The decision to have Kylo Ren destroy his trademark mask in Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one that made director Rian Johnson a bit uneasy. Introduced in 2015’s The Force Awakens, the former Ben Solo is quite fond of his grandfather, going so far as to emulate his appearance after Darth Vader. For much of Episode VII, Kylo is dressed in an all-black costume and mask, which was designed to conceal his identity as he studied the dark side. He only took it off for a few key moments, such as his interrogation of Rey and confrontation with Han Solo.
Kylo’s helmet returns briefly in The Last Jedi, but early on Ren destroys it in a fit of rage after being belittled by Supreme Leader Snoke. It played as a symbolic and necessary evolution of his character, but like most things with Episode VIII, there was an undercurrent of risk associated with it. Though Johnson felt it was the right move to make for his film, it was still a difficult choice to make due to real-world factors.
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In the book The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson spoke about the changes he made to Kylo Ren’s costume, the most notable being the elimination of the helmet. The director admitted he was terrified as he forged ahead:
“That was the big design choice with Kylo: losing the mask. It was a little terrifying because, by the time we were making the movie, the first film had come out and every kid was wearing Kylo Ren masks on Halloween. It was the symbol of the movie on packaging. And I love the helmet. But the whole premise of this film is that you’re getting inside this guy a bit more. More than that, Rey is seeing there’s more to him than she though. And Adam Driver is one of my favorite actors working today. The notion of getting the mask off of him so we don’t have to deal with it and can look into his eyes seemed really important.”
Though there were some Force Awakens promotional images that showed Kylo sans mask, the helmeted rendition of the dark side user was more or less that film’s official mascot in terms of marketing. At the time, Kylo was the latest in a line of “cool looking” Star Wars villains, as figures like Darth Vader and Boba Fett are instantly recognizable in part because of their get-ups. Abrams arguably rolled the dice a bit by giving viewers a glimpse behind the curtain, but Johnson took things a step further. A key aspect of Kylo’s arc in The Last Jedi is his becoming his own man and forging his own path. As he says, it’s time to let the past die and move on to create something new.
The Last Jedi has proven to be quite the divisive blockbuster, but of all the complaints lobbied against the film, the destruction of Kylo Ren’s helmet is not one of them. Much of that is due to the way the character is written and performed, a combination that has made Kylo one of the finest blockbuster movie villains this side of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Because Driver is so great in the role and Ren is a fascinating individual to watch, few care that he’s just dressed in a simple black cloak and cape. A case can be made this was the best for Kylo, as it allows all of the aspects of Driver’s performance to shine through, highlighting the antagonist’s turmoil and rage. Plus, his facial scar makes for a terrific visual.
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Source – The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi