WARNING: Spoilers Alert!
“Where, O death, is your victory?” – 1 Corinthians 15:55
This verse resonated came to mind as the decrepit ruins of the Death Star appeared in The Rise of Skywalker. The ship built to conquer through death was shown defeated. It served as the perfect promise for the scene that was about to happen, about to bring in a depth unparalleled in the entire series.
The Rise of Skywalker is bursting with truths that it may not have even realized it was carrying. It beautifully whispered of realities like the communion of saints, and spiritual adoption. But perhaps the most poignant of all was the exploration of forgiveness and belonging in the character of Kylo Ren.
“You will deny me” – Matthew 26:34
Kylo Ren spent the last 2 movies running from himself. In ‘The Force Awakens,’ he stands before his father wracked with guilt, insecurity, anger, pain… He hates himself. And when Han, his father, extends a hand of reconciliation in love, Kylo Ren cannot accept it. He aches with guilt for all he has done, and the voice of his father calling him back by name, with a love he knows he doesn’t deserve, is too much. He says it himself – he wants to be free of that pain. And so he does what so many of us do every day – he denies the voice calling him back where he belongs. He seeks to silence the voice. We may do so by distracting ourselves, avoiding situations that remind us of our guilt, or trying to numb the feelings that nudge us to conversion. Kylo Ren does so by striking the voice down.
“I am no longer worthy to be called your son” – Luke 15:19
And yet, this does not give Kylo Ren freedom, just as our own flight from the Lord’s whispers never gives us freedom. Rather, Kylo Ren is haunted by the memory of his father, and what he did to him, for the entire ‘The Last Jedi’ and into ‘The Rise of Skywalker.’ Throughout these films, when Rey offers him an alternate path, or when he feels moved by the pull of his mother, he turns away from the freedom being offered him. “It’s too late,” and “I can’t go back.” He cannot accept the forgiveness and mercy being extended to him, because he cannot forgive himself. His shame is drowning him.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ten (Ben Solo) @2019 Walt Disney Studios. All rights reserved.
Yet Rey’s compassion and Leia’s calls were crucial in softening the soil of his heart, and preparing him for the encounter he needed most. Because what he needed most was not the understanding of Rey, though it softened him greatly, nor the call of his mother, though it challenged him greatly… what he needed most was reconciliation with his father.
“Simon son of John, do you love me?” – John 21:16
In the Gospel of John, we read of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus. It is heart wrenching. Three times, he is asked if he is one of Jesus’ men, and three times he denies the one who loves him. When he realizes what he has done, he can no longer stay by Jesus’ side. He flees. And he weeps for what he has done.
Yet, days later, the Risen Christ does something unexpected. He meets the disciples as they fish on the Sea of Tiberias, and Peter plunges into the water to get to him. When they have all eaten breakfast together by the water, Jesus takes Peter, whose hair was probably still wet from the water, and asks him three times “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He asks him once for each denial, offering him the opportunity to make reparation, to answer “yes” each time to his love instead of “no.”
This is exactly what happens between Kylo Ren – Ben – and his father.
In the most pivotal scene of the film, Han’s voice breaks through Kylo’s misery, with the simple “Hey, kid” of a father greeting his son. There is no condemnation in his greeting. Only love. Here like Peter, by the water and with wet hair, Ben hears his father call him by his given hame, and is offered the same opportunity. In a scene brilliantly scripted and choreographed, Han and Ben exchanged the same words and motions as in that painful scene in ‘The Force Awakens’ where Kylo ran his father through… only this time, Han is offering his son the opportunity to respond “yes” to his love instead of “no.”
And this time, when Ben takes out his lightsaber, it is not to silence the merciful voice of his father, but to accept it, and to allow it to change him. To allow it to bring him back into his family of belonging again.
“My son, your sins are forgiven.” – Mark 2:5
The scene has all the hallmarks of the Sacrament of Confession. Ben’s father calls, and Ben turns to face his father. He admits his guilt and pain, apologizes, accepts his father’s mercy, and lets it change him.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ten (Ben Solo) and Harrison Ford as Han Solo @2019 Walt Disney Studios. All rights reserved.
And later, when we see Ben running into that creepy cavern to save Rey, he moves with a lightness and swiftness he had never exhibited before – a movement that, for the first time, makes us think he might look a bit like his father after all. And when he surprises his enemies by pulling out a blue lightsaber from behind his back – passed to him by Rey through their force bond – he gives a sassy little bow to the startled guards… a flash of a piece of his personality that makes us realize that yes, this is definitely Han’s boy. In accepting the mercy of his father, Ben has become more himself, and more like the father who loves him.
“His father ran… and embraced him” – Luke 15:20
This is so reflective of the grace of Confession in our lives! God is always the protagonist in our story, reaching out, offering us opportunities to meet him. As with Kylo, we are sent friends and intercessors to soften our hearts for a personal encounter with the Lord. And when we finally turn and face him, admit our struggles or wrongs, and accept the mercy he offers by saying ‘yes’ to his love, we accept a grace into our lives that transforms us. We are given the grace to become even more who we are as sons and daughters of the Father. And in becoming more ourselves, we become more like him who loves us best.
In the end, Ben Solo represents all of us. When we see, really see, the weight of our sins, it is painful. But that pain is not meant to bring us to condemnation, but to conversion. In times like these, it takes incredible selflessness and humility to accept the mercy and forgiveness of our father, because it means accepting that our identity, our belonging and our value are wrapped up in the free love of another, and not in our own ability to earn that love. Accepting that free forgiveness the Father yearns to gift us is our act of love in response. Arriving at that kind of humble, vulnerable love can make accepting forgiveness one of the bravest things we can ever do. And we see that bravery rise in Ben Solo.
The Rise of Skywalker may have its flaws. But it bursts with truth in a way that eclipses its predecessors. It explores guilt and redemption, the extension of forgiveness and the struggle to accept forgiveness, the transformative power of mercy and love, and the restoration of belonging through grace with a depth that resonates in our own lives. Whether you loved the direction it took or not, The Rise of Skywalker holds gems that can change your life. We can all find inspiration in the mercy of a father, and the courage of a son to accept it. Because we don’t need to be fallen Jedi to be transformed by our Father’s mercy. We just need to be us.
Maybe today is your day by the water. Maybe today is your day to reconcile with your Father. Maybe today is your day to be transformed by grace into a truer version of yourself… into a child who looks like the Father who loves you.
About the author: Sr Orianne Dyck grew up in Ontario, and is a convert to Catholicism. She earned her Bachelors in Anthropology and Bachelors of Education, and taught for 5 years before entering The Daughters of St Paul, where she is currently a novice.