-written by Han Spinel (and speaking for myself only)
One of the most heated debates still lingering among the Star Wars fandom is over the fate of Ben Solo in The Rise of Skywalker. Some see the sympathetic portrayal of the son of legacy heroes refusing to accept that he’s being torn apart, whereas many others realize the narrative gravitas of Kylo Ren’s choice to kill his own family and “class,” as Adam Driver puts it.
In Part I of this character analysis, I discussed why a narrative redemption cannot be ruled out due to supporting character arcs exhibiting the drive and/or purpose to save Ben Solo. In essence, I argue that Lor San Tekka’s dying words serve as a foreshadowing synopsis to his ultimate narrative arc. Kylo Ren shows us the dark side indeed, and in arguably the most brutal fashion to date, but ultimately will not be able to deny the light of his family – the same light that persists within him:
“You may try [to show me the dark side], but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.”
In part II of this analysis, I’ll emphasize the disparity between the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker and the ongoing character arc of Ben Solo. Considering Adam Driver’s recent commentary on redemption, we’ll then examine how the redemption of Kylo Ren could add narrative value to the Sequel Trilogy and Skywalker Saga while lifting up (and not detracting from) the arcs of our lead protagonists…. (I hope)
The Skywalker legacy is a duality of light and darkness, born from Anakin Skywalker’s tragic fall from grace and rise in darkness as Darth Vader. As we’ve argued many times before, this dark legacy, even after the redemption of Anakin, is a shadow the Skywalker family has yet to fully escape (the reader is assumed to be familiar with the novel, Bloodline). And the Sequel Trilogy re-introduced fans to a shattered Skywalker family.
This dark legacy is at the forefront of Kylo Ren’s motivations in his infamous introduction in The Force Awakens. Here, Kylo Ren not only kills an elderly and defenseless family friend, but does so in the face of being reminded of the light his family represents.
And while speaking to the mask of his grandfather, which symbolizes the darkness of the Skywalker legacy now etched in stone, we the audience are told in a unique and private admission from Kylo Ren (meaning this is the most revealed and truthful form of Kylo Ren we have witnessed) that he seeks to finish what Vader started.
Moreover, Ren sees Vader’s sentimentalism as the mistake he must not repeat in his pursuit of power. But can Kylo Ren surpass the evil Vader inflicted onto the Galaxy?
As I’ll argue below, and narratively speaking, he already has. The scarier part is that he’s still going….
Killing the Father in Cold Blood
Let’s take a time out here to quickly focus on patricide. Taken out of context, patricide is already so narratively evil that it alone would firmly send the culprit into the moral event horizon. Now, when placed into context of the Skywalker Saga and contrasted with the redemption of Anakin Skywalker – Kylo Ren committing patricide catapults wickedness far beyond what Vader ever accomplished.
So why is patricide narratively worse in the context of the Skywalker Saga? Think about it within the framework of the redemption of Anakin Skywalker:
In Return of the Jedi
The Son(Luke) risks his life to open the door to redemption for the sake of family(Anakin).
The Father(Anakin) walks through the door of Redemption
for the sake of family(Luke & Leia)
But in The Force Awakens….
The Father(Han) risks his life to open the door to redemption for the sake of family(Ben)
The Son(Ben) instead murders his father(Han)
and slams the door to redemption shut for the sake of himself.
Ren killing his father in and of itself is THE antithesis of Anakin’s redemption in Return of the Jedi. In this one act alone, written in blood, Ren narratively surpasses all the wicked Vader carried out because it is the one piece of evil Vader could never go through with – killing his own family. Indeed, “we are what they grow beyond” applies to both the light in Rey, but also the darkness in Kylo Ren. Furthermore, the patricide of Han Solo sits atop a mountain of other known, and some amount of unknown, evil acts, which are tallied in list form at the end of this article*.
Making matters even worse is the fact that Kylo Ren canonically chooses to reject a pathway toward redemption not once (with Han Solo in TFA), but TWICE (with Rey in TLJ)!
