When The Force Awakens premiered in 2015, I was pretty excited. I’d been a huge fan of the originals when I was a kid, but not so much the prequels when I was older. This new series looked promising, exciting, something new.
Sitting in the theater, I watched, enthralled, as the beloved original characters–Han, Chewie, Leia–came back into my life after so long an absence. We were all older, wiser, a bit battered from life. I could see that both Han and Leia harbored some great wound that had forced them apart. What could it be? What was their story?
Many years ago I’d read a little bit of the Star Wars novels that came out a few years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn series. In them, Han and Leia had two children, twins: Jaina and Jacen. I wondered, with this new trilogy, if that would be the case here.
Hardly. Turns out, that angry, reactionary villain, Kylo Ren, was their kid. Whaa? I’ve missed something here. How the hell…?
Well, I told myself, let’s see what’s going on here. There’s an interesting story here, I just wish I knew what it was. And this Kylo Ren…he’s a puling kid, really. Impatient, selfish, violent. A crybaby. How did these two stellar heroes produce such a disappointing child?
I’d loved the whole Han/Leia love story in the originals. For years I dreamed of their future together after Return of the Jedi. They’d have amazing children. Yes, they’d have awesome Jedi powers, and they’d be beacons of light in the universe. To say my heart sank when I realized this Vader-wannabe was Han and Leia’s child is an understatement.
And then, the kicker: this damaged, twisted boy kills his own father. No, he murders him in cold blood. My favorite character in all of Star Wars, my childhood screen idol, slain and pushed off a catwalk like so much meat. A father, torn up by his son’s fate, wanting, needing, to help him–only to be betrayed by his own child.
God, I hated this guy Kylo Ren.
On some level, I knew this character’s arc would lead him to eventual change and possible redemption. This was the obvious question posed by the character, even in the first film. His conflict between light and dark was plain.
Did I care? Nope.
Then The Last Jedi came along, and there I was, ready to ward my heart against any possible melting in that regard. And the ridiculously talented Adam Driver returned with his sad, puppy dog eyes…his tender Force connection with Rey…his version of what happened with Uncle Luke when he was young and vulnerable…his very obvious emotional and psychic pain. His admission to Rey that he didn’t hate his father. And the shirtless scene, to say the least, was a low blow.
And, tellingly, he couldn’t bring himself to kill his mother Leia when he clearly had the chance. All of these things, taken together, began to work on my hardened heart, loosen the chains of implacability.
Ah geez, I’m starting to feel sorry for this guy.
And then, a spark of hope: He and Rey fight together against Snoke’s guards in the Throne Room. A spectacular scene, and my heart soared for a moment. He killed Snoke, saved Rey, look at them together, they’re magnificent, maybe, just maybe…
But no. I knew there was a whole other movie to go, and his refusal to help the Resistance fleet was no surprise. But his heartfelt plea to Rey, that she came from nothing, but she was not nothing to him–the vulnerability in his face was touching. He held out his hand to her. He even said Please. Part of me almost wanted her to take his hand. Clearly he’s in love with you, woman, take his hand and help this poor guy somehow, for God’s sake–but no. It’s wrong at this moment, not meant to be. Yet.
Rey’s rejection of him hardened him again for the first two acts of The Rise of Skywalker. He’s back to his cold, violent, Dark Side tricks. He’s still trying to get Rey to join him in the Dark side. He believes he can’t go back to the Light, so she must come to him. At this point, though, I know the flip-flop is coming, and–despite my earlier vow–I’m rooting for it. It’s all I’ve been waiting for, in fact.
To me, that’s like learning the devil has been whispering in your ear since birth. Ah, now it makes sense–why young Ben Solo abandoned his family and turned to the Dark Side. I get it now. And it’s a terrible revelation. I’m angry on his behalf. How dare he steal the heart and mind of Han and Leia’s son for his own twisted ends? Monster!
But we knew that.
It can be argued that Ben Solo had choices, as we all do in the face of evil. But really, if he’d been influenced since he was a young boy, what choice did he really have? He’d been shaped and molded by evil. He was the rope between the tug of war between the Light and the Dark, and the Dark won. Initially.
At any rate, an extraordinary confluence of events occured to affect the change from Kylo Ren to Ben Solo.
The first: his mother Leia calling out to him from across the galaxy, expending her last bit of life force to do so (and when Mom calls, you better answer!).
The second: Rey heals the fatal wound she gave him with his own lightsaber, and the words, “I wanted to take your hand. Ben’s hand.”
And the third: possibly the most touching scene in all of Star Wars, Ben’s conversation with his dead father, Han. Now, I don’t care what Han’s appearance may signify. Whether it’s Leia somehow projecting the image (she still hasn’t disappeared into the Force, mind you), or Ben’s memory, or a ghost or the boogeyman. The point is, it doesn’t matter. Ben is finally confronting the pain and guilt of killing his father. And when Han forgives him, we do, too.
And there I was in the theater, near tears, and eating a heck of a lot of crow. But you know what? It’s okay to hate Kylo Ren. I just wish I could have seen more of Ben Solo to love.
In all honesty, I find Kylo/Ben to be the most fascinating character in Star Wars, and I’ll be posting more of my thoughts on him in the future, including on “Bendemption” and “Reylo”.
In the meantime, how do you feel about Kylo/Ben? Post your thoughts below and we’ll talk about it!