Rey and Leia Lose Hope
In the sequels, there are only two characters that explicitly believe Ben Solo could return: Rey and General Leia Organa. During The Force Awakens, Han says there's too much Vader in his son, and The Last Jedi clearly depicts Luke's feelings on the matter. Leia, most likely recalling Luke's success with Vader, convinces Han there's still some good in Ben (leading to Han's death), and Rey's naivety gets the better of her when she feels Ben is redeemable after the two touch hands during one of their Force connections. Sadly, both are proven wrong through Kylo's actions, and where they stand at the end of Episode VIII is very different than their earlier stances.
The most telling hint comes in Luke and Leia's brief reunion on Crait, where Leia says to her brother, "I held out hope for so long, but I know my son is gone." Though Luke follows that up with, "No one's ever really gone," he's talking more about Han as he hands his sister Solo's gold dice from the Millennium Falcon. Both siblings know Kylo is a lost cause, and Rey shows she shares that sentiment at the end of the film when she closes the Falcon's door. That was a very symbolic gesture, meant to illustrate Rey shutting Kylo out from her world as she looks to rebuild the Rebellion with Finn, Poe, and her friends. Kylo is left with nobody except his bitter rival General Hux (hardly an ally) and perhaps the Knights of Ren - the status of whom is very much up in the air. Time will tell if Abrams will use them in Episode IX.
Again, this is a stark contrast to Vader. In Return of the Jedi, Luke always believed there was still good in his father and inspired Vader's change of heart by making Vader believe there was still light. Kylo Ren has no such person, with everyone in the Resistance resigned to the fact he's pure evil. Finn and Poe know first-hand what atrocities Kylo is capable of and have no real personal connection with Ren that would make a redemption arc pay off. If Lando Calrissian is brought back to the fold for Episode IX, the odds of him thinking Ben can be saved are slim-to-none. The ultimate tragedy of Kylo Ren is his actions left him - someone in desperate need of others' approval - truly alone in the universe. Odds are, he'll be only more cold and malicious as this reality sinks in.
Arguably, this sets the stage for a more fascinating Episode IX than if redemption was still possible. It makes Kylo's story the inverse of the classic hero's journey, where he slowly degrades to the worst possible outcome. The appeal of his character at the outset of the sequels was that there was still molding to be done. He wasn't a fully-formed villain; just a mere Vader wannabe in constant fear he would never live up to his family's rich legacy. Darth Vader will forever be the king of cinematic baddies, but Kylo Ren is perhaps a more interesting character to watch because of all the layers there. Vader didn't become absolutely fascinating until the major revelation in Empire Strikes Back. In the original film, he's just the Empire's muscle who takes orders from Grand Moff Tarkin. From Force Awakens, Kylo has always had more depth.
Given what we know now about the trilogy's story, it makes perfect sense why Lucasfilm is considering ending the Skywalker saga for good with Episode IX. Under the assumption Leia will be written out of the finale and not recast, Kylo Ren is the lone surviving member of that bloodline. The Skywalker name lives and dies with him, and since he's firmly entrenched as the narrative's big bad with no one left to believe in him, the most likely outcome for Star Wars 9 is Kylo Ren dying. Whether he's backstabbed by Hux, bested by Rey in a final duel, or (most darkly) takes his own life is a question for another time. As it stands, those rooting for Ben Solo to return have to give up on the dream.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019