By killing off Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker wasted the film’s Ben Solo’s redemption arc and hurt Star Wars’ future. Despite the external Darth Vader similarities – from the voice modulator to the helmet design – Kylo Ren was quite different from grandfather. Whereas Vader’s redemption could only work as the end of the road for the character, Kylo Ren’s possible return to the light was pushed in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi before it finally happened in The Rise of Skywalker. Still, Kylo Ren’s fate in the sequels ended up being the same as Darth Vader’s in the originals.
The Rise of Skywalker retconned and even contradicted some of The Last Jedi’s key scenes, making it difficult to predict what Kylo Ren’s fate would be. The Last Jedi made clear that Ren no longer wanted to be given orders and that he wished to leave the past behind by killing Supreme Leader Snoke. Yet in The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo was once again the pawn of a bigger villain – Emperor Palpatine – and reverted to briefly using the same helmet he had destroyed in The Last Jedi. Despite the flaws in its approach to Ren, The Rise of Skywalker set up a definitive redemption for the character.
The Rise of Skywalker Nailed Kylo Ren’s Redemption
After Kylo Ren killed Snoke to save Rey in The Last Jedi, it seemed like Ben Solo had finally been redeemed and that the Star Wars sequels would completely flip the original trilogy’s villain formula. However, with Snoke dead, there were no other Star Wars sequel trilogy characters who could be the final antagonist for the third film. Craving power, Kylo Ren decided to become Supreme Leader instead of turning his back on the First Order, a decision that put Ben Solo’s redemption arc in check. But by bringing Emperor Palpatine back, The Rise of Skywalker made sure that Kylo Ren was not the only villain the heroes would have to face.
With a new, much more powerful Star Wars villain now part of the story, it became easier for Kylo Ren to be redeemed. It was difficult to imagine that Palpatine, the most purely evil Star Wars villain who opposed the heroes across three generations, would not be the final antagonist, and that he would have to share screen time with Kylo Ren for the entirety of the movie. Palpatine was the sequel trilogy’s endgame, a villain that could only be defeated if Rey and Kylo worked together. Palpatine’s return is what made Kylo Ren’s redemption possible, story-wise.
Still, a “there’s always a bigger fish” Star Wars scenario was not enough to sell that Kylo Ren would now be Ben Solo again. If Kylo simply switched sides only to have a chance at defeating Darth Sidious, then it would not have been an actual redemption arc. That is why The Rise of Skywalker’s Kef Bir duel was so important, as it offered Kylo the chance of a more personal, earnest redemption. Kylo Ren, the villain introduced in The Force Awakens, was killed by Rey in Kef Bir – both literally and figuratively. Rey healed Kylo Ren, a symbolic moment that brought Ben Solo back to life.
Ben Solo Seemed Like A Great Character
Ben Solo’s conversation with his father in one of The Rise of Skywalker’s most poignant scenes concluded Kylo Ren’s redemption arc in a moment full of callbacks to Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens. As soon as the tormented man threw Kylo Ren’s signature lightsaber away, Star Wars was following a brand-new character that had so far only appeared in a brief The Last Jedi flashback – Ben Solo. In a third act defined by an epic-scale battle between Palpatine’s Final Order fleet and the rest of the galaxy, Ben Solo’s moments stole the show.
The Rise of Skywalker’s Ben Solo could not have been more different from Kylo Ren, which made every moment he was on screen exciting. Ben was the answer to “what if Han Solo was a Jedi”, as his improvisation on the battlefield was exactly what his father would do if he had both the Force and a blaster. Even Ben’s clothes were simple and Han Solo-like, the opposite of Kylo Ren’s, as if the character had removed all the external weight and layers of Palpatine’s influence over him. All of those differences between Ben and Kylo can be summarized by the moment he provokes the Knights of Ren.
Adam Driver only got to play Ben Solo for a few minutes without any dialogue, yet it was enough to show how interesting the character was. Ben was nothing like Anakin Skywalker, which could have been an easy route for the Star Wars sequels to take given how Kylo Ren was visually similar to Darth Vader. Whereas Kylo’s moves were stiff and almost easy to predict, Ben Solo was as unpredictable as Han. That said, there was still an aggressiveness in Ben’s fighting style, something that stemmed from his dark side training and made him more than just another Jedi wielding a blue or green lightsaber.
A Redeemed Ben Solo Would’ve Made Star Wars’ Future Better
Ben Solo’s redemption was one of the things The Rise of Skywalker absolutely nailed, yet the movie wasted it by killing off the character. Seeing Ben Solo die after the film had spent most of its third act trying to sell the idea that Kylo Ren could be redeemed could not have been more anticlimactic, as if the character’s arc through three films had been for nothing. One of the Star Wars sequels’ biggest problems was trying to emulate the original trilogy’s story beats, which once again happened with Ben Solo’s death right after his redemption just like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.
Given that Vader’s redemption was followed by Anakin Skywalker’s immediate death, a redeemed Ben Solo would have been something completely new in the Star Wars universe. Ben could have been a ronin-like character, someone who was neither a Jedi nor Sith. Ahsoka’s arc between Clone Wars and The Mandalorian is the closest to this, but Ahsoka never brushed with the dark side of the Force despite being “no Jedi.” Ben Solo could have given post-Episode IX Star Wars a lot more possibilities, as upcoming films would be able to revisit the unique character whose future would be difficult to predict.
Will Kylo Ren Ever Return?
The Star Wars sequels’ cast was among the trilogy’s biggest strengths. Even if Star Wars wants to move beyond the Skywalker saga, having a solid foundation in the form of returning characters like Rey and Finn can help whatever the next Star Wars movie will be. That is why killing off Ben Solo, a character that was far more than just another Anakin Skywalker, was a mistake. As of now, there is no indication that Ben will ever return. Although death can be easily retconned in Star Wars, Kylo Ren’s demise does not seem like a Darth Maul scenario.
That said, Adam Driver is not against returning to Star Wars (via UNILAD). The fact that the next Star Wars movie after Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is taking so long to even be confirmed indicates that Lucasfilm is taking its time before moving the franchise to a post-Skywalker saga era, which is not good news for a potential Kylo Ren return. If Star Wars wants to completely move past the Skywalkers, then retconning Kylo Ren’s death would not make sense for the immediate future. However, if the next Star Wars movie is to have any links to the sequel trilogy, then a Ben Solo return cannot be ruled out.