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Kylo Ren was introduced to Star Wars fans in the first major film produced after Disney acquired the saga from Lucasfilm, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. He was instantly recognizable as a Darth Vader wannabe with his distinctive helmet and cross-guard lightsaber.
Adam Driver played Ren across all three Sequel films – The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker. He’s quoted as portraying the character in a way that I think perfectly sums up Kylo Ren:
I never thought of the character as an evil person.
Driver explained that he saw Ren as a religious fanatic whose actions were morally justified in his mind. He wasn’t simply evil but genuinely believed he was doing the right thing for the galaxy and himself.
In this way, I think Kylo Ren is undoubtedly one of the most compelling characters the new films brought in. He has to shoulder the tremendous expectations everyone has due to his ancestors and relatives (Anakin, Padme, Luke, Leia, and Han), resisting the same things many of them failed to fight. He would also have been expected to be one of the most prominent Jedi in Luke’s relatively new and small Academy.
Not everyone was a fan of the character – at first, myself included – but the deeper I dug, the more of a story arc there was to discover. That’s what I’ll try to convey in this article.
Kylo Ren overview
Birth and early life
The real name of Kylo Ren was Ben Solo, after Obi-Wan’s alias. He was born in 5 ABY, just over a year after the Battle of Endor, on the same day that the Galactic Civil War was officially ended. As the child of Han Solo and Leia Organa, he was the only grandchild of Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker, whom Ben preferred to think of as Darth Vader. The Skywalker ancestry for unbelievably strong connections to the Force filtered down to him through Leia.
Leia had studied as a Jedi under Luke, completing around a year of rapid learning. She became proficient with a blade. However, just before completing her training, she sensed that her son would die at the end of her Jedi path and so relinquished it, leaving her lightsaber with Luke.
Luke Skywalker trained Ben Solo in the ways of the Force at his new Jedi Academy, instantly recognizing his power potential. Unfortunately, Palpatine identified the same thing from afar. He used Snoke to infiltrate the young boy’s mind and, in the same way as his grandfather so many years earlier, twisted his perceptions to lead him to the Dark Side.
His family had avoided clarifying who Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were to him. Luke would have explained all this to him when he was older. But Ben recognized that something was being kept from him. These insecurities gave ground to the telepathic voice of Snoke (Palpatine’s vassal), reinforcing his fears and leading him away from the Jedi, the Light Side, and his family. He would only learn the truth of who his grandfather was across the holonet, leading to deep feelings of betrayal.
Fall to the Dark Side
When Luke discovered what was going on, it was too late. He saw what Ben would do and how many he would kill. He briefly contemplated killing the boy in a moment of weakness but came to his senses. However, the damage was done, and Ben awoke, scared, unaware of the premonition his Master had had. He activated his lightsaber and swung it at Luke, who blocked it with horror written across his face. Ben then collapsed the hut around them.
When Luke regained consciousness, he found the rest of his students dead, Ben having vanished. His pupil believed he had killed Skywalker and had reached out to the Dark Side, and his rage had caused an enormous lightning storm. This storm devastated the Temple, killing most of its occupants. Although he had never wanted this, the voice in his head (Snoke) laid the blame entirely at Luke’s feet, justifying Solo and replacing the positions his parents used to take.
From here, Ben traveled to Snoke, who directed him to the Knights of Ren.
After killing Ren, the leader of the Knights, Kylo Ren was born. Despite this, he wasn’t considered a Sith Lord – not yet, anyway. He was still conflicted, struggling (in his mind) against the call to the light all his life.
His position as Snoke’s apprentice led to certain privileges. Still, it caused significant tensions with some of the regime’s higher ranks – most notably, General Armitage Hux, commander of Starkiller Base – the First Order’s planet-killing device based on the Death Star.
Hunting for Luke Skywalker
The focal point of his Dark Side growth was the hunt for his old Master, Luke Skywalker, whom he felt had betrayed him. This fed his anger and directed his rage. Learning of the map that would lead him to the Jedi, he sought it across the galaxy, eventually ending up on the fateful planet of Jakku.
