Long before we laid eyes on the face of Kylo Ren, our eyes flickered with the fire of his weapon: that scarlet lightsaber with the distinctive laser crossguard at the hilt and a volatile, sparking blade.
For a long time, it wasn’t even clear who played him until director J.J. Abrams revealed in June what many suspected. The villain of Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be played by Adam Driver, known for his dangerous charm on HBO’s Girls and films such as This Is Where I Leave You and While We’re Young.
We came to learn that he was allied with The First Order, a remnant of the Empire that remains a fearsome threat to the galaxy and its denizens. Above, he is seen flanked by their stormtroopers, striding with intense purpose through the smoldering ruins of a once peaceful village on Jakku.
What does he want? That much remains unclear, although he seems to be a Vader obsessive, with an appearance influenced by that dark lord of the Sith who met his demise long before Ren’s birth. “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,” Abrams tells EW. “[Ren] is well aware of what’s come before, and that’s very much a part of the story of the film.”
As for his weapon of choice, Abrams can confirm what many suspected: it’s a tool he crafted all by his lonesome. “The lightsaber is something that he built himself, and is as dangerous and as fierce and as ragged as the character,” Abrams says.
There may also be echoes of the original trilogy in him.
In 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker was a nobody — a farm boy who comes from nothing and takes on the whole Empire. Looking at Kylo Ren, staggering through the woods with this janky, homemade lightsaber, its easy to wonder: Is this an inverse of Luke? Is Ren perhaps not the hero but the villain who comes from no means, who rises from obscurity and yet still manages to cause tremendous upheaval?
Abrams hesitates before saying too much. “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,” Abrams says. “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.”
But there’s another wrinkle to Kylo Ren. In typical Abrams fashion, the more the filmmaker reveals… the more questions arise.
It turns out — Kylo Ren isn’t the character’s real name. Or, at least, not the name he was born with.
NEXT PAGE: It’s only a minor spoiler, so click here for more …
Remember how we eventually learned that “Darth” is not a first name, but a kind of title? It appears the surname “Ren” is something similar.
“He is a character who came to the name Kylo Ren when he joined a group called the Knights of Ren,” Abrams says. But that’s as far as the writer-director will go. What are the Knights of Ren? You’re going to have to wait until Dec. 18 to find out.
“He is not your prototypical mustache-twirling bad guy,” Abrams offers. “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.”
There are many implications to this piece of Kylo Ren’s history. If he had a different name before aligning with these mysterious knights, maybe we’ve heard it before. Maybe we know… his parents?
We’re definitely going to have to wait for that.
Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as The Force Awakens and the 2018 young Han Solo movie, says: “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.”
What sets him apart? “He’s full of emotion,” Kasdan says. “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.”
Kasdan pauses. “I’d say that is as far as I’d go,” he says.
When it comes to Kylo Ren — whoever he is — it’s best not to get too close.
To continue reading the cover story on EW’s Fall Movie Preview, and to see more exclusive photos, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.
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