Rey grinds teeth into Tatooine sand, clenches sweat-slip, shackled fists, resists the outstretched hand of new villain on the block Kylo Ren.
“You’re afraid,” she says. “That you’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader.”
Chrome mask forgotten in his hand, the Sith’s grandson flinches. His fear is the same as Disney’s – and how justified it is.
A franchise is only as good as its villain, and after Star Wars innovator George Lucas created the most notorious villain in 21st century film – Darth Vader – the lost cradlebaby of Han Solo and General Leia scares no one.
Fans crucify Lucas for Episodes I – III, but the “prequels” are not atrocities but insight to the anchor of the entire saga: Anakin, not Luke.
Anakin was the slave child conceived by midichlorians, the padawan lost in love, the grief-stricken Sith, the fist of the Emperor, the savior of his son. He is no Marvel archetype in which a villain is stuck on a pike and paraded around the screen: “Hate him because he’s evil!” A producer’s rallying cry.
“Why?” you ask.
“He just is.”
The beauty of Star Wars is that as Lucas dreamed his “soap opera in space” and “films about generations”, he linked its members with a suited villain that was more than hah-burs and a helmet.
Luke’s relevance, both in his natural Jedi aptitude and supposed destiny, hinges on his relation to the great Sith lord. When at last he comes to face the Emperor, he skirts death not due to his valiancy but Darth Vader’s sacrifice. By killing the Emperor and following him toward death, the original Skywalker fulfilled the prophecy that precluded his early years.
It is not unreasonable that a nascent Jedi such as Kylo Ren could stumble around in the Dark Side long enough to light a match. But when Kylo Ren removes his helmet to interrogate Rey, he reminds us that he is no seasoned villain. He is not scarred, not clinging to life through his mask.
He is whole and scared and uncaptivating.
The Dark Side must have held some allure for him, but as of yet, he has no internal torment. Anakin’s need to save Padmé, however sordid and well, “soap opera”, that love affair may have been, gave him motivation, a human gloss.
The numbers toss confetti at its new sans-Lucas installment – Star Wars: The Force Awakens raked in $248 million in ticket sales in its first weekend and on January 6, surpassed Avatar as the highest grossing movie ever in North America. But its predecessors were our childhood: we would have gone to see anything.
The films we know and love had a story to tell, not just risks to spurn in favor of candied zeroes. To warrant another episode, the force needed to do more than awaken. It needed to seduce film’s finest into a threat it would take the galaxy to defeat.
Only Lucas, the true father of the series, could have pulled off a continuation that paid homage to the name Star Wars. Without him, the best we can hope for is copycat villains and copycat plots.
We may hope that Kylo Ren will manifest when Episodes VII and IX are released, but it is unlikely he will ever be worthy to rival Rey.
He has too large a helmet to fill.