As we head toward the conclusion of the Skywalker saga with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s Dec. 20 release, one of the big unresolved questions is the fate of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Will he, like his grandfather before him, redeem himself and resume his former identity as Ben Solo? Or will he, mask newly reformed, remain on the Dark Side to be defeated by Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the rest of the Resistance?
For such a major character in the series, Kylo remains somewhat mysterious, masked or not. When his parentage was first revealed in The Force Awakens, the biggest question was how exactly did Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), our heroes of the Rebellion, wind up with this petulant mini-Vader as a son? We saw that Kylo idolized his grandfather but had none of his cool-tempered menace, hacking away at ship consoles with such abandon that you wondered if the First Order had a permanent Kylo Ren repair line in the budget. At first, his brattiness seemed almost comical until he killed his father in a mistaken attempt to drown the light in himself. For anyone who ever thought Leia and Han would be cool parents — and that certainly includes the parentally neglected Rey — Kylo’s presence was a bit of a head-scratcher. How exactly did the former Ben Solo turn into this destructive and emotionally turbocharged Dark Sider?
The Last Jedi went a bit further in explaining Ben’s turn to Ren as his uncle, the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), revealed that one fateful night a terrifying Force vision got the best of him and sent his nephew hurtling down toward the Dark Side. It was this betrayal that haunted Kylo and left him both vulnerable and achingly lonely as his Force bond with Rey revealed. And despite the murder of his father, he still remained conflicted and couldn’t do the same to his mother when he had the chance, her love for him staying his hand. Even though he refused to rejoin Rey on the Light Side, Kylo turned out to be far more complicated than he initially seemed when he descended as the masked and hooded villain in The Force Awakens.
While the films have sketched the broad outlines of Ben’s fall and Driver has done fantastic work in suggesting the turmoil roiling under Kylo’s mask, there is a lot more we’ve learned about Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s past from the various novels and comic books that make up the current Star Wars canon. If you are not familiar with them, read ahead to get a fuller picture of the character and what his past may portend for his future.
In Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, which takes place in the year after the Battle of Endor, we discover that not only are Han and Leia now married, but that Leia is already pregnant with Ben. While we saw that Leia definitely had Force powers in The Last Jedi, it’s during her pregnancy that she really starts to explore her abilities. She can feel Ben’s Force presence in the womb, and that it’s mostly light but shot through with veins of darkness. She worries about that darkness but takes comfort when Luke tells her all people have that. It’s poignant to think how the darkness eventually overwhelmed that child, but the fact that there was so much light to start with shows he can turn back to it if he wants and that the Dark Side was not his destiny, but a choice he made.
While the Empire is in its last gasps during Leia’s pregnancy, Ben is born on Chandrila the same day that the Empire formally surrenders and the war ends. In fact, his mother is already in labor as the peace treaty is being signed. Because of his family’s fame, his birth was accompanied by a flood of rumors, everything from being born with a full head of black hair, to a full set of teeth, to Luke attending the birth himself. For a child with so many expectations placed on his tiny shoulders, Ben just seems to be a normal, if somewhat fussy, baby, though one his mother seems much more comfortable tending to than his father.
On that note, Aftermath: Empire’s End, the final book in the trilogy, establishes the difficulty Han has adjusting to fatherhood and how that foreshadows the gap that will grow between father and son despite Han’s deep love for the boy and the boy’s deep love for his father. Han’s usual cocksure confidence is shaken by the helpless baby before him and he feels insecure that he doesn’t have the same Force connection to Ben that Leia has, thinking that’s the only way his son can be soothed. Leia, to her credit, thinks that their son just needs to feel his father’s presence to feel comforted.
But Han’s insecurity continues in Last Shot, by Daniel José Older. While the book is mostly about an adventure between Han and Lando in the early years of Han and Leia’s marriage, Ben makes an appearance as a 2-year-old toddler, one that Han is still a little baffled by. Here we see how Han’s restless spirit will eventually cause a problem in his relationship with his son. Ben idolizes his father and “Wanwo” (fingers crossed someone gives Kylo and Uncle Lando a scene in the new movie) and misses his father terribly when he’s gone on his mission. While his mother works to build the New Republic, Ben is in the care of droids and in what might be a key moment for a person with a lifelong abandonment complex, a malfunctioning kitchen droid almost kills him. Ben survives, but Han continues to struggle with being a parent and the responsibilities that come with it.
