Spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi!
When you have a franchise that has made most of its money from toy sales, removing a possible toy from the universe is a big step. Maybe that’s why The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was terrified to do so when it came to Kylo Ren’s iconic helmet.
This was the helmet introduced in The Force Awakens that brought Ben Solo (Adam Driver) closer to his grandfather Darth Vader -- the pitch-black intimidation and voice modulation of evil nostalgia.
In the film, Ren breaks his helmet against an elevator wall after being admonished by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), resulting in character growth alongside the thematic resonance of destroying the past. But this was a hard decision for Johnson after seeing the impact of the prop from the previous film.
In the book The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with the quote excerpted at Screen Rant, Johnson had this to say about the decision:
“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 thought. 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.”
Developing Ren as well as Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Episode VIII was of paramount importance, and developing them together as humans (ones whose faces the audience could see) was key.
Sacrificing potential merchandising for character development is an impressive and (for the series) unconventional move that reflects some of the other decisions Johnson made in his critically loved yet controversially received Star Wars entry.