So, if Kylo Ren narratively surpasses the evil of Vader, represents the antithesis to Anakin’s redemption, has already rejected redemption twice – how can there possibly still be a redemption arc for Kylo Ren? EW recently asked Adam Driver:
Adam is essentially saying that Kylo Ren feels no remorse for his actions – he is EVIL. But Driver also points out that Ren doesn’t have an outside lens of the events – i.e., his reality is shaped by his dark perspective and not necessarily the unequivocal truth (this unequivocal truth could come into play later on…. hold this thought).
To address Bendemption any further in light of this commentary by Adam Driver, I argue we must first acknowledge the disparity between Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo’s paths in searching for a meaningful resolution, if any….
The Disparity Between Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo
Perhaps the most significant disparity between Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo is that Vader never actually killed his family as Kylo Ren has. In fact, everything changed once Vader realized that his family was still alive, for it was the fear of losing his family that initially drove him to the dark side.
In contrast, and as Driver points out, Kylo Ren rises in darkness KNOWING his family is alive, and seeks to destroy them all one by one.
Can Kylo Ren undo the darkness he’s cast across the entire galaxy, much less the physical murder of his father and shattering of his own flesh and blood? Did Anakin undo all the pain and suffering, death and destruction that “Vader” caused by finally walking through the door of redemption? Nope.
According to George Lucas, Anakin “stops the horror,” which is vastly different than undoing narrative wrong.
“It really has to do with learning. Children teach you compassion. They teach you to love unconditionally. Anakin can’t be redeemed for all the pain and suffering he’s caused. He doesn’t right the wrongs, but he stops the horror. The end of the Saga is simply Anakin saying, ‘I care about this person, regardless of what it means to me. I will throw away everything that I have, everything that I have grown to love – primarily the Emperor – and throw away my life, to save this person. And I’m doing this because he has faith in me, loves me despite all the horrible things I’ve done. I broke his mother’s heart, but he still cares about me, and I can’t let that die.’ Anakin is very different in the end.” -George Lucas, The Making Of Revenge Of The Sith; page 221
See also Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, which makes it painfully obvious that this was not the case – Leia and the Skywalker family were unable to escape the shadow of Anakin’s dark past. In other words, everyone in the Sequel Trilogy including the Skywalkers are still, 30 years later, paying for the “sins of the father(Anakin).” Indeed, Vader was redeemed through the eyes of his son, not the Galaxy, and not his daughter’s. In Leia’s eyes, Vader tortured her –
All this to say that if Anakin couldn’t undo the narrative wrongs he’s committed without killing his family, Ben Solo sure as hell can’t considering he HAS killed his family. Anakin had to sacrifice his life to achieve his redemption, and so it is not unreasonable to assume that at minimum – the same should apply for someone of greater narrative evil. Whether this takes the form of exile or being cut off from the Force, or through death like Anakin is irrelevant to the present discussion – and the lingering question is now –
What would redemption even look like for a man that murdered his own family?
Can Bendemption add Narrative Value to the Sequel Trilogy?
Now, one of the biggest issues missing from the redemption debate is WHY and HOW redemption adds value to Ben Solo’s narrative arc without detracting from the narrative arcs of others. Many might argue that redemption “makes the Skywalkers good again,” but as George explained through Anakin’s redemption, that’s not how the Force works – it was Luke Skywalker & Leia Organa that realigned their family’s mantle in light, not the redemption of Anakin. Anakin’s redemption concludes his own narrative arc in light, and specifically lifts up the character arc of Luke’s choice to never give in to the dark side.
Consider also, and from our longform series “The Definitive The Last Jedi Case for Rey Skywalker:”
“So what happens when, in the penultimate chapter of the story, the only remaining person who can carry on that family’s lineage has near-singlehandedly undone everything that the previous two generations of his family had achieved? Even if Kylo truly did redeem himself at the end, this renders the entire 9-film arc nearly moot–Anakin causes destruction, Luke fixes it. Kylo causes destruction, and then fixes it (or at least stops causing it). We’ve ended right where we started, and the only conclusion to draw is that the galaxy would be just the same whether or not the Skywalkers had ever existed at all.”
