We saw a multitude of changes take place in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Among them was (spoiler alert) Kylo Ren’s transition from Snoke’s conflicted apprentice to the firmly established antagonist of the Star Wars Saga. While not a Sith Lord like his grandfather before him, Kylo Ren is now, for all intents and purposes, the Darth Vader of the next generation. Nevertheless, the Vader-worshiping (almost literally) son of Han Solo and Princess Leia is a far cry from the original Star Wars baddie. When we come across differences, we like to choose which one is better, but when comparing Kylo Ren and Darth Vader, there are important follow-up questions to ask.
Is there one ideal type of villain? Are they super manipulative, do they dress a certain way, or should they have a specific skill set? Are looks important? How relatable should he or she be? We won’t answer what the ideal villain should be here, but will we give you eight areas where Kylo Ren is a better villain than Darth Vader and seven where Darth Vader is clearly the better villain. For simplicity’s sake, we will limit this list mostly to the movies (go check out the extended universe though, it’s awesome).
15. BETTER: FORCE SKILLS
Darth Vader may have been the chosen one, but Kylo Ren’s skill with the Force is much more impressive. The Jedi Killer showed some previously unknown Force abilities in The Force Awakens. In addition to your average Jedi powers, Kylo Ren can cause someone to faint and freeze a blaster shot in mid-air. His ability to move objects is far above average (as shown when he is able to hold Rey’s arm back), and to some extent, he can probe minds.
Compare that to Darth Vader’s powers. He can Force-choke someone he’s only viewing from a communication screen and he was able to absorb several blaster shots with his hands in The Empire Strikes Back. He was also able to tell Luke’s foremost thoughts and feelings in Return of the Jedi. The Force is strong with Vader, but Kylo Ren’s abilities are much more impressive.
14. WORSE: RESPECT
How great of a villain are you if no one will respect you? Even if we ignore the countless times Kylo Ren is referred to as a boy, it is nearly impossible to find anyone who treats him with respect. Snoke has zero confidence in him and doesn’t even include him in his master plans. General Hux doesn’t initially doesn’t consider Kylo Ren as the Supreme Leader after Snoke’s death and even when he does, Hux questions Kylo Ren’s every decision in front of everyone.
Can we even imagine a universe where Darth Vader is disrespected like that? No, he would find the lack of faith disturbing, and just force choke any opposition into submission — or death. As far as respect goes, Vader wins by a landslide.
13. BETTER: REASON FOR TURNING TO THE DARK SIDE
Darth Vader and Kylo Ren both started out as Jedi, but one of their conversion stories is a more satisfying explanation than the other. Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One. He was so important to the Force that he didn’t need a father to be born and he had a midichlorian count higher than Yoda. You would think the Chosen One would have an uncanny resistance to the Dark Side, but Anakin became a Sith through nothing more than fear caused by nightmares, dissatisfaction with Jedi politics, and manipulation none of his midi-chlorians could pick up on.
On the other hand, Ben Solo struggled with the Dark Side’s pull from the beginning of his training. It also took a near attempt on Ben’s life before he rejected the Jedi, which is just a little more believable than Anakin’s conversion.
12. WORSE: LIGHTSABER SKILL
Kylo Ren’s impressive Force powers make his skill with the lightsaber a tad underwhelming. The Jedi Killer might love to twirl his red blade in a fit of rage, but even his Master is surprised at his terrible performance. In the Snoke’s words, Kylo Ren was “bested by a girl who had never held a lightsaber,” which isn’t exactly what you want on a villain performance evaluation.
Darth Vader’s lightsaber skills have never been called into question. Exactly how impressive his technique is varies from movie to movie, but by the time Revenge of the Sith came out, Darth Vader’s fighting capabilities are undeniably impressive. Even in the original trilogy, Darth Vader was a fighting force to be reckoned with and he certainly wasn’t taken down by a rookie with no formal training.
11. BETTER: RELATABILITY
While the high and aloof villain can certainly work, enemies of the galaxy are at their finest when we can relate to them and see where they’re coming from. Darth Vader wants his son to help him take over the galaxy, but there isn’t much more we can relate to beyond the complicated family aspect. Granted, there was a ton of backstory when he was Anakin Skywalker, but most of that died with Padme.
Kylo Ren, on the other hand, has quite a few things we can relate to. While he certainly has a complicated family, Kylo Ren is also trying to live up to his family name and conquer the galaxy, all while trying to win the affections of a girl with vastly different convictions.
10. WORSE: MATURITY
There’s no denying that Darth Vader’s attitude is a little more sophisticated than his grandson’s. Sure, every villain with superhuman strength or powers is bound to let loose a little. However, Kylo Ren is the first Sith to throw a temper tantrum with a lightsaber. We don’t mean he slaughtered a village to get revenge or anything (that would be Vader); Kylo Ren will leave lightsaber marks on the walls just because he’s upset.
For example, take the scene from The Force Awakens where Kylo Ren learns Finn helped Poe escape. Kylo Ren slashes some consoles and then pretends like nothing happened, while Vader would have just killed whoever was in command to show his displeasure. Granted, Darth Vader wasn’t the most mature person in the galaxy when he first became a Sith, but even young Vader never stooped to this.
9. BETTER: OPENNESS TO CHANGE
By the time The Force Awakens starts, there are no Sith. Kylo Ren and Snoke are part of the Knights of Ren, who are on the Dark Side but are technically not Sith. This change is primarily only in name though, as the two behave in the typical master and apprentice fashion until Kylo Ren demands change.
