This article contains major The Rise of Skywalker spoilers. You can read a spoiler free review here instead.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker might be the conclusion of an entire saga of stories, but it also brings to a close a few of the Sequel Trilogy’s more personal stories, including perhaps its most important. Through three movies, the filmmakers of the Sequel Trilogy have been exploring a central mystery: the duality of the Force — light and dark — and how there must always be balance between the two. As we’ve seen in other trilogies, when there’s an imbalance in the Force things get ugly. Why?
Rey and Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo), two sides of the same Force coin, represent the latest struggle to balance out the Force. For every good deed Rey performs, Kylo Ren commits an atrocity somewhere else. The light is saving and helping people while the dark fights back. In reality, we know this conflict represents the oldest plot in the book: good vs. evil, but what do these mysteries of the Force say about Rey and Kylo Ren specifically? Why is their connection, one they can’t seem to break, so important?
Fortunately, The Rise of Skywalker gives us the answers we’re looking for as well as defines Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship. Can they ever be friends? Do they want to be more than friends? Let’s discuss what happened in the movie:
Light and Dark
The first thing you need to understand about Rey and Kylo Ren and their relationship to the Force is that they each contain both light and dark sides. We see this play out in very overt ways in The Rise of Skywalker.
On Pasaana, we see Rey use the Force to both heal a wounded creature and zap a First Order transport with the same lightning ability Emperor Palpatine is known for (not surprising once it’s revealed that she herself is Palpatine’s granddaughter). She feels love for her friends but also hatred towards Palpatine for killing her parents. Like Luke Skywalker before her, Rey begins to stray towards the dark side as she gets closer to the Emperor, who wants to corrupt her the same way he did Ben.
In the third act, as the final battle between the Resistance and the Final Order rages on above her, Rey is faced with the same choice Anakin and Luke had to make: join the Emperor or watch all the people she loves die. To refuse to strike down her grandfather and take his place as the new Sith Lord means that the Final Order will completely annihilate what remains of the Resistance. To rise to the throne of the Sith means taking control of the Final Order, saving her friends, but ultimately going down a path she likely can’t return from.
With Finn, Poe, and the rest of the Resistance’s lives in her hands, Rey makes a difficult choice: she agrees to perform “the ritual” that will guarantee her place on the throne and the safety of her friends. It maybe even seems like a win-win situation for Rey, who gets to save the galaxy while also striking down her grandfather with all of the hatred growing inside her. But just as she’s about to strike true and fulfill her destiny as a Sith, an unlikely ally arrives to help Rey defeat the Emperor once and for all.
Kylo Ren/Ben goes through a transformation in this movie too, and it’s all due to the very clear light and dark sides inside of him. When we first reunite with him in the movie, he’s off committing more mass murder in his search for the Emperor’s hideout. Palpatine’s sudden return means Kylo has a chance to finish what his own grandfather started: kill the Sith lord once and for all. But the Emperor is far too manipulative to be struck down by an angry child like Kylo. Palpatine instead uses the Supreme Leader’s very clear granddaddy issues to set him on a new goal: to TRULY do what Vader could not and exterminate every last Jedi.
While Darth Vader wished to supplant the Emperor at some point, with Luke by his side, he was never ever able to defeat his master. Kylo Ren thought he had achieved this by slicing Snoke in half in The Last Jedi, but the Emperor shows him that Snoke was another lie fabricated by the Sith Lord to put his plans in motion while he remained in hiding. Snoke’s body — whether the original one or another, genetically engineered one — floats in a tank inside the Sith temple for Kylo to see. It’s no wonder then that Kylo Ren accepts his new mission from his new master, donning the helmet once again and praying at his grandpa’s altar, in order to finally complete what he believes is the Skywalker legacy.
But just as there is this familial darkness within him, there’s also light, a side of the Force that Kylo can run from in the end. 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. 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 on the Death Star, 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 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.
The point is that, no matter how good or bad you are, there’s light and dark sides to all of these characters. The Force doesn’t work as good vs. evil, light vs. dark, but as light and dark. This is the balance that Skywalker saga has teased for so long.
The Balance of the Force
“There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?” Supreme Leader Snoke says in the very first teaser for The Force Awakens. “The light side…and the dark.”
