In the ‘Intertwined Destinies’ meta series, I intend on taking a deep dive into the mysterious connection between Rey and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi. In this first instalment, I cover their pasts – exploring what might have brought Rey and Kylo to where we find them in The Force Awakens, and how their histories may be paralleled and, potentially, overlap.
The Story of Ben
“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.”
In The Force Awakens, we get only the vaguest allusion to the tragedy that sent Luke Skywalker into hiding and marked the start of Ben Solo’s descent to the dark side. The explanation comes from Han Solo:
“One boy, an apprentice, turned against him and destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible. He just…walked away from everything.”
That boy, of course, was Ben – Han’s own son and Luke’s star pupil, who Mark Hamill has spoken of in the following terms:
“[Luke] made a huge mistake in thinking that his nephew was the chosen one, so he invested everything he had in Kylo, much like Obi-Wan did with my character. And he is betrayed, with tragic consequences. Luke feels responsible for that.”
This builds up an evocative picture of Ben Solo’s fall that is returned to in the trailer for The Last Jedi, which actually gives the event a different slant. With trailer-appropriate portentousness, we hear Luke speak fearfully of a terrible power that he failed to take seriously enough before. This dialogue is laid over shots of what we must assume is the destruction of Luke’s temple, including this one:
Here, we see Luke clawing his way free from beneath a pile of flaming timbre. This image alone is extremely striking, and raises an interesting possibility for what might have happened at the temple. It has previously been assumed (at least by me) that Luke was absent when Ben enacted his betrayal and killed his fellow Jedi in training, but this shot represents a strike against that interpretation – instead, it suggests something sudden and explosive that took Luke by surprise and unfolded before he could prevent it.
My feeling, then, is that the tragedy of Luke’s temple may not have been a calculated act of betrayal – rather, it could well have been a terrifying manifestation of Ben Solo’s latent power. We know that, as far as his mother was concerned, Ben had not turned to the dark side as of the events of Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, which is set when he is 23 years old. In that book’s present, she believes Luke and Ben are together but difficult to reach. But what is really interesting is that the crux of Bloodline’s plot is the truth of Leia Organa’s parentage coming out and ruining her political career. As soon as she learns that her father’s identity has been made public, Leia rushes to get word to her son and explain why she kept the truth of his relationship to Darth Vader hidden from him. We are not privy to her explanation, but we know it is recorded and sent to him, even though Leia can’t be certain that he will receive it given the unreliable state of the communications.
Most importantly, we also know that Claudia Gray received notes from Rian Johnson that helped her to write the book. While we don’t know what Rian’s notes consisted of, I feel reasonably confident in assuming that the following elements came directly from Rian:
- Ben was still Luke’s Jedi apprentice at the age of 23.
- Ben was not told Darth Vader was his grandfather by his family.
- Leia recorded a message for Ben to explain why he hadn’t been told the truth.
- Communications were bad/unreliable between Leia and Ben, making the delivery of the message uncertain.
My working theory, based on the books and the bits and pieces we’re getting on The Last Jedi, is that Ben struggled with the dark side from infancy. In Aftermath: Empire’s End, there are various passages indicating that the infant Ben Solo is troubled by a dark presence from his very earliest moments:
He is less a human shaped thing and more a pulsing, living band of light. Light that sometimes dims, that sometimes is thrust with a vein of darkness.
She tells herself that it’s normal – Luke said to her, Leia, we all have that. He explained that the brighter the light, the darker the shadow.
Right now, her son is upset, tumbling inside her as if he can’t get comfortable. His light, flickering with dark.
While we have no full account of Ben’s childhood, or even an impression of his adolescence, we can reasonably assume that this inner war between the dark and light continued to play out inside him as he developed. We know for a fact that Leia had concerns about Ben that caused her to send him to Luke, and the really interesting thing to consider is what formed the basis of her concerns – was she afraid of Ben’s dark leanings, his lack of control over his powers, or possibly both? Following the trailer, my bet would be on the final option – Leia’s concern wasn’t merely that Ben was drawn to the dark side, since the greater issue may well have been that the sheer extent of his power made her afraid of his potential to cause harm.
