The Last Jedi introduced us to the inner world of Ben Solo, showing us the conflict raging within him. And I’m glad to say I wasn’t the only one who became more intrigued by Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and the duality of this character. I’m happy to present to you today a Guest Post written by Becky Sharp, also known as LazyPadawan, about the case for Ben Solo’s redemption.
The Case For Saving Ben: Why I Want Him “Redeemed” And You Should Too
by Becky Sharp
One of the open questions in the aftermath of The Last Jedi is the fate of Kylo Ren, once known as Ben Solo and now the self-appointed Supreme Chancellor of the First Order. Will he reject evil or is he a damned soul past the point of no return? The Last Jedi does a lot to make the viewer feel unsettled about his future. He backslides into hatred and fury in the film’s final act. Nearly everyone, including his own mother, seems to give up on him. I’m surprised at how many fans have given up too, completely counting him out and expecting his light side counterpart Rey to single-handedly carry the day.
I haven’t given up on Ben, though. In fact, if anything, The Last Jedi gives me more hope than ever that he will come through for the galaxy. I’m not alone either as social media has exploded with hashtags, memes, and fan-made paraphernalia declaring “Save Ben Solo.” There are even petitions!
So why should we hope for Kylo/Ben’s redemption? After all, he has been a bad guy who has done terrible things, including killing his own father to please a psychopath master. But as Rian Johnson said, Kylo’s crimes still don’t amount to Darth Vader’s, who had decades to build up a long rap sheet of wicked deeds, and we all know Vader was redeemed in Return Of The Jedi as he returned to the light side.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “redemption” as “the act of making something better or more acceptable…the act of saving people from sin and evil: the fact of being saved from sin or evil.” For sake of discussion here, when I say “redeem” or “redemption” it means specifically Kylo/Ben rejecting evil and destructive acts and abandoning the idea of imposing his will on others. I do not think dark necessarily means evil or that light necessarily means good. I’ll also point out that whatever redemption might mean for Ben will likely be different from what we saw with Darth Vader, which will be the topic of a separate essay.
Redemption doesn’t mean that crimes are overlooked or that it’s okay to commit evil acts. It marks when someone has a true change of heart and wants to correct his ways. It’s something that is earned but not deserved. To quote C.S. Lewis, “No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed.”
My primary desire to see Ben redeemed is admittedly for sentimental reasons. He is Han and Leia’s son and he is Anakin and Padmé’s only grandson. I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977 and I have grown up with these characters. Han and Leia were my first Star Wars “one true pairing” ever since I saw The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. I’ve been a huge “Anidala” fan since Attack Of The Clones. I care about Ben in part because I’ve cared about them, even though he has committed terrible wrongs. I want their relationships to mean more than just producing an unredeemable villain. In IX, he will likely be the last Skywalker left. I don’t want the Skywalker line to end with tragedy and infamy. They’ve had enough of that already!
From a writer’s standpoint, I love the idea of Kylo/Ben finding redemption because it gives him a journey to follow in IX, a personal spiritual quest where he finally finds the sense of self and belonging that he desperately seeks. It has tremendous potential to show his growth into becoming his own man and one that fans would find interesting, exciting, and inspiring. He would have somewhere to go and something to do. It would create a narrative thread that’s meaningful, especially to young boys who seem more drawn to him than any other ST character. Wouldn’t it be great if they got a positive message from his story? The alternative would turn Kylo into a one-dimensional big bad with nothing to do but to wait for the good guys to kill him off, which would be predictable and boring. Or it ultimately defines his character as a guy who fails at everything, which would be cruel, especially so to a young man who was subjected to abuse at the hands of a manipulator. Either way it would render all of the character development in The Last Jedi meaningless. What would have been the point of humanising him to the degree it did? Johnson is quoted as saying “He skips straight to what Vader became (later in life), which is a villain who has more of a connection to a hero and is not just someone to be vanquished…(h)e’s someone who’s going to take a more complicated journey.” If there’s no hope for his redemption then his character is in stasis and he might as well have been killed off already. Moreover, it would justify Luke trying to kill Ben in his sleep, it would make a mockery out of his attempting to apologise to Kylo, and it would make Rey look like a fool not only for trying to turn him but especially for failing to kill him when he was unconscious. Making Kylo unredeemable would create little purpose for Rey to serve in IX other than to be his assassin.
