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:
1. An act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.
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!
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!