The Rise of Skywalker does a thorough job of recalling the original trilogy. Most nods to the past have something to do with locations or objects: we get Darth Vader’s musty old helmet, Luke’s old X-Wing, and even a shot of those cute little Ewoks on Endor. Then there’s Kylo Ren, who was introduced to audiences in The Force Awakens as a new Darth Vader, but who, unintentionally or not, echoes the prequel trilogy’s Anakin Skywalker more than anyone else. In the end, Anakin and his grandson are bound to a recurring theme in the Star Wars universe: love.
[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker.]
For Anakin, love is both a conduit for power and the suffering he reaps on himself and others within the universe. When “the Chosen One” first meets with the Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace, the Jedi immediately test and criticize the fear that resides within him. The fear is directly related to his mother Shmi, who was left behind on Tatooine in a live of enslavement. In spite of his age, and being a lot older than the other apprentices, the Jedi Council believe in their ability to curve Anakin to the Light Sade, and specifically their way of thinking, known as the Jedi code. Part of the code decrees that “attachment is forbidden,” meaning Jedi are not allowed to form romantic relationships, and should cast away any relationship they do have aside. There’s no deviating from the code.
But Anakin can’t repress his love for others. In Attack of the Clones, he develops feelings for Padme Amidala, while plagued by guilt and worry over leaving his mother behind. Love ultimately empowers Anakin throughout the entirety of Episode II, while driving him further away from the Jedi code and into the arms of his future master, Palpatine. The future Emperor uses Anakin’s love for Padme, and the fear of her death, to manipulate him into committing further atrocities. While a casual observer may feel this is a step towards darkness that is overblown, it says a lot about the Jedi Order and the strict, unfeeling code that they dictate that Anakin feels he has no other choice but to turn against everything they’ve ever taught him. To him, being a Jedi is nothing without Padme.
Kylo Ren also suffers from love, seen in his confrontation with Han Solo during The Force Awakens. While he ultimately murders his father, it’s love that instills him with a need to be rid of Han in the first place. Kylo’s actions during that scene shows the exact opposite thinking of Anakin, who doesn’t believe that love weakens him and his power in the slightest. What makes this feel deeply tongue-in-cheek from Kylo’s perspective is that the Sith code is an inversion of the Jedi’s. Instead of “there is no passion, only serenity” the code for Sith states “peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion I gain strength.” Unlike Anakin, Kylo is encouraged to feel passion and love, but still chooses to repress it. With the Jedi and Sith wanting two different things from them — repression and passion — Anakin and Kylo are two sides of the same coin, with the latter unintentionally following the Jedi’s “code” more so than the Sith’s. But in the end, Kylo is able to achieve the one thing that Anakin couldn’t do.
In Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine seduces Anakin into turning against the Jedi teachings with the legend of Darth Plagueis, a Sith Lord who used the power of the midi-chlorians in order to prevent people from dying. It’s here where Anakin’s love for Padme overtakes common sense, and he is eventually turned. Since George Lucas loved dramatic irony, his fury at the Jedi, and even Padme herself, is what leads to him being part of what kills her. Despite trying his hardest, Anakin fails in his goals and is transformed into Darth Vader.
In Rise of Skywalker, Kylo echoes and achieves achieves Anakin’s goals by saving Rey through Force healing. In doing so, Kylo is no longer the Sith that he has been groomed to be, but reverts back to Ben Solo, a Jedi warrior. Or maybe not — Ben, in an act of love, breaks the code of old. The move intentionally spits in the old way of the Jedi Order and finally tears it away for a new start for force users, not Jedi, nor Sith, to become who they want to be.
It’s the breaking of the Jedi Order and Kylo Ren’s last moment, fading away as all Jedi do after death, which makes the choice of believing in love such a powerful theme throughout the Skywalker Saga. That choice that had never been part of the old Jedi Order. It is in choosing love that Kylo Ren chooses to follow Anakin’s footsteps and help Rey pave a way to a future where force users are not Jedi or Sith, but themselves. And that’s something no rules can ever regulate again.