****This article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker****
The Rise of Skywalker is intended to be the end of the nine-chapter Skywalker saga.
The film put a ton of effort into attempting to establish this satisfying ending, and it paid off in plenty of ways. In just one example, Rey ends the movie on Tatooine at the Lars Homestead, looking out over the Binary Sunset – where this whole crazy journey really got started over four decades ago in A New Hope.
In all, I felt like it truly was a satisfying conclusion to the saga, from the characters to the cameos to the musical score to the locations. I was very pleased. But there was one thing in particular that stood out to me as being a very fitting conclusion to this Skywalker saga, and it has to do with Ben Solo – the last Skywalker (by blood, that is).
In the film’s final confrontation, Rey and Ben Solo stand together before Palpatine, but their connection in the Force (they form a dyad in the Force) serves to rejuvenate Palpatine to his former self. He uses the Force to throw Ben off a cliff, sending the last Skywalker falling as he once fell. Rey stands, empowered by the Jedi who came before, and she defeats Palpatine. After doing so, however, she dies. Ben climbs up the cliff to find her dead, and he cradles her in his arms.
But then he remembers something he had seen Rey do. Earlier in the film, it was established that Rey could heal through the Force, as she explains to BB-8 following her healing the worm that she just transferred a bit of life to it. Later, after stabbing Ben in the gut, Rey uses this power to heal him and save his life. Now, Ben uses that and brings Rey back to life. The two kiss, but then Ben dies, becoming one with the Force. He gave his life for Rey. If this power is about transferring a bit of life to the other, then presumably to bring someone back from the dead requires you to essentially transfer all of your life.
And it’s this action that I think is such a perfect conclusion to the Skywalker saga. I know it has been controversial, mainly among the Reylo crowd, but I think it’s sad and tragic, yet at the same time a fitting end to the story of Skywalker.
Firstly, let’s establish that this isn’t the first time we have seen something like this. In The Clone Wars, the Mortis arc (which continues to be a pivotal story for our understanding of the Force) sees the Daughter sacrifice herself by allowing her life to be transferred to Ahsoka Tano in order to bring her back from the dead. So this idea, although rare, has been seen before.
But here’s where things get very interesting: Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side was inextricably wrapped up in this very idea. Anakin desperately wanted to figure out how to keep Padme from dying, and then he spent many years as Vader attempting to bring Padme back from the dead (as explored in Charles Soule’s Darth Vader comic and Vader Immortal, among other things).
Anakin was obsessed with Padme, and he explained to Padme in Attack of the Clones his interpretation of the Jedi approach to love:
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say that we are encouraged to love.”
That is very much in line with how George Lucas, in various interviews, has defined and interpreted things: basically, true love is filled with compassion, whereas the forbidden kind of love is the greedy and jealous love built on attachment. And this greatly informs how we understand what happened with Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin desperately wanted to save Padme, and he was willing to do whatever it took… but this love was not so much rooted in a care for Padme’s wellbeing but rather the sentiment that, “I can’t live without her.” These feelings really picked up in Attack of the Clones, when Anakin apologizes to his late mother that he wasn’t strong enough to save her – but promises that one day he would be. It is clear from that point on that Anakin wants to be able to keep the ones he loves from dying – something Chancellor Palpatine offers him. Palpatine tells the story of Darth Plagueis, who was supposedly able to create life and keep those he cared about from dying. “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural,” Palpatine says (a line that is repeated in The Rise of Skywalker). When Anakin asks if it’s possible to learn this power, Palpatine simply replies, “Not from a Jedi.”
And so Anakin quickly thereafter falls to the dark side. He helps kill Mace Windu because, as he says, he needs Palpatine. Why? Because he needs Palpatine’s help to save Padme. As Anakin pledges himself to Palpatine, he says, “I will do whatever you ask. Just help me save Padme.” Anakin’s fall to the dark side was because he wanted to try to learn how to keep Padme from dying, but the irony was that it actually led to Padme’s death. The dark side had promised something to Anakin that it could not fulfill, yet for the next twenty years Vader lived as a broken man completely committed to the dark side – all the while still trying to bring Padme back.
But, as Lucas has alluded to in interviews before, Anakin’s love ultimately failed and led to his descent to the dark side because it was a selfish love. He didn’t truly love Padme for Padme; he loved Padme because he couldn’t live without her. That’s a very subtle twist on something that’s almost inextricable, but basically it means that Anakin’s love for Padme was a selfish love. He loved her for what she gave him, for how she made him feel, etc. And that’s not true, compassionate love as Star Wars sees it.
Flash forward to Return of the Jedi, and Anakin saves Luke from dying. How? By returning to the light. As Lucas has said before, this is when Anakin truly loves out of compassion, because here, as Lucas puts it, “The end of the saga is simply Anakin saying, ‘I care about this person, regardless of what it means to me'”. Finally, Anakin acts out of a selfless love, but that’s only once he embraces the light again, not the darkness.
So the irony in all of this is that, from a certain point of view, it is actually only through the light side of the Force that one can keep people from dying, at least in the way Anakin Skywalker so desired. It is only possible through unconditional, compassionate love. That’s the opposite of the kind of love that Anakin had for Padme, but exactly the kind of love he had for Luke.
Let’s now examine what happens in The Rise of Skywalker. Ben Solo is redeemed, returning to the light, and decides to go save his friend (just like his father did at the end of A New Hope, I might add). Yet when he discovers Rey dead, Ben does the only thing he can think of: he transfers his life to Rey. Earlier in the film, Leia had essentially given her life to save Ben (albeit in a different way), and now Ben gives his life to save Rey. This love is not selfish but selfless, a compassionate and unconditional kind of love. Ben Solo doesn’t approach this moment like Anakin Skywalker did with Padme; Ben Solo approaches this out of love. Even if it kills him – and I think he knows it will – he is going to act for Rey’s good.
So really, the Skywalker saga wraps up with the last Skywalker finally doing what Anakin wanted to but never could. Anakin couldn’t keep his mother from dying and wanted to keep Padme from dying too, so he turned to the dark side believing the lie that he could prevent death. He couldn’t, and he lived in hatred until his compassion for his son drove him back to the light to save Luke. Many years later, Anakin’s grandson, Ben Solo, returned to the light side of the Force and did keep the one he loved from dying. Why? Anakin’s love was selfish; Ben’s love was selfless. And in doing so, Ben brought a satisfying and fitting end to the story of Skywalker. He finally did what Anakin never could.
Anakin told Padme in Revenge of the Sith, “Love can’t save you, Padme. Only my new powers can do that.” As it turns out, his new powers couldn’t save; but years later, his grandson proves that love can.