When he was sent to Luke, we can guess that Ben’s great power was perceived by Luke as a marker of a great destiny. Whereas Leia was frightened of her son’s power and felt like he needed help to control it, Luke considered him a new chosen one and invested all his resources in helping him realise his potential. He trained his nephew for years and helped him to build and refine his powers, apparently never seriously considering that Ben’s power could be mis-used or triggered by accident.
Throughout this period, Ben will have had to study and train as feelings of abandonment and isolation hung over him – we know he felt let down by his parents, and he may well have started out with different dreams and ambitions from being a Jedi (we know from the trailer that he’s an ace pilot – what if his real dream was to become a hot-rod racer?). We also have the suggestion that Snoke had targeted him from his childhood, apparently waiting on the wings for the time when Ben Solo would be ready for him. In many ways, Ben Solo was a ticking time bomb, and the period when he was his uncle’s golden pupil – presumably striving hard to prove himself as something more than a product of nepotism and a bloodline blessed with great potential in the Force – was always doomed to end.
We then reach the time of Bloodline – Ben is a young man, still training with his uncle, when the news that he is the grandson of Darth Vader breaks. After he has spent years struggling to meet other people’s expectations of him – his parents’ and his uncle’s, in particular – he discovers that those expectations were built on a lie. The pull to the darkness he had felt would suddenly make sense, being rooted – as far as Ben perceives it – in his blood connection to Vader. I think it’s highly possible that this discovery triggered an overwhelming swell of emotion in Ben, which could – in turn – have taken form as some explosive and uncontrollable manifestation of his power. This could have ripped through the temple like a nuclear blast, bringing the buildings down and killing Ben’s fellow pupils instantly.
Luke Skywalker, as the sole advanced Force user at the temple, would be the only person there with the power to survive the blast. Luke would check all the bodies, confronting the full horror of what has occurred, and would discover that the only missing pupil was Ben. This would be proof of his betrayal in Luke’s mind, and would leave Luke appalled by Ben’s devastating power and the hard truth that he had helped to hone it. His own power, too, would suddenly feel like less of a divine gift and more of a terrible curse that needs to be dealt with through a self-imposed exile that will allow him to seek answers from the Force.
Ben, for his part, would be devastated and feel more alone than he ever had before – he would flee out of terror over what he had just done, and the possible consequences he would face. Filled with self-loathing and fear, he would be the perfect prey for Snoke, who would finally have his opportunity to step in and shepherd Ben into the dark side fold. Snoke would help Ben to make sense of the ruins of his life by giving him a purpose – to fulfil his grandfather’s destiny by destroying the Jedi, whose teachings had failed so utterly.
And Snoke would keep Ben sweet by appealing to his ego, as his uncle once did, and reassuring him of how very special he is. In light of all this, let’s consider that first line from the trailer again:
“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power, and beyond that, something truly special.”
While many people have assumed this line to be about Rey (for reasons that remain obscure and frustrating to me), I am confident that it’s actually about Kylo/Ben. Ben would have been truly found by Snoke in the aftermath of the destruction of the temple, and the young man would have still been wracked by the destructive power that had overwhelmed him there – Snoke will have assured Kylo that he had lost control for want of proper training, and the promise of control will have formed one of the core pillars of his promise. But Kylo continues to struggle with control – as all of his petulant tantrums in The Force Awakens are testament to. So while his faith in Skywalker’s abilities as a teacher was shattered in a single tragic moment, I believe that his trust in Snoke was eroded gradually over years until we find Kylo as he is in The Force Awakens: still emotional, still prone to overflows of rage, and still as much Ben Solo as he is Kylo Ren.
So, that brings us up to speed with Kylo – but what of Rey? What could her history be, and how would it connect with Kylo’s?
The Story of Rey
One of the biggest takeaways for anyone seeking story points from the trailer should be that Luke is unnerved by and frightened of Rey because her power reminds him of Kylo Ren’s. In particular, we see Rey meditating and subsequently witness her cracking open the earth, apparently with the power of her mind:
Luke is clearly shocked and concerned by the extent of Rey’s abilities, and they evidently remind him of what is perhaps the most traumatic experience of his life – realising that he had helped to hone the power of Ben Solo, which had been unleashed as an explosion of death and destruction at his temple. The trailer leads us to assume that this leads Luke to turn his back on Rey and refuse to give her any further training, leaving her distraught and overcome with old feelings of rejection that can be traced back to her abandonment on Jakku.
One of the central mysteries raised by The Force Awakens is how Rey came to be abandoned on a desolate sand planet, with a cruel, profit-driven caretaker, as a small child. And while we have far less to go on than we do for Ben when it comes to figuring out Rey’s past, I now feel tentatively confident in saying that she was left on the planet because of her great, innate power. I see two central possibilities for Rey’s backstory at this stage:
- Rey was abandoned on Jakku after she, much like Ben Solo, demonstrated her innate power in a terrible way, either causing huge destruction or killing others, entirely by accident. The people who left her abandoned her out of fear and as a small mercy – they wanted rid of her, but they couldn’t bring themselves to kill a young child who clearly couldn’t comprehend what she had done.
- Rey was hidden on Jakku by people who cared about her because they were trying to escape Snoke, who had become aware of two hugely Force sensitive children: Rey and Ben Solo. Snoke was pursuing both options but had to tread more carefully with Ben Solo due to his greater visibility. As an act of desperation, Rey was hidden on Jakku because the planet’s obscurity and unique relationship with the Force made it the ideal hiding place for her. With Rey lost to him, Snoke returned his full energies to grooming Ben Solo as his apprentice.
I really can’t say which of these options is the more likely, since I think they both have a reasonable chance of being at least somewhat accurate. The second option has an interesting piece of supporting evidence in that Knights of Rant have shared an intriguing titbit on their podcast, where they say they have heard the following from a source (start around the 12-minute point):
“Ages ago we heard that Rey has no relation to anybody, she is literally nobody, but she is the reason Kylo turned to the dark side and Kylo turned in her place.”
Once connected to the new details from the trailer, this insight seems to slot in surprisingly well – if both Rey and Ben were targeted as hugely powerful Force sensitives and potential dark side apprentices by Snoke, then Ben would indeed have fallen in Rey’s place. With Rey taken off the board, Ben would have become the sole focus of Snoke’s energies. This would also explain Kylo’s bizarre over-reaction to reports of “a girl” in The Force Awakens and Snoke’s keen interest in the fresh awakening in the Force that Rey represents.
During her time on Jakku, Rey’s Force sensitivity was largely dormant, only manifesting in subtle ways that could easily be brushed off as luck. But as soon as she gets off the planet, her abilities start to grow. In particular, the floodgates are opened on her connection to the Force during her interrogation by Kylo Ren. The script describes the connection that flares between them like this:
Kylo Ren nearly TOUCHES HER FACE…
THEY’RE BOTH SURPRISED: they react to a feeling that passes between them — AN ENERGY THEY RECOGNIZE IN EACH OTHER.
So, they recognise an energy in each other – that energy, if we’re rolling with all this, is the connection they feel to the Force. They are both uniquely powerful, born with the same potential in the light as in the dark, but their paths through life and the choices their caretakers made on their behalf have seen the light and the dark manifest to different degrees in each of them. They recognise this on some primal, instinctual level, and the discovery of their connection directly leads to an intensification of Rey’s power.
In the fight in the forest at the climax of the film, Kylo memorably offers to be Rey’s teacher. In light of this new insight into the unique power that Rey and Kylo possess, that offer gains new context – Kylo is approaching Rey from a unique position, since he is her only true peer. They are the only two people in the galaxy with the same level of power, and he is the only other person with experience of living with that power and dealing with its consequences. In that context, Kylo’s offer comes from a very genuine place, and most likely a place of true wonder and appreciation – if he had previously believed all the other Force sensitives gone and considered himself entirely alone aside from two masters (one former, one current) who he deems failures, then Rey must seem like a miracle to him. Seeing Rey and becoming aware of what she is must represent the first time Kylo has felt hope – the possibility of a different path – in years.
But we all know how it ends – Kylo’s offer is brutally rejected with a slash to his face. Any hopes he may have had on the basis of his profound connection with Rey are dashed in that moment, leaving him to return to Snoke, disillusioned and emotionally shattered – as much from the loss of Rey and everything she represents to him, as from his choice to murder his father.
Let’s pause the discussion here, with this meta series to be picked up in a subsequent post where the discussion will move into the present, or the events of The Last Jedi, and explore how Rey and Kylo Ren’s connection may be explored and build upon in the aftermath of the events of The Force Awakens.