Gahhhh, I have thoughts on this film. I mean, I loved it, but it also broke me. I’m still not over it. I will never get over it. (Ok, maybe that’s a little much…..BUT STILL.) (Also, Adam Driver is still hot.)
Ok, so, this goes without saying, buuuut…..MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. If you didn’t watch, don’t read on and then @ me. Also, expect a long-ass post. Maybe go to the bathroom before you read, or avoid liquids until the end of this post.
Ben Solo’s Redemption
I have to give Ben Solo’s redemption its own section because it really was the best part of the film for me. And I have thoughts about his death. I get that Ben sort of had to die — that’s kind of the formula for villain/ anti-hero redemption arcs (read: Severus Snape, Anakin Skywalker, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Klaus Mikaelson from The Originals). The completion of their arc is an act of total selflessness and total self-sacrifice, and that’s usually at the cost of their life. Having a villain-turned-redeemed-person live after switching sides seems a bit….less? Like, after all the evil deeds they committed, after all the people they killed, to have them live feels a bit out-of-balance.
On the other hand, it would be a really interesting take to see how a villain/anti-hero goes on with life after their redemption. What does their atonement look like? What happens after the battle is won, and life goes on? It would be so interesting to see the struggles they might deal with (because there ARE struggles — you don’t just change overnight). It’s realistic to think that even after some kind of redeeming act, they would still struggle with their inner conflict between light and dark. They might have moments of weakness. They might have moments of bitterness. I mean, that’s all of humanity, not just villains. We all struggle with reconciling the conflicting sides of ourselves. We all struggle with defining who we are and questioning whether we are truly as good (or as bad) as we try to be. So, as a story with a definitive ending, a villain redemption arc ending in self-sacrifice makes sense — it ties up the story neatly. But to explore a villain’s life after redemption? That would be such an interesting, refreshing take on the villain-redemption arc.
So, I definitely see both arguments for and against Ben’s death. First off, I love Ben Solo (and Adam Driver, as usual, portrayed the character beautifully, in such a nuanced way). He is among my favorite, if not my favorite, characters in the franchise. (And it’s not groundbreaking news that I tend to favor anti-hero characters.) Ben’s character was the driving force behind this franchise (yeah yeah, I know what I did there). I mean, his actions and his character development are what moved the story forward. In TFA, what signified Ben’s commitment to the dark side was killing his father, Han Solo, and in TLJ, the exploration of that gray area between the light and dark side is really rooted in both Ben’s conflict over killing his father and Rey’s conflict over her inner darkness. The entire arc of TRoS is Rey and Ben choosing their light sides over their dark sides.
On one hand, Ben’s death is the completion of his redemption arc. Throughout the films, even in TFA, Ben is conflicted. He’s never been totally dark. However, to have him live after he kills Han Solo and is responsible for the deaths of a number of characters in the film (including Luke and Leia) wouldn’t necessarily feel quite right. It would almost lessen the impact of his redemption. Because that’s the thing with villains — their arc usually involves them going to the good side for selfish reasons in the beginning, so you never quite know their motives. Ben initially wants Rey to join him because he senses how powerful she is (and although I do ship Reylo, his treatment of Rey in TFA is questionable at best). Ben eventually returns to the light side after being forgiven by his father, but we can’t just forget about everything he’s done before his redemption. While he may have been conflicted, his actions were terrible. He acted evil; he was the villain. And intent doesn’t justify action, no matter how conflicted the villain might have been. So, to really balance out the scales, to really have him commit to this turn towards the light, Ben had to do something that was the total opposite of evil. Evil is rooted in selfishness; good is rooted in selflessness. For him to completely be redeemed, he had to commit an act of total self-sacrifice. And he had to knowingly self-sacrifice, but choose it anyway, because in that moment, he wanted something greater than himself. And that was Rey. He loved Rey, more than he cared about himself. So he chose to save her, at the cost of his life. That was what really cemented his return to the light. Because we finally see that ultimately, Ben doesn’t want Rey for selfish reasons; he doesn’t want her for her power; he doesn’t want her so she can help him rule over the galaxy. In the end, he simply loves her, selflessly and unconditionally.
HOWEVER…..the Reylo shipper in me just wants to go up to J.J. Abrams and be like, “WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST LET BEN BE HAPPY????” We’ve already seen how it looks when the villain sacrifices himself, with Anakin Skywalker. Why does Ben have to follow that cycle? What would it have looked like if Ben had lived? How would he have made amends with the other characters, like Finn and Rose? Also, like I said earlier, even though Ben Solo was a real dick in TFA and parts of TLJ, he was still conflicted. His actions were villainous, but inside, he was still torn between his light and dark sides. There was still good in him. And whatever tiny sliver of good in him there was, it still counts. Redemption and grace don’t keep track of numbers or quantity. If there’s hope, there’s hope — plain and simple. And with Ben, there was hope.
We see Ben’s inner conflict at various points throughout TLJ and TRoS, before he totally turns back to the light side. Ben felt remorse over killing his father, and so for him to feel worthy of redemption, for him to move toward the light again, he needed to be forgiven. And he needed to be shown mercy, even though he didn’t really deserve it. Because, well, that’s what mercy is. None of us really deserve grace, we’re all born with sin, but we’re given grace anyway. The previous moments where Ben did not choose the dark side and showed potential for redemption — those are all part of his character development and his eventual turn back to the light. He didn’t just change at the last minute, or change for Rey; he had good in him all along, and in the end, that’s what he chose.
There’s also a disconnect between Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s portrayal in the comics and in the films. In the comics, we’re shown that he actually did not destroy the Jedi temple after Luke almost tried to murder him, nor did he mass murder his fellow students; in fact, he did not want that to happen at all. In the comics, we see the side of Ben that is more human, that is hurt and lost after feeling like the people in his life have turned their backs on him and lost faith in him. In the films, however, we’re led to believe that Kylo Ren was responsible (at least in part) for all this. So, I think this disconnect in Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s character is what divides folks on the Reylo thing — some of us see Ben as someone who was a victim of bad choices and trusting the wrong people, while others see him as a ruthless, manipulative villain. I think I see how the directors/writers might have been torn on how to portray Ben’s character — after all, the films need a villain. But I think when you take into consideration some of the content outside the films, it’s a little easier to sympathize with Ben’s character and to understand how he came to be Kylo Ren, and place his trust in Snoke, and become the villain he believed everyone thought he was.
As far as Reylo is concerned, I’m not sure that Reylo is toxic or abusive. Rey still has agency in her relationship with Ben. She chooses her friends and her beliefs and the Resistance over him when he asks her to join him in ruling the galaxy. She leaves him when he’s cruel and evil, as hard as it is for her and even though she really cares for him. Rey only chooses Ben when he finally chooses the light. And I don’t think Ben is truly narcissistic. I think he’s someone who’s lost his way. Because in TLJ, Ben does start to really care for Rey when he sees how much they have in common — they both feel lost, isolated, conflicted. They both feel like they’re supposed to be this thing that everyone says they should be, but they don’t know if they are that person. What Ben truly sees in Rey isn’t just her power — he sees someone in whom he finds solace and comfort. He sees someone who really sees him. And I don’t think he’s ever felt seen by anyone; I don’t think he’s ever felt understood by anyone. So that feeling of being seen and understood is new, and in the beginning, he doesn’t know what to do with it, and he doesn’t necessarily make the right choices when it comes to wanting to be with Rey. But when Ben truly embraces his light side and rejects his dark side, the choice is so simple — he goes to save Rey, to help Rey, and to help their cause. I don’t think it was a case of Ben choosing the good side so he could be with Rey — that would be selfish, and by now we’ve seen that he’s not. Ben chooses the good side because he truly is good; he just needed to feel worthy of returning to the light. It also wasn’t a case of Rey needing to save him. Because Ben also saved Rey. I think they both needed to save each other, because they were both conflicted and flawed and torn between their light and dark sides. So yes, I do think that Ben deserved a shot at happiness. And I think Rey would have been happy with Ben as well. BEN SOLO DESERVED BETTER.
That said, this is J.J. Abrams we’re talking about. J.J.’s style is a bit safer, a bit neater; he likes to tie up loose ends. So, a safer ending is what we got. I think even if Ben had died, the ending would have felt way more satisfying if he had been remembered in some way. And if his redemption was made known. There was ZERO tribute to him at the end. At least Anakin came back as a force ghost, but we didn’t even get that with Ben! And, why didn’t Rey pull a Rose Dawson? SHE’S NOT REY SKYWALKER, SHE’S REY SOLO, DAMMIT. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO GET MARRIED AND HAVE JEDI BABIES. *breathes* Clearly, I am emotionally ok.
So, Ben Solo’s character arc was really the standout of the film for me, but there were a lot of other things I really loved and other thoughts I had. Honorable mentions are:
Poe, Finn, C-3PO, and Chewie
So this was sort of the B-storyline, just like in TLJ where the B-storyline was Finn, Poe, and Rose. I was really, really happy with how the A and B storylines were so well-balanced. The pacing of this film was much better than that of TLJ. The story moved well, not too fast that you were confused, not too slow that you were bored, and not too choppy that you were waiting to switch back to the A storyline. The B-storyline didn’t feel like a separate film. It felt like part of the story. You couldn’t have the film without the B-storyline. What I didn’t like about the B-storyline in TLJ was that it just didn’t feel relevant to the overall plot. It served to make a point and to subvert, rather than to move the story forward. Finn, Poe, and Rose’s mission really was a waste of time. But this B-storyline, in TRoS, was absolutely needed in order to move the story forward. And I found myself enjoying these scenes just as much as the scenes with Rey and Ben.
I won’t say I called it, but….. I called it. Or at least, I knew that this fan theory had been floating around for a while, since TLJ released, so it was a plausible way to go. I’ll be honest, I thought it would have been really cool to have Rey be a Kenobi, because that’s the main rivalry in the films. In the original films and in the prequels, it was always Kenobi vs. Skywalker. So for Rey to sort of “join” the Skywalker family as a descendant of Kenobi, would be to reunite that rivalry, which would have been cool. That said, I have mixed feelings about Rey’s lineage. On one hand, I think the story just works really well when Rey is descended from someone significant and her place in the story is bigger than she thinks. I like that she’s descended from someone evil, and she does have a dark side and she has Palpatine’s power, but she still chooses the light. It’s in keeping with the whole theme of redemption and how our choices are what define us, which is what Star Wars has always been about. However, I also feel like this revelation of Rey’s lineage basically undoes the entire message of TLJ, which is that you don’t have to be descended from someone important to be somebody and to have a place in this story. Additionally, I feel like this revelation basically undermines Anakin Skywalker’s sacrifice at the end of RoTJ. I feel like Rey’s lineage was one of the creative decisions from J.J. Abrams that basically rendered TLJ, and everything Rian Johnson built up, pointless. So I personally have mixed feelings on Rey’s lineage. It works, but then it also isn’t really necessary. Notes for next time we create another Star Wars saga trilogy: STICK WITH ONE DIRECTOR. (And bring Ben back.)
I know, I’ve already said so much about Ben Solo. But this specific thing I like isn’t about Ben’s redemption — it’s about the relationship between Ben and Rey and how it’s portrayed onscreen. In this film, especially, when I watched their fight scenes, I could really see how they truly were equals. Like, when they’re fighting against each other, Rey really does give Ben a run for his money, and vice versa. Their power and skill level is equal. And, when they’re fighting on the same side and they’re helping each other out, they just have this bond like they’re both instinctively aware of each other. They don’t need words to communicate; they somehow just know what the other one needs or what the other is thinking. It was just so cool to watch. And when Rey wakes up and Ben looks at her, like come on, that is the only time we’ve ever seen Ben happy. So yeah, I still ship it.
TLJ vs. TRoS
So I touched on a few things I liked better about TRoS than TLJ, like the pacing of the film and the B-storyline. It’s hard for me to say whether I prefer TLJ to TRoS — it’s a toss-up, and there are things I like and disliked about both films. In terms of pace and moving the story forward, I think J.J. Abrams did a better job. I love Rian Johnson, but I did feel like the way the A and B storylines were executed in TLJ were choppier, and it was one of those things where it took me a few views of TLJ to really appreciate it. J.J. Abrams’s style is more conventional. I liked the pace and the editing (for the most part), right off the bat. The pace moved really well, and A and B storylines were woven together so well. The story felt tight — every scene and every moment served to move the story forward.
However, where I think Rian Johnson was far superior was in character development. TLJ was the film where Kylo Ren/Ben Solo’s character really started to get fleshed out. In TLJ, he was brought from conventional-villain-that-we’ve-seen-a-million-times to incredibly nuanced, somewhat tragic, intricately developed character that you both love and hate simultaneously. That’s not an easy feat by any means, but Rian Johnson and Adam Driver pulled this off beautifully. In TFA, I looked at Kylo Ren as just Darth Vader Lite. But in TLJ, I started to see how much more compelling Kylo Ren/Ben Solo was. I didn’t become fascinated with his character until TLJ, and I credit Rian Johnson for that character development.
I also liked how Rian Johnson brought a different twist to the Star Wars universe. Like I said earlier, J.J. Abrams's choices are a bit safer and more conventional. With TFA and TRoS, we got a safer film, with a more traditional ending. We got storylines tied up neatly and kept within the original characters and plotlines. Rian Johnson introduced new characters (Rose) and brought a different interpretation to the Force and the Jedi. He brought a new interpretation on the light and dark sides, and showed that the two weren’t necessarily black and white, or one or the other. I wish that J.J. Abrams had carried on these themes, rather than revert back to the traditional Star Wars film format. I wish Rose hadn’t been sidelined and had been given a larger role. I wish that what J.J. Abrams had done instead was mix his more conventional style with some of Rian Johnson’s more subversive elements. I think a balance between the two styles would have been a real winner and a way more memorable end to this trilogy.
I still have questions
It wouldn’t be an Ari post if there weren’t questions, right? So mine are:
When the fuck did Palpatine have a kid? Like seriously. When did he hook up? With who? Like, I don’t understand when this would have happened. Logistically it doesn’t make sense.
So, was Snoke basically Palpatine’s puppet? And Palpatine was behind it all? So basically, Anakin Skywalker had one job (kill Palpatine) and he didn’t even do it right? Tell me again how he managed to force ghost, but Ben, WHO ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING RIGHT, did not get a force ghost? It’s fine, I’ll wait.
Can someone explain Rey’s yellow lightsaber? Does she just like yellow? Is she a fan of Coldplay? Is there any significance with lightsaber colors?
Honestly, J.J. Abrams did a great job of tying up most loose ends. I mean I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. And overall, I really enjoyed the film. The emotional impact of this film was just ridiculous. The film gave me all the feels. I loved how even though most of the original characters have now gone, the new characters carry the torch and their legacy and even a bit of their life force. It was definitely nostalgic, but as a story, it was damn good. So thank you, J.J., for not totally fucking it up. Am I upset that Obi-Wan was STILL not mentioned at all? A little bit. Will I get over it? Maybe.
If you’ve stuck with me up till the end, then thank you, reader. What did you guys think of TRoS? Let me know!
Originally published at http://ariadneabby.wordpress.com on December 23, 2019.