Here, he captured the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron and brought him in for interrogation, unaware that he had passed the map fragment onto his trusty little droid, BB-8.
Despite strong resistance from the morally sound Poe, Ren’s Force interrogation meant he knew of BB-8’s role and approximate location before long. Not long later, Dameron was freed from the First Order’s clutches by a rogue stormtrooper, Finn, and Kylo knew they would return to the wasteland planet searching for the droid and the map. Hux sent a squadron of stormtroopers to hunt for the map simultaneously, hoping to retrieve it before the Resistance could find it, with Ren showing evident unease at the inefficiency of his men.
He remained on the capital ship. Later, a visibly nervous Lieutenant Mitaka informed him that the droid had escaped with the help of Finn and “a girl” – Rey. Kylo Ren was, shall we say, a little unhappy.
Snoke maintained that the First Order would be unlikely to overcome Skywalker if he were to be found. It was, therefore, imperative to prevent the map from reaching the New Republic or the Resistance. Hux was permitted to destroy the New Republic system of Hosnian Prime, deeply damaging democracy and destroying the fledgling galactic government.
The Supreme Leader could also sense that the droid BB-8 was with Kylo Ren’s father, Han Solo. They were onboard the Millennium Falcon, the ship that Rey and Finn had stolen from Jakku. Before long, First Order intelligence learned that their prey was on Takodana, in Maz Kanata’s castle. Ren was dispatched to capture them once again. Here, Rey had been called, through the Force, to the depths of the building, where she’d discovered a lightsaber. It had once belonged to Anakin Skywalker, then to Luke, before his hand was sliced off on Bespin.
Rey and Starkiller Base
Rey had seen the map. After capturing her on Takodana, Kylo knew he no longer needed BB-8 and the map itself but planned to infiltrate Rey’s mind instead.
Back on Starkiller Base, Ren began interrogating Rey. However, to his dismay, he found that she was naturally strong with the Force – despite no training whatsoever – and that he couldn’t force his way into her mind. Unbeknownst to both of them, they shared a dyad in the Force, connecting them on a deep level. He could see into parts of her mind, recognizing her loneliness… but she could also see into his, seeing his fear.
Along with Hux, he reported to Snoke. During this time, Rey used the Force to escape from her cell. Coincidentally, the Resistance had launched a full-scale attack at the same time. Part of this assault involved Finn’s expertise in shutting down the shields, allowing the bombers to destroy the thermal oscillator. At the same time, he, Han, and Chewbacca attempted to rescue Rey. Ren immediately sensed the presence of his father, Han Solo.
Killing Han Solo
He rushed to the thermal oscillator, bringing troops and ordering them to find the intruders. On the walkway bridge high above the oscillator, he met Han.
Han refused to believe in his son’s inherent darkness, despite Kylo’s insistence that he had destroyed Ben Solo. Ren broke down in tears, explaining he was conflicted and wanted to be free of the turmoil that came with it. He asked his father for help, and Han obliged: “Anything.” Solo was unaware that the conflict Ren wanted to eradicate was the call to the light, not the dark. So, in the blanketing darkness as the Starkiller Base weapon charged, and with father and son holding each other, Kylo ran his father through with his lightsaber. As the life drained from his eyes, Han smiled and stroked his son’s face, refusing to let Kylo Ren defeat Ben Solo, before his body dropped into the abyss.
His death didn’t have the effect Ren thought it would. Rather than lead to his total commitment to the Dark Side, his father’s compassion left him even more conflicted.
Across the galaxy, Han’s death was felt with such force as to stagger Leia. Chewbacca let out a blood-curdling roar, immediately shooting Ren with his crossbow, damaging him. Rey and Finn screamed out but immediately began their escape as the Wookiee, loyal to the end, activated the thermal detonators and ran for the Falcon himself.
Defeated by the Resistance
Wounded, Kylo pursued Rey and Finn, who had Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber with them. His injury meant he struggled to fight even these inexperienced swords people. After defeating Finn with relative ease and leaving him in a coma, he engaged Rey. Against Rey, naturally powerful with the Force, he struggled and was defeated. After ignoring the temptation to kill him, the planet began to break up – the Resistance had successfully bombed Starkiller Base, leading to its implosion. This separated Ren and Rey, who then diverted their respective efforts into escaping the planetary weapon.
