“The mighty Kylo Ren. When I found you, I saw what all masters live to see: Raw, untamed power... and beyond that, something truly special. The potential of your bloodline.” – Snoke (The Last Jedi)
Out of all the Sequel Trilogy characters, Kylo Ren is my favorite. From seeing his amazing design and cool lightsaber in the trailer, to seeing him fully fleshed out as a character, Kylo Ren is truly an iconic Star Wars character. Topple all of this with the outstanding performance by Adam Driver, it is hard not to love him. His story is tragic, filled with manipulation and disappointment. However, I believe Kylo’s story ultimately ends with poetic and beautiful note, cementing his legacy as the last heir of Anakin Skywalker.
In order to explore the Prince of Alderaan’s tragedy and redemption, I will divide the article into six parts, which I believe represent important elements in his story:
1. The Mask:
"Alas, you're no Vader. You're just a child in a mask." - Snoke (The Last Jedi)
One of my favorite aspects about the character is how his mask represents his current state. At first, we meet this masked figure. His look is familiar (bits of Revan and Vader), yet somehow new. Watching the trailers and promo for The Force Awakens, I just thought: “So this is a Darth Vader wannabe?”. In part, he was exactly that. A boy so lost that he would do anything to live up to his fallen grandfather. He uses his mask to hide his face, the face of a scoundrel and princess, the face of the Resistance. The mask resembles the one used by his grandfather, giving him the face of a Dark Lord. When facing Han, his father can see through the mask. Han only sees the face of his frightened and lost boy. So, Kylo kills him.
In The Last Jedi, we see his character be put to the test. He’s done some dark deeds in the past, but they are tearing him apart. It is becoming harder to keep his true face hidden. As such, as a symbol of his state of mind and conflict, he destroys his mask (as his acts are destroying him). In order to prove himself, he jumps into his TIE Silencer and attacks The Raddus (Leia’s ship). However, he senses his mother, and she senses him. Without his mask, he is just Ben Solo, leaving him unable to shoot down the ship’s bridge. Furthermore, his unmasking helps him connect with Rey. As we learn later on, Rey wants to join him, as she sees Ben (and not Kylo). Snoke senses all of this. Though he congratulates him for capturing Rey, Kylo knows his master feels the light within him. This is one of the reasons why Kylo murders Snoke. In that moment, he believes there is no one left to sense any light within him. Kylo Ren is finally free as the sole Supreme Leader, and though he is suffering, no one in the First Order will sense this. As such, there is no more need for the mask
Jumping over to The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo learns that Palpatine had been pulling the strings all this time. This further cracks his soul, even though he is still committed to the Dark Side. However, he is tasked with hunting down Rey. As he probably feared, they are still connected through the force. Rey is now the one person who senses the truth in Kylo’s heart. She can sense Ben’s pain and conflict cracking Kylo. This leads to the Supreme Leader’s decision to rebuild the mask. However, the rebuilding is imperfect, leaving the mask full of scars. Just as Kylo’s soul is shattering.
2. Blood of Vader:
When seeing The Force Awakens, I was instantly drawn to Kylo’s conflict. Like his appearance, it was familiar but new. It is clear that a lot of Anakin’s conflicts were passed on to his grandson. However, I was fascinated by how it was played.
Anakin was a Jedi, who always struggled with his emotions. Anakin’s selfish misinterpretation of attachment lead him to horrific acts. He confuses his inability to let go, with love and passion. This leads him to break away from the Jedi teachings and, ultimately, turning to the Dark Side. In order to feel no further temptation, Darth Vader eradicates what’s left of Anakin Skywalker (until his final moments).
