As the return of the Star Wars franchise approaches in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, we now have a good idea of which characters the large cast of actors will be playing. Principle among the bad guys is Kylo Ren, a mysterious black-clad villain who will be played by Adam Driver (Girls).
Ren was introduced in the very first teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the crossguard lightsaber that he wields was the subject of much interest and debate (specifically, around whether it's a practical design or whether he's just going to end up cutting his own hands off). Director J.J. Abrams is a fan of keeping secrets about his movie villains, but that doesn't mean he's not willing to drop hints.
In addition to a large gallery of new stills from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, EW has published an interview with Abrams and Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan that focuses specifically on Kylo Ren and his background - without giving away too much. The lightsaber, Abrams explained, is "something that he built himself, and is as dangerous and as fierce and as ragged as the character." As for his mask, it's deliberately based on Darth Vader's iconic visage.
"The movie explains the origins of the mask and where it’s from, but the design was meant to be a nod to the Vader mask. [Ren] is well aware of what’s come before, and that’s very much a part of the story of the film."
Another key detail that Abrams was willing to part with is that Kylo Ren is not the name that the character was given at birth. The 'Ren' part is the equivalent of 'Darth' in Darth Vader: a title rather than a family name. "He is a character who came to the name Kylo Ren when he joined a group called the Knights of Ren," Abrams teased, but he was unwilling to give more details on who the Knights of Ren actually are.
Thanks to a photo of Kylo Ren unmasked that emerged earlier this year, we know that the character is fairly young (Driver was 30 when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was being filmed) and that, unlike Darth Vader, he doesn't need the mask to survive or hide any disfigurements - unless, of course, he becomes horribly injured during the film and dons the mask later on. Despite his red lightsaber, black robes and escort of Stormtroopers, Abrams said that Ren doesn't see himself as the bad guy.
"As you see in the best of storytelling, and no doubt the best of Star Wars, these are tales in which an everyperson has to step up. And I think that what makes Ren so unique is that he isn't as fully formed as when we meet a character such as Darth Vader. And I think that there are two sides to the Force. Both sides, arguably, would see themselves as the hero of their story, and I think that applies here... [Ren] is not your prototypical mustache-twirling bad guy. He is a little bit more complex than that, and it was a great joy to work with Adam Driver on this role, because he threw himself into it in a deep and remarkable way."
Of course, this is nothing new; bad guys in movies rarely think of themselves as the bad guy, but that doesn't stop them from doing bad things. However, Kasdan insisted that Kylo Ren is one-of-a-kind in the Star Wars universe.
"I've written four Star Wars movies now, and there’s never been a character quite like the one that Adam plays. I think you’re going to see something that’s brand new to the saga... He’s full of emotion. No matter how we express ourselves in the world, whether we hide it and act very calm or whether we’re very out there and demonstrative, everybody’s roiling with emotion. And you want your characters to be that way, too. Then they have to deal with their emotions as best they can, with what they are."
Since Kylo Ren has changed his name, it's possible that one or both of his parents have previously been seen in Star Wars movies. Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place about 30 years after Return of the Jedi, and sees the fallen Empire coalesce as a new military force called The First Order. Where do the Knights of Ren fit in with The First Order? We may have to wait until December to find out.
Share your own theories on Kylo Ren, his origins, and who his parents might be in the comments below.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in U.S. theaters on December 18, 2015, followed by Star Wars: Rogue One on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX does not have an official release date yet.