Kylo was rescued by Hux on Snoke’s orders and brought to him, receiving some limited treatment for the physical scars Rey had left him with.
The killer blow for the Resistance
After being scolded by Snoke, Ren resumed his hunt for the Resistance. Hux’s new hyperspace tracking technology enabled the First Order to follow the straggling Resistance ships wherever they went: there was no escape. Kylo, with three elite pilots acting as his wingmen, launched a devastating initial attack on the Resistance’s capital ship, the Raddus. They first destroyed the hangar, eradicating the fighter threat, before turning their attention to the bridge.
Just before launching his final missile strike, Kylo sensed the calming presence of his mother, Leia. He hesitated, the light in him briefly taking control, moving his thumbs away from the triggers.
His wingmen, however, had no reason to hesitate, utterly destroying the Raddus‘s bridge and all its occupants, including the well-respected and much loved Admiral Ackbar. After the ensuing moments of carnage, Kylo reached out with the Force in search of any flicker of life from his mother but found none. He had to assume she had been killed with the rest (although she used the Force to survive) and returned to the Supremacy on Hux’s orders.
While Kylo received medical attention, he saw Rey across the room. Rey had located Luke Skywalker on Ahch To and was trying to convince him to rejoin the fight. Stunned, she reached for a blaster and shot at him. In complete shock, Ren did nothing – but the bolt didn’t injure him. Eventually, the two concluded that they were connected through the Force (in what was known as a dyad).
Ren opened up to Rey, seeing their connection as an unprecedented power. He no longer hid his fears and emotions, showing her his true self, while Rey maintained distrust. He told her how he honestly viewed that fateful night when Luke Skywalker had stood over him; the betrayal and anguish felt, sowing the seeds of doubt in Rey.
The bond began to grow deeper as the two found solace in each other’s feelings of loneliness. When they touched hands, they both received visions. Rey believed Kylo could be turned back to the light as Ben Solo, whereas Ren wanted to pull her into darkness.
Rey’s vision convinced her to leave Ahch To and travel to the Supremacy to confront Ren, desperate to bring him to the light. Kylo, however, was sure that he’d turn Rey. The two met and were taken to Snoke’s throne room, each believing they would turn each other. Many of Ren’s conflicting emotions revolved around Rey, someone he wasn’t sure he saw as an enemy, friend, or even something more.
In the throne room, Snoke praised Ren, reaffirming his faith in him. He then revealed that it was he who had connected the two individuals through the Force to manipulate Rey into coming to him directly. Now, he had direct access to Luke Skywalker. He overwhelmed Rey’s defenses and used the Force to penetrate her mind, learning of Ahch To and the former Jedi Master’s location. He planned to wipe him out as soon as the remaining resistance ships had been quashed.
Chuckling, Snoke now immobilized Rey and invited his apprentice, from whom he felt new resolve, to execute her. Knowing that his Master would sense his every move and every intention, Ren pointed his lightsaber at Rey, covertly using the Force to turn the Skywalker saber (on Snoke’s armrest) towards the Supreme Leader. He activated it, slicing his old Master in half (in a way at which Obi-Wan Kenobi would have beamed).
I see him turning the lightsaber to strike true. And now, foolish child, he ignites it and kills his true enemy!
At Snoke’s instant death, Rey was immediately freed. Kylo pulled the lightsaber back into her outstretched hands. The two locked eyes before turning and fighting back to back against the Elite Praetorian Guards. Although it was a fierce fight, Ren and Rey overcame their opponents through teamwork, skill, and the Force.
New Supreme Leader
With all their enemies dead, Rey now believed she had pulled Ben Solo back to the Light Side. However, she was mistaken. Kylo Ren wanted the past dead – “Snoke, Skywalker, the Sith, the Jedi, the Rebels… Let it all die. Rey, I want you to join me. We can rule together and bring a new order to the galaxy.” He had consciously stepped down a dark path, but it was – he believed – his own choice. He was free from all influences with the deaths of Han, Leia (he thought), and Snoke.
