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While Rey’s heritage was the most debated question coming into The Rise of Skywalker, the fate of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo was what got fans the most heated. After committing patricide it was hard for many to forgive him. In contrast, many fans wanted to see his redemption because Star Wars, at its core, is about hope and redemption.
At the start of the film, Kylo Ren is tearing through the sentients of Mustafar. After finding the wayfinder that will lead him to Exegol, the secret Sith planet, where Sheev Palpatine is hiding. He walks into the Sith temple, lightsaber burning with the aggression and brokenness that resides in his soul.
Through the course of the story, however, that aggression decreases, as Rey takes up that mantle. Likewise, the brokenness is healed as he reunites with his mother and father, receiving the forgiveness he thought he didn’t deserve. Kylo Ren dies, Ben Solo lives. Ben heads to Exegol to once again confront the Emperor, but this time he does not take his weapon. What’s in the temple? “Only what you take with you.” Ben goes into the temple with hope, righteousness, and purpose. He is not able to overtake and destroy the Emperor, as that is Rey’s cross to bear, but he nonetheless has an important role in balancing the Force.
Ben climbs back from the hole Palpatine throws him into and finds Rey, his other half, dead. Yet, he has been dead before, so he does not lose hope. He is his mother’s son, after all. Moreover, he has seen the hollowness he sees in Rey’s eyes every time he looked in the mirror as Kylo Ren. He knows what can bring someone back from the dead, and that is what he does. In the reflection of Rey’s actions previously, Ben meditates, sharing his life Force to resurrect Rey. He finished what Anakin Skywalker started.
As he fades, the camera turns back to Rey, who, after three films, finally got to meet (and make out with) Ben Solo. His dying should cause her great pain. Instead, her eyes widen, as if with understanding. When Yoda fades in Return of the Jedi, Luke’s look is clearly one of loss, and arguably hopelessness. Rey’s is nowhere near the same.
The idea of essence transfer is prominent throughout the movie. Palpatine’s motive is to move his “soul” into Rey so he can continue his rule. This tradition of moving the Master’s spirit to the apprentice has dated all the way back to Darth Bane. At the end of the Legends Bane trilogy, Bane moves his essence to his apprentice, and thus is able to live forever. In the climactic battle of Rise, this idea is central, as Palpatine takes the mantle of all the Sith and Rey takes the mantle of all of the Jedi. This is the most natural culmination of the trilogy, which centers around characters who have taken the legacy of prior generations, and how they deal with that legacy.
Ben’s body may be gone, but the man himself is not. He lives in Rey now. In Master and Apprentice, one of the prophecies says, “When the Force itself sickens, past and future must split and combine.” Metaphorically, the Skywalker and Palpatine lines are the Force, which is sick because of the back and forth struggle between the two. The split has manifest itself in the Dyad of Rey and Ben, two parts of the same whole that have been separated. The way to heal the Force is to bring those two parts into one.
Another key idea in the film is the ability to transfer life Force from one being into another. When Rey confronts the snake in the caverns of Passana she doesn’t succumb to “aggressive negotiations,” but instead takes from the lessons of Luke Skywalker. She finds a peaceful solution by healing the snake via a transfer of life Force. When she does this, the light behind the snake, and with it the exit from the dark caverns, is revealed. Later, when Rey kills Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, she heals him, again via transferring life Force. After this happens, Ben is able to re-emerge and bring an end to Kylo Ren. While this is not directly a result of Rey healing him, as there are other factors, it is certainly no coincidence.
Leia’s connection with Ben is critically important to Ben Solo’s redemption. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren has a chance to kill his mother but is unable to pull the trigger. Killing his father in The Force Awakens left his spirit split to the bone. (Author’s Note: The use of the word spirit is far from a coincidence here.) Despite his not pulling the trigger, Leia is still almost killed when she gets sucked out into space; Kylo Ren sees that he is not as in control as he thought. In Rise of Skywalker, Kylo digs his feet into the ground as he tells Rey, “You can’t go back to her now. Like I can’t.” But when his mother reaches out to him, he stops. Stunned. There is an opportunity he never knew he could have. Through the Force, Ben and Leia reconnect, opening the door for Ben to later make amends with his father. Somehow (and hopefully the novelization will parce this out a bit more), Leia’s life Force is keeping Ben Solo alive. Luke tells Rey, with regards to Leia’s ending her Jedi training, “Leia told me that she had sensed the death of her son at the end of her Jedi path.” When Ben Solo fades away, so does Leia; despite her being physically dead, their souls were tethered. The end of Leia’s Jedi journey is not her physical death, but instead when she takes the lessons of Luke Skywalker, of connection, empathy, and love, and uses them to save her son. He physically dies, yes, but death is a metaphor in Star Wars (and all mythology) that leads to rebirth.
The films show this rebirth is through Force ghosts. Visually, any time one is going to turn into a Force ghost, said person fades away. At the end of the film, we see Leia as a Force ghost (or at least a memory in the Force). She fades at the same time as Ben Solo, and yet Ben does not appear as a Force ghost, entity, etc. The most plausible explanation, then, is that he is not dead. The Dyad have become the One, and Ben Solo lives on.
Many fans, particularly those in the Reylo community, have issue with Ben finally being Ben and then dying almost instantaneously. One can conclude, however, that he is not in fact dead. (Albeit, I would have appreciated it being more spelled out.) The other issue is Ben Solo not having any speaking lines (save for an “Oh,” as he hits the giant chain). However, Star Wars is a visual story, and actions speak louder than words. There is no need for a conversation between Ben and Rey. They know each other so intimately, having traded life Force, that they don’t need anything as crude as language. Further, any “I love you,” moment would have paled in comparison to the legendary “I love you/I know.” In this moment, Rise of Skywalker takes full advantage of George Lucas’s philosophy that Star Wars is a silent film.
Padme and Anakin were never able to fully know each other, both keeping things from the other. This inability to communicate is paramount. Padme even says, “This war represents a failure to listen.” Taken in through the Joseph Campbell lens of everything being metaphorical, this quote can be applied to the war being waged for the very soul of Anakin Skywalker. Ben Solo is able to listen now, to the point where he need not use words. Two have become one. He has finished what Anakin started.
Ben Solo got exactly what he deserved, and it is a fitting end to the Skywalker Saga.