As heated a topic as the changes in The Last Jedi are, Kylo Ren’s desire for change is what you should expect in a first-rate villain. He tells Rey to “let the past die,” and that is certainly what he is prepared to do. We can argue about whether we’re ready to let “the Resistance, the Sith, the Jedi” all go down the drain, but there’s no denying that Kylo Ren has a vision beyond making sure the Dark Side of the Force wins, which isn’t’ something we see in Darth Vader.
8. WORSE: INNER CONFLICT
If there is any hope for redemption in a villain, we expect them to have some inner conflict. Kylo Ren has difficulty staying on whatever sides he chooses to be on. He felt the Dark Side calling him when he trained as a Jedi, and as a Knight of Ren, he told Darth Vader’s helmet that he often felt “the pull to the light.” What side does Kylo Ren actually want to be on?
Once Darth Vader turns to the Darkside, he doesn’t have any misgivings for years. It is only when he realizes his son is alive that he shows any doubt about what side he should be on. Darth Vader has much less inner conflict than Kylo Ren, but when it does surface, the effect is much more satisfying.
7. BETTER: LIGHTSABER
What would a Sith Lord or Knight of Ren be without a red lightsaber? As tradition goes, a Jedi builds his own lightsaber, and the same is typically true for the Sith/Dark Jedi. Darth Vader’s lightsaber represents the classical weapon of choice for the Dark Side: red, straight, and nothing particularly fancy. While the look is iconic, there are definitely more exciting lightsabers in a galaxy far, far away.
Kylo Ren’s crossbar lightsaber is both distinct and practical. The design uses a cracked kyber crystal, which makes the blade on the lightsaber appear like fire and generates additional power that must be vented from the sides. Apart from looking absolutely amazing, these additional beams also give Kylo Ren’s hands additional protection as he fights.
6. WORSE: ORIGINALITY
Does imitating a legend make you a legend as well? Kylo Ren is a self-styled Vader imitator. He goes to extreme pains to be like his grandfather, such as wearing a mask (that he doesn’t actually need, but we haven’t gotten there yet) and praying to Vader’s helmet.
There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by someone, but Kylo Ren’s desire to mimic Vader brings us to a point where we define Kylo Ren’s success in terms of Vader. Snoke calls Kylo Ren the next Vader, and that essentially is what he is. The trouble with this association is that how we think of Kylo Ren will be dependent (to some extent) on what we think of Vader, and a villain should be able to stand on his own.
5. BETTER: LOOKS
While we would like to think that looks don’t matter, we know in reality that it is still an important factor for a villain. Kylo Ren might wear a mask when he needs to be intimidating, but he takes it off the minute he needs to. Even with the scar, Kylo Ren cleans up nicely (just look at that hair), and he is certainly ready to use that to his advantage.
Darth Vader fell into a lake of molten lava his first day as a Sith, so this tactic wouldn’t work so well for him. Imagine if he tried to appeal to Luke or to anyone else by taking off his mask (just for a second of course, since he kind of needs it to breathe). The only thing Darth Vader would gain from that would be pitty, which isn’t something you want when you’re taking over the galaxy.
4. WORSE: COSTUME
It’s hard to take a villain seriously if their costume isn’t imposing. Both Darth Vader and Kylo Ren have impressive outfits, although Darth Vader’s look certainly takes the cake. The machine components of Vader’s suit add an extra element of fear, and his iconic mask is the epitome of menacing headgear.
Kylo Ren undoubtedly looks awesome on screen, but he could also easily pass as a random alien knight with a mask. Yes, the mask does make him look distinct and evil, but it’s nowhere near Vader’s caliber. There’s also the question of practicality. Vader needs his mask to breathe, but why does Kylo Ren wear a mask indoors and why does it disguise his voice? Is he afraid that he won’t sound intimidating enough?
3. BETTER: CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
If we’re looking for consistent and believable character development, Kylo Ren has some unfair advantages. With only two movie appearances to date, he has the benefit of a chronological storyline. He’s also only had one actor portray him, which kept his on-screen delivery consistent as well. Of course, this could change in the future, but for the time being, his character progression is logical and believable.
Poor Darth Vader doesn’t have a chance in this category. Because the prequels were created after the original trilogy, writers had to invent a backstory that fit into Vader’s already completed story arc. These two versions of Darth Vader didn’t mesh together as well as we might have hoped, and Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader is less than satisfactory.
2. WORSE: IMPOSING NAME
What’s in a name? When you’re a lightsaber-wielding villain, the answer should be fear and dread with a little Star Wars flare. In this particular area, Darth Vader is the clear victor. Yes, Kylo Ren is an awesome name. It shows his affiliation to the Dark Side, it has a very menacing sound, and if you look it up, you’ll find all kinds of fascinating explanations about what it means. Can it compete with Darth Vader though?
Try saying them both out loud in a sentence. “Darth Vader is coming” and then “Kylo Ren is coming.” which one sounds more intimidating? Whether it’s the sounds of the words themselves or the presence of the characters that they convey, Darth Vader sounds much more imposing than Kylo Ren.
1. BETTER: RUTHLESS KILLER
It’s a given that a villain intent on subduing the universe will kill an insane number of people. One of Darth Vader’s first acts as a Sith was to eliminate a room full of diplomats. As soon as he was finished, he went to the Jedi Temple and slaughtered every youngling he could find. Vader’s son was the only person he couldn’t bring himself to kill and to be fair, that was when he turned back to the light side of the Force.
We don’t have any footage of Kylo Ren killing children with his own lightsaber, but de does order the execution of an entire village without thinking twice. He also managed to kill his mentor Snoke while they were technically on the same side (if not on the best of terms). Kylo Ren couldn’t bring himself to kill his mother, but he did kill his father quite dramatically.
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