When we meet Kylo, he is already a Dark Lord (or so he appears). However, we soon learn that his struggle (though similar to Anakin’s), is actually the total opposite. A Dark Side user who struggles with the light within him (opposed to a Jedi struggling with darkness). A Dark Lord who feels tempted to turn to the light (opposed to a Dark Lord who buried whatever was left of light). For Kylo, these are just mere temptations, keeping him from fulfilling his grandfather’s legacy. However, as we examined before, Kylo is unable to get rid of Ben Solo. Furthermore, Kylo’s tragedy runs even deeper: as we all know, Anakin broke through the darkness and saved Luke from Palpatine. He will later learn that this image of Darth Vader, which he vowed to become, is only what Palpatine wants him to see. In his quest to become his grandfather, he ignores Vader's redemption and continues to fall deeper into Palpatine’s manipulation.
“My boy, I made Snoke. I have been every voice… you have ever heard… inside your head.” – Emperor Palpatine (The Rise of Skywalker)
3. The Princess, The Scoundrel and The Jedi:
Kylo Ren is the Star Wars equivalent to a pastor’s child. His father was a famed war general and pilot of the mythic Millennium Falcon. His mother was Princess of Alderaan, a New Republic senator and a key Rebellion leader. His uncle was the leader of the rebuilt Jedi Order. As such, expectations were high on young Solo. Though the galaxy saw them as legendary heroes and myths, Kylo only saw the people who failed him.
As we learn in the book “Bloodline”, Leia was constantly occupied with her duties as senator. The book explores how Leia worked with the New Republic’s government, as Han and Ben were off elsewhere. Leia is torn by how her sense of duty kept her away from her family. Ben probably felt that his mother had prioritized the government over him.
When it became clear that Ben had a strong connection with the Force, he was sent away to train with his uncle. We still don’t know the full story of this period. However, The Rise of Kylo Ren comic shows us that Luke and Ben had a good relationship. Ben was Luke’s star student and they would constantly go out on adventures. Ben's connection to the force was so strong that some students even envied young Solo. Nonetheless, at some point, Snoke got to his heart. The Dark Side manipulated Ben into feeling neglect for his family. They sent him away to his space wizard uncle. They gave him no choice. Was he even asked if he wanted to be a Jedi? Ben felt that his family had decided a path for him, leaving him with no decisions to be made by himself.
The Dark Side was new. No one had exposed him to it. Even worse, his family hid it from him. In order to protect Ben, they concealed the truth about his grandfather. For the first time, Ben Solo felt like he had a choice. This is why Snoke and the Knights of Ren were so tempting to him.
After leaving the Jedi, and joining The Knights of Ren, Ben was tempted to come back. His old friend, Tai, confronted him and asked Ben to turn away for the Dark Side and come home. But Ben feels that it is too late for him, and that his family will not take him back. Furthermore, he was almost attacked by his own uncle, and was later hunted down his own friends, who blamed him for destroying the academy (which he did not do). For this reason, doubles down and fully commits to the Dark Side.
Instead of going after him, his family further fails him (this time, in a more real sense). As we learn from Leia in The Force Awakens, she got further involved with the Resistance, while Han went back to his scoundrel ways. On his uncle’s side, Luke cuts himself from the Force and disappears. Based on the information we have now, no one went after Ben. This leads him to feel more alone than ever, with nowhere to go but Snoke and The First Order.
However, when thinking a bit further, Kylo's Dark Side path is even more tragic. His family did fail him, but (in time) all of them would atone for their mistakes. Han confronts him, and confesses that he still believes his son is there. Han asks him to come home, and expresses how missed he is. Leia, though heavily involved in the fight against The First Order, never stopped wanting him to return. I'm confident that Kylo saw this in their brief connection while attacking The Raddus. Luke was so ashamed and broken over what he did, that he disappeared and left the fight. Upon returning and facing him, Luke confesses that he is sorry and acknowledges his failure. Everyone who failed him had a chance to confront him and give him a way back. Kylo's tragedy is visually seen in Crait. He's fighting a Luke Skywalker who isn't really there. Han is dead, Luke is out of the picture and Leia wants nothing but to have her son back. Kylo is pushing himself further into the darkness over things that have already faded away.
