Family has always been a key theme in Star Wars. Whether it’s Luke trying to save his father from evil or Anakin trying to save his wife from death, it’s safe to say that it’s the primary foundation of the whole franchise. After watching Han Solo’s tragic death on-screen, fans thought that there would be no turning back for Kylo Ren. This would be the turning point for him to embrace the dark side and turn into a Sith Lord. While the red, menacing, crossguard lightsaber may indicate so, it seems that the Star Wars franchise has other plans for him- a decision that hasn’t exactly been loved by many fans. The Force Awakens was already bashed for looking like a carbon copy of A New Hope, and readapting the redemption arc story would detract it more from an original story.
But, out of all the villainous characters, a redemption arc makes the most sense for Kylo Ren. Adam Driver portrays him with such gravitas and nuance, making the character almost sympathetic. Right from the first scene, we learn that he was born from the light and wasn’t always Kylo Ren. Throughout the film, Kylo Ren always tries his hardest to embrace the dark but keeps feeling “the call to the light.” This leads up to the climax where it seems like Kylo is genuinely considering whether to go with his father and abandon the First Order for good. Of course, we know how that goes, but what’s significant about that scene is the close-up on Kylo’s face as Han’s lifeless body falls off the rails. His face is not of accomplishment but regret and conflict.
It’s actually quite interesting how Disney and Lucasfilm have been avoiding describing Kylo as a villain. In an interview with The New York Times, The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson makes it a point to call Kylo a co-protagonist.
“Rey and Kylo are almost two halves of our protagonist. It’s not like Kylo is our Vader. In the original trilogy, Vader is the father — he’s the one you’re afraid of and who you want the approval of. Whereas Kylo represents anger and rebellion, the sometimes healthy — and sometimes not — desire to disconnect from the parents.”
Similarly to previous Star Wars films, Kylo and Rey’s story mainly revolves around family and where they come from. Rey and Kylo both struggle with abandonment issues but in different ways. Rey wants to find her parents and find out why she was left on Jakku, whereas Kylo knows very well who his parents are but hates them with a passion.
In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Johnson and Driver lay out the conflicting issues that Kylo has with his parents. They hint to him despising his family because he felt that Leia and Han cared more about the rebellion than him. And if you’ve read Bloodline, it’s hard not to see it from his point of view. Leia had the opportunity to quit politics and fly in the Millennium Falcon forever, but she chose her career instead, only to have her relationship to Darth Vader leaked to the public. In the novel, it’s hinted that Kylo doesn’t know that he’s related to Darth Vader at that point (six years before The Force Awakens), so if/when he found out, Snoke would likely take advantage of that opportunity to bring Kylo to the dark side.
But despite what Kylo thinks of them, his family will become the key to his redemption arc. With Han Solo getting killed off in such a tragic manner, Kylo Ren has gotten himself plot armor for the rest of the trilogy. Han died for his son, Ben Solo, who still exists underneath Kylo’s hatred. To have Kylo die would mean that Han’s death was for nothing. To make Han’s passing count, Kylo must look towards the light to redeem for his actions. And just by studying his expressions in the full-length The Last Jedi trailer, you can already see some hints of it. Whether it’s his emotional eyes when he’s about to blow up his mother’s ship or his hand hesitantly reaching out to someone, something is hiding under his bloodthirsty rage.
Johnson is clearly a force to be reckoned with and does his characters justice through layered development. Even though it’s his family that “made” him go down the path of evil, it will be family that will ultimately pull him out.