The Skywalker Legacy documentary | The Rise of Skywalker novelization
I have struggled with Ben Solo’s character a lot and, through The Rise of Kylo Ren comic, I finally came to a place of understanding the character as someone who never really had any idea what he was supposed to do or what path he was supposed to be on, that everything else, even when important elements that factored into his motivations, was window dressing for the real underlying thing about him: He’s just never known what he was supposed to do and he’s careened from one bad choice to the next to try to find it.
What I mean by that is, in the comics, Ben cites that the weight of legacy drove him to many of his decisions, but even within the comic itself, he contradicts that and, when listening to Driver talk about the character, it’s not mentioned at all. Oh, I have no doubt it was a factor of Ben’s choices, but it wasn’t the actual problem–the problem was that he never knew what he was supposed to do, what path he was supposed to be on, and he never really did the hard look into himself to figure that out.
So I actually really loved what the novelization presents as his reasons for wanting to turn Rey, why he wants to bring her to the dark side. That it’s justification for his latest careening choice, that he’s still see-sawing at that point, it’s ambiguous what he’s supposed to do, and even during the fight on Pasaana, he has no idea what that is.
He’s trying to justify it, trying to think that if he kills the light in her, then he’ll be killing the light in himself and he’s SO ANGRY that she’s resisting this pull to the dark, because it makes him question what some part of him already knows is a bullshit choice and the bullshit actions that have led him to where he is.
I think that’s what makes him somewhat different from Anakin–who knew the right choices, he just buried them so far in himself that they were little more than embers that no one could reach, not until Luke (or Leia), who didn’t know the good person that had been murdered to become Vader, that he could tolerate their affection in ways he couldn’t with Obi-Wan or Ahsoka. Anakin absolutely had the wisdom to make better choices (the “Bad Batch” arc of TCW shows that with startling clarity), but didn’t. I’m not so sure that Ben Solo ever managed to get that wisdom.
Because, in contrast, Ben seems to genuinely just not have any flipping idea what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s never had the answer.
Whether that’s because he refused to acknowledge the answer or because he just could never parse any of this stuff in his head or it’s some murky combination of the two (which is what it usually is, especially when he’s had Palpatine’s voice in his ear for so long, but we also saw Tai directly telling him that he wasn’t doing the hard work of really understanding himself, which is essential for who a Jedi is, showing that Ben was ignoring the training on some level), this is someone who genuinely seems to just have no clue and is desperately trying to commit to any path that he thinks might be the answer.
So he see-saws back and forth, there’s nothing but ambiguity for him. He does terrible, monstrous things as Kylo Ren, he’s angry that his mother still loves him and that he can feel it in The Last Jedi, he’s been fighting his father’s memory since The Force Awakens, he thinks he can’t go back to his mother, but Leia dies trying to reach him one last time, even Rey knows that he’s wrong about how he can go back to her.
Ben Solo makes sense to me as someone who has no internal sense of what the right path for him is and he’s so tortured by this that he’s willing to do terrible things or listen to terrible voices in his head (voices that preyed on him, voices that deliberately attacked a vulnerable young man, that is absolutely a factor, but that cannot take away all of Ben’s agency in his own choices, especially given the people he’s gone on to hurt or kill and at least some deep down part of him knows that his family loved him, that’s part of why he’s so angry at them) that he keeps trying to justify all of this in an attempt to finally feel things have clicked into place inside him.
Only by letting go of all of it, the desperately trying to force one path or another, trying to impose his will on the galaxy around him, of trying to force Rey to the dark side because he’s angry that she’s trying to stay true to the light, that she’s resisting the dark, that it makes him question himself, especially given their connection, only then can he find the sense of internal rightness he’s been searching for his whole life.
And, honestly. As Anakin’s grandson, “careening from one bad decision to the next because he has no goddamned idea what he’s actually supposed to be doing and he’s desperately trying to make this path the right one for him, until he finally lets go of all of that internal bullshit and does something for someone else even at the cost to himself” is pretty fitting.