Kylo Ren already exceeds his idol…
Warning: Spoilers for The Force Awakens ahead.
The Star Wars prequels are generally considered to be subpar, and the overwhelmingly positive reception of The Force Awakens makes George Lucas’s beleaguered origins trilogy look even worse than it did when it was finished ten years ago.
Bizarre narrative choices like Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, and the overemphasis on galactic trade disputes get most of the heat for the poor reception the prequels received, but the real flaw was how Anakin Skywalker, (arguably) the main character of the three movies, was portrayed.
A lot of blame has been put on Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, the actors who portrayed Anakin, but that’s not really fair. Christensen actually can be a really good actor if you watch him in something outside of Star Wars like Shattered Glass. And Lloyd? Well, he had enough of acting after his turn as Anakin.
No, the problem with the prequels wasn’t the actors, it was that after bringing one of the most memorable and vicious villains to the screen in the original trilogy, Lucas, for reasons only he really understands, decided to neuter the future Dark Lord of the Sith and turn him into a whiny emo kid who pretty much decided to turn to the Dark Side because he was having a bad day.
But The Force Awakens has given us a glimpse of what a better director would have done with Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. If you’ve seen The Force Awakens then you know that the masked villain Kylo Ren idolizes his grandfather, Darth Vader, and wants to finish what he started with the Galactic Empire. The thing is, Kylo Ren is already a better Dark Lord than Anakin ever was at that age.
“Forgive me. I feel it again… the call from light,” Kylo Ren says to Vader’s burnt mask during a pivotal scene. “Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again, the power of the darkness, and I’ll let nothing stand in our way. Show me, grandfather, and I will finish what you started.”
As The Force Awakens begins, it’s apparently been several years since Kylo Ren betrayed his uncle Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi Order and fell to the Dark Side. But even after all these years, he still questions if he’s doing the right thing serving The First Order. While previous Star Wars films dealt with Light characters fighting the pull of the Dark Side, it’s intriguing to see a character firmly planted in the Dark Side fighting urges to return to the Light side. Even without being shown on-screen, Kylo Ren’s fall to the Dark Side has been handled better than Anakin’s.
Anakin fell to the Dark Side because he thought he could maybe save Padme from death. And when she died anyway, he said “Yup, might as well just go along with being a big evil guy who serves the Empire now.” It didn’t seem like he had a tinge of regret about his decision until some 30 years later in Return of the Jedi, which made no sense given how he was portrayed in the prequels.
Anakin also came across as incredibly whiny throughout the prequels, despite supposedly being a powerful Jedi. Even in Episode III, during Vader’s final battle with Obi-Wan when he was supposedly at hist most powerful, his declarations of, “You underestimate my power!” and, “I hate you!” sound more like the temper tantrum of a cranky 4-year-old than the battle cries of a commanding Sith Lord.
“Fear is the path to the dark side,” Yoda warns in one of the few memorable lines in Episode I (though a callback to The Empire Strikes Back. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Despite Yoda’s warnings to the young Anakin, we never really saw angry Anakin in the prequels. Yeah, he killed some Sand People who had captured his mother, but how can you really blame a guy for doing something like that? Anakin was a little impulsive, but never really seemed prone to angry outbursts that hinted at his turn to the Dark Side. And his infamous “Nooooo!” upon finding out Padme died came across as more silly than anything else.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren is the epitome of rage. When things don’t go his way, he lashes out at his surroundings, slashing at walls with his lightsaber. Even if Kylo Ren isn’t technically a Sith Lord yet, he definitely has the temperament to become a great one. Greater even than Darth Vader.
Kylo Ren, however, acts purely to gain more power from the Dark Side. By killing his own father in cold blood, it’s clear that he really has no limits in terms of what he will do to become more powerful. Think about it: Anakin flew to the other side of the Galaxy to save his mother in Episode II after not seeing her for years. But when Kylo Ren saw his father for the first time in years, his first instinct was to stab him in the chest with a lightsaber as a means to rid himself of the call of the Light Side. That’s the type of characterization that we all wanted to see out of Anakin in the prequels, and it’s why Kylo Ren is already a more interesting villain.