Kylo Ren: The greatest gift to Star Wars

Star Wars: The Last Jedi..Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)..Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd. ..© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi..Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)..Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd. ..© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. /

We’re celebrating the holiday season with the greatest gifts Star Wars can ever give us: its characters! Here’s why Kylo Ren is one of the best.

The Force Awakens introduced us to several new Star Wars characters, but the most intriguing addition to the Star Wars franchise in recent years was Kylo Ren. With his jagged, red-bladed cross-guard lightsaber powered by a fractured and unstable kyber crystal, Kylo Ren is as complex as the weapon he carries, and he carries much of what’s great about the sequel trilogy.

Han Solo and Leia Organa fall in love in the original trilogy. When a story ends, there should be a sense that it’s a genuine ending, of course, but we also know that the characters we encounter in a story, unless they die in the story, go on living. This means the story we encountered them in might be over, but the story of their lives isn’t over. So there are several implied questions at the end of the original trilogy concerning Han and Leia:

  • What would happen if Han and Leia had a child?
  • Would that child inherit the Skywalker propensity toward Force-sensitivity?
  • What would Luke Skywalker’s role be in that child’s life?
  • What would happen if that child found out his grandfather was Darth Vader?

Kylo Ren is the answer to all of those questions.

False first impressions

When we first encounter him, he’s clearly a villain. He executes Lor San Tekka without remorse, and he’s clearly driven by a lot of rage if something doesn’t go his way. He even kills his own father to prove his allegiance to the dark side. But our first encounter with him might lead us to make a lot of false assumptions about him. He may wear a mask, but we soon learn that his confidence is the real mask to hide deep insecurities wrought in him by a broken past.

And not a broken past because of his parents. He may tell Rey that Han Solo would disappoint as a father, but as the story progresses through The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and The Rise of Kylo Ren comic book, we learn that Ben Solo was loved by his parents, by his uncle Luke, and by his friends in the Jedi Order, but he was haunted by voices in his head from a young age. Voices of Snoke and of Darth Vader, which were really the voice of Palpatine the whole time.

Ben didn’t know how to cope with the psychological abuse he was suffering, and we can only surmise that it played a large role in his descent to the dark side. Even in The Rise of Kylo Ren comic, Ben doesn’t want to embrace the dark side as he travels around with the Knights of Ren. He doesn’t want to kill. He only embraces the dark side when he feels he has no other choice, that he’s beyond redemption.

How the dark side corrupts

Kylo Ren is the perfect picture of how thoroughly the Dark Side corrupts a person’s decision-making abilities. The Dark Side blinds him to the love that surrounds him, enabling him to commit one atrocious act after another. Killing his father, who loved him until the end. Killing Lor San Tekka, who acted as a mentor to him when he was a boy. Killing his friend and fellow Jedi Voe, who only wanted to keep him from turning to the dark side. Even his pure hatred for his uncle Luke, as exhibited in their confrontation at the end of The Last Jedi, is based only on one moment he believes Luke failed him when all the other moments were fueled by the love of an uncle for his nephew and a teacher for his student. The Dark Side doesn’t so much obliterate the good in a person as much as it clouds a person’s rational thinking capabilities.

The haunting of the light

Kylo Ren is also the perfect example of how haunting the light can be. After killing his father in The Force Awakens, Snoke tells him in The Last Jedi that the act “split [his] spirit to the bone.” In The Rise of Skywalker, Rey says to him, “I see through the cracks in your mask. You’re haunted. You can’t stop seeing what you did to your father.” He killed his father to prove he belonged completely to the dark side, but as the story progresses, it becomes quiet clear that killing his father was never something he wanted to do. Even Luke knows that Kylo is haunted by what he did to Han Solo. And when Han’s memory shows up at the midpoint of The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren dies, replaced by Ben Solo when Han says, “Kylo Ren is dead. My son is alive.”

The return of the Jedi

From the moment of his return to the light, all the potential for good that existed in Ben Solo from a young age was unleashed as he made his way to Exegol, single-handedly took out the Knights of Ren, and joined Rey in her fight against Palpatine. His was a redemption arc most of us probably guessed would happen, but that didn’t lessen how powerful it was. Like his grandfather before him, Ben Solo was deceived and seduced to the dark side by Palpatine, his life ruined by a man consumed by a quest for ultimate power at any cost. But as powerful as Darth Vader’s redemption was, Ben’s carried a nuanced emotional resonance driven by the relentless love of a mother and father for their wayward son and the love of Rey, who never stopped believing that he was capable of great good.

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Kylo Ren was the perfect conflicted villain that we only saw a glimpse of in Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. Because of that, he’s the best gift to the Star Wars universe in recent years.