Rey refused, clinging to her hope in the light and the Jedi. She Force pulled the Skywalker saber to her, preparing in pain and disbelief to take on Kylo, whom she thought was her friend. Ren also held the lightsaber. With two of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy pulling it in opposite directions, it hung, suspended in space, before the kyber crystal split, engulfing the throne room in a powerful shockwave and knocking them both out.
When Ren awoke, he found Hux standing over him. Rey had escaped on Snoke’s private vessel, and Kylo was now, by default and by sheer power, the new Supreme Leader of the Resistance. He falsely accused Rey of Snoke’s murder and ordered the First Order ships to continue their chase of the Resistance ships. He also contemplated why Rey, who had awoken before him, hadn’t killed him, showing mercy and compassion. However, he put it to the back of his mind: these were Jedi’s weaknesses that would lead to her death.
He followed the few remaining Resistance fighters to the salt-covered planet of Crait, where they were holding out behind a shielded door in an old Rebel base. Discarding resentment from General Hux, he approached the location in an all-out assault.
Luke Skywalker walked out in front of him.
The new Supreme Leader was shocked to see his old Jedi Master. He desperately ordered every weapon he had to fire on him, knowing his remarkable strength and mastery through the Force. Luke shrugged it off without a scratch, forcing Ren to face him in a lightsaber duel.
Luke danced around his slashes and advances, toying with the boy. As they fought, Kylo asked if his old Master had come to forgive him. Luke held his peace. The Jedi was projecting an image of himself across the galaxy, distracting Ren while the Resistance remnants escaped. Only once the stragglers, including Leia, had boarded the Millennium Falcon, piloted by Rey, R2, and Chewie, would Luke show his hand and vanish from his sight.
Exhausted by the effort it took to save his friends, Luke became one with the Force. Ren stormed the cave and glimpsed Rey through their dyad one last time, but the Resistance had escaped.
The return of Sidious
Some months later, with the First Order facing increasing levels of rebellion, a message was spread throughout the galaxy. Darth Sidious had returned. Kylo Ren was led to Exegol, the ancient Sith world, where he found the broken, decrepit body of a clone of Emperor Palpatine. Although the body was weak, it harbored the spirit of one of the strongest Sith Lords to ever live.
Sidious revealed that he had manipulated the young boy easily, finding it even simpler to turn him to the Dark Side than Anakin Skywalker. Here, Ren also learned of Rey’s true heritage – a descendant of Palpatine, whom he thought of as his granddaughter (she was, in fact, the daughter of another clone of the Emperor).
The Dark Lord of the Sith promised Kylo Ren control of the galaxy through the Sith Eternal fleet. These modified Star Destroyers, created by the cultists, were fitted with axial superlaser cannons, each capable of destroying a planet. However, he could still sense the conflict Kylo; the last remnants of light deep within him. To eradicate this and prove himself to be a committed servant of the Dark Side, Palpatine tasked him with killing Rey – the very last Jedi.
After a few meetings through the Force dyad, Kylo cornered her in his ship’s hangar, the Steadfast, as the Falcon was making its escape. He told her of her heritage, explaining that their unique Force dyad connection made the two of them one, and even mightier than Palpatine. He offered her another chance to join him. After briefly being tempted by his offer, Rey refused and escaped with the Resistance team.
Duel with Rey
Ren knew they’d head to Kef Bir in the Endor system. While en route, Sidious contacted him through the Force, explaining in no uncertain terms that he would kill him if he failed to end Rey’s life. Brushing the powerful Sith Lord aside, Ren explained he had no intention of letting her become a Jedi.
In the Emperor’s Throne Room of the crashed Death Star II on Kef Bir, Rey picked up – and subsequently dropped – the second Sith Wayfinder, resisting its Dark Side influences. Ren, having followed her, then picked it up. He claimed she was no longer a Jedi and that there was no way back for her. Enraged, Rey dueled him. She was now a competent warrior, having trained under Luke and Leia.
