Cool mask? Red lightsaber? Must be a new Star Wars baddie
If theres one thing you can count on in the Star Wars franchise, its iconic-looking villains. The contours of Darth Vaders helmet are familiar to, well, pretty much everyone, and even though Darth Maul didn't last long, his face struck fear in many a cinema goer. JJ Abrams' upcoming The Force Awakens looks set to deliver another unforgettable villain in the shape of Kylo Ren.
Ren's creepy mask and cross-shaped lightsaber are already familiar to all but the most dedicated spoiler-dodgers, because hes front and centre of pretty much every poster, trailer and lunchbox released so far. But beyond looks, what do we actually know about him? We've scoured all the trailers, merchandise, official and fan sites, and heres what we've found out.
He uses the Dark Side, but he's not a Sith
The fact that hes not called Darth Ren might've been a tip off, but just in case, director JJ Abrams says, "Kylo Ren is not a Sith." He's clearly a Dark Side user, though. And like 'Darth', it turns out 'Ren' is a kind of title. "He is a character who came to the name of Kylo Ren when he joined a group called the Knights Of Ren," Abrams expanded, though he wouldn't be pressed on who, exactly, the Knights might be.
It's possible that theyre associated with the Acolytes Of The Beyond, a kind of Dark Side cult who appear in Chuck Wendig's Star Wars novel Aftermath, which bridges the gap between Return Of The Jedi and The Force Awakens. Ren definitely is associated with the First Order, a military organisation that takes its cue from the fallen Galactic Empire, using Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, and other Empire-style weapons to fight for control of the galaxy.
Basically, Kylo and the other Knights Of Ren are bad news for anyone who thought there might be lasting peace after Jedi's celebratory knees-up.
He's a Darth Vader fanboy
The trailers gave this one away. In the final Episode VII trailer, we saw Ren gazing lovingly at Vader's decayed helmet, saying: "I will finish what you started."
As role models go, Vader's a pretty terrifying one to choose. "That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again?" Abrams explains. "What could be born of that? Could the First Order exist as a group that actually admired the Empire? Could the work of the Empire be seen as unfulfilled? And could Vader be a martyr? Could there be a need to see through what didn't get done?"
Even Ren's choice of mask is meant to be an homage to Vader, and it seems like he might've invested in a voice-changer to make himself sound like the fallen Lord too.
He's not the boss
Kylo Ren might be the most recognisable face of the First Order, but hes not the boss. "He works under Supreme Leader Snoke, who is a powerful figure on the Dark Side of the Force," says Abrams. And while they aren't Sith Lords, it sounds like there might be a similar master/student relationship going on here.
At the moment, even less is known about Supreme Leader Snoke than about Kylo Ren. He's a CGI character, created using motion capture technology based on the movements, expressions and gestures of mo-cap superstar Andy Serkis.
Though the final design of the character changed several times throughout production, Serkis has said that Snoke was a character who could only have been created using CG, for several reasons: "He is large. He appears tall. And also the facial design you couldn't have gotten there with prosthetics. Its too extreme. He has a very distinctive, idiosyncratic bone structure."
We've heard his voice he was the voiceover in the very first teaser trailer but Abrams is keeping Snoke off screen until the film actually comes out, so we're just going to have to wait.
His lightsaber is unique
That awesome-but-impractical-looking lightsaber has been the subject of frenzied speculation ever since it was first revealed in the teaser trailer. Why did it seem to have two extra mini-blades? Wouldn't Ren just cut his own hands off if he tried to fight someone with it? And was the cross-shape significant?
Abrams has talked about it a little bit, saying that the unusual weapon was "something that [Ren] built himself, and is as dangerous and as fierce and as ragged as the character," which sounds cool but doesn't really tell us why its different from the standard-issue lightsaber.
A Star Wars exhibit at Disneyland revealed a bit more; the label on a model of the lightsaber said: "Kylo Ren's unusual lightsaber is an ancient design, although the one he carries is recently constructed. The crossguard blades, or quillons, are raw power vented from the primary central blade." Which still sounds like theres a very real danger of taking the users fingers off to us.
His command shuttle is pretty cool, too
Every would-be galactic tyrant needs a spaceship. Kylo Ren has his command shuttle, which made a brief appearance in the second teaser trailer and was also profiled in Star Wars: Ships Of The Galaxy, a reference book released on Force Friday.
Thanks to the blueprints in that book, we know that its an Upsilon-class shuttle, with a loading ramp on its nose, and two ion engines. And as you can see in the trailer, it's got enormous, pointy black wings that make it unmistakeably the ship of a serious badass.
One thing it hasn't got? A name anywhere near as cool as 'Millennium Falcon'. Clearly the First Order's PR team dropped the ball.
He thinks he's the hero
All of the best baddies think theyre actually the hero of their own story, and Kylo Ren is no different. Despite having chosen the Dark Side, which is a pretty reliable indicator that youre not a good guy, Abrams reckons Ren thinks he's on a righteous mission.
"I think that there are two sides to the Force," he says. "Both sides, arguably, would see themselves as the hero of their story, and I think that applies here. He is not your prototypical moustache-twirling bad guy. He is a little bit more complex than that."
Itll be interesting to see how that plays out, and how Ren can justify his crusade to himself. Fingers crossed for some proper character development, and maybe a bit more insight into what would push someone to go to the Dark Side than we got in the prequels.
He's got a lot in common with Luke Skywalker
Speaking of heroes, the obvious Luke Skywalker analogue in the new film is Rey. Shes an orphan growing up on a junk planet whos going to come into conflict with the Dark Side so, yeah, pretty Lukesque.
But Kylo Ren also has some things in common with Luke, if you squint a bit. They both came from humble beginnings, they both set out in search of mentors to help them harness their powers they even both crafted their own lightsabers. And like Luke in A New Hope, Ren's story will just be beginning when we meet him in The Force Awakens.
"As you see in the best storytelling, and no doubt the best of Star Wars, these are tales in which an every person has to step up," says Abrams. "I think what makes Ren so unique is that he isn't as fully formed as when we meet a character such as Darth Vader." Could Ren be the anti-Luke, someone who finds his true calling in the Dark Side?
He might be related to someone we already know
Some speculation has suggested that Ren might actually be Luke. After all, we haven't seen Mark Hamill in any of the trailers yet. Now that we know Adam Driver is playing Ren, that theory doesn't seem terribly convincing, but there are plenty of other fan theories about who Ren might turn out to be.
One popular theory is that he's actually Han and Leia's child. The timeline seems about right, and it'd explain where he got his Force powers and his temper. Itd also make sense that Ren feels so strongly about Vader, if it turns out hes his grandson.
Other theories concern Expanded Universe characters. Although most of the Star Wars Expanded Universe has been declared non-canonical, some people still reckon Ren might turn out to be connected with Darth Revan or Plagueis, or even Jedi Knight's Kyle Katarn or Star Wars: Jedi Academy's Kyp Durron.
At this point, the only thing we know for sure is that Kylo Ren isnt his real name, which does seem to suggest his real name might turn out to be significant.
He's unlike any other Star Wars villain
The final thing we know about Kylo Ren is that everyone involved in the new movie thinks he's pretty special. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan says, "I've written four Star Wars movies now, and there's never been a character quite like the one that Adam [Driver] plays. I think youre going to see something thats brand new to the saga."
And the thing that sets him apart? Emotion. "No matter how we express ourselves in the world, whether we hide it and act very calm or whether were very out there and demonstrative, everybodys roiling with emotion," Kasdan explains. "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."