Why Kylo Ren is Getting So Much More than Darth Vader’s “Redemption Arc”: Ben Solo’s Subtle TFA Characterization

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Alternatively titled: Ben the Precious Porg
{By: Clara Oswin Oswald}

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Why Hello!!!!!

Even after the events of TLJ, some people still think that Ben Solo is going to make a full turn to the dark side in Episode IX. This is actually quite ridiculous, because if you look at Ben’s character and how it compares to Darth Vader’s, you’ll see that the notion of Ben ending Episode IX as an unredeemable villain doesn’t at all fit with his character arc; not to mention that such a stereotypical ending would be a betrayal of how well-developed his character has been over the course of the past two films. In this next installment of our Star Wars Theory posts, I’m going to break-down the differences between Ben Solo and Darth Vader and explain how Ben has been primed for a redemption arc since TFA. Vader, on the other hand, was always designed to be the Villain and his redemptive moment with Luke in ROTJ is in no way comparable to the epic redemption arc Ben Solo continues to personify.

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Kylo Ren and Darth Vader are both introduced to the audience via their entrance into a battle between stormtroopers and resistance fighters as they search for a droid containing important information. There is, however, a vital distinction to make between these two scenes. Kylo Ren has been on screen for all of 30 seconds when the audience learns that he wasn’t born evil, he has a strong family connection to the light side, and there is a possibility for him to turn (Lor San Tekka’s: “The First Order arose from the Dark Side. You did not.”) We don’t see any humanity from Vader until TESB when the Emperor orders Vader to kill Luke and Vader responds with: “He’s just a boy.”

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Vader and Kylo both do some terrible things. Kylo kills an entire village, tortures Poe, KILLS HIS OWN FATHER, watches as an entire system is destroyed, and tries to kill Finn. Vader tortures Leia, kills multiple people, assists in the destruction of Alderaan, and tries to kill Obi-wan and Luke. However Vader is always reinstated to be the remorseless Monster in the Mask, while Kylo has much more of an emotional response to his actions, and the audience is constantly being reminded that he is not a mindless evil machine.

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Kylo Ren killed the villagers only after Tekka made him angry by bringing up his family and his light side heritage. In no way does Kylo’s motivation excuse his actions, but we understand the WHY behind it all. The whole scene where he tortured Poe is basically canceled out by Rey’s interrogation, where we see a more vulnerable, human side of Kylo. He tells her in the novelization that he will try to be gentle, and that if he didn’t have to probe her, he wouldn’t. He also TAKES OFF HIS MASK. This is HUGE. Vader only takes off his mask once, and he does so directly before he dies at the end of the third movie. I can’t put enough emphasis on this: Kylo takes off his mask in front of Rey in the first movie. It took Vader three movies to get to where Kylo is in his redemption arc in the first hour of his first movie. Also, Vader takes off his mask in front of Luke, the person who helps him turn to the light, and Kylo takes his mask off in front of Rey, the person whose whole goal in TLJ is to turn him.

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Then, during the destruction of the Resistance system, Kylo is given the “sympathy” camera shot. Hermione pointed out that this shot of Kylo (see the gif below) is usually the one reserved for the hero watching their home being destroyed. Also, as Kylo’s mask is on, we can’t see how he feels in this moment. His stance suggests that he is in pain, and we have no way of knowing that Kylo doesn’t feel horrible (or at least profoundly guilty) about the First Order’s actions. Vader stands dispassionately as Alderaan is blown to pieces in front of Leia, and he shows no remorse as he continues questioning her.

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The scene where Kylo kills Han is ripe with symbolism, all of it pointing toward Kylo’s eventual return to the light. First of all, he has his helmet off during this scene, so the audience can clearly read his conflicting emotions. Also, I don’t need to point out the obvious ‘Rey’ of light shining from behind where Rey and Finn are standing. While the light remains, Kylo seems to be contemplating turning, and when he is once again plunged into darkness, he does what he ‘has to do’ and kills Han. The other way to look at it is that while the ‘sun/son’ remained, there was hope Ben would go back to his father.

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There is no such imagery in Vader’s fight with Obi-Wan, and the only emotion you see Vader display when he strikes Obi-Wan down is irritation and surprise that there’s no corpse. From Kylo we see tears, pain, and obviously a great deal of regret. In TLJ Snoke says that Kylo lost much of his strength by killing his father, that the deed “split him to the bone.”

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Later in the same sequence, Kylo smashes his mask in the elevator. This could be a reaction to Snoke telling him that the mask is ridiculous, but I think it’s more of a delayed emotional response to what he did to Han. He told him, “Your son was weak and foolish so I destroyed him,” and we now see him destroying the most obvious symbol of his Kylo Ren persona, starting his transformation back to Ben Solo. Vader doesn’t seem to regret killing Obi-Wan, and we obviously never saw Vader dealing with the emotional ramifications of killing his mentor and friend.