From the very beginning of the trilogy — and the saga itself — the light and dark sides have shared a sort of symbiotic relationship where one can’t exist without the other. Every time the Sith, and by extension the dark side, are vanquished, something terrible happens to the Jedi down the line to bring back that balance. When the ancient Sith were defeated before the start of the Skywalker saga, the Republic began to decay and the Jedi were blind to the rise of a new Sith threat, setting off a chain of events that led to the galaxy electing a populist leader that would eventually take over the government and exterminate the Jedi Order.
But as the light of the Jedi diminished, a new hope arose to balance out that darkness. Luke Skywalker, along with the Rebellion, fought back against the Empire and the Sith, defeating the Emperor and bringing peace. Yet, if you believe in this pattern, in this balance of the Force which demands both light and dark sides, then you won’t be surprised by what happened next.
Ben Solo turned on Luke’s new Jedi Order and destroyed it. What proceeded was the destruction of the New Republic at the hands of Supreme Leader Snoke, the First Order, and Kylo Ren. The Jedi and the Republic were all but defeated…except for a new hope.
“Darkness rises and light to meet it,” Snoke says in The Last Jedi as Rey is brought before him. It’s the Force’s need for balance that brings Rey and Kylo together. Even though Snoke says he’s the one who’s facilitated the connection between hero and villain (although it’s really Palpatine, isn’t it?), there’s really a higher power at work here.
What is a Force Dyad?
The Rise of Skywalker appropriately introduces the concept of a “Force dyad,” a new term in the Star Wars universe that seems to describe this balance between the light and dark sides. The real-world definition of the word “dyad” — “two individuals maintaining a sociologically significant relationship” — offers a clue as to how the Force dyad works. (You should also consider the genetics term “dyad symmetry” which refers to two DNA strands that reverse complement each other.)
As Ben says in the movie, he and Rey are a dyad — two sides of the Force connected as one, and we’ll soon find out exactly what shape their relationship takes. Accepting this connection and the balance that comes with it is key to bringing down the Emperor. Just as Rey is about to make the decision to join the dark side and become the Empress in order to save her Resistance friends, Ben shows up at the Sith temple on Exegol to remind her that the light side, and the power of friendship and love, is her strongest ally.
Little do Rey and Ben know that the Emperor has been planning their union the entire team. In fact, he needs them to come together to restore himself to his former glory. This isn’t anyhing new. He’s been feeding on conflicts between the light and dark all along.
The Emperor is the ultimate evil across all three trilogies. He stands between Anakin and Obi-Wan (which you could argue is its own dyad — student and teacher) in the prequels and Luke and Darth Vader (father and son) in the Original Trilogy. Now, the most important dyad of all stands before him, the heirs of the first families of both the Jedi and the Sith: Skywalker and Palpatine. And as he’s done in the past, the Emperor uses this dyad for his own gains.
“Long have I waited. And now your coming together is your undoing,” the Emperor says, as Rey and Ben prepare to attack. But before they can strike him down, the Emperor instead drains them of their life energy, literally feeding on this dyad to regain his powers.
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. The two heroes 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 his fall and can save her. To do so, he must give her 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 dyad 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.
Is Rey the True Chosen One?
Fans will likely debate this “Reylo” moment for years to come, but the romance itself is ultimately destined to be short-lived. The Skywalker legacy lives on through Rey, though, not as a representation of the darkness or light but in the balance of both. This is subtly expressed in the movie’s final scene.
When asked her name by a wanderer on Tatootine, Rey replies that her name is “Rey Skywalker.” Rey is the Skywalker who rises in this movie. What does this mean for the story of Star Wars going forward? While it’s clear how Rey’s victory will affect the galaxy — it will likely mark the formation of a new government (the Newer Republic?) — how it’ll affect the Force is a bit more of a mystery. On the surface, it seems that the balance between light and dark has been broken again because of the Emperor’s defeat, meaning a new evil will rise again, one Rey may have to face in a later story (or trilogy). But something more interesting might be at play here.
Since Rey is technically a Palpatine who chooses the light side, what if she herself is that balance? Two sides of the same coin, born from darkness but raised by the light. It would be a fitting end to the saga, giving this conflict between the light and the dark the finality it deserves. At last, there is balance.