One of the biggest sources of tension in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and in Star Wars: The Last Jedi was derived from Kylo Ren's pull to the light side of the Force, and the question of whether he would turn against Snoke and the First Order, reclaiming his birth name, Ben Solo, and in the process -- what fans of the character call -- completing a "Bendemption."
The Force Awakens appeared to answer that question with the most heart-wrenching scene of the saga so far. The Dark Side of the Force won the battle and Kylo Ren stabbed Han Solo, his father, with his crackling lightsaber. It was this patricide, more than anything else that Kylo Ren ever did on or off-screen, that divided Star Wars fans into two seemingly irreconcilable camps: those who believed that he might still be redeemed, and those that hoped that Adam Driver's character would burn in the hottest Mustafarian lava for all eternity.
This feeling is understandable: not only was Han a huge fan favorite, but he died hoping and trusting that his son would come back to him. In that instant, it felt like a bad joke, that the scoundrel that had done a heel-face turn in the very first Star Wars movie defeating his worst instincts to help the Rebels destroy the Death Star, should die by the hand of a son that lost the same internal battle.
Although it paralleled Darth Vader's duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, Han's death felt like a slap in the face: for one thing, Han was no Jedi. His body didn't poetically disappear to become one with the Force; he was stabbed through the heart with a burning sword, and then he fell gracelessly into the Starkiller Base abyss. Besides, fans had known and loved Han since 1977, while Obi-Wan had barely been on-screen for an hour the first time that anyone saw him die.
Fast forward two years to The Last Jedi, which in-universe takes place barely a week after The Force Awakens, where Snoke revealed that Kylo Ren's spirit split to the bone when he killed his father and that his mind was in turmoil, closer to the light than it had ever been. Han haunts him, and Kylo Ren doesn't pretend that this act was anything other than monstrous, even saying so himself. Rey, just like Han, sees the light in him… and for a brief moment, he turns, resetting the balance by killing his "dark" father figure, Snoke.
But he still refuses the call to the light side of the Force, doubling down on his path as the new Supreme Leader of the First Order. Yes, Kylo Ren looked heartbroken when Rey closed the door between them, leaving him kneeling in the salted ground of Crait -- but to be fair, Ren had just tried to shoot the Falcon out of the sky, attempted to kill his uncle Luke and promised to destroy Rey and the Resistance, so those fans that were looking forward to his downfall were delighted at his wounded pride.
Nevermind that this was exactly what happened to Darth Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back: Luke rejected his proposal to rule together so hard that he preferred to jump into the void rather than join him.
Even if we look only at the movies, everything seems to be pointing towards Kylo Ren following on the steps of his grandfather in The Rise of Skywalker. But just in case the films' subtext isn't enough to convince his detractors, Disney has been slowly but surely laying out the groundwork for a Bendemption through the canon stories outside of the movies: in its Marvel comic-books and Star Wars Kids YouTube series.
Let's take a look at some of the clues pointing to Ben Solo's rise back to the light, from the more subtle suggestions in the comic books to the bolder messages aimed at children.
POE DAMERON #21
Leia hopes aloud to have a granddaughter that might one day wear her mother's dresses. Why would she say something like this out loud, when Kylo Ren is her only son and already in Snoke's grasp unless she still had some hope that he might resolve his issues in time to form a family of his own?
Chronologically, this is the first time that we see Kylo Ren interacting with Finn, feeling the latter's hesitation about the First Order's mandate, and letting it slide (he would repeat this in the very first scene of The Force Awakens, an act of compassion that sets the plot of the sequels in motion).
Only someone who understands struggling with contradictory instincts would have empathy for Finn's predicament. Compare this with Hux's or Phasma's attitude. One would have disposed of the defective trooper straight away, and the other would have sent him straight to reconditioning.
This issue of Age of Resistance drops Kylo Ren and Armitage Hux into an abandoned planet. Not only does Ren save Hux's life using the exact same visual composition than when Rey saved the remnants of the Resistance, but when Kylo is unconscious and Hux has to think on his feet to convince an Alderaanian survivor to help them, the cunning general reveals his parentage: Leia Organa, Princess of Alderaan, Rebel senator, that "Ben Solo resembles more than he would like to admit."
And Hux really thinks this, because just one page before he had used the same words to insult Kylo Ren.
Snoke #1 explores Kylo Ren's fears and motivations under Snoke's "training." The issue opens with Snoke dropping Kylo Ren over a cliff of crystals, after instructing him to use his fear to save his own life, and it only gets more abusive from that point on. Leonard Kirk, the issue's artist, renders the expressions of fear, confusion, hurt, pride and even deep love and regret on Kylo Ren's face with such detail that it is impossible to close the last page still thinking that Ben Solo is a villain.
That's not to say that he's a saint either: when he's faced with "the things he buried" in the same Dagobah tree-cave where Luke succombed to his aggression and fear, Kylo acts in accordance with his leitmotif of "killing the past," in the most radical way possible. If only Snoke had been a little less focused on Luke Skywalker, he would have been able to foresee his own death.
REY AND PALS
Yes, this is a children's picture book, where Star Wars characters are turned into children and put into happy, funny scenes. However, unlike Hux, Kylo Ren is depicted trying to play with the children of the Resistance, like a grumpy kid that doesn't quite know how to engage with others. In other scenes, Rey teases him, and in another, he earns weird looks from the First Order kids because he’s talking with his "imaginary friend" Rey.
Why would Disney publish a book for children that paints Kylo Ren in such a sympathetic light if it were planning to give him just villainous deserts in The Rise of Skywalker?
STAR WARS ROLL OUT
Star Wars Kids' YouTube channel has released an adorable weekly miniseries addressed at very young kids, where every main character from the Star Wars saga is BB-eightified. So far, only the trailer and two mini-arcs have been released, but Star Wars Brazil already announced through its official Twitter account that a little kid dressed like Han Solo is actually his son, Ben Solo, aka baby Kylo Ren.
So far, BB-8 and Chewbacca's stories are about them getting lost in the wilderness, trapped by a scary red-hued predator that plans to eat them only to be saved by the power of love and friendship, and then returning the favor to defeat the beast. It would be hard to find a more straightforward, toddler-friendly redemptive arc for Ben.