Fair warning, this post will have slight spoilers for THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.
Some years back, Orson Scott Card, in a review of one of the Star Wars films, complained about Darth Vader’s appearance as a “force ghost” alongside Obiwan and Yoda at the climax of Return of the Jedi. By what logic has Darth Vader redeemed himself when all he did was turn on his master and trusted friend, Palpatine? Did that one moment of heroism when he saved Luke in Return‘s climax?
The same point could be made about Kylo: he chose his dark side, loyally served the First Order, murdered his father. Do his actions after Rey leads him back to the light really justify his redemption?
I wrote about this some years back and I don’t disagree with what I said then. But since I saw Rise of Skywalker I’ve been thinking about redemption in terms of Rabbi Danya Rutenberg’s breakdown: God absolves us of sin if we ask, the victim forgives us if they chose and we do the work of our own redemption.
To put that into a Star Wars context, as I said in my previous post on redemption I accept that despite all the horrible things Anakin and Kylo did (let’s not forget Anakin’s body count in the prequel trilogy is high), absolution for sin is possible. In a Christian context, there’s nobody so evil that they can’t attain redemption by turning to God. I can buy that something equivalent applies with Force ghosts.
Does that obligate Leia to forgive Anakin after his death? No, it doesn’t. She might — saving Luke and helping defeat Palpatine certainly counts for something — but Darth Vader still tortured her and blew up Alderan, her homeworld. If she doesn’t want to forgive him, or to forgive Kylo for killing Han, she’s within her rights. Getting into Heaven or Force Heaven doesn’t mean your crimes didn’t happen.
Did Kylo and Anakin redeem themselves by their actions? If they’d survived their final battles should the good guys treat them as trustworthy? Put them on trial for crimes against humanity? Suspected them of shifting alliances for their own ends?
All of these are possible options, depending how the writer shapes the story and stacks the deck. I’d be inclined to say that yes, they still have a lot of work to do: the Rebellion would be perfectly justified putting Darth Vader on trial for his crimes, though considering his final actions as a factor in sentencing. Or if there’s no actual punishment, Darth goes off and finds some way to balance the scales.
This is not a deal-breaker for me. I’m okay with both movies settling for