** Major spoilers for Star Wars 7 **
It's safe to say that whilst [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) received almost universal praise and adoration there were some fans of the original series who weren't very happy with the different take on the new villain taking up the Darth Vader mantle.
I speak of course of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), because whether you love him or hate him you certainly can't deny him. Not only did he take out one of the most loved characters from the original series, he also fulfilled the Shakespeare-esque family drama facet that is so prevalent in Star Wars. It's not quite "I am your father though", more like "I killed my father".
Anyway. Some people were a bit suspicious of Kylo's character motivations, especially how different he appeared in relation to one of the most iconic villains of all time; Darth Vader. Darth Vader may have Force Choked the crap out of a bunch of people, but that didn't mean he had temper tantrums when things didn't go his way (ok, he did, but Force Choking is still more badass than lightsabering the shit out of innocent machinery).
The motivations of the troubled young First Order Knight who used to be Ben Solo are still a little unclear, presumably because there's still much to be revealed about his backstory. But we've learned a lot about him from the novelisation and from looking at the script itself; and what we've learned makes us go a little easier on our judgement of Kylo Ren.
For example, did you know that Ben Solo was actually taken over to the Dark Side by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) at a very young age? And that as a result he likely suffers from a form of PTSD which explains his fits of anger and tantrums? And that Snoke manipulated him into killing his father by making him believe he could live up to the legacy of Darth Vader, whilst also possibly planning to sacrifice him in order to gain a stronger apprentice?
But the polarising villain is actually an interesting turn away from the impossible to replace Darth Vader and - according to Star Wars 7 director J. J. Abrams - his character all boils down to one word: conflict.
When asked by IGN why Kylo Ren fully turns to the Dark Side after idolising Darth Vader who eventually redeems himself by sacrifice to save his son, Abrams responded:
"Kylo Ren idolises Darth Vader, not Anakin Skywalker. He idolises what Vader represents and what Vader was trying to do and the idea that Vader didn't succeed. He was - if you look at it from Ren's point of view - he was seduced by the enemy. And failed because of that seduction. So the idea is that Ren wants to complete the thing that Vader started."
This is covered in greater detail in the official Force Awakens novelisation, in an extended excerpt of the conversation between Snoke and Kylo Ren:
[Snoke] "It was neither poor strategy nor arrogance that brought down the Empire. You know too well what did."
Ren nodded once. "Sentiment."
[Snoke] "Yes. Had Lord Vader not succumbed to emotion at the crucial moment—had the father killed the son—the Empire would have prevailed. And there would be no threat of Skywalker’s return today."
Not only does this explain the distinction Ren makes between Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker - the latter being the part that he would regard as weak - it also explains the words he spoke regarding his own weakness when he had difficulty killing his father.
Kylo Ren: "I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do but I don't know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?"
Internal conflict is central to his character, and as Abrams says it's a big part of why he's an interesting villain. When asked to elaborate upon why Kylo Ren gave into the Dark Side he responded that it was due to "an incredible power" inside of him:
"An incredible force and incredible potential that was, like with many young people, sort of misguided and unclear. And the story for him is one of conflict. Not just external conflict but internal conflict. And it's what makes him, I think, a rather interesting villain."
Gone are the days when villains were black and white; just as the archetype of the hero (and masculinity) in cinema has evolved over the 100+ years of film so has the villain archetype.
No longer is the hero the only one who struggles with conflict; and whilst this does serve to humanise the villain, when we see him tipping over the edge like Kylo Ren did in The Force Awakens they are made all the more dangerous for it.
The best loved antagonists of modern cinema aren't always wholly evil, nor are they totally unlikable (just look at what Tom Hiddleston's Loki has done for Marvel). Whether or not you like Kylo Ren is a matter of individual preference, but if it's a conflicted villain Abrams was shooting for in Star Wars 7 he's certainly hit the nail on the head with this one.