A narrative net-failure, or even a net-neutrality is anything but a satisfying conclusion to this 40+ year Skywalker family drama. So how can the redemption of Ben Solo bring satisfaction to the Sequel Trilogy?
First, consider that Rey doesn’t need saving, and if she were saved, how Ren self-sacrificing himself to save her would diminish Rey’s rise as the hero. Rey’s entire character arc is set up to resolve the fact that she continues to search for heroes in everyone else around her (rejects her call to the saber; tries to give the saber to Luke; tries to turn Ben Solo; holds the broken saber and asks Leia what they’re supposed to do), but will ultimately see that it is everyone in the story that needs her to be the hero to rise. Thus, narratively spinning Rey, the first female lead protagonist of Star Wars, into a damsel in distress would be one of the more cringe-worthy moves The Rise of Skywalker could make (in my humblest of opinions).
Let’s see, Han was murdered by Kylo Ren, so Ren can’t exactly sacrifice himself to save his father anymore….
Ren also committed to killing his uncle Luke, which is as narratively good as actually killing him in cold blood. Luke also doesn’t need Ren to sacrifice himself to save him, and note that Luke actually sacrifices HIMSELF to save Rey, Finn, Leia, Poe and the resistance…. And it is altogether relevant that Luke does this to save everyone from Kylo Ren’s orders to kill them….
The point I’m getting at here is that unlike the redemption of Anakin, the redemption of Ben Solo, if any, does not return an equal narrative value of light back to the family he chooses to murder and destroy. Perhaps truly saving Ben Solo, in considering all his wrong-doings, his redemption may need to extend beyond his family and be associated with sacrificing himself for someone you’d least expect him to….
Reconciling the Narrative Foils of Kylo Ren
The narrative foils between Finn and Ren are often overshadowed by Ren vs. Rey in media, marketing, and the fandom at large (the reader is assumed to be familiar with many of the narrative foils between Finn and Ren, and a link is provided for your convenience). However, these narrative foils between Ren and Finn are not only bountiful within the script, but also underscored throughout direction including the use of establishing shots (below).
In short, Ren chooses to be evil despite being raised by a loving family; he also chooses to murder and throw away that loving family. Foiling this character dynamic is Finn, who chooses to be good despite being taken from a family he’ll never know, and raised within the regimented evil of the First Order.
Specifically, if Ben Solo reconciles his narrative foils with Finn through a redemptive act such as self-sacrifice, it would carry with it a heavy weight by design – Ben Solo finally “stops the horror” of choosing to kill his family and others by sacrificing himself to protect the man who chooses to do the right thing no matter the cost. This act would show a complete heel turn of ideology for Ren, the character that was designed to foil Ren by choice is now lifted up by the final choice of the good man that once was Ben Solo. In this way, Ben Solo ensures that Finn can live out the life he murdered and threw away.
The narrative gravitas of this decision would be further emphasized if Finn and Jannah are in fact family as we have speculated. Ben Solo sacrificing himself over the potential threat of Finn or Jannah dying and being torn apart from the newly discovered family thought long lost presents a compelling narrative heel turn for Kylo Ren. Here, Ben Solo finally throws away the evil in his life (as Anakin finally did), but instead of directly returning light to his family, Kylo Ren pays it forward in order to preserve the life and family stripped from the man who had nothing, but chooses to live for others.
The Villain descendant of the Chosen One(Ben Solo)
sacrifices himself for the Unchosen Hero(Finn).