I also believe that Kylo/Ben has yet to fulfill his potential. This is a guy with a serious identity crisis, burdened by a legacy he cannot escape no matter how much he rages against it. He’s radically trying to craft his own identity and discover his purpose, not so much seduced by the Dark Side as he is drawn to it out of rebellion against his elders’ value system because that system let him down. He goes through extreme measures to leave his own mark. But as Empire magazine recently pointed out he is just beginning to grasp what he is doing now is a terrible way to survive. His experiences with Rey in The Last Jedi are just the first glimmers of hope that he realises there is another way, that he can find his destiny with her. The misfortune of Vader’s death was that with him gone, there was no one alive who understood the dark side. Just as Luke pointed out the Force doesn’t belong to the Jedi and the light will go on with or without them, the dark side will still exist even when there is no Sith. Both aspects need to remain in balance and I believe Ben is part of the equation with Rey. He would be invaluable as someone who truly understands the dark side and can help others as they struggle with it within themselves. He and Rey could have a future not as rulers or even as leaders but as guides, rebuilding the galaxy and teaching everyone how to awaken the Force in themselves.
Still there are three common arguments against redemption: a desire to see something “different” from the original trilogy where Vader was redeemed; a belief there’s no way back for Kylo; and the assertion Kylo doesn’t deserve redemption and should be punished for his crimes. The weakest argument against redemption is that we need to “see something different” by having Kylo remain down in the black hole of evil and come to his inevitable end to show that some people can’t be saved. This is a nihilistic, fatalistic view that no one should ever hope for or wish for in a fairy tale meant to inspire, especially just for the sake of doing something different from what was done before or out of some belief that characters are “cooler” or more interesting as long as they are unrepentant and evil. It also misses the point of what Star Wars is about: love, forgiveness, hope, and always having the chance to do good. In any case, Star Wars has far more “bad guys” who die unrepentant than not: Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Count Dooku, General Grievous, Tarkin, Palpatine/Darth Sidious, Jabba The Hutt, Boba Fett, and Snoke just for starters. There’s something dispiriting about wanting a big trophy—the last Skywalker—in the unrepentant evil category. My only guess about that is these people didn’t like or didn’t believe in Vader’s redemption in Return Of The Jedi and expected Revenge of the Sith to be 2.5 hours of Vader joyously slaughtering people. There are “villain stans” who want characters to revel in their evil but it’s obvious from the films that this is not the case with Kylo at all. The hallmark of his character isn’t that he finds it good to be bad, it’s that he’s deeply conflicted on his entire moral being.
The second argument against redemption is that Kylo, free from Snoke, chooses to remain on the Dark Side and takes command of the First Order anyway. He has repeatedly rejected turning back to the light, his crimes are too great, and as such, he can’t be brought back. Well, if there was a way back for Vader, there definitely is a way back for Kylo. Why wouldn’t there be? Ah, but Vader was motivated by his love for his son, while Rey’s compassion for Kylo and his connection with her weren’t enough to turn him. No, not yet. But remember Vader didn’t turn quickly either. It took Obi-Wan confronting Vader twice, Padmé begging him to turn back once, Ahsoka Tano encountering her former master on “Rebels,” and two encounters with a son he barely knew before he became Anakin again. And that was only after about 20 minutes of watching Palpatine fry Luke. There’s far more of Ben’s “light” on display in these movies than any of Darth Vader’s throughout the OT. Moreover, Luke wouldn’t have said, “No one’s ever really gone” if Ben is lost forever. He simply would’ve told Leia, “Yep, you’re right. Let’s just say kaddish for Ben and kill the creep he is today.” And why did Rey spare Kylo on the Supremacy before fleeing? Because she knew that killing Kylo Ren would kill Ben, too. She still had to have some hope for him. It won’t be easy and he has a lot of work to do, but I believe it is possible. His remorse, his conflict, the light that’s still in him, and his feelings for Rey provide a pathway for a turn to happen.
Then there’s the “he doesn’t deserve redemption because he must be punished for killing Han Solo” angle. Someone once tried to argue with me that patricide is an “unforgivable crime,” so Kylo can’t possibly be redeemed. Vader choked his pregnant wife and broke her heart, which led to her death, killed his brother/mentor, tortured his daughter, and maimed his son. I’ve never seen anyone argue any of this was “unforgivable.” What they really mean is, “Killing a character I loved is unforgivable.” It’s understandable: Han is a beloved legend, a Gen-X icon. We barely knew Kylo in TFA and it was easy to dismiss him as a spoiled brat or a disloyal son who ditched his real family for Snoke. But Kylo took no joy in his death and in spite of what he tells Snoke, Kylo waffled. Plus, Han forgave him. If his final gesture in the film wasn’t obvious, it’s openly stated in the novelization. And if Han could forgive Kylo/Ben, it’s a signal to the audience that we can forgive him too. It’s not as though Han sacrificed himself in hopes of a horrible death and eternal damnation for his only child.
