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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Star Wars is trying to solve Hollywood’s super-villain problem

With a strong female lead and a complicated villain, the newest instalment of the 40-year old Star Wars epic is breaking new ground in fantasy storytelling

editorials Updated: Dec 23, 2017 14:30 IST

Hindustan Times
Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill and Adam Driver as Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill and Adam Driver as Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi, the much-awaited next instalment of the Star Wars franchise, has tried to solve Hollywood’s super-villain problem. For that it must be commended — and for giving us a protagonist like Rey (finally a woman hero, thank the Force!). As a bracket-closing instalment of the 40-year-old franchise, in which we finally bade goodbye to the old guard of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, the film is a set-up for an impending multi-movie showdown between the history-less Rey and the bogged-down-by-ancestry Kylo Ren/Ben Solo.

It is not just this history that makes him an intriguing villain. Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo) is the only link to the original characters as the heir to the good guy swashbuckle of Han Solo and the feminist spunk of Leia Organa, and as the sole grandchild of that ultimate super-villain — Darth Vader. Fans have grumbled about Kylo Ren’s inability to commit to the dark side and just become the villain we are used to seeing; Ben Solo smashing his Vader-helmet against the wall in frustration suggests he shares that sentiment. Adam Driver plays that conflict – between Kylo Ren and Ben Solo – well; making it clear that ‘evil’ is no longer signified by the black cape and helmet. The evil of this ‘Jedi killer’ comes from his own frustration and humanity, instead of from some clear unmuddied superhuman hatred. He sometimes comes across as pathetic in his villainy — as perhaps is all evil, becoming terrible in an attempt to appear great. It helps that Adam Driver is also Adam Sackler from HBO’s Girls – the socially awkward man-child who is the epitome of the millennial man, navigating a minefield of traditional masculinity and modern metrosexuality. As Kylo Ren, he appears to channel Sackler, and gives us a villain we cannot bring ourselves to hate, but can possibly never love either.

Hollywood’s multi-million dollar fantasy/superhero franchises are fast running out of new stories to tell. The stories of villainous fathers, heroic sons, and manic pixie dream girls helping a reluctant hero embrace his heroism are getting really old. In a world where right-wing ideologies, left-wing socialism, fundamentalist convictions, and liberal doubts are all in a state of flux, fantasy storytelling occupies an important place. Supreme Leader Snoke is not the worst thing that the world has thrown up. The true villains are the masses of confused, leaderless youth, too consumed by their own angst to see that people like Snoke are using them for their own ends.

First Published: Dec 23, 2017 12:45 IST