The biggest movie of 2015 and the biggest movie of 2016 (so far) have a lot in common. Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Captain America: Civil War are both highly-anticipated franchise sequels produced by Disney; they both introduced fans to new faces while also falling back on the familiarity of the franchise's original stars; they both feature heroes wielding magical or mystical powers… and they both feature troubled characters coming to grips with their own dark sides. Turns out, Kylo Ren and the Winter Soldier have a surprising amount in common.
As portrayed by Adam Driver (Girls) and Sebastian Stan (The Martian) respectively, both Kylo and the Winter Soldier are by turns terrifying and tragic. Both men are (or have been) a villain within their own franchises; but, as audiences have learned, neither man started that way — not will they likely stay that way forever. (We can at least safely say that about one of the two.) But, despite all their similarities, there are a few crucial ways in which the characters are markedly different. Here's a brief rundown of what Kylo Ren and the Winter Soldier have in common… and what makes them stand apart:
SAME: Both Wear Black Masks
Let's get the surface similarities out of the way first. When Kylo and the Winter Soldier get up to their villainous shenanigans, they both don a costume that involves lots of black and a creepy mask that completely erases their facial features — as though wiping away everything that makes them recognizably human. Between the black goggles and the prominent snouts, both masks bear a striking resemblance; heck, even the Winter Soldier's long hair creates a similar outline to Kylo's helmet.
SAME: Both Have Been Brainwashed
It's important to note that neither Kylo nor the Winter Soldier started out as villains; both had to be recruited forcibly to the cause of evil, one by having his mind hijacked by Hydra scientists, one with the promise of great power (and presumably more reasons we'll find out about in future installments). The Winter Soldier's brainwashing is of the literal variety; a series of code words will transform him from confused victim to lethal assassin. Kylo may have had slightly more choice in the matter of his villainy… but never underestimate the seductive power of a cultish authority figure.
SAME: Both Have Been Given New Powers
Their embrace of villainy came complete with a new set of powers. The Winter Soldier was given a version of the same super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America; it has granted him increased strength and agility, not to mention his badass metal arm. When Kylo fell in with the Knights of Ren — and the tutelage of Supreme Leader Snoke — he tapped into the dark side of the Force, granting him increased telekinetic abilities and mind-reading powers in addition to his prodigious skill with a lightsaber.
SAME: Both Have Assumed New Identities
Since both Kylo and the Winter Soldier only turned to evil later in life, that means they both started out as someone else — literally. Before he was Kylo Ren, the Star Wars baddie was simply known as Ben, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa. And before he was the Winter Soldier, Captain America's nemesis was Bucky Barnes, the best friend and comrade of Steve Rogers.
SAME: Both Have Tried To Kill Their Loved Ones
Both characters reached the peak of their villainy when they attempted to kill someone very important to them — one of them successfully. In the climactic scene of The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren murders his own father in cold blood. And, in the climactic scene of The Winter Soldier, Bucky attempts to kill Captain America in order to stop him from sabotaging the launch of Project Insight. Ironically, while Kylo's successful murder is what completes his transition to the dark side, Bucky's unsuccessful attempt is what finally breaks the assassin's programming, helping him remember his past relationship with Steve.
DIFFERENT: We Knew Bucky Before His Descent Into Villainy
Perhaps the key difference between the two characters is the fact that we had a whole movie in which to get to know Bucky before he became the Winter Soldier. That means the realization that he had transformed into a villain hit viewers all that much harder. The fact that Kylo Ren turned out to be related to Han Solo was technically a "twist," although the fact that we didn't know him before he donned the black mask lessened the emotional impact of that revelation. Audiences have a reason to wish for redemption for Bucky; we have no such allegiance for Kylo… who most people probably want to see dead after killing a beloved icon like Han Solo.
DIFFERENT: Kylo Embraces The Dark Side Willingly
This one goes back to that whole "brainwashing" theme. The conversations that Han and Leia have about their son make it clear that he wasn't always evil and was essentially seduced away from them by Snoke. But, unlike Bucky, Ben Solo always maintained at least some of his free will. In that moment on the bridge over Starkiller Base, he could have decided not to kill his father; the fact that we watched him actively make that unforgivable choice in the moment is what makes Kylo Ren a much more irredeemable villain than the Winter Soldier.
DIFFERENT: Bucky Is Trying To Take Responsibility For His Actions
While Kylo Ren murders people and throws tantrums and seeks to destroy the galaxy out of some misplaced daddy issues, Bucky Barnes has begun trying to atone for the sins he committed while acting as Hydra's most lethal assassin. After the events of The Winter Soldier, he went into hiding, trying to recapture his memories of the past while doing his best to shun violence. (Of course, that doesn't last long before he's drawn into the events of Civil War, but that wasn't exactly his fault.) Sure, we eventually learned that he murdered Tony Stark's parents, but by trying to help Captain America save the world from an army of psycho-soldiers — and agreeing to put himself on ice until his brain can be safely un-hijacked — Bucky has started taking the first steps towards redemption.
While Kylo Ren and the Winter Soldier initially appear similar due to their tragic histories that drove them each to villainy, what sets them apart isn't the past — but the choices they make in the present.
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