As The Rise of Skywalker is coming closer, the fans cannot help but wonder at how the saga will end. And one part of this question is, what will happen to Kylo Ren? Is he going to remain on the Dark Side, or is he going to have a dramatic redemption to finish his story arc?
In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren was introduced as a struggling apprentice to Supreme Leader Snoke. At that moment, many fans saw the potential for redemption in him. Even he perceived himself as not “dark enough” until his desperate, callous act of patricide finally aligned him to the Dark path.
Or did it? We should rather say that it was what Kylo Ren intended, yet clearly it did not work out well. In The Last Jedi, he hesitated to fire upon his mother’s ship. Rey, perceiving the chance to turn him back to Light, had been attempting to do just that throughout large part of the film.
But where are we left now? Having disposed of Snoke, Kylo Ren has claimed his place as the Supreme Leader of the First Order. He refused Rey’s offer to join him, just as she refused his. And as The Last Jedi ended, the door on Kylo Ren’s redemption seemingly closed – as illustrated by Rey closing the Falcon‘s ramp in front of his eyes.
But a lot can still happen during the course of one entire film (even though, granted, the time is limited). What endings can we foresee for Kylo Ren?
The simplest option is the Luke-Darth Vader scenario from Return of the Jedi. This is the third movie, after all. Let’s imagine that once again, Rey faces Kylo Ren, and this time, he sees the error of his ways and turns back to Light.
The problem? This scenario, in this form, is essentially impossible. Kylo has already had the chance, and refused. His “throne room moment”, comparable to Vader’s “throne room moment” from Return of the Jedi, came in Snoke’s throne room. His “third movie” chance to turn came already in the second movie, and he instead decided to claim his place as the new Supreme Leader. If there was any time when Kylo Ren’s resolve to follow the dark path was genuine, it has been from that moment onwards.
Which brings us to a second option. What if, contrary to many expectations, Kylo Ren gets no redemption arc?
This scenario would be perfectly logical. It would also fit Kylo Ren’s character development, making it a very clear journey from point A to point B. From a confused “boy with a destiny” towards a person who forges his own destiny, comes into his own by embracing the leadership position he found open to himself after Snoke’s death. And yes, embraces the Dark Side.
The problem with this scenario? It is awfully dark and nihilistic. Since at the end of a Star Wars story, the good (as we would presume!) must prevail, Kylo Ren and his evil empire must fall – so, under these circumstances, he would die. This would be even more tragic because he is the last living Skywalker.
If the Skywalker saga ended on that note, it would make a wonderful ancient Greek tragedy. Dead parents, dead children, a destined family that is actually destined, as it turns out, only to death. I am not, however, sure whether such a story would still be Star Wars.
Who Can Be Redeemed?
So, we have a dilemma: how to end the story well without giving Kylo Ren a “cheap” redemption? And how can a person be redeemed, who murdered his own father, gave the orders to slaughter villages of innocents (and probably also Luke’s students)?
One of the strong messages I perceive in Star Wars is that everyone can be redeemed. We can see this in the case of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. However, the problem is, Vader opportunely redeemed himself through self-sacrifice, and love (for his son, namely) had much to do with it. Had Vader survived, the law would still likely require the Rebel Alliance leaders to judge him for the atrocities he had committed, or at least allowed (or ordered).
The boring way out for Kylo Ren, therefore, is redemption through self-sacrifice. Personally, however, I believe this is the option that combines the worst of the above. It is (by now) an awful cliché and it would still mean the death of the last Skywalker.
Ghosts Ex Machina?
I confess that I cannot see, as of now, a decent way out of the knot Kylo Ren’s story has found itself in. Let me outline one last scenario that is perhaps a bit better than the previous ones, however not sure if much less cringey.
Remember the Emperor’s laughter in the Rise of the Skywalker trailer? If the Emperor (his ghost?) comes back, then there will be a character still one step more evil than Kylo Ren, which opens the possibility for Kylo to realise that there are places he does not want to go, and reverse his course towards the Dark Side. That would essentially place us back into scenario number 1, however, which means: unoriginal.
The other possibility is to show that Kylo Ren has, somehow, been all the time “possessed” or at least influenced by the Emperor. That could absolve him of his crimes. However, it would also absolve him of his free will and completely throw out of the window his character development.
You may choose whether any of these scenarios sound to your taste. As it is, my hope is that J.J. Abrams has come up with something really cool and so original that we could not possibly imagine it.