Moreover, it seems like life keeps kicking Kylo in the pants over and over anyway. He’s been scarred, estranged from his family, nearly killed multiple times, belittled and demeaned, and physically and mentally abused. The woman he loves rejected his proposal. He doesn’t seem to have any friends and he doesn’t seem to have a lot of support on his own side. He and General Hux despise each other and the latter nearly killed him when he was unconscious. Rey is the only person who’s given him half a chance. At the end of The Last Jedi, he’s defeated and brokenhearted. What else do people want? Kylo is already in a hell largely of his own making. What he needs is a way out.
In spite of what a lot people might think, there are more signs that point toward a change of heart than away from it. For one thing, absolutely no one will ever show someone incapable of redemption with teary puppy dog eyes, a pouty quivering lip, or any other sign of vulnerability, humanity, or conscience. When did you ever see that with Voldemort or Palpatine? For all of his bad deeds, he was also capable of empathy, compassion, and love. His worst deeds bothered him. It’s clear from The Last Jedi that he is not inherently malevolent or depraved. He is at his core a scared, hurt kid.
Even the books go out of their way to show Ben is not a bad seed. Chuck Wendig wrote in his Aftermath series about pre-born Ben, “She (Leia) senses pluck and wit and steel blood and a keen mind and by the blood of Alderaan is this one going to be a fighter!” He’s also described as a “living band of light.” In another book, Han is telling a baby Ben that sometimes you have to take a swerving path to do what’s right. It sounds a bit like foreshadowing, doesn’t it?
If the filmmakers didn’t want us to consider any possible chance of redemption, Kylo Ren would’ve become colder, more thuggish, and far more comfortable with being evil as the story went on. He seems to project this image at the beginning of The Force Awakens but even so, his first victim basically spells out his character arc (“the First Order is of the dark side but you are not” and “you cannot deny the truth that is your family”) and he lets Finn run off. I can’t imagine even Darth Vader letting that happen. He takes off his mask when Rey, a prisoner, calls him a “creature.” Snoke calls him out on his compassion and he makes the mistake of taking Rey instead of BB-8. Blofeld, President Snow, and Sauron would’ve given him a D just for The Force Awakens alone.
A true villain would have killed Han with no hesitation or remorse. He wouldn’t have spared Leia. He would’ve been a proud participant in Hux’s “ceremony” to take out Hosnian Prime and other planets. He would’ve tortured Rey just as he’d tortured Poe, then tried his best to kill her. He would’ve lied through his teeth to Rey about Luke’s attempt on his life, her parents, and everything else they spoke about in The Last Jedi. Instead it is shown that he is basically telling her the truth. He also would’ve done any number of horrible things to Rey upon her arrival on the Supremacy and killed Rey upon Snoke’s command without batting an eye.
Killing Han seems to mark the nadir of Kylo’s career in the dark side and the filmmakers seem to shy from doing anything to make the audience hate Kylo even more. He slashes Finn but doesn’t kill him outright. Kylo might have really wanted to kill the uncle who almost tried to kill him but Luke sacrifices himself from afar rather than make Kylo the man responsible for murdering Han AND Luke. I promise you won’t see Kylo kill a room full of children in IX.
The films keep reminding us that he is Han Solo’s son and he has his father’s heart. In many ways this makes him rebellious and obstinate. But don’t forget it was Han who originally left the Rebels to their fate against the Death Star as he cynically took his reward and bugged out…then he returned and cleared the way for Luke to fire the torpedoes to blow it up. And I believe this will play out again. He will return at the most crucial moment. Kylo/Ben isn’t the bad/absentee father that Darth Vader was; he is the saga’s prodigal son.
I know there are fans who cannot think of a satisfactory way for Ben to be redeemed in one film. Not everyone can will want to “buy it.” But, as a Tumblr post put it, even a badly done or pat redemption story is better than none at all. Such stories teach us that as long as we’re still breathing it is never too late. Some fans act as though there is a limit on the number of chances you’re given to change when in real life we know this isn’t the case at all. If it’s possible in real life, it should certainly be possible in mythology.
If there was hope for Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, there is hope for you too.