The Tragedy of Ben Solo

**WARNING! This article contains MAJOR spoilers for The Last Jedi! If you have not seen the film, please DO NOT read this article till you do! Just go watch the film, then come back here okay?**

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Ben Solo? I thought not. It’s not a story a Jedi would tell you…
star-wars-the-last-jedi-poster-kylo-ren

In The Last Jedi, we finally get to learn more of the harrowing backstory of Ben Solo and how one of the most promising stars of his generation fell so thoroughly to darkness. As the reality dawned on me leaving the cinema, one thing really struck me – Ben Solo might just be the most tragic and sympathetic villain in Star Wars to date.

The Last Jedi is all about failure. Kylo Ren is the product of failure. Ben Solo was let down by Luke far worse than Anakin was ever let down by Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi. It’s one of the hard truths that Luke Skywalker fans had to accept when watching The Last Jedi. Han said that ‘there’s too much Vader in him,’ but I disagree. There is more Vader in Luke and Leia yet their paths remained on the light. It was fear that created Kylo Ren, a fear of Darth Vader which Snoke exploited to its full effect. Luke, in a moment of fear induced madness, considered murdering his own nephew out of the fear that he would become ‘the next Darth Vader.’ Yet Luke more than anyone should have known that there was more to Darth Vader than just a tyrant in a mask.

When Luke defiantly said to Yoda back on Dagobah, ‘I am not afraid’, to which the old Jedi Master replied ‘you will be,’ perhaps it was this moment in his life Yoda had foreseen. I don’t believe Luke was afraid when he confronted Darth Vader on the second Death Star. To Luke, Vader’s path to redemption was clear and he never wavered from his belief in his father. But he was afraid of Ben Solo. Afraid enough to consider murdering his own nephew whilst he slept.

Perhaps Luke didn’t want to make the same mistakes as Obi-Wan. Anakin had already fallen to darkness before Obi-Wan confronted him. Perhaps Luke wanted to pre-empt this fall but we all know this is not – nor should it be – the Jedi way. I won’t forget in a hurry the look on Ben’s face as he woke to see his uncle’s green lightsaber over him – a promise of death. It was confirmation to Ben that the one person who should have believed in him to the very end thought that he was beyond hope. Even Leia to some extent failed Ben Solo. By sending him away to Luke was acknowledgement that she felt she could no longer help him. I can’t begin to imagine what was going through Ben’s mind as he wrestled with the temptation of the dark side and NO-ONE believed he could resist it.

the-last-jedi-teaser-10-1024x429Of course Ben made some terrible, irredeemable decisions and I’m certainly not condoning his actions. But I do believe that his atrocities were committed after he had fully fallen to darkness. Compare him to Anakin, who made some awful, selfish decisions whilst he was still a Jedi. On the flip side, I believe that not a single one of Ben Solo’s decisions were his own. His actions were influenced by the will of Snoke and by the failure of Luke. In fact, I think Ep IX will be the first time we see Kylo Ren make decisions that are entirely his own, as I am not convinced that killing Snoke wasn’t the Supreme Leader’s goal all along. Because imagine if Rey had joined with Kylo that day? Imagine what terror they could inflict on the galaxy as a united, dark front.

Killing Snoke wasn’t a triumph for Kylo Ren, it was a victory for Snoke. Under the Rule of Two, as we know, the Sith strive to keep their line pure, by the apprentice eventually rising up against their master and taking up that mantel for themselves. All Sith Lords desire this outcome so for Kylo to strike his master down, and remain a servant of the dark side, Snoke has succeeded in this goal. Any outcome where Ben Solo does not return to the light side of the force, Snoke wins by default. I don’t think Snoke minded being struck down by Kylo at all, considering the tyranny and rage that is now going to be unleashed on the galaxy. It struck me as particularly apt when Yoda said to Luke, “we are what they grow beyond” as, in a way, this is very much what the Rule of Two is all about. Perhaps this was Snoke’s goal all along, to see Kylo Ren grow far beyond him.  

For someone who seemingly had everything, Ben Solo is now a very lonely man. The last shots of The Last Jedi  are of Kylo, alone and miserable, in the company of faceless soldiers, whereas Rey is surrounded by friends. Rey, who came from nothing, now seemingly has everything. She is everything Kylo Ren is not.

Of course, I’m not defending Kylo Ren’s actions here – people need to take responsibility for their actions at some point and stop blaming others for their shortcomings (or patricide). But I am defending Ben Solo. I think I will always defend Ben Solo, because to me, whenever I look at Kylo Ren now, I see the eyes of a frightened boy, whose master failed him. And that to me, is the tragedy of Ben Solo.

[You can find Soph on Twitter @shlawrence12, check out her book reviews at Outer Rim Reviews, and listen to her co-host the fantastic Bright Tree Radio podcast.]

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One thought on “The Tragedy of Ben Solo

  1. I think this post raises an interesting question: what was Ben Solo really like before he became Kylo Ren? I can certainly understand the desire to sympathize with Ben, a sympathy that I likewise felt for Anakin (although, we knew what Anakin’s fate would never-the-less be). But I cannot help but wonder if we just do not know enough about Ben Solo to make an informed decision about “when” the Dark Side took over, and that we do not really have the ability just yet to argue that the decisions he (Ben) made were not his own decisions. This is certainly not to suggest that Ben wasn’t influenced by the actions/teachings of others, it is safe to say that others like Snoke and Luke did impact him in profound ways (the degree of which we do not yet know entirely). But even if he was influenced by others I am of the opinion that Ben Solo was still responsible for himself. In fact, the juxtaposition of Rey and Ben/Ren in this regard is fascinating. Consider the commentary Abrams/Johnson have introduced:

    A neglected child is orphaned by her parents and must scavenge to survive. Yet, she is filled with the Light.

    A child who was cared for and loved by a mother and father, and who had a loving uncle willing to take him in and train him, ends up being filled with the Dark.

    One would presume (incorrectly) that the child who was neglected would be the one to be filled with anger and hatred that would consume them, while the child who was cared for would be a shining star, thankful and grateful for the love they received.

    Again, this is simply to say (and I am spit balling at this point) that there is nothing straightforward in this narrative, and while the impulse to forgive Ben of his transgressions is understandable, it might truly be that Ben Solo, even though he was surrounded by the Light, chose the path of Darkness for himself freely.

    Still, this is entirely up for debate, and I would just go back to what I already said: I just do not believe we know enough about Ben’s childhood/upbringing to fully articulate the why/how he turned to the Dark Side. Perhaps we will never be gifted with that story (or maybe Abrams will open the door a bit more in Episode IX). Ultimately, I think interpretations of varying degrees are possible, and no one answer is right…which, at least for me, makes things more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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