Again, a similar argument could be posed for Rey, but I argue that it is more important Rey discovers she is the hero needed to repair the broken Skywalker family of her own volition – NOT because of some sacrificing act by the man who murders them. Of course, each of Rey, Finn, and Poe all have elements that narratively foil Kylo Ren, and each represents a portion of the man Ben Solo chose not to be. And so, the redemption of Ben Solo does add narrative value to the Skywalker family, both found and through blood, by preserving the portions of himself that he continually chooses to throw away. But specifically sacrificing himself for Finn bypasses any narrative complications with having the man that murdered his family also somehow be its savior – this job is narratively reserved for Rey, who renews the blade that was broken, which is of course symbolic of healing the broken family legacy just as it is in Lord of the Rings.
The Heel Turn: A Reverse Parallel Rematch of The Force Awakens?
This could go down any number of ways, but hearing that Kylo Ren is more firmly planted within darkness than ever before from Adam Driver himself likely means that he won’t suddenly have a realization of his wrong-doings all on his own. He’ll likely need some…. help… in one of three ways: 1) in the form of a severe beat down, 2) in the form of a truth bomb, or 3) both 1 and 2.
Rey is the obvious first choice as she and Kylo are shown dueling in the theatrical trailers and TV spots – however, it’s also shown that Finn appears to be located at nearly every location Rey and Kylo are. We also know that there are several fight sequences not shown or even alluded to in the trailers or TV spots.
My theory is that Rey is attached to option 2 above, the truth bomb, and Finn is attached to option 1 above, the severe beat down. What would make this narratively poetic is if Rey discovers the truth of her family all on her own; and to reverse parallel Kylo Ren “revealing” only a skewed version of her past and family – she chooses to be good or do right even after learning a potentially damning piece of unequivocal truth to Kylo Ren. Rey’s enlightenment could shake the very ideology and foundation from which Kylo Ren chooses to be evil, or that he was personally responsible for in the first place (i.e., the fall of Ben Solo).
Adding to this poetic redemption would be if Finn gets a rematch with Kylo Ren in The Rise of Skywalker. Narratively, this rematch could take place in through a reverse parallel to the duel in The Force Awakens. Here, it could be Rey that is initially dispatched by Kylo Ren following her truth bomb, and it is now Finn that comes in to protect Rey and finish the fight. Finn defeating Kylo Ren paired with a narrative truth that knocks the pillars of Kylo Ren’s evil out from under him, could reasonably awaken Ren to the depths of his dark surroundings and spark the narrative heel turn.
The Dying Wish of Anakin Skywalker
One way in which the redemption of Ben Solo could retroactively add narrative value to the Skywalker Saga is through the dying wish of Anakin Skywalker –
“Tell your sister you were right about me.” – Anakin Skywalker
Anakin’s dying wish was to make sure that Leia knew that her brother was right about the good in him. In 1983, this could be taken as a simple redemptive gesture since only moments before Vader had just threatened to turn Leia down the dark path – a path that saw Vader personally torture Leia along with the murder and genocide of countless innocent lives including Leia’s foster parents and home planet.
Claudia Grey’s Master and apprentice also retroactively contextualizes this issue with a prophecy –
‘She who will be born to darkness will give birth to darkness.’
It is entirely possible that Vader knew of this prophecy at the time he learns of Leia’s existence, using his knowledge in his dying wish to pass along hope, through Luke:
“No one’s ever really gone” – Luke Skywalker
So that Leia might not ever lose hope in her son, even in the darkest of hours….
“It’s redemption. The idea of redemption is super important to Star Wars,” he told us. “The idea that there is such a thing as light, even in the darkest times. The idea of defiance always would get me when I would think about Leia standing up to Vader in that first scene or like she’s about four-foot eleven standing up against the almost literal Grim Reaper, and telling… off Vader in the first scene… So there’s a sense of defiance against tyranny, that we could always go back to in our hearts and minds.”
