by @holocronJulie and @holocronJosh for @sw_holocron
Kylo Ren’s mask has been a key fixture of the sequel trilogy, beginning all the way back to the early days of The Force Awakens’ promotional material. And, while the mask is brilliantly designed, paying obvious homage to the iconic mask worn by Vader, its symbolism and meaning across each of the sequel trilogy films is particularly noteworthy. One year after the events of The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren very quickly repairs his mask and wears it for a substantial portion of the final installment of the sequel trilogy. Since The Rise of Skywalker’s release, many fans have wondered exactly why Kylo repaired the mask he destroyed recently as an answer isn’t explicitly stated in the film.
One potential answer to this intriguing question relates to why Kylo wore the mask in the first place. In The Force Awakens, we are introduced to Kylo Ren as a masked, faceless villain. Rey even calls him a “creature in the mask,” because that is what she and everyone else around him view him as. However, the audience soon learns that Kylo wears the mask for a very different reason than his grandfather once did. Whereas Vader needed a mask to breathe, a perpetual scar he must bare due to his violent actions in Revenge of the Sith, Ren uses his mask to hide his vulnerability. He begs the burned helmet of his grandfather to “show him the dark side” once more. The call to the light is so strong in the man who was once Ben Solo that he can barely control it, and he knows that Snoke and others around him can feel him drifting away as he struggles with this conflict. Therefore, he wears a mask to hide his inner conflict, putting a physical and metaphorical barrier between himself and the atrocious actions he engages in order to fully commit himself to the dark side of the Force.
In The Last Jedi, this inner conflict takes a back seat to his rage and anger at Luke Skywalker. Because his mind is more on Luke than his inner conflict, he doesn’t feel as vulnerable, and therefore doesn’t need the mask. As The Last Jedi is certainly the darkest in the trilogy, it makes sense that the villain is also in his darkest moment. In a sense, Kylo’s intentions are more focused than ever in The Last Jedi and in the year leading up to The Rise of Skywalker. He knows he wants to connect with Rey. He knows he wants to be rid of Snoke. He knows he wants true power in the galaxy. He doesn’t need a mask to conceal the discrepancy between his natural inclinations to the Light and his conscious commitment to the Dark, because, for once, these conflicting visions are in line.
Flash forward to The Rise of Skywalker, Ren finds the Sith Wayfinder and heads to Exegol. While there, Palpatine tells him to kill Rey, something that Kylo clearly doesn’t want to do. Once again, similar to his murder of Han in The Force Awakens, he’s been given a task that would perhaps permanently cement his place in the dark side. Even after The Last Jedi, he still feels the call to the light, and he still feels vulnerable, so he repairs the mask in order to not let others see that side of him. He is no longer free of the mask and, therefore, free of the burden of doing things he does not truly feel inclined to do. The purpose and unified vision that led him through the conclusion of The Last Jedi, where he let the past die, is gone. Once again, he feels the conflict, perhaps now more than ever, and, in order to reconcile what he feels he has to do, he believes he must cover himself and his vulnerabilities up again. As The Rise of Kylo Ren comic notes, he’s simply not as ingrained in the dark side and evil as others around him, like Palpatine, Snoke, or Allegiant General Pryde. He simply wants to fit in and make sure that no one else around him finds out about his inner conflict. He doesn’t want to kill Rey, so he repairs the mask in order to not let that be known to others around him.
While the decision to bring back the mask has been criticized by some and labeled a “retcon” of The Last Jedi, there are also legitimate reasons why this is done, however implicit they may be. Very similar to the literal and figurative meaning behind Vader’s mask, Kylo’s mask serves an interesting purpose beyond just looking cool that is up for interpretation and is worth exploring
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney