In The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren’s turn from the Dark Side back to the light and becoming Ben Solo again–“Bendemption”–is one of the highlights of the film, and one of the things I looked forward to the most.
That it would happen seemed pre-ordained. Even after I watched the first film, I had the vague sense that his arc would lead to eventual redemption. But I also knew that it would lead to his probable death. At the time of The Force Awakens, I wanted him to die, to pay for his murder of Han Solo. I hated him.
By the time of TROS, I didn’t want him to die. Every fiber of my being longed for him to live. But the writer in me knew that it was impossible. Why, you ask?
Well, let’s back up a bit. What, exactly, does “redemption” mean, anyway? You know what’s coming: a dictionary definition. Here it is from Dictionary.com:
2. Deliverance; rescue.
3. Theology. Deliverance from sin; salvation; atonement for guilt.
So how is Ben Solo redeemed?
In several ways. He throws Kylo’s lightsaber away. He rushes to Exegol to help Rey against the Emperor. And most importantly, he sacrifices his own life to bring Rey back from the dead.
It’s that last one that we need to look at closely. When he finds Rey on the floor and realizes she’s dead, he’s devastated. But you can see in his face the moment he realizes what he must do. He knows he can bring her back. And he knows that he must exchange his own life for hers. He mulls this over for about two seconds, and then willingly, without hesitation or regret, brings her back. They have a few precious moments together, and then–he dies.
So, I think it’s important to remember here that Ben chooses to give his life for Rey’s. It’s not like he wasn’t sure what would happen, but tried it anyway, and then died. That would have been his life being taken away from him, and kind of unfair. No–he knew. His life wasn’t taken away from him; he gave it away, for the sake of Rey. It’s an important distinction. It makes any notion of fairness moot.
But supposing the writers decided he didn’t have to die to bring her back. What then?
Could Ben Solo really ride off into the sunset with Rey to live happily ever after? Should he?
Not to get too Crime and Punishment here, but does his act of bringing Rey back to life warrant complete forgiveness? Yes, he did have a hand in helping Rey defeat the Emperor, which saved the galaxy. Does it erase all the terrible things he did as Kylo Ren? Maybe. What kind of atonement can account for all that?
Perhaps he could spend the rest of his days doing Good Works, bringing the Jedi back, working for the good of the galaxy. That’s supposing he’s accepted back into the fold after all he’s done, which is not guaranteed. He could very well be tried for crimes against humanity. Just because we the audience see his complete turnaround to the Light–and perhaps Rey’s testimony to it as well–doesn’t mean the rest of the Galaxy would forgive him. Kylo, Ben, what does it matter? To them, he’s the same dude who did a lot of bad stuff.
Am I happy about it? No. I’m devastated. But that’s the mark of a good story: it moves you, leaves a mark on you, haunts you in some way. It offers some bitter to the sweet.
That’s my take on it, anyway.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Ben should have lived? Comment below and we’ll talk about it!