UPDATE: Rian Johnson believes Kylo Ren can be redeemed, but is not involved with Episode IX. The original article follows.
Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi
After Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was hard to imagine Kylo Ren ever redeeming himself. He’d just killed his father, Han Solo, and seemed very much to be under the thumb of Supreme Leader Snoke. However, the arrival of Star Wars: The Last Jedi threw a spanner into the works and made it more than likely that Adam Driver’s character could become Ben Solo once more and return to the Light. This is because we learned far more about Luke Skywalker’s former apprentice and the events that pushed him towards the Dark side.
Ben Solo wasn’t always “evil”; he was once just the son of Han (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) who happened to have a large serving of the Force. But then, when he began his Jedi training with Uncle Luke (Mark Hamill) that’s when he felt the pull to the Dark side (thanks to Snoke getting his claws into him). The way in which Luke handled this is the first reason why Ben Solo became Kylo Ren; because instead of being a great role model and trying to teach his nephew how to remain in the Light. the Jedi Master destroyed the trust they shared by contemplating killing him, while hovering over him with a drawn lightsaber.
Ben reacted out of fear and anger, destroying their Jedi training camp and killing several padawans. He was then left to take a few followers and unite with Snoke because Luke didn’t step up and take responsibility for him. Luke gave up on Ben, followed by Han (who later tried to get him back, and was killed for his effort), which then allowed Snoke to become the only masculine role model in his life and thus turn him into Kylo Ren.
All these male role models have done more harm than good to Kylo’s development, but Snoke’s was the most toxic of influences. He taught his apprentice to suppress his emotions unless they were aggressive and used to secure more power which, for a while at least, he managed to do successfully. But after murdering his father, those repressed feelings came bubbling up. Snoke recognized this in The Last Jedi and began shaming Kylo for being so torn between the Light and Dark side, but the Supreme Leader still manipulated his conflicted emotions by forging a Force bond between him and Rey.
This, of course, did not pan out the way Snoke had hoped it would. The connection gave Rey the chance to bring out the Ben in Kylo, that the audience saw a peek of when he chose not to shoot out the bridge of the Resistance ship that was carrying his mother. For so long, it seems, Kylo had no person to truly open himself up to and be vulnerable in front of. Rey allowed him to be vulnerable and that’s one of the reasons why he chose not to follow Snoke’s orders and kill her but kill him instead. Then, for a hot minute, we got a glimpse of what an alliance between the two would look like when they battled Snoke’s personal bodyguard. It was awe-inspiring.
However, Kylo’s decision to take over as Supreme Leader of the First Order, after murdering Snoke, showed that he was far more emotionally damaged than Rey thought. She underestimated the long-term effect on Kylo of having terrible male role models, and in hindsight, it seems rather fitting that he killed both his father and Snoke, as well as making a chaotic attempt to murder Luke too. It’s precisely this reason that Kylo can be redeemed.
Related: Is Snoke Really Dead?
Now that all three of these men are gone, he has an autonomy like never before. Kylo is finally in control of his own destiny and can choose his own path without some toxic influence telling him what to do, unlike his grandfather. Anakin Skywalker was often told that he had lots of anger and hate in him which the Sith exploited to get him to come to the Dark side.
“I sense great fear in you, Skywalker,” Count Dooku says to him in Revenge of the Sith. “You have hate. You have anger. But you don’t use them.” But there’s a fundamental difference that works in favour of Kylo’s redemption. The prequel films begin with Anakin as a force for good but ends with him turning to the Dark side, while The Force Awakens starts with Kylo Ren very much in the Dark side then edging closer towards the light in The Last Jedi. The fact that he smashes up his helmet early on in this movie also adds to the reverse symmetry of his and his grandfather’s cinematic narratives, by moving him away from the image of Darth Vader and towards the person underneath Anakin.
Sadly, Vader didn’t redeem himself for another three episodes but that doesn’t have to be the case for Kylo. He is no longer under the influence of a toxic male influence and has finally made a connection with another person that could lead him towards a path of good. Rey did believe in Ben, so it’s still possible she won’t give up on him in Episode IX, especially as a romance has now been hinted at. So if Kylo can just let go of his anger and reassess the events that led him towards his current position then maybe he could find redemption. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has definitely laid the groundwork for it.
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