What if Star Wars kept Ben Solo alive at the end of the Skywalker Saga?
In the months leading up to The Rise of Skywalker, Disney Lucasfilm marketed the Star Wars film as the definitive end to the Skywalker Saga, tasking it with the massive responsibility to tie up not only the plot threads of the sequel trilogy but of the entire nine-film story of the Skywalker family’s role in the balancing of the Force and restoring peace to the galaxy.
While the title of the film refers to Rey’s voluntary adoption of the name of Skywalker at the end of the film, Ben Solo, who died after a triumphant return to the light, was the actual end of the Skywalker bloodline. This leaves Rey, now calling herself a Skywalker, as the only connection to the original trilogy characters in future films.
But what if Ben had survived?
Fans are divided on whether or not the sequel trilogy was a worthy continuation of the original Star Wars trilogy, but though there are several areas of the trilogy I thought could be improved, overall, I did enjoy the story. Kylo Ren, specifically, was my favorite new character in the series, which is why I was disappointed that Disney Lucasfilm decided to kill off the character at the end of the film. Disappointed, but not surprised.
Star Wars relies too much on immediate death after redemption
Kylo Ren’s story mirrored the redemption story of his grandfather, Darth Vader. Like Vader, he committed terrible crimes against countless people in the galaxy in service to the dark side of the Force. And just when he was about to undo all of the good that so many people had fought to preserve, love for a family member drew him back to the light.
When Rey was facing the impossible task of stopping Palpatine while also saving her friends from dying, Ben Solo, shedding the mantle of Kylo Ren, rushed in to fight by her side, proving his redemption genuine. Ben’s story arc was Vader tossing Palpatine into the Death Star reactor shaft to save his son all over again.
And it worked. The moment Ben showed up to take on the Knights of Ren on his own was one of my favorite scenes in the entire trilogy. He was formidable as Kylo Ren, but now he was Jedi Knight Ben Solo once again — the once student of Luke Skywalker — and he was more than ready to take on these ruthless warriors he’d led for so many years all on his own. Ben Solo was saved and his family’s legacy with him.
And then he died, delivering Disney’s promised end to the Star Wars Skywalker Saga.
Leaving Kylo Ren alive would have been complicated
Returning to the light wouldn’t erase all of the evil Ben Solo committed as Kylo Ren. He’d killed his own father, helped to destroy an entire planetary system and the New Republic with it and betrayed everything his mother fought for. Much like Darth Vader’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi didn’t erase the years he’d spent committing terrible atrocities in service to the Empire and the Dark Side of the Force, Ben Solo was still guilty for every crime he’d committed.
So Disney killed him, which makes sense on a certain level. Keeping an evil character alive after they’ve experienced redemption creates a lot of storytelling complications, enough to tell a whole new story. But this was the end, not a new beginning, to the Skywalker Saga.
If Ben Solo had survived, he would have to cope with a galaxy that wouldn’t trust him, would likely want to imprison or execute him for his crimes, and would still bear the marks of his previous cruelty, no matter how much he tried to make it right. Not to mention the psychological trauma he would face in knowing he’d killed so many, including his own father who loved him until the end.
We tend to love redemption stories because they feel good, and they’re a key element in Star Wars storytelling. Darth Vader ends his life having realized the error of his ways and reunites with his son. Ben Solo gets to be a part of the battle that ends the galaxy’s enslavement to Palpatine. The redemption story typically has a happy ending because we never see the aftermath of consequences for the redeemed character after their redemption.
Killing Ben ended the Skywalker Saga prematurely
From a storytelling perspective, it’s much easier to kill off a character whose actions have caused widespread heartbreak and destruction after the character finds redemption. Because then you have to explore the implications and consequences of the evil the character committed. Redemption doesn’t erase the past, so Lucasfilm chose to avoid exploring those complications by just killing Ben off at the end.
But why end the Skywalker Saga? Leaving Ben alive would have been much more narratively interesting because there would have been so much storytelling potential in a post-redemption story for him. Teaming up with Rey, the next trilogy of the Skywalker Saga could have explored Ben’s role in helping to rebuild the Jedi Order. After all, even though the sixth film in the series was called Return of the Jedi, we have yet to see a restored Jedi Order on screen.
Ben would have to wrestle with the guilt of all the evil he’d committed, and he’d have to somehow convince the galaxy that he could be free and that he would serve to protect rather than destroy from now on. Perhaps the constant pressure of needing to prove himself would tempt him toward the dark side again, creating an internal struggle to deepen the conflict with whatever external struggle Lucasfilm came up with next.
On a more personal level, the next trilogy could have developed the relationship between Ben and Rey more, further exploring the implications of their connection as a Force dyad. Interpersonal conflict between Ben, Poe, and Finn would have naturally followed as well.
Though I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker, I can’t help but feel that Disney missed an opportunity to tell a much more compelling story in the future by bringing the Skywalker Saga to a premature end. Ben Solo would have been the perfect character to continue the Skywalker legacy moving forward. But unless Lucasfilm introduces the idea of an alternate universe where Ben Solo lives, we’ll never know what could have been. Still, it’s fun to imagine.
For more like this, keep up with the Kylo Ren category on Dork Side of the Force.