Ren, however, defeated her. In the moments before the final strike, he stood over her. In that instant, Leia sent a powerful message of hope, goodness, and light across the galaxy – a feat that ultimately caused her death. As Kylo hesitated, Rey ran him through with a fatal wound.
As Rey sensed Organa’s death, she suddenly shared in Ren’s pain. Leaning over, she used the Force to heal his wound, exhausting her. Unbeknownst to her, her actions, while mending his physical injury, also helped repair his deeply damaged, twisted mind. He couldn’t understand her and his mother’s actions, leading him to question Snoke, Sidious, and everything they’d ever told him.
Rey left Kylo alone as she headed for Exegol. As he sat in contemplation, his thoughts created a vision of Han Solo. He was reminded of his father’s love for him throughout his life, especially in that fateful moment on Starkiller Base. He still wasn’t sure if he was strong enough to do what needed to be done. Han, though, insisted that it wasn’t too late to fight for the Skywalker and Jedi legacy.
Kylo Ren threw his red lightsaber into the sea. Kylo Ren was dead; Ben Solo was back.
Ben Solo’s redemption
When Ben landed on Exegol, the battle was already well underway. The Final Order was under attack from the woefully ill-equipped Resistance. Armed only with a blaster, he hurriedly made his way towards the throne room, encountering little opposition at first. He was then confronted by his old allies, the Knights of Ren. The Force-sensitive warriors made quick work with him – six against one was hardly favorable odds. But, as Han Solo would say, “Never tell me the odds.” Suddenly, Ben’s hand gripped the lightsaber that was his by right – the Skywalker saber. Rey had passed it to him through their Force dyad while she began using Leia’s old weapon. Their connection meant they fought with conjoined minds and strength against their respective opponents, Rey dueling the Emperor’s Sith guards.
With this lightsaber, he quickly dispatched the remaining Knights, then continued to join Rey in facing Palpatine. Even with their combined might, they were no match for the Sith Lord, who began draining them of their life force together. He started cackling in glee as he realized that the dyad connecting gave them the power of life itself, and so their deaths would result in his body’s strength and vitality.
Sidious then hurled Ben into a nearby chasm, declaring that he would die as the last Skywalker. Although severely injured, he survived, clambering back up to the throne room to find that Rey had killed Palpatine, with help from all the Jedi of eras gone by, by reflecting his Force lightning at him. The effort, however, had left her dead.
Ben knelt over her lifeless body and, sensing that the Force had not yet claimed her, put his hand on her in the same way she had on Kef Bir. He used the Force to return the life she had given him to her, their Force dyad allowing him to transmit the entirety of what remained of his spirit to her. Rey was brought back to life as Ben sacrificed his own for her. They shared a kiss. His last moments of consciousness were of Rey holding his hand.
He passed into the Cosmic Force, his redemption finally complete, with Leia also becoming one with the Force simultaneously, having waited for her son. His last words to Rey were as follows:
I will always be with you.
No one’s ever really gone.
Kylo Ren key moments
- 5 ABY – born the year after the Battle of Endor to Han Solo and Leia Organa.
- 15 ABY – joins Luke’s foundling Jedi Order. Luke immediately sees that he carries the “mighty Skywalker blood”.
- 28 ABY – falls to the Dark Side after learning of his true descent from Darth Vader.
- The Rise of Skywalker – flashbacks show the night that Luke realized with horror the darkness within Ben and how Snoke had infected his mind. He instinctively drew his saber but came to his senses. However, it was enough for the young boy to retaliate and destroy the few Jedi around him.
- 34 ABY (The Force Awakens) – traces the map of Luke Skywalker to Jakku. Later, he abducts Rey and kills his father during her rescue attempt. Although he escapes, he’s wounded by Chewbacca and later defeated by Rey in combat. Starkiller Base blows up.
- 34 ABY (The Last Jedi) – Snoke creates a Force connection between Kylo and Rey, eventually drawing her from Luke Skywalker on Ahch To to him, as she believes Ren can be turned. Kylo kills Snoke but then takes his place as Supreme Leader while Rey escapes. Ren leads the hunt for the Resistance remnants but is distracted by Luke Skywalker’s appearance. However, it all turns out to be an illusion. After Luke’s sacrifice, the Resistance troops escape with Leia, Rey, and Chewie.
