Last month I wrote about the theme of sacrifice in the sequel trilogy. I suggested that one sacrifice, particularly in The Rise of Skywalker, was the most significant out of the three films. It was a sacrifice that was seeded four years prior in The Force Awakens, while echoing back to elements in both the prequel and original trilogies.
When Kylo spoke to Vader’s mask (which we can now safely assume was speaking back to him via Palpatine), Kylo said the following:
“Forgive me. I feel it again, the pull to the Light. Supreme Leader senses it. Show me again the power of the Darkness and I will let nothing stand in our way. Show me, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started.”Kylo Ren
Many fans have speculated that the line, “I will finish what you started,” was especially important, and one likely to play a vital role by the end of the trilogy. Taken at face value, and certainly the way Kylo intended, it was a vow to complete the galactic domination in which his grandfather was once a part of. From Kylo’s point of view, bolstered by Snoke’s teachings, his grandfather’s weakness and compassion led to failure. Kylo intended to correct this failure.
But what a character wants and what the writers want for him aren’t always the same thing. The writers know that in order to come full circle, the character will get what he needs rather than what he wants, though hopefully at some point want and need become one. What Kylo needed was to be Ben once more and truly finish Anakin’s journey. But what was Anakin’s journey?
This line, spoken near the end of The Revenge of the Sith by the newly anointed Darth Vader, is the key:
“Love won’t save you, Padmé. Only my new powers can do that.”Anakin Skywalker
Of course, he was wrong. Padmé died not only despite Anakin’s turn to the dark side, but also because of it. After all, the dark side doesn’t preserve life, it perverts it. It doesn’t love, it selfishly clings. It doesn’t give, it takes. The darkness isn’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good, only for personal gain.
So, how and why exactly does this all apply to Kylo’s story? It is because Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo were on a shared hero’s journey (the hero’s journey is shown below).
Anakin Skywalker, exceptionally strong in the Force, answered Qui-Gon’s call to adventure despite his trepidations about leaving his mother Shmi behind. After Qui-Gon’s death, Anakin acquired two mentors: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Chancellor Palpatine. Always yearning for more power and prestige, and straining against the confines of the Jedi Council, Anakin reached a critical turning point when his mother was killed, and another when Padmé became pregnant. Anakin blamed himself for his mother’s death and feared losing Padmé. Palpatine then revealed himself to Anakin as Darth Sidious, tempting him to the dark side with promises of power and the ability to keep Padmé from dying. Anakin essentially died to become Darth Vader.
Here we can look to Return of the Jedi for clarification about what it really means to turn to the dark side. Luke asked Force Ghost Obi-Wan why he’d claimed that Anakin was killed by Vader, when in Luke’s mind they were the same person. Obi-Wan replied:
“Your father was seduced by the Dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So, what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”Obi-Wan Kenobi
Kylo used similar language in The Force Awakens when he was asked by Han to see his son’s face, and Kylo replied:
“Your son is gone. He was weak and foolish like his father, so I destroyed him.”Kylo Ren
But while Vader had almost fully destroyed the light inside himself, Kylo had not. Therefore, at the point of Anakin’s symbolic death, Kylo unknowingly picked up the journey. The journey was never meant to be one of galactic domination, but instead one of saving those he loved (and in return, the galaxy).
From almost the beginning of The Force Awakens, Kylo is on a journey of transformation back to the light. He spoke of his struggles, he was tempted to return home with his father, he felt compassion for Rey, and he chose not to kill his mother. The path was bumpy, at times filled with destruction and rage, most notably during the final lightsaber duel in The Rise of Skywalker during which Kylo was seconds away from killing Rey. It was an act from which the light would likely be snuffed out forever. His mother calling out to him stopped the fatal swing of his blade and Rey (after giving in to her anger) saved his life. The Gifts of the Goddesses in this scene were not a reward for atonement but were his final push to the light. Kylo then atoned for his fall, reliving in his memory the moment on Starkiller Base when he had attempted to fall completely to the dark side. He apologized to the memory of his father, at last making the right choice. He became Ben Solo again and raced to save Rey with his new light side powers— in a sense, another Gift of the Goddess.
Love did in fact have the power to save life, just as Padmé knew it could.
The final Gift was the kiss, symbolizing Ben’s complete return. It should be noted that the love shared between Ben and Rey can be whatever the viewer feels more comfortable with. Romantic love? Spiritual love? Somewhere in between, as J.J. suggested? The details here honestly don’t have to matter. What does matter is that Ben Solo finished what Anakin started, saving Rey by giving up himself and trusting in (rather than attempting to dominate) the Will of the Force. The Skywalker Saga ended as it began, with two Skywalker’s knowing “nothing of greed,” fully in the light and one with the Force.