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I watched a great Reylo theory video where they talked about Kylo and Finn’s fight. Kylo throws Rey into the tree because he knows he can’t fight both Rey and Finn, but his fight with Finn seems less like a personal vendetta against the traitorous stormtrooper, and more of a ‘hey look at how much better I am than this other dude!’ show for Rey’s benefit. He has lots of opportunities to kill Finn, but he doesn’t. Kylo doesn’t want to kill Finn, he wants to beat him–which he does. Kylo also doesn’t initiate the fight until he sees Finn touching Rey; then he loses it.

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From the second Vader walks onscreen in ANH you know he is the villain. He is a dispassionate, ‘evil’ machine that shows no emotion. Even when Kylo is wearing the mask, we are constantly reminded that he is human. He throws temper tantrums, slicing things to bits with his lightsaber, and you can tell there is lots of animosity between him and Hux, something we never saw with Vader and any of his officers.

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Vader’s theme (aka the imperial march) is unapologetically evil whilst Kylo’s has a sad, soft edge to it. We hear a version of Luke’s force-theme at the beginning, and the entire suite feels more sad and hopeless than epic and evil. Music is HUGE when it comes to setting the tone for a character, and why would John Williams write Kylo Ren such an emotionally conflicting theme if Kylo is just going to end up completely evil?

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Force Bond Time!!!! I touched on this earlier, but Ben is never angry with Rey. She calls him a monster, attacks him, scars him, and constantly insults him, and he just gazes at her with these pleading porg eyes. I mean, she tries to SHOOT him, and his response is this adorable little slide into the hallway. You can just see what he’s thinking here: REYS HERE REYS HERE REEEEYYYY!!!! After the initial shock, his first reaction is to question Rey about the bond itself. He’s genuinely curious as to why the force is connecting them.

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I LOVE the force-skype where Rey chocked on her sentence after she saw SHREDDED BEN’S 8-PAC, but a close second is the one where she calls him a monster, and he says. “Yes, I am.” This is SO IMPORTANT because it shows that Ben realizes what he is. He doesn’t have the Anakin Skywalker delusion that his side is right. He knows why Rey called him a monster. This is also a turning point for Rey. She stops with the aggression, and at their next force-skype (the SHIRTLESS one), she is seeking to understand why Ben did what he did.

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Ben reaches his peak of light-side development after Rey reaches out to him when she comes out of the dark-side cave. A true villain would have used her weakness to manipulate her into joining their side, but Ben just patiently listens, tells her she’s not alone, and HE TOUCHES HER FLIPPING HAND. Ben is so emotionally fragile that when he next sees Rey, he snaps and kills Snoke to save her. The whole elevator scene showed how vulnerable and human their connection had made him. And don’t get me started on the heartbroken look he gives her at the end of TLJ. I WILL LOVE YOU AND TAKE YOUR HAND BEN MY PRECIOUS PORG!!!!!

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Bonus thought:

Porg Reylo Theory

All the Skywalkers have porg faces, and Rey can make a porg face too so that clearly points to her one day becoming a Skywalker/Solo;)!!!!

This is obviously very scientific:

Leia (a Skywalker) Making a Porg Face:

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Han(not a Skywalker) making a Normal Face:

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Han (after becoming romantically linked to a Skywalker) now capable of making a Porg Face:

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Ben (so much of a Skywalker it’s almost ridiculous) making a Porg Face:

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Hence:

Rey’s Pre-Skywalker Normal Face:

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Rey’s Post-Skywalker Porg Face:

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(That’s it. She made the face. She’s marrying Ben).

Star Wars.PNGHas Ben Solo been set up for a redemption arc since TFA? Can Darth Vader’s sudden turn to the Light be even properly counted as a traditional redemption arc? Does Rey’s Porg Face prove Reylo?

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11 Comments Add yours

    1. Ikr?? So sick of all these people who are saying “well TLJ has shown that Kylo can’t be redeemed” because seriously do people even know how redemptive arcs work??? *Idiots.* And I’ll pass your comment onto Clara…she’s solidly anti-comment lol
      ~Hermione

      Liked by 1 person

  1. anni says:

    While a major big yes to this blog post, I halt at this: “He doesn’t have the Anakin Skywalker delusion that his side is right. ” I think what his post-Praetorian fight speech to Rey makes clear is that a part of him believes in order in the galaxy. I think he may have convinced himself that in joining the First Order, he somehow contributes to a better galaxy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank for your thoughts! I think Kylo Ren might have belived that the First Order was the best way for the galaxy to go, but Ben Solo realizes that it’s wrong. (And isnt the whole point of TLJ saving Ben and destroying Kylo Ren?) Also in his speech to Rey, Ben talks about “letting old things die”. Ben is ready to let the First Order fall, he knows it could never bring peace to the galaxy. He also uses the phrase “a new order” implying that he wants to create a new form of government with Rey instead of ruling the FO with her. Anskin self-identified with the Sith and belived that their power could be a positive ‘force’ in his life.
      (Pun intended:))
      -Clara

