Editorial/Speculation – The Lost Prince of Alderaan: The Fall and Redemption of Ben Solo, Part One
Whatever your opinions of Kylo Ren, it’s hard to argue that his story is not one the more compelling facets of the sequel trilogy. The heir apparent to the Skywalker bloodline and all the baggage that comes with it, I wasn’t terribly shocked when Snoke pronounced him the son of Han Solo during my first viewing of The Force Awakens. It almost makes more sense for these Skywalkers to take a walk down the dark side than not. What intrigues most people about the terrible metamorphose of Ben Solo to Kylo Ren are the dueling prospects he will either die a villain or find the redemption his grandfather did (which also begs: is that at his death or a new beginning?). This is a question that has divided fans, stirred heated discussions, and caused ‘shipping’ of other characters that could be a catalyst to this redemption. It’s a question I’ve thought an awful lot about and what will follow is strictly an examination of the questions I’ve asked myself and some potential answers. This is entirely speculation on my part and completely my opinion of a POSSIBLE plot-point in Episode IX. It’s not a “hot-take” and in no way is it meant to disregard or disrespect other views. If anything, I hope it gets people to think outside of the “Will Rey redeem him or will Luke?”-box, because I honestly believe there is only one person who can save Ben Solo: Leia Organa.
Before we take a deep dive into the potential salvation of the sequel trilogy’s primary villain, let’s first make a concession: We know very little about Ben Solo. We know he’s the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo. We know Luke regarded him as an extremely powerful Force-user. We know he was trained to be a Jedi, but we do not know the duration of that training. We know at some point Snoke manipulated and turned him to the dark side, which in turn caused the destruction of a Jedi rebirth. We know Ben Solo eventually took on the name Kylo Ren, deemed Master of the Knights of Ren. From that point, we are talking about Kylo Ren, not Ben Solo, and that’s from the eye of the beholder himself. At this point in the trilogy, Ben Solo has been gone for a very long time. That’s from what members of his own family said, so let’s just admit that as fans, we presume to know a lot about Ben Solo when in fact we know very little. Sure, no one’s ever really gone, but by the end of The Last Jedi, it’s clear the only person Adam Driver’s been portraying is Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren acknowledges that his power comes from the Skywalker bloodline, hence the shrine and obsession over his grandfather. Vader was a terribly conflicted character who did an excellent job hiding it until his son came along. Unfortunately, just as the state of the galaxy in the sequel trilogy rendered Luke Skywalker a myth, Darth Vader has most likely remained a myth as well. The nuance of Vader and his salvation were most likely relegated to the exclusive memories of Luke Skywalker, while the dark visage of terror remained the Sith Lord’s legacy in the universe of the sequel trilogy. Ben was no doubt aware of Vader’s legacy, but for a good chunk of his life, he never knew it was connected to him.
We know from Claudia Gray’s Bloodline that Leia never told Ben that Darth Vader was his grandfather, so however Ben found out, I assume it was very hard for him to imagine the heroic Anakin Skywalker could ever become such a monster. Perhaps it was more than very hard, it could have been Earth-shattering for him. Let’s assume Ben knew all about Anakin’s heroic missions in the Clone Wars and assumed he was killed in Order 66 along with the other Jedi. Ben could have been told this at a young age by his mother or Luke. Imagine hearing about your grandfather being a pilot during World War II, only to one day find out they were actually one of the top Nazi commanders responsible for betraying and killing all the heroic pilots they flew with, along with the worst atrocities of World War II. On top of that, you were lied to about it. That’s just straight-up traumatic, even if you never actually knew the person. Finding out information like that about your family would be devastating to most. Dealing with such a blow to his perception of the Skywalker family legacy, I also have to wonder if that planted a seed in Ben’s mind that the inevitable destination for a Force-user is the dark side. Perhaps his journey to Kylo Ren became a self-fulfilling prophecy once he learned his all-powerful grandfather took up that mantle for love and the nobility of bringing order to the galaxy. I’m sure Snoke whispering in his ear –– or whatever misguiding influence Snoke had –– didn’t help Ben grapple with that truth.
Also, there is a cynicism in Luke about the Jedi I have to believe he had inside him before we meet him in The Last Jedi. I imagine once Luke was able to learn more about the circumstances of his father’s turn to the dark side a seed for his eventual resentment of the Jedi was planted. Assuming Luke learned that before the tutelage of Ben Solo in the ways of the Force, that could very well have been sub-consciously conveyed or sensed as the Jedi Master taught his nephew. Luke lost his mother because of his father’s turn to the dark side, which was due to the manipulation of a Sith Lord that exploited the forbidden love and union between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. If Anakin had been free of the Jedi dogma and able to be open with his marriage to Padme, one has to wonder if Sidious would have been able to pull those strings and get Anakin to turn so easily. Perhaps he would have found another way, but because of the fear and vulnerability, Darth Vader fell right into Sidious’ hands. I know I’m taking a huge leap here in assuming that Luke became aware of all the facts and that they may have muddied his outlook on the Force. All I’m saying is that if I knew my mother was nearly choked to death at the hands of my father due to dark power that corrupted him, it would certainly make me skeptical that people should be able to yield that power, even if it was capable of being used for good.
