[Warning: MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ahead]
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has surpassed every milestone thus far at the box office after receiving highly positive reviews from fans and critics alike. The franchise successfully merged the heroes from the original trilogy with a new generation of exciting and engaging heroes and villains. Among these new characters, Kylo Ren was one of the biggest mysteries – who he was, what his birth name was, and what his role was in the story would be.
Once The Force Awakens debuted, many parts of Kylo Ren’s backstory were revealed. As a result, his character is one of the most complex and three-dimensional portrayals in the movie. The audience learned that the young villain is actually the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, and that he trained to be a Jedi under Luke Skywalker. However, much like his grandfather Darth Vader, he was seduced by the dark side of the Force, and destroyed Luke’s vision. While Luke went into self-imposed exile, his former apprentice took on the mantle of Kylo Ren, joining the Knights of Ren under Supreme Leader Snoke of the First Order.
Kylo Ren uses his Force abilities to aid the First Order, as he seeks a map that will take him to Luke Skywalker in order to finish his grandfather’s quest to destroy the last Jedi. His brutality and ruthlessness is demonstrated both when he commands an entire village to be destroyed on Jakku and when he uses the Force to torture Poe Dameron and Rey. His fiery temperament appears to be both a weakness and a strength, as he draws on his emotions to use the dark side of the Force.
At the emotional and dramatic climax of The Force Awakens, Ren kills his father as Rey and Finn look on in horror. Kylo Ren proceeds to defeat Finn in a brief lightsaber duel, which leaves Finn in critical condition. While Kylo Ren is subsequently defeated by Rey in combat, he will certainly return to be a major antagonist in the upcoming Star Wars films, and his actions in this film are sure to be felt throughout the galaxy.
What’s in a Name?
There is one small detail about Kylo Ren that answers many questions that Star Wars fans had, and creates interesting parallels between the Star Wars canon and the old Star Wars expanded universe, now called Star Wars Legends. Kylo Ren’s given name – that is, the name given to him by his parents Leia and Han – is Ben.
Even within Star Wars movies, this is not the only Ben. Fans of the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, will remember that Ben is the name that Obi-Wan Kenobi uses when he is hiding on Tatooine. While Leia knows him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker knows him as Ben. This is noteworthy, because the name that Han and Leia chose for their son links him to Obi-Wan, the elderly Jedi master whose actions brought together Luke, Han, and Leia in their initial attempt to save the Princess and stop the Death Star.
The connection between the two characters comes from their opposing roles and relationships with Anakin Skywalker. Obi-Wan was also the Jedi Master of Anakin Skywalker, who became Kylo Ren’s idol Darth Vader, and Obi-Wan was killed by Vader in a way that parallels Han himself being killed by Ren.
Perhaps the reason why Leia and Han chose to name their son after Obi-Wan is that, in some ways, Obi-Wan is everything that Han and Leia hoped Ben would be. Ironically, the name becomes everything that he fights against. Obi-Wan was a master of the light side of the Force who ultimately sacrifices himself and becomes more powerful in the Force than Vader can imagine. Ren, in contrast, desires and craves power like a child, and as a result is neither a master nor a martyr.
With a name and a history like that, it is no wonder that Kylo Ren felt that it was necessary to change his name upon joining the Knights of Ren. By changing his name, he rejects both his parents and the light side of the Force.
Kylo Ren’s Star Wars Legends Parallels
There is another famous Ben of Star Wars lore – and Darth Vader was also his grandfather. Ben Skywalker, however, was the son of Luke who later was designated as a part of Star Wars Legends. Before Disney and Lucasfilm decided to reset the Star Wars canon, making way for characters like Kylo Ren, the expanded universe told the stories beyond the movies. The Star Wars Legends stories are no longer deemed to be official Star Wars canon, and the new Star Wars canon and content is controlled by the newly-founded Lucasfilm Story Group. When the old canon was discarded in order to create a space for new characters and stories, Lucasfilm released the following statement:
In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe.
This had left fans puzzling over what role (if any) Star Wars Legends would play in the upcoming Star Wars universe. Would fan-loved characters like Grand Admiral Thrawn or Mara Jade make an appearance? Would J. J. Abrams’ new project ignore the old universe entirely? It seemed from the statement that the now-Disney-owned Lucasfilm would reserve the right to pick and choose, but would likely steer clear of Legends entirely.
Ben Skywalker shares some traits with Kylo Ren, although he is the son of Luke Skywalker and the fan-favorite Force user, Mara Jade. Luke worries when Ben is born that naming him after Obi-Wan Kenobi will create expectations for Ben that will complicate his life. Ben does, however, follow in the footsteps of his namesake and his parents, becoming a Jedi Master in the New Jedi Order. Ben Skywalker’s Jedi master and teacher is Jacen Solo, the son of Leia and Han. When Jacen Solo turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Caedus, he tries to tempt Ben to join him, but Ben chooses to stay with his father after Caedus murders Mara Jade. In the new universe, it seems that Luke’s fears for Ben are manifested in Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren in many ways resembles Ben Skywalker’s troubled cousin, Jacen Solo, rather than Ben himself. Jacen is the Star Wars Legends son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, who is seduced by the dark side, kills a powerful character, and is ultimately killed by his twin sister Jaina. Fan theories that link Kylo Ren to Jacen Solo (and, subsequently, Rey to Jaina Solo) already are predicting a deadly showdown between the Force-sensitive twins of Han and Leia, although Rey’s parentage is still a mystery. Pablo Hidalgo, the Creative Director of the Lucasfilm Story Group, has stated that Kylo Ren is 29-30 and that Rey is 19 years old, so we know that Kylo Ren and Rey are not twins. They could, however, still be siblings or cousins if Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter.
The idea that Kylo Ren and Ben Skywalker merely coincidentally share the same name does not seem like a reasonable possibility. The filmmakers could give Kylo Ren any name this side of the galaxy far, far away, but they chose a name that had a certain significance. Since the Lucasfilm Story Group is aware of Star Wars Legends, even if the screenwriters did not realize what they were doing, it would certainly be brought to their attention. The most reasonable explanation is that the film makers chose to keep the connection between the two characters.
That choice reveals much about the relationship of Star Wars Legends and the new canon, as well as providing insight to Kylo Ren.
What “Ben” Means for Star Wars
While fan theories about the connection between Kylo Ren and Jacen Solo support the idea that Star Wars Legends is having a major influence on the characters and plot of the new sequel Star Wars trilogy, it is important to remember that Kylo Ren’s name is Ben, not Jacen. This choice of name could tell us a lot about the connection between Legends and the new canon – and confirms that there is nothing set in stone about Kylo Ren’s trajectory as a character.
The use of “Ben Solo” as a name further clarifies the relationship between the new canon and the Star Wars Legends stories. It shows awareness of the original expanded universe while also illustrating that the new canon is going in a different direction. The beloved characters of the expanded universe are unlikely to make reappearances in the new canon, but their stories are interweaved, creating interesting parallels. We can expect to see further inspirations or easter eggs, a respectful and still exciting way to engage fans while creating new characters and stories that will be new and unique additions to the Star Wars universe.
We cannot know what Kylo Ren will do in the future – if he will be killed or if he can be saved or any of the other innumerable possibilities – but we do know that his heritage, both canon and in Star Wars Legends promises that his story will be dynamic, conflicted, and compelling as it continues in the upcoming Star Wars movies.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.