- 35 ABY (The Rise of Skywalker)– he finds Sidious. He learns that the deformed clone of the Sith Lord is behind everything, including Snoke. Sidious tasks him with killing Rey, his Jedi granddaughter, to fulfill his Dark Side potential. Kylo pretends to be hunting her for execution when, in fact, he wants to turn her to the Dark Side. Their dyad means they are incredibly strong as one unit. Eventually, Leia dies, sending a message of peace to him. Rey fatally wounds him but transfers much of her life force to him to save his life.
- As he remembers his father, Ben Solo is reborn, casting Kylo Ren out. He heads to Exegol to support Rey, who kills Sidious with the help of the Jedi spirits from times gone by. As she dies, Ben transfers his life force into her through their Force dyad, resurrecting her but sacrificing himself.
Kylo Ren vs. Darth Vader
Kylo Ren is quite clearly an image of Darth Vader; Ben Solo is much like Anakin Skywalker. This extends beyond the black cloaks and voice-altering masks. Ren looks up to Darth Vader and tries to follow his example. Unlike the truth held by the Jedi, he sees Vader as Anakin’s true self, something which he momentarily betrayed at the end of his life.
Both individuals are naturally powerful Force users with solid morals and beliefs. They’re both manipulated by Palpatine into betraying the Jedi Order, destroying its Temple, and hunting its members. Both Vader and Ren, and most others around them, believe that they’ve spiritually killed their former Light Side self (Anakin and Ben, respectively), only for the good hidden deep within them to triumph at the last.
There are further similarities when Luke is taken into account. When seeing the vision of Ben’s future and the death and destruction his poisoned mind would bring, Luke instinctively reacts, torn between guarding the Jedi and killing his nephew. However, he stops himself. In contrast, Anakin murdered his fellow Jedi in the hope of protecting Padme from his visions of her death.
In the same way, as Luke wouldn’t kill Kylo, Obi-Wan didn’t want to kill Anakin. He begged Yoda to be sent to face Sidious instead. Their duel was all Vader’s attacking and Obi-Wan’s defending. Even after slicing off his old friend’s limbs, he wouldn’t kill him.
Much later in life, Obi-Wan sacrificed at the hands of Vader himself to buy time for Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca to escape the Death Star. In the same way, Luke bought time for the last Resistance troops to make their escape by fighting (and, in a sense, dying at the hands of) Kylo Ren.
I feel there are many similarities between Kylo Ren and Darth Vader and between Ben Solo and Anakin Skywalker. The depth of this connection makes him such an interesting character. He’s manipulated by the Sith to the extent that he forces Luke to guard against him and, in a sense, causes his downfall.
The true enemy of the final three films isn’t Ren or Snoke – it’s Sidious.
The story of Kylo Ren is one of redemption, overcoming near-impossible odds (Han Solo would be proud) in the face of evil deception and misdirection to finally triumph.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Who are Kylo Ren’s parents?
Answer: Kylo Ren is the Dark Side persona of Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa.
He was born just over a year after the Battle of Endor, on the day the Galactic Empire formally surrendered.
Question: Did Luke betray Kylo Ren?
Ben Solo’s mind was infected, twisted, and manipulated by Snoke, a proxy of Darth Sidious. He fell to the Dark Side sometime before Luke realized the extent of the danger. He reached into Ben’s mind and found only darkness, along with a premonition of the destruction and death he would bring to the foundling Jedi Order.
Instinctively, Luke activated his lightsaber, determined to extinguish the threat. However, he immediately came to his senses and would never have harmed the boy. Solo, however, awoke and saw Luke standing over him. He then attacked him, knocking him unconscious, and burned the rest of the Order to the ground.
When Luke came to, he blamed himself – but the fault lies at Palpatine’s feet.
Question: Could I name my kid Kylo?
Answer: You could. Kylo is reasonably popular in the United States, primarily driven by the new Star Wars films. It could also be a nickname for a “Kyle” or an amalgamation of “Kylo” and “Milo”.