This post is not really about Star Wars. It’s not really even about Kylo Ren / Ben Solo. But it does contain spoilers about the latest installment of Star Wars (that’s The Rise Of Skywalker in case anyone is reading this from the future), Godzilla the King of the Monsters, the Harry Potters, and a number of others. So if you care about spoilers, look away, sweet summer child.
I saw the newest Star Wars a few weeks ago. After the movie, a bunch of out went out for drinks and so on. While we were talking, my partner said something along the lines of “Kylo Ren had to die”. On the one hand, he has a point. There wasn’t enough space for the story they tried to tell as it was. There absolutely wasn’t enough time or space to provide an actual redemption arc to Kylo Ren, no matter how much Rey tried to call him Ben.
On the other hand, my immediate reaction was to push back on that idea. Kylo Ren did TERRIBLE things. He should have had to atone for them. And no matter how hard I cried during that scene, it doesn’t take away from the fact that death was the easy way out for Kylo Ren. And come to that, death was the easy way out for a whole host of other bad guys who ended up doing some good things during the course of the story. As if those few good deeds could ever wipe away all the awful things they’d done. They’ve killed entire planets, but that’s okay, they made this one sacrifice in a life filled with awful deeds. They get to die something like a hero.
Die a hero or become the villain
Harvey Dent’s death is not a heroic one, even if Gordon subsequently paints him as a hero. On the other hand, so many others never did get the same kind of tragic end. In Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, Dr. Emma Russel knowingly sets off a literal apocalypse. Her family forgives her almost immediately. She knows she could not live free and drives off in an attempt to draw the attention of Ghidorah long enough for her family to get away and for Godzilla to have a little time to recover. Her last words are “Long live the King”. This woman worked something close to a decade to bring about the apocalypse, knowing that millions would die as a direct result of her actions. And she gets to die a hero because she sacrificed her life so that Godzilla could have a little bit more time.
But what if she didn’t? What if she, and Ben Solo, and Severus Snape and all the others like them faced the consequences for all the awful things they’d done? I’m not a huge fan of the death sentence. Partially because it’s a step that can’t be undone or ameliorated. If someone is innocent, you can’t resurrect them. And the other reason is that I don’t believe that death is the worst thing you can do to someone.
There’s a tendency in general for people to be easy to forgive fictional people and hard on real people, whatever the crime. With real people, we either want them out of polite society altogether or refuse to believe they’ve done any crime at all. We have a tendency to romanticize fictional people. Why else would we consider Severus Snape a tragically romantic character, instead of a bully? This is a man who spent his adult life showing at the very least rank favoritism toward captive juveniles. He outright bullied two of them (Harry and Neville), and there’s no evidence to suggest that he didn’t have the same problems with others. But that’s okay because AFTER he had killed and tortured people (Death Eater before Lily’s death remember) he decided to regret what he’d done and promised to protect the boy he would then go on to bully?
Honestly, I blame writers. We are a wily bunch, and I hope that I am no exception. Writers manipulate the emotions for fun and profit and have done so for as long as storytelling humanity has existed. Maybe it’s easier and more fun to tell a redemption narrative. But I’m finding it hard to understand why that redemption narrative never includes real consequences? I’ve been going round and round in my head and all I find is more questions. If the villain makes amends and takes his consequences beyond saving the hero, does that take away from the change? People are fallible and complex. Why do we find a heroic death for a villain so satisfying? Why did I cry so hard when Ben Solo died? I have no answers, only questions.