One of the biggest topics of debate to come out of the new Star Wars trilogy is Kylo Ren’s redemption and whether it was deserved with opinions on Kylo Ren ranging from hate, to love, to thirst for his transition to boyfriend sweater. In Episode 9: The Rise Of Skywalker we saw the redemption of Kylo Ren when he turned on Palpatine and saved Rey’s life (much to the ire of Kylo’s haters) with many fans saying Kylo didn’t deserve redemption after killing his father and oh, several planets full of people. Even though I’m critical of Kylo Ren and a part time Kylo hater myself, I think his redemption is one of the best parts of Episode 9 because it wasn’t really about him. Kylo’s redemption was about Rey and the kind of hero she is, and also about one of the strongest themes of the Star Wars saga, that a true hero offers redemption even to those who may not deserve it.
From the very beginning of Star Wars we’ve seen that the heroes that succeed on their quests are those who offer redemption to their villains, who remember a villain’s humanity and remind them of it. This can be as simple as Poe accepting that Finn was a Stormtrooper and trusting him in spite of it, or as complicated as the relationship between Luke and Anakin.
When a Sith turns to the dark side they take on a villainous nom de plume, (nom du Sith?) and most of our so-called “heroes” immediately accept these names and adopt them as a way of dehumanizing their enemy. Obi-Wan insists that Darth Vader killed Anakin Skywalker and tries several times to kill Vader himself, but Luke, when confronting his father, calls him Anakin and insists “It is the name of your true self, you’ve only forgotten it.” It’s this insistence of his humanity, of his true self, and Luke’s faith in him that reminds Darth of who he could be. This is what offers him redemption, whether or not he deserves it, and allows Darth to grow and become a better version of himself who fights against the dark side and throws a screaming Palpatine down a reactor core. By treating Anakin with humanity and compassion, Luke is able to turn his father back to the light side of the Force and defeat the Empire, a feat that decades of Jedi have been unable to accomplish.
Let’s talk about all those other Jedi for a moment and their insistence on leading with their lightsabers instead of their hearts. The Jedi order considered darkness something to be defeated, an obstacle in the way of the light to be destroyed in order to create balance (a word that generations of Jedi do not seem to understand at all). Throughout the Star Wars saga the failure of the Jedi has consistently come from their inability to remember that people are not black or white, pure good or pure evil, and that a villain still has their humanity (or whatever the respective species noun for humanity may be). But the Jedi historically treat any self-proclaimed Sith as undeserving of redemption and sentence them to die the minute they turn to the dark side and in so doing, create the very enemy they seek to destroy.
If Mace Windu opted to arrest Palpatine and not go for an extrajudicial kill would Anakin have fully turned to the dark side? Yoda seemed downright eager to kill Count Dooku when he discovered he was actually Darth Tyranus despite the fact that Dooku was once his own apprentice, and perhaps worst of all, Obi-Wan and Yoda, upon seeing Anakin has joined with Palpatine, immediately plan to kill him, completely giving up on their friend and apprentice with no mention of arrest or trying to sway him back to their side. The Jedi consider themselves to be the embodiment of goodness and justice, but are quick to appoint themselves judge, jury and executioner to any who stray to the dark side.
Even Luke is shown not to be immune to this way of thinking. He saw a glimpse of darkness in Ben Solo’s mind and in a moment of weakness turned on his lightsaber to attack. He considered murdering a child in his sleep to destroy the dark side in a singular quest for victory. Although Luke recognizes this mistake, the damage has been done. Just like his Jedi master, in his attempt to destroy darkness he created what he sought to prevent.
Rey’s hero's journey parallels that of young Luke. Whereas Luke turned Vader by reminding him he was Anakin, Rey frequently calls Kylo ‘Ben’ and insists there is conflict in him even when others refuse to see it. Darth and Kylo are both characters who’ve destroyed planets, killed countless people, and by almost any definition of morality do not deserve redemption. But like young Luke Skywalker, Rey is brave and compassionate enough to offer it to Kylo not because of what he’s done, but in spite of it. That’s what makes Rey a true hero and worthy successor to Luke. She has no desire to kill the darkness or ruthlessly murder those that have strayed into it, she only wants to lead Ben away from it.
This is the most important theme for me personally surrounding the story of Kylo Ren and Star Wars as a saga. In Star Wars true heroes offer redemption, even to those who don’t deserve it, a hero remembers the humanity of even those that are evil. It’s why Star Wars is such an important moral tale. The real world is obviously more complex than this but we need on screen heroes who make it simple and offer us a version better than ourselves. When we as an audience cry out at the film for Luke to finish off a handless Vader, or Rey to strike down Kylo, Star Wars reminds us that a true hero has empathy, they remember that Anakin and Ben are worthy of redemption, even if Vader and Kylo are not.
That’s why I’m glad Kylo Ren found redemption in The Rise of Skywalker. Even if he didn’t deserve it, Rey is a true hero for offering it, and to me that is why I’ve always loved the Star Wars saga.