4. Destroying the past:
“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That's the only way to become what you are meant to be.” – Kylo Ren (The Last Jedi)
Kylo views his past as a lie. His family, who are revered as heroes, abandoned him. His mother and uncle were the children of a Sith Lord. Even his name, Ben Solo, represented two names that weren’t even real (Ben was Obi-wan’s alias, and Solo was given to Han by the Empire). Every connection to his past just dragged him down.
His family left him some mighty shoes to fill. It is hard for Ben Solo to make his own path amongst these legends. For Ben, it is easier to destroy all of it. If he has no past, no family left, he has nothing to live up to, there would be no more expectations.
In destroying the past, Kylo feels that he will finally break free and be able to create his own way forward. Kylo believes that he has nothing to learn from the past. This is specifically ironic, as he will later on build on his family’s legacy (more on that later).
5. The Scavenger:
After abandoning the Jedi, and his family, the people closest to him are not there for the right reasons. Snoke, his master, only uses him for his power and potential. The Knights of Ren, his followers, only follow him out of admiration for his connection to the Dark Side. The mask of Vader, to whom he thinks he’s talking to, is only a manipulation from Palpatine to further push him into the dark. The closest thing to family, is General Hux. From their interactions in the movies, and comics, we know they have a competitive brother dynamic, constantly trying to please Snoke. I'm reaching with Hux, they actually despise each other. As such, Kylo Ren is alone… that is, until Rey shows up.
Kylo suffers his first defeat at the hands of Rey, and I’m referring to their fight in Starkiller Base. During their interrogation, Rey pushes back. She not only blocks him from her mind, she is able to go inside his. She sees his biggest fears:
“You... you're afraid... that you will never be as strong as Darth Vader!” – Rey (The Force Awakens)
At a glance, we could all think that she refers to their power through the Force, and there might be some truth to that. However, after seeing Kylo’s entire arc, I believe that Kylo’s true fear is his inability to gain the strength to destroy Ben Solo and cut his connection to the Light (as Vader did to Anakin). In that moment, Rey starts to see Kylo for who he truly is.
This defeat was only the beginning to their connection. After this moment, their minds were forever connected. During The Last Jedi, Rey continues to peel back the layers that make up Kylo Ren, and is able to find Ben Solo. Rey is eager to bring him back, so she goes after him and helps him after he kills Snoke. Of course, Kylo pushes back and decides to stay as Supreme Leader, instead of coming back to the Light. This leads Rey to close the door on him.
However, Rey never really gave up on him. When they meet again in The Rise of Skywalker, she sees through the cracks in his mask (and soul). She knows that Ben is somehow still there. When confronting him in the Death Star’s wreckage, she saves him from death and reveals that she did want to join him because she only saw Ben. Did she close the door on him? She did. But Kylo’s path back to the Light was something that he had to choose for himself.
Rey, a scavenger from Jakku, the granddaughter of the man constantly manipulating him, was the only person to truly see through Kylo Ren. She was the only person who never gave up on him. From the very beginning, I saw Rey and Kylo as two sides of the same coin. This would later be confirmed by J.J. and Terrio with the concept of the Force Dyad. Though on opposite sides, their connection and understanding of each other ran deeper than any of them could imagine.
6. Redemption, Death and the Skywalker Legacy:
As I mentioned at the very beginning, Kylo’s story is filled with tragedy and manipulation. We have gone through several elements and moments in Kylo’s life that exemplify this. However, I believe that the conclusion to his story, and his redemption, is as beautiful and poetic as Star Wars gets.
