This article contains major The Rise of Skywalker spoilers. You can read a spoiler free review here instead.
The Rise of Skywalker is the end of the saga that began with A New Hope in 1977. It closes out the stories of all the heroes we’ve followed on the big screen up to this point. Rey and Kylo Ren, in particular, get closure after three movies of fighting and trying to fulfill the legacies of past generations. For Rey, this means defeating the Sith once and for all and reviving the Jedi Order.
Things aren’t so clear cut for Kylo Ren, who begins the movie as the First Order’s vicious Supreme Leader and ends his journey in a completely different, unexpected place. There’s finality in the last Skywalker’s journey, but that doesn’t mean that his story is completely over. Let’s break down what happened to Kylo Ren in The Rise of Skywalker and how his fate connects to the Jedi and Sith of the past.
Kylo Ren Dies
While Rey is ultimately the “Skywalker” who rises in the culmination of the Sequel Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker also gives us the return of Ben Solo, who is brought back to life through Leia’s final message of love, Rey’s mercy, and Han’s memory. Finally, the light side gets through to Ben right at the moment of Kylo Ren’s death on the Death Star. Leia tells him to let go of his hatred, Rey saves his life even though she has no reason to (nor does he deserve it), and Han forgives him for his past sins.
With both spiritual and physical wounds healed after his climactic duel with Rey, Ben sheds his Kylo Ren guise — lightsaber, tunic, and cloak — and dons a questionable sweater to go help the young Jedi on Exegol. Ben fulfills his destiny in the climactic battle on Exegol by returning to the light that was inside of him all along, and uses it to pull Rey back from the dark side and stop her from killing the Emperor and becoming the new Dark Lord of the Sith.
“Long have I waited. And now your coming together is your undoing,” the Emperor says, as Rey and Ben prepare to attack. Little do they know that they’ve actually given Palpatine a way to rise to power once again, providing him with the life force he needs to sit on the throne and defeat the Resistance and the Jedi once and for all.
During the Pasaana sequence, The Rise of Skywalker teases the ability to transfer life energy from one being to another. Rey uses it as a way to heal a creature in need, but the Emperor shows us that someone can also use the Force to steal life energy from another.
The concept of “Force draining” is nothing new in Star Wars. It’s a Force ability that was first introduced in the old Legends timeline and appeared fairly often in the video games. You can even see a canon example of this power in The Clone Wars episode “Altar of Mortis,” in which Anakin uses this ability to save his apprentice Ahsoka Tano.
The Emperor has no interest in using this power to save someone else, though, using both Rey and Ben’s energy to restore himself completely. Free of life support, the Emperor once again ascends his throne, no longer in need of either Rey or Ben.
Ben Solo Sacrifices Himself
Despite the fact that the Emperor has regained his powers, Rey is still ultimately able to defeat him, with a little help from the thousands of generations of Jedi that have come before. But her victory comes at a cost: the life of Ben. Rey and Ben share one final moment before the end, and it’s undoubtedly the movie’s most controversial scene. In order to defeat the Emperor, Rey is forced to use all of the energy she has left, dying in the process. Fortunately for her, Ben survived being thrown into a chasm by the Emperor and can save her. To do so, he must sacrifice what life energy he has left to revive her.
The implications of Ben reviving Rey can’t be ignored here. Not only does it confirm that “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise” — that Palpatine’s own Sith Master could stop his loved ones from dying — is true but that Ben loves Rey. But, like Luke’s Force projection in The Last Jedi, this power comes at a price. As Rey wakes up in Ben’s arms, he is slowly dying...
But before he goes, Rey and Ben share a tender moment that will send waves through Star Wars fandom for years to come. They kiss, confirming what some fans believe the Sequel Trilogy has been teasing all along: Rey and Ben’s connection is a romantic one. To some, including this writer, this development comes as a shock, considering that Ben has spent most of the trilogy committing awful acts of mass murder but ends the saga with a kiss from the story’s greatest hero. Such is redemption in the Star Wars saga, it seems.
Ben’s Force Ghost
As Luke says in the first trailer of The Rise of Skywalker, “No one’s ever really gone.” This is certainly true of Luke himself, who returns one last time as a Force ghost to give Rey some sage advice about the destiny of a Jedi. In The Last Jedi, Yoda’s ghost also appeared for Luke. The Original Trilogy invented the concept of the Force ghost when Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke to Luke during the attack on the Death Star and later on Hoth and Dagobah. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke even sees his father’s spirit smiling back at him on Endor.
Like the Jedi before him, Ben’s death isn’t the end for the fallen hero but a new beginning. You see, when Ben dies, his body disappears, which suggests that he’ll one day return as a Force ghost himself. After all, that’s usually what needs to happen for a Force user to achieve this state of consciousness from beyond the grave.
Interestingly enough, Qui-Gon Jinn was the first Jedi to discover this ability although his body didn’t disappear and we never saw his actual spirit floating around in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of Sith. The Clone Wars episode “Voices” explained that Qui-Gon’s spirit could only communicate with the living as a disembodied voice because he didn’t complete the training needed to become a proper Force ghost. But he passed on what he knew to Yoda, who figured out how to fully achieve this otherworldly state.
One thing Qui-Gon, Yoda, and Obi-Wan all have in common is the fact that they’re all decidedly good guys, which might make you wonder how rogue characters like Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo, who also didn’t train as Qui-Gon and Yoda did, became Force ghosts. It’s been suggested that, despite committing terrible crimes as Darth Vader, Anakin was able to retain his consciousness in the afterlife due to his sacrifice and redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi. When Ben saves Rey, he commits a similar sacrifice. He does just enough to ensure that he’ll never really be gone.
Does this mean that he’ll one day show up in the Star Wars saga again? Will he help Rey in some way through the Force? That all remains to be seen. For now, he’ll live on in Rey’s memory as one of the heroes who saved the galaxy.