Review – The Loss of Ben Solo in Marvel’s The Rise of Kylo Ren #4

We’ve reached the end. The Rise of Kylo Ren is one of the most impactful, eloquent, and emotional comic series I’ve had the privilege of reading. From the moment we saw Han Solo calling out to Ben Solo on the catwalk of Starkiller Base, it should have been apparent to everyone there was so much more to his story than a crackling, cross-blade lightsaber and a wannabe Vader mask. Ben Solo was a human damaged, trying to sift through the madness of regret and the only path forward he believed possible, after being ground down to his worst tendencies by the worst person in the galaxy. A terrible situation most wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy, especially those who’ve been through trauma and abuse. SPOILERS AHEAD….

The final issue opens with another bit of time jump. Ben Solo has joined the Knights of Ren in their quest for an artifact called the “mindsplinter”. One has to wonder if this was writer Charles Soule’s shoutout to the legendary Legends novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.  At the moment, the Knights of Ren are holding a group of unidentified aliens at blade-point to find it. While Ren (the masked leader of the Knights of Ren) feels violence is the answer, Ben Solo has a better way. Snoke taught Ben how to probe the minds of people and this is Ben’s first attempt. It works and Ben learns the location but once he gets what he wants the Knights of Ren kill the aliens guarding it. Ben is shocked. It can’t be overstated how much he’s tried to avoid the loss of life throughout this series. Whether it’s his Jedi friends or innocent bystanders – this is not a monster. Part of me suspects he knows the journey he’s undertaking with the Knights of Ren is a morally questionable one, but he’s following them into the darkness without surrendering his own agency. And he continues to protect the light.

Once inside the cave, Ren orders his knights to slaughter the remaining indigenous aliens protecting the mindsplinter. Ben is encouraged to take part in the slaughter and when he refuses Ren expresses how much his patience has been tested. Ren is clearly a puppet-of-a-puppet and he continues to bait Ben into embracing the wicked Knights of Ren. As the question is posed, Jedi Voe and Tai appear. The symbolism here with Ben going into the cave, just as we’ve seen Luke and Rey do to confront their darkness, is on point but not quite as light versus dark as we are used to. Ben has both sides advocating for him but neither are giving him what he wants: peace. Ben doesn’t want the light and he doesn’t want the dark…he just wants to let go and be the person he is. He doesn’t see the Force in dark versus light. This is a person who wants to exist, without being bound to the legacy of Skywalker or Vader.

Ben only sees the past and the legacy he wants to forget, so he draws his lightsaber and charges forwards. Voe turns her attention toward protecting the indigenous aliens in the cave, while Tai reassures her he can convince Ben to step back into the light. We know Tai and Ben have a special bond, highlighted in earlier issues, and that Tai has sensed a conflict stirring within his friend for some time. What I’m guessing Tai missed is the storm of emotions Ben held at bay for so long. Voe definitely holds her own against Ren, defending anyone he’d turn his lightsaber against. The most tragic part about Ben’s fall: he seems to have believed his whole life it was inevitable. It’s as if he feels he was destined to walk the light for a certain amount of time before turning into the darkness. He’s heard the voices of his parents, his uncle, and his friends calling him to the light…but that got him nothing. All it got him was waking up to his uncle and teacher, holding a lightsaber over his head, ready to murder him. Yes, we all know Luke wasn’t going to do that, but Ben didn’t.

Tai’s warnings to Ben are as tragic as they are ominous. He warns Ben the bottom of his darkness will only get lower. Ben says something profound, which I believe he’s always felt: “The dark side and the light side both claimed me for their own the moment I was born. Do you know how that feels?” The existence of being torn apart, having the devil (Sidious) in one ear and the angel (Leia, Han, Luke) in the other. Ben’s been fractured from the beginning and now he’s embracing the darkness he realized had been hidden from him his whole life. Perhaps if he’d been told about it earlier the pendulum of his soul wouldn’t have swung so far into the dark. Ben sees himself not as a person, but as a vessel for two different legacies – the dark and the light. Tai tries to reassure him, but it’s too late.

In the most tragic moments, Tai has laid down his lightsaber and pleads with Ben to just accept himself and his legacy. Ren reappears and kills Tai, using the Force to snap his neck.  Once Tai is dead, Ben embraces the darkness and turns it against Ren. Ben and Tai shared love and once that disappeared – the singular person Ben felt understood him – the last Skywalker gave up and used the darkness to avenge his friend. As Ben does this, he hears several voices in his head, but most importantly Rey, Palpatine, and Leia. Snoke is there, too, but we all know he was just a proxy. Leia senses his descent into darkness. Palpatine encourages Ben to kill Ren. Rey…feels cold. I think its very important to mention Rey’s appearance here, as it underlines the Force-bond she and Ben shared had always been there, just dormant. As Ben fights Ren, going deeper into the cave, he reaches out to all of these powerful forces. Finally, he strikes the killing blow, but has already succumbed to the shadow and darkness living within him. Ben feels betrayed by the light and he won’t give the darkness the benefit of the doubt – so he takes control of the dark. As we’ve learned from the dark side – you don’t control it, it controls you.

Ben returns to the surface of the cave to confront his old Jedi rival, Voe. He repeats all of the accusations she made against him and then kills her with the Ren blade. Ben Solo has stepped into the darkness, hoping to find the answers the light could not give him. The Knights of Ren bow down before him.

As they depart, Ben decides its time to make his own saber (just as we saw with Soule’s Darth Vader), so he takes the kyber crystal and breaks it. After visions of his parents, Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and Tai flood his mind – literal blood covers his arm and his saber from the bleeding kyber crystal. The blood on Kylo Ren’s hands is that of Ben Solo and the past he so desperately wants to kill. Kylo Ren is born. He inserts the bleeding crystal and ignites the blade, answering to a voice in the darkness who suggests this is only his beginning. Soule has invoked the imagery of fractures and cracks before, what I interpret as the Force manifesting itself to let those in the physical world know the distress. This imagery appeared in several Darth Vader issues.

Writer Charles Soule and artist Will Sliney should be popping open bottles of champagne. The Rise of Kylo Ren is an absolute triumph in telling a story the films were not able to tell. It makes the redemption of Ben Solo much more tragic. Many fans identified with Ben’s struggle to find his own identity while reconciling his family. Like so many rebellious young people, he just wanted to find himself and unfortunately was preyed upon by those so quick to offer up their version of what he should be.

Ben never had a chance. Ben was never allowed to be himself. He always felt compelled to be the best version of himself – but for someone else. Many of us will always mourn that smiling, smitten person who found himself at the end. So many of us found Ben but he was never allowed to find himself.

RATING: 10/10

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Kyle Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. When he's not running trails, he's reading and writing.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. When he's not running trails, he's reading and writing.