      Like

  2. Nat says:

    I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. It’s difficult to talk about character development without looking at the story-writing timeline and going outside the SW universe. Vader’s redemption arc didn’t begin until ESB because George Lucas didn’t even know if SW was going to succeed. Vader was a cardboard cutout villain for the first film for practical reasons. The sequel trilogy has the luxury of knowing it will be a box office hit, so it can set up its character arcs in TFA much more freely.
    Having said that, the sequel trilogy is pretty disjointed, with the production team admitting that they don’t even have an overarching goal (I think it may have been Mark Hamill who said it outright in an interview, but Rian Johnson has also said numerous times that he’s not involved in the creative process moving forward, and JJ may take things in an entirely different direction to what he had in mind). I’d say that Kylo’s arc could go either way, and I love the fact that I can’t tell which I’d prefer.
    I agree that being so highly and obviously conflicted is the major difference between Kylo and Vader, but that doesn’t mean the conclusion is forgone; it just means that Adam Driver is a phenomenal actor playing a brilliantly written character. This trilogy could still just as easily be the tragic end of the Skywalker saga as the heroic triumph.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you in part, but the main purpose of this post was to address the after-the-fact comparisons made between Kylo Ren and Darth Vader; specifically those who claimed Kylo Ren is the “new” Darth Vader. Clara’s point was to underlined the fundamental differences between the characters, and to make it clear that Kylo Ren’s redemption has been underwritten into the entire trilogy.

      I remember watching an interview where George Lucas said he was surprised that Darth Vader became a big deal because Star Wars was orginally supposed to be a single film, in which Darth Vader started out as the big bad and then was redeemed before the credits rolled. Obviously things evolved into three films, and Vader became a cultural standard of evil instead of the somewhat “pathetic” character Lucas intended him to be. Either way, Vader was always meant to be redeemed. It’s true that the sequel trilogy is able to take more risks because it really *can’t* fail at the box-office, but if anything this allows the sequel trilogy to play with a complex redemption arc that the orginal trilogy didn’t yet have the grounds to pull off.

      Personally I think it was really stupid for Disney to design a trilogy where the basic plot points weren’t all planned out in pre-production (seriously…why?). That being said, Rian Johnson was only able to characterize Kylo Ren the way he did because of J.J. Abram’s portrayal of the character in TFA. Even if nothing else has been solidly planned out, I’d bet money that Reylo/Kylo Ren’s redemption is endgame, simply because of the way J.J. Abrams filmed TFA. According to Daisy Ridley, J.J. Abrams actually had drafts for Episodes VIII and IX written after TFA (though Rian Johnson rewrote Episode VIII) so I think it’s safe to say that J.J. Abrams at least has always has some plans as to where he wants the trilogy to end up.

      At this point, I don’t really see how Kylo Ren *couldn’t* be redeemed. Making him the Big Bad in Episode IX takes away any sort of stakes or climactic drama (Rey has to defeat Kylo Ren to save the galaxy? Oh wait…she did that back in TFA). The darkest “unredeemed” Kylo we’re going to get at this point is a rogue anti-hero, because after Kylo’s humanization in TLJ there’s no way they’re going to shove him back into the villain mold. What would be the point of Kylo’s emotional connection with Rey if he’s just going to be slotted back into the Monster in the Mask? That’s simply illogical storytelling. But anyway, each to her own.

      Thanks so much for commenting!!!😊
      ~Hermione

      Like

  3. I don’t mean to comment on every post, but they’re so good I can’t help it, sorry! I am so frustrated, because so many people tried to tell me that when Kylo killed his father, he had fully turned to the dark side, no matter how much I tried to explain to them that wasn’t the case. After watching TLJ, I thought they would surely see the direction the story was going. Nope! They’re still trying to say he’s made a full turn. I don’t understand the stubbornness?

    Anyhow, that rant being done: This is such a well-thought out analysis! I really enjoyed reading it. There were a lot of points I had never noticed before. Well done!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also, laughing forever at “force-skype”—that is now the official terminology. And I forgot to say: the porg face analysis is quite scientific. The evidence is conclusive.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I KNOW RIGHT. You can’t beat Porg Logic 😜
        ~Hermione

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you so much!!! Yeah I agree some people are just BLIND. They’re so desperate to have another Iconic Star Wars Villian that they completely overlook the blatant themes of redemption in Kylo’s character…but anyway. I commiserate with you. ♡
      ~Hermione

      Liked by 1 person

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