There isn’t a ton of information about Ben’s late childhood and teenage years, but The Last Jedi novel details that Ben’s epic temper tantrums and growing Force powers left many objects in the Organa-Solo household destroyed. Kylo recalls with bitterness an incident overhearing his frightened parents talk about him as if he was a monster and it’s obvious that his anger became such an issue that Leia felt it necessary to send him to Luke in the hopes that training to be a Jedi would help tame his darker instincts. Neither his parents nor his uncle realized that Snoke had gotten his claws into Ben at some point during this time. As the films and comics like Star Wars: Age of Resistance — Supreme Leader Snoke #1 make clear, Snoke abused and manipulated Kylo for years, twisting the young man’s feelings toward his family and nurturing those resentments until Kylo finally took his revenge upon his Master in the throne room.
We get a little more information about Ben before his fall from the novel Bloodline, by Claudia Gray, which moves the story forward to six years before the events of The Force Awakens. There are no direct scenes with Ben, who is about 23 years old in the book, but he is often on his mother’s mind as she works as a senator living on the not-yet-destroyed Hosnian Prime while Han is off sponsoring various racing championships across the galaxy and running a shipping company. Ben is traveling around the galaxy with Luke, still training to be a Jedi. Han and Leia seem to have a warm marriage but one that is marked by long absences from each other as Leia understands that Han’s restlessness would make him a miserable Senate husband and Leia’s duty to the faltering New Republic comes before even her personal preference to be with her family.
The book suggests that Han and Ben have a strained relationship at this point, in that Han does not understand his son and that Ben’s Force abilities have created a wedge between them. Frustrated by not being able to parent their son, both Han and Leia mentor many of the young people in the orbit, a desire we see reflected in the films as Han mentors Rey and Finn (John Boyega) and Leia treats Poe (Oscar Isaac) as almost a surrogate son, the three seeming more like their spiritual children than their actual son.
Though Ben does not appear in the novel, the book contains a key event that dramatically shapes his life to come. Over the course of the novel, we learn that no one outside of Leia, Luke, and Han ever learned that Darth Vader was Anakin Skywalker and also the true birth father of Luke and Leia. While Luke had witnessed Anakin’s redemption personally, Leia did not, and to her, Vader remained the monster that tortured her and helped destroy her beloved Alderaan. She had kept the secret that Vader was her father for decades and was still coming to terms with her true parentage, never finding the right time to tell Ben who his grandfather really was. Unfortunately, the knowledge fell into the hands of a political rival who outed her to the whole Senate before she had time to tell Ben first. We don’t learn what Ben’s immediate reaction to this news was, but considering he must have learned this information shortly before his turn to the Dark Side, it must have cracked the already shaky trust in his family that Snoke had help splinter, a trust that would be completely shattered by that fateful night with Luke in his hut.
Looking over these parts of his past, Kylo just didn’t inherit great Force power and Leia’s fabulous hair from his powerful bloodline but everything else that went with it, good and bad. That meant Han and Leia’s mutual hotheadness, Luke’s impulsiveness, Anakin’s brattiness, and Padme’s penchant for falling for the wrong people — though that last one might wind up saving him in the end depending on how his complicated relationship with Rey works out.
As we move closer to The Rise of Skywalker, we will be getting a few more missing pieces to the puzzle when the first issue of The Rise of Kylo Ren, by Charles Soule, is released Dec. 18. Though the project has been mostly kept under wraps, one tantalizing cover revealed that Ben Solo and Luke Skywalker actually battled the Knights of Ren at some point, so Ben Solo’s past might be even more complex than we expected.
All this leads back to what will become of the Skywalker heir? Will the Bendemption, as some fans have taken to calling it, actually happen? Will Rey’s vision of Ben’s future, that solid and clear picture that convinced her he would turn back to the light, finally come to pass? And if he does turn back, what will be the trigger? Repentance? His mother’s love? His own?
Although it would be quite bold to leave Kylo on the Dark Side, it does seem unlikely that a saga that deals so much about redemption would end on a sour note and leave the once and maybe future Ben Solo unredeemed. Let’s hope the Skywalker saga gets a happier ending than that and that this tortured figure finally turns back to the light.