of the movie, he’s risen up to defeat Supreme Leader Snoke, and with the passing of Carrie Fisher, it is likely that Episode IX will find Kylo Ren successful in having completely vanquished his past. The only lingering connection he has to the Light is Rey, and she seems to have finally given up on him too by the end of The Last Jedi.
I still have so many questions. Sure, we now see how Luke’s training temple fell, how Luke abandoned the role of teacher and active participant in galactic affairs, how Ben Solo finally embraced the Dark Side, and what happened to Luke’s other students (at least in broad strokes–no pun intended). But it is now definitely confirmed that Snoke had been acting on Ben this whole time, corrupting him. Did Snoke reach out to Ben, opening a psychic link as he did between Kylo and Rey? Did Ben seek Snoke out? Is Ben a religious extemist, someone who felt apathetic and empty and out of place among his family and among the Jedi, someone who was converted by holonet forums and propaganda videos? We know the moment that Luke lost Ben, but we don’t truly know how Ben was corrupted early on, nor how he truly became Kylo Ren. And dramatically, we haven’t needed those answers yet, but I suspect they will play into how the final film of this sequel trilogy proceeds.
Kylo did a good job of eliminating his past over the course of these two films–killing Lor San Tekka and Han Solo and Snoke, attempting to kill Luke, and leaving Leia to fate. He also smashed apart his mask, his connection to Vader, and we see no effort on his part to communicate with Vader.
This gives me even more questions about That Scene in The Force Awakens, when he seeks aid from his grandfather. Is it rhetorical? Or is the strength in fact power infused in the artifact of the helmet? Is it some trick of Snoke’s, who is–or was–so gifted at reading minds and influencing people? Or is Kylo Ren mentally ill? Especially in light of The Last Jedi, where he was prone to temper tantrums but actually acted rationally and more clearly explained his motivations, I think it’s rather unlikely that any form of mental illness will have played a role in shaping who Kylo Ren is, but it’s something still floating around in the back of my mind.
I’ll never ship Kylo/Rey because (a) there’s way too much baggage associated with abusive relationships there and (b) I’m Finn/Rey all the way, but The Last Jedi did a phenomenal job of presenting Kylo and Rey as fundamentally lonely people who found some sense of togetherness and connection in each other, as much as they might not have liked to. I say this because it’s amazing to me how much The Last Jedi has shifted my perception of characters and relationships, especially regarding Kylo Ren. Now more than ever, it seems almost impossible for him to be redeemed; now more than ever, I want him to be redeemed. It will be truly fascinating to see where the final film takes this character, and I’m sure that I won’t be able to predict where that goes.