His final moments and death have been heavily debated and criticized. But hear me out…
“Darkness rises, and light to meet it. I warned my young apprentice that as he grew stronger, his equal in the light would rise.” – Snoke (The Last Jedi)
In the quote above, Snoke is clearly referring to how powerful Rey is and how the Force balances itself. However, like all things Star Wars, we can go even further with this quote. I believe that, Darkness rising and Light meeting it, can also refer to the constant battle between Ben Solo and Kylo Ren. Every evil act committed by Kylo, to go further into the Dark Side (darkness rising), is met with further crushing his soul and deepening his pull to the light (light meeting the darkness). Whenever Kylo Ren tries to solidify his status as a Dark Lord, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren's equal in the light) pushes back and unstables Kylo. This is true until the very end.
In The Rise of Skywalker, we see one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire saga: Ben having one last talk with his father. During this conversation, we learn that Kylo has been constantly reliving his final confrontation with Han, as this moment is just a memory. When Kylo Ren ignited that lightsaber and killed Han Solo, I believe that as dark and evil as the act was, Han knew that his son was still there. Han touches his son’s cheek just as he is about to let go. That last act of love and compassion, may have just been enough to bring Ben Solo back. In reliving that moment, Ben Solo is able to burst through Kylo Ren and make the decision he should’ve made in Starkiller base.
Ben Solo arrives on Exegol and, fearlessly, rushes to save Rey. Nothing, not even The Knights of Ren, can stop him from getting to her. They both face down Palpatine and are ready to fight. Though Rey is successful in defeating her grandfather, it kills her. Ben rises from the pit in which he fell and finds Rey’s body. The one person who never gave up on him, who saw him for who he was, had died. Ben knew that this was wrong, and that he would do anything to bring her back. In this moment, the Skywalker Legacy comes full circle.
Let’s go back to Revenge of the Sith for a moment: In the movie, we learn about the story of Darth Plagueis. Palpatine explains how his former master was able to save others from death. When asked by Anakin if such power was learnable, Palpatine replies: “Not from a Jedi”. I believe this to be a complete manipulation from Palpatine. The nature of the Dark Side is inherently selfish. As such, it is very hard for me to believe that a Sith could save others from death. But Palpatine needed Anakin to give in to the Dark Side. However, as a true Sith, Anakin’s motivations were selfish. He did not want to save Padme so that she could live, he wanted to save her because he felt he could not live without her. His heart was not in the right place. As such, he was unable to save her from death.
We now know that Palpatine managed to come back to life. Though not deeply explained, we all know that “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”. On Exegol, we see how Palpatine is able to take life out of Rey and Ben, in order to regenerate himself. This is a true exhibition of the power of the Dark Side: gaining life by taking it from someone else. The exact opposite would be to save a life by giving some of your own (as Rey explains to BB-8), this is what a Jedi would do. Palpatine was wrong. Only a Jedi, not a Sith, would know to be selfless and give of their life to save others.
As I mentioned above, when seeing Rey’s body, Ben only knows that he will do anything to bring her back. He doesn’t care that it will cost him his life. Ben Solo does what his grandfather wanted, but was unable to. He is able to let go of himself and give everything in his power to save Rey (including giving his life). It is easy to get caught up with the “how?” and the “what?” of that scene. But the real question, is “Why?”.
The Force is not a superpower. It is, and always will be, there. Some have a better connection to it than others. There are no Force power levels, nor are there unlockable abilities. Of course, force users train to strengthen their connection and handling of it. But the Force is simply there for anyone to connect with it. In that moment with Rey, Ben knew what he had to do. He tapped into the Force and gave everything to Rey. This cost him his life.
His death is undoubtedly tragic. He is unable to live with his redemption and experience a galaxy he just helped saved. However, it is also poetic and beautiful. His death creates a path for Rey to live. By giving his life, he does what Anakin was never able to do.
Though at a time, he wanted to destroy the past in order to become his better self, Ben becomes his best self by building on the past. Though he feared not being able to live up to his family and never becoming as strong as Vader, Ben is able to do so by letting go and accepting the light in his heart. Though full of tragedy and manipulation, Ben Solo dies so that Rey could live, building on the Skywalker Legacy by completing Anakin’s journey.