“And then, of course,” Terrio continued, “just the story of sacrifice… Vader sacrificing himself for his son…those themes or the separation of the twins… the tragedy of the separation of the twins and that this almost fairy tale idea that one would grow up as a princess and one would grow up as a farmer. Whenever we get lost in the vast scale of it we just go back and say those are the things that make Star Wars Star Wars.” – The Rise of Skywalker co-writer, Chris Terrio
I’ve argued that Leia is one major key in this, that she still perhaps believes in Ben Solo after Luke seemingly renews her all-hope-is-lost mentality. But that narrative is just as much about Leia as it is Ben. You see, Leia’s narrative arc is putting her on a crash-course collision to finally face the darkness of her past, present, and future – the darkness of her family that she’s been avoiding. Her final test may be to accept it all-light and dark-and stand in the light just as her brother once did, and that Anakin perhaps foresaw in his dying wish….
Regardless of whether or not you feel Ren is deserving of redemption, I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading this perspective. If nothing else, it was a challenging exercise to come up with any semblance of a satisfying narrative solution to the enigma that is Kylo Ren. Only a couple more weeks to go – so, thanks for reading and may the Force be with you!
*Summing the Narrative Worth of Kylo Ren’s Wrong-Doings
- Commits a currently unknown heinous act or thought; so evil that Luke Skywalker himself drew his blade – if even for a fleeting moment – against his sister’s own son. This is the same man that Palpatine himself could not tempt to the Dark Side, and the only thing that has ever moved Luke to walk to the edge of darkness was the threat of turning his family to the dark side. Make of THAT what you will….
- Slaughters Luke’s students (ages and quantity unknown, but essentially Anakin and the younglings 2.0 is not out of the question). [pic saying he slaughters students]
- Slaughters Villagers from Tehar (presumably killing the parents of the children from Tehar on the Show Resistance).
- Murders an old, defenseless, family friend in cold blood (Lor San Tekka)
- Tortures his mother’s most trusted pilot, Poe Dameron.
- Tortures the lead female protagonist of the story, Rey
- By serving the First Order and standing witness, Ren has a shared responsibility for the complete annihilation of the entire Hosnian System totaling 5 planets. Quick maths: Assuming each planet was roughly the size and biome of Earth (~8billion humanoids, and ~9million different species of life), this would account for close to 40 billion innocent lives and families (including Kaz’s family from the show Resistance) and the erasure and loss of nearly 45 million different and irreplaceable species/life forms from the galaxy.
- Rejects his father’s plea to redeem himself.
- Commits patricide, murdering the beloved hero, Han Solo, who by circumstance did not have the pleasure of having a father of his own. Han’s narrative arc ends by getting killed by the son he didn’t get to watch grow up – tragedy.
- Force throws Rey into a tree some 20-30 feet off the ground, leaving her unconscious or worse, and dead for all he knew because he didn’t stop to care or find out about Rey at all. His only concern is to steal the Skywalker Saber for himself because he believes it belongs to him by right of blood alone when we are shown that it instead calls specifically to Rey.
- Nearly kills Finn, the co-protagonist of the story, and the only man we know from script material that Rey, the lead female protagonist, “adores.”
- Tempts Rey to the dark side; the same dark side that’s committed, at least, the atrocities of 1 – 11 above and will commit 13 – 20 below.
- Contemplates killing his own mother (which is not narratively “good” seeing as though not pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at a loved one does not meet the criteria of a heroic deed).
- Deceives the mind-reading Supreme Leader of evil, in order to murder him and take his place as the new Supreme Leader of evil. Killing the bad guy is not narratively “good” in this instance since the entire purpose was to become eviler than he was before
- Rejects Rey’s plea for him to redeem himself [redemption rejected twice now].
- Tempts Rey to the dark side again [tempting the heroine twice now].
- Orders the death of Chewbacca and Rey by blowing that piece of junk out of the sky
- No longer hesitates killing his own mother by ordering the slaughter of the entire Resistance base on Crait, including his mother.
- Declares his murderous intentions of destroying Rey, Luke, and “all of it.”
- Commits to murdering his uncle, Luke Skywalker (narratively, it matters not that Luke wasn’t actually there since it doubles down Kylo Ren’s choice in the matter).
“Impressive. Most impressive.” – Darth Vader