That backdrop of having the great Skywalker legacy shattered by a revelation could set the context for Ben’s turn to Kylo Ren. Let’s propose that Snoke’s manipulation had a similar parallel to Luke’s resistance to carry on the Jedi legacy for Rey; being that, Ben Solo seeks out Snoke yearning for information about the dark side or the Sith, and Snoke refuses to teach him. We know from Star Wars The Last Jedi the Visual Dictionary that Snoke spent some time in Vader’s castle on Mustafar, so I’m gonna assume he knows a near-complete version of Anakin’s turn to the dark side. Snoke could have presented an argument similar to Luke’s, that the galaxy is almost always at war due to the light versus the dark, embodied in the conflict of Jedi versus Sith. It’s been speculated that Luke and Snoke knew each other and that Snoke may have played a hand in Luke’s training of the new Jedi. Perhaps Snoke told Ben that Vader’s intention had been to rid the galaxy of the Jedi and the Sith, which Vader arguably did, but his mission could be seen as a failure since Luke survived and eventually undertook the task of training a new order of Jedi. Snoke could’ve played reluctant to telling Ben more about the dark side in fear of the destruction it would bring to the galaxy if the powers of light and dark rose to clash again. Snoke could use the Clone Wars and the terrible conflicts between the Rebellion and Empire as examples of what happens when light and dark battle. Perhaps Snoke laments that he hopes Luke can bring some sort of balance to the Force as the Skywalkers were prophesized to do, but that he fears there will be an inevitable battle between dark and light. I can almost hear the duplicitous words of Snoke, “If it were up to me, there would be no Jedi and no Sith, just the Force.”
If Ben Solo came to believe that the existence of the Jedi would lead to the rise of the Sith, this could have tainted his training from the beginning, giving rise to the darkness Luke would ultimately sense. Furthermore, if Ben felt that to embrace the dark side as a way to bring balance to the Force by ultimately undermining what his uncle would attempt to establish with a new Jedi Order, waking up to the last Jedi with an ignited lightsaber over his head left zero doubt for him that the darkness he’d touched would lead to an inevitable conflict with the light. Perhaps Ben destroyed the Jedi Temple his uncle built with the intention of restoring balance to the force in mind, but as Snoke’s grip became tighter, any quasi-noble act of finding balance was lost to the slippery slope that is the dark side.
Circling back to Kylo’s last connection to his Skywalker heritage, the mangled helmet of Darth Vader, he probably believed bringing balance to the Force was what Vader’s true intention was. If anyone was to inform Ben Solo of the Jedi prophecy applied to his grandfather, I’d imagine it was Snoke. Snoke references his hope that Kylo would have become a “new Vader” in The Last Jedi, so I assume that’s not the first time Snoke dangled Grandpa’s legacy over his apprentice. We also know Snoke was capable of infiltrating people’s minds, so imagine if Ben Solo had his own Force-back trip down memory lane to witness what Anakin had been through before his turn to Vader. This is why Kylo Ren meditates and tries to conjure his grandfather’s spirit, as well as finish what Vader started. Anakin went from the most powerful Jedi to the most powerful Sith Lord, and it could be easily misinterpreted (especially with a biased teacher like Snoke) that this trajectory –– existing in both the light and the dark –– is what Ben/Kylo must do to complete balance. This gives even further evidence as to why Kylo would kill Snoke, as he felt himself completely emerged in the dark side and knew that his teacher’s existence threw off the balance. If he could kill Snoke and ally with Rey –– the embodiment of the light, at that point –– the balance of the Force could be achieved.
By the end of The Last Jedi, the Force is arguably in balance, at least from a Force-user perspective. Luke and Snoke are no longer in the galaxy. Rey and Kylo Ren are the only ones who remain. A question remains, though: Is there still good in Ben Solo? Up until a couple weeks ago, if you’d asked me I would have said no. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this trilogy would end with Kylo Ren being skewered by Rey’s lightsaber in a final climactic battle to restore light to the galaxy. Upon further reflection and back-to-back viewings of the first two sequel trilogy films, I believe that Ben Solo’s story is not yet finished, because Leia Organa has yet to have a face-to-face confrontation with her son. I firmly believe that confrontation will happen in Episode IX, and that the redemption of Ben Solo will be Leia Organa’s final act of bringing peace to the galaxy. This will be discussed in part two of this article.