Saving Ben Solo: No One’s Ever Really Gone

written by HanSpinel, and speaking for myself only 

From the first statement of The Force Awakens’ opening crawl, the Sequel Trilogy introduces us to a Skywalker family in peril:

“Luke Skywalker has vanished.”

We quickly learn also that Han and Leia have been split apart for some time. The catalyst to it all? The Fall of Ben Solo, and his rise in darkness as the Master of the Knights of Ren.

Many fans are quite literally “Torn Apart” regarding Ben Solo’s ultimate fate in the Sequel Trilogy, this very council included. Can Ben Solo be redeemed? I argue in this article that this is the wrong question to ask because it places emphasis on audience perception and opinion to define Kylo Ren’s evil deeds vs. any redeeming qualities – this discussion often goes in circles. Here, arguments about Kylo/Ben’s visual portrayal (e.g., puppy dog eyes) will be few and far between (though I’ve included an accompanying video character study here). Indeed, if we are to save Ben Solo or find any hope in the Sequel Trilogy for the light left in Ben (and yes “there is still light in him, I know it”), focus must instead be placed entirely on the intentional direction and writing for the sacrifices of, undying love from, and perceptions of the most trusted characters in the galaxy: Han, Luke, Leia, and also, the continuing theme of healing that Rey brings to the shattered Skywalker Legacy….

YOU CANNOT DENY THE TRUTH THAT IS YOUR FAMILY

Similar to Darth Vader’s introduction aboard the blockade runner in A New Hope (1977), The Force Awakens (TFA) introduces us to Kylo Ren firmly established in darkness on Jakku. In contrast, Darth Vader’s backstory isn’t teased until the waning moments of The Empire Strikes Back, and his emotional turmoil unfolds in the final moments of Return of the Jedi. TFA on the other hand, immediately introduces the audience to some history about the man behind the mask:

Kylo Ren : Look how old you’ve become.
Lor San Tekka : Something far worse has happened to you.
Kylo Ren : You know what I’ve come for.
Lor San Tekka : I know where you come from, before you called yourself “Kylo Ren”.
Kylo Ren : The map to Skywalker. We know you found it. And now you’re going to give it to the First Order.
Lor San Tekka : The First Order rose from the Dark Side. You did not.
Kylo Ren : I’ll show you the Dark Side.
Lor San Tekka : You may try. But you cannot deny the truth that is your family.
Kylo Ren : You’re so right.

KyloKillsLST

Without hesitation, Kylo Ren ignites his cross-guard saber, slashing and murdering a defenseless Lor San Tekka. He orders the massacre of the entire village, and captures “Leia’s most daring pilot,” Poe Dameron, taking Poe back to the Finalizer for imprisonment and torture.

Here, we are introduced to two sides of the villain:

Kylo Ren and Undeniable Darkness || The former Ben Solo

Note that Lor San Tekka does not barter for his life or stall the inevitable. Lor has made peace with his predicament and instead spends every last word of his life ignoring completely the man Ben Solo has become, and chooses to remind Kylo Ren of the man and boy he once was.

In fact, Lor San Tekka’s last words may be intended as a sustaining synopsis of Kylo Ren’s dark deeds and ultimate arc in the Sequel Trilogy – re-worded:

“You may try [to show me the dark side], but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.” – Lor San Tekka

As I will argue below, Kylo Ren certainly shows us the Dark Side in vicious fashion, and as we’ve never seen it before. However, the audience bears witness to the truth that is his family, and also as we’ve never seen before – the everlasting Light and hope of the Skywalkers standing in the face of darkness.

A NEW VADER & THE PULL TO THE LIGHT

Rey’s Forceback vision showcases an extremely dark act, the massacre of another village – this time at the direct hands of Kylo and the Knights of Ren. Disney’s Star Wars Resistance (which begins approximately half a year before the events of TFA and leads directly to the destruction of Hosnian Prime) also introduces us to two children, Kel and Eila, that claim they have escaped certain death. The children inform Kaz that Kylo Ren carried out a similar massacre in their village on the planet, Tehar (presumed to be located in the Unknown Regions). Were these the same village, or how many villages is Kylo responsible for killing? Regardless, the ST makes it abundantly clear that Kylo Ren despises villages and villagers, and would much prefer a loft downtown. Kidding aside, this clearly paints an extremely dark history, and perhaps darker future still, for Kylo Ren.

Kylo-KOR

However, and in contrast to the delay of Vader’s internal conflict occurring in the third act of the Original Trilogy (OT), we witness a uniquely private moment of admission between Kylo Ren and the mask of Vader in the first act of the Sequel Trilogy (ST):

“Forgive me. I feel it again… The pull to the light… Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again… The power of the darkness… And I’ll let nothing stand in our way… Show me… Grandfather… and I will finish… what you started.” – Kylo Ren, The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren’s admission again presents a conflicting character arc:

I)   Kylo Ren appears to have justified his pursuit of darkness, so much so that he asks forgiveness for feeling the pull to the light. By justifying his actions, Kylo Ren lives and acts within a distorted reality. In this way, Kylo Ren presents himself as an incredibly dangerous villain; we learn in this moment that his evil acts may see no end.

Vs.

II)  We are presented with the true, intimate, and private conflict raging within Kylo Ren; it seems the light of Ben Solo is not completely gone, just as it wasn’t with Vader and the light of Anakin that remained.

Perhaps most importantly, note that Kylo Ren’s pull to the light is not spurred by anything other than that which already exists within. Take Vader for example, his internal conflict is brought about by the discovery and prompt from an external source: the son he never knew he had. The light within Kylo Ren pulls at his heart unprompted, it’s always been there, and it appears to be a recurring issue (“I feel it again”).

Who is Kylo Ren then? A murderous snake, or the fallen Ben Solo?

If the murder of defenseless elders and the massacre(s) of village(s) weren’t enough, Kylo Ren stands by as a leader and enforcer of the First Order, which lays waste and complete destruction to the entire Hosnian system (5 planets total, and countless lives and families).

And of course, all this darkness leading up to the infamous moment where Kylo Ren commits patricide (and later, nearly kills Finn), which by storytelling definition, crosses the….

MORAL EVENT HORIZON

In the general theory of relativity, an “event horizon” represents a “point of no return.” The term is oft associated with the science of black holes, and therein defined as the boundary at which the velocity required to escape the gravitational pull of a black hole exceeds the speed of light. This means that any light emitted by a source within the event horizon cannot be observed from outside of the event horizon. The light is seemingly forever trapped in darkness.

In an analogous definition within storytelling, the “Moral Event Horizon” essentially defines a deed so evil, that when crossed by a given character in a story, light or “good” in that character can no longer be seen by the audience and/or other characters. In the simplest sense, a person crossing the Moral Event Horizon appears to be irredeemable. Patricide most definitely fits the bill. In most stories and franchises, Kylo Ren would now be irredeemable.

In extreme cases however, storytelling can pull characters back after they’ve crossed the Moral Event Horizon. Arguably the most popular of theses rare occurrences is…. well, of course, Star Wars and Darth Vader || Anakin Skywalker.

KyloVaderMasks

In a reverse parallel to Return of the Jedi, the father attempts to redeem the son in The Force Awakens. Instead of Luke taking off his father’s mask, the father now asks to see the hidden face of his son. Unfortunately, Kylo Ren seemingly buries this parallel along with his redemption by murdering his father. Indeed, he has surpassed the evil Vader carried out by directly, and intentionally, killing his family.

“You may try [to show me the dark side], but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.” – Lor San Tekka

A FATHER’S SACRIFICE

Han Solo doesn’t scream; he doesn’t fight back. No. Han Solo looks into his son’s eyes with the longing only a father knows after missing his child. Han reaches out, and tenderly caresses Ben’s face – Han Solo stands unshaken by the darkness inside his son. Han Solo’s final moment in the episodic Skywalker Saga, his dying action, demonstrates one of many truths about Ben Solo’s family: Sacrifice for Loved Ones.

HanTouch

For an evil deed that would have otherwise sent many villains in many other stories into the abyss of the Moral Event Horizon, The Force Awakens script indicates that the act had the exact opposite effect on Kylo Ren:

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 9.02.59 PM
The Force Awakens Script

This script description plays out in vivid fashion in The Last Jedi:

Kylo Ren : I killed Han Solo. When the moment came, I didn’t hesitate!
Snoke : And look at you. The deed split your spirit to the bone.

KyloRenUnmasked_swsc

In beat for beat fashion, TFA and TLJ expose the man behind Kylo Ren’s mask (i.e., the directors wanted to mirror each scenario with contrasting effects, but the same result). The staging, direction, and angles of each shot are directly meant to call attention to one another.

The first unmasking, a surprise glimpse of a handsome young Ben Solo, not the face of a villain you would expect.

The second unmasking, a surprise look at a weakened, horrified, and shocked Kylo Ren with too much of his father’s heart in him, certainly not the face of a villain who has just cemented his status in darkness.

The significance of Han Solo’s sacrifice and loving embrace has resounding effects throughout the Sequel Trilogy, and as I will conclude, the entire saga itself. Kylo Ren’s story is no longer just about whether or not his dark deeds should be met with retribution, it’s now about how the retribution of Kylo Ren’s dark deeds would also add meaning or value to Han’s sacrifice. More importantly, Kylo’s story is no longer just about whether or not Ben Solo can be redeemed or deserves redemption, it’s about how Ben Solo’s redemption would also add meaning or value to Han Solo’s sacrifice.

If Kylo Ren is met with retribution and death without redemption, justice has not been served to Han’s death. No, Han Solo’s death will have been in vain, and he’ll have lost his son for the second time. In essence, Kylo Ren being met solely with retribution defines the narrative of the Sequel Trilogy to concede that it is entirely possible that your children can grow up evil, and that no amount of hope, or sacrifice, can ever bring them back – they are gone forever. I do not deny that this is a sad and unfortunate truth. However….

In stark contrast, if Ben Solo is redeemed, Han Solo’s sacrifice and love is no longer in vain, and Ben’s redemption defines the narrative of the Sequel Trilogy to be that the Light and love of family can be far greater than any darkness that opposes it. That the Light comes from within all of us, and we must try at all costs to forever remember that Light.

Which message is Lucasfilm attempting to convey in Episode IX? It appears to be spelled out with one simple phrase from the Legend himself….

NO ONE’S EVER REALLY GONE

Luke Skywalker shares one of the most meaningful reunions of the entire saga when he visits with his sister, Leia, and attempts to apologize about losing Ben. Leia stops him before he starts and breaks the ice, “I know what you’re going to say. I changed my hair.” (one can easily imagine that Luke’s reunion with Han would’ve most certainly played out just as lovingly). Luke does apologize, however,

Luke: Leia, I’m sorry
Leia: I know. I know you are. I’m just glad you’re here at the end.
Luke: I came to face him, Leia. And I can’t save him.
Leia: I held out hope for so long, but I know my son is gone.
Luke: No one’s ever really gone.

This exchange is built on two main levels. The first being that the dialogue confirms that by this time, Leia has finally given up all hope in her son. Leia fears that she herself isn’t enough to right her family’s wrongs, to save her family from darkness. Leia’s dialogue is, of course, backed up by the novel, Bloodline – here, Leia chooses not to deal with her dark past, nor pass it on to her son. She appears to have given into her worst fear.

A quick public service announcement on what the Skywalker Saga teaches us about giving into our fears:

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

The second level takes place when Luke presents Leia with the dice of Han Solo. But to be more specific, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi returns once more to renew hope and restore Leia’s faith in her son. Note specifically, that Leia does not keep the dice; though her brother was there to help her remember, she does not need the dice as a reminder. Instead, Leia leaves the dice intentionally for her son, Ben, to find.

Luke’s last words to his sister, now serving as Leia’s renewed hope, “No one’s ever really gone,” are directly and visually tied to those dice. And just as the dice fade away in Ben’s hands, his father too is now gone, but just as Leia no longer needs the dice to remember her love for family, so too must Ben Solo acknowledge and remember the Light from within (see: The Pull to the Light that comes from within).

“You may try [to show me the dark side], but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.” – Lor San Tekka

Luke does confront Ben Solo. And once again, Kylo Ren attempts to proclaim his darkness, assuring that he will destroy Rey, Luke, and all of it.

Luke responds that if Kylo strikes him down in anger, he will always be with him, like Ben’s father. Kylo attempts to kill Luke only to find that it has been a Force projection and diversion all along. Kylo’s darkest moment in The Last Jedi was met again with a stronger Light (just like his act of patricide), and another link in the chain is forged to reach and help pull the Light out of Ben in Episode IX.

REY: HEALING THE BROKEN BONDS OF THE SKYWALKERS

In TFA, Rey’s presence and serendipitous(?) connection with BB-8 leads to helping heal a broken Skywalker family bond – Han & Leia. The two are finally reunited by Rey’s desire to help the droid home. Han and Leia reconnect, and rekindle their bond, love, and hope for their son, Ben. As described above, the Father attempts to redeem his Son.

In TLJ, Rey’s journey leads her to help heal another broken Skywalker bond, Luke from his family. Rey ignites clarity for Luke to face his failures, and in doing so, Rey awakens the Luke of old. Luke reconnects with his sister, Leia, and rekindles her hope for her son, Ben. And as we have argued countless times in the past, Luke is now reconnected with his daughter, unbeknownst to Rey at the time. Luke faces his nephew, ultimately knowing that he is not the one who can save him.

At the end of TLJ, Rey picks up both the literal and metaphorical pieces of the broken Skywalker Legacy (Saber) after failing to redeem Ben herself. Rey reunites the broken saber (Legacy) to Leia, the only person close to Ben that has yet to attempt to confront him. Rey holds the broken Skywalker family in her hands wondering what to do next, and this is the moment we see and know for certain that Leia has defeated her fear – Leia lends another healing hand to Rey’s.

LeiaReyLegacy-ii

Following the clear and identifiable themes established in TFA and TLJ, it is highly likely that Rey’s journey has led her to heal the last broken bond of the Skywalker legacy: Leia and Ben. We know that Episode IX was always meant to be Leia’s movie, and it stands to good reason that the premise remains, as there is plenty of screen-time available for her to play a significant role, and the Disney/LFL team’s dedication to preserving Carrie Fisher’s legacy in the Skywalker Saga.

What will happen when Leia confronts Ben in Episode IX? Thankfully, we have a bit of foreshadowing for Ben’s undeniable soft spot for Leia….

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Through the words of Lor San Tekka, the sacrifices of his father and uncle, and what appears to be set up for the ultimate confrontation with Leia, Ben Solo is a central piece to not just the Sequel Trilogy, but also the episodic Skywalker Saga. His fate will help to shape and form the theme and running narrative of the Skywalkers, and thus, careful attention must be given to the direction of the characters closest to him. As I have argued in the past, the Sequel Trilogy is pitting the children of Luke and Leia against one another to define once and for all the duality of the Skywalker Legacy born from the choices of Anakin Skywalker. Kylo Ren embodies a cautionary tale of entitlement to bloodline, whereas Rey brings healing to her family without any knowledge of her bloodline. The Skywalkers themselves truly trace back to “nobodies” (Shmi and Cliegg) buried in a pauper’s grave in the desert.

In this context, what is the ultimate message Lucasfilm hopes to convey by concluding the Sequel Trilogy and the episodic Skywalker Saga? Is our take away message that sometimes family members go too far and we have to kill them in order to stop them, or that persistent hope will only be met with inevitable death?

Or, do the Skywalkers inspire the idea that the evil deeds of another do not define our own morality or decisions in response; that in the face of all the evil and darkness, you can still choose to stand in the Light as Luke Skywalker once did in front of the Emperor himself. Indeed, we are all just as much defined by our response to evil deeds as we are from our own good and kind acts.

I personally find the latter adds more resonant value to Han Solo’s sacrifice, Luke’s renewal of hope, and Leia’s undying love for her son. Remember, Kylo Ren’s pull to the light comes from within, and so too must Leia find the strength within herself to finally confront the Darkness of her family (past and present). These are some of the key reasons why I believe whether it be through life, death, or somewhere in-between, Ben Solo will be redeemed. Ben Solo must also choose his own redemption; alas, it is not a gift anyone can give him. Regardless, and rest assured, the Skywalker family has constructed a chain of hope extending into the Moral Event Horizon – will Ben Solo finally accept the pull to the light?

“You may try [to show me the dark side], but you cannot deny the truth that is your family.” – Lor San Tekka

NOTES **(Potential Spoilers Below)**

  • Anakin’s ultimate fall in the Prequel Trilogy is a special case since the films had the unique advantage of having Anakin end on the Dark Side while having already been retroactively redeemed in the Original Trilogy.
  • If the leaks are true, Rey has forged (healed) the Skywalker saber, continuing the theme of healing brought to the literal and metaphorical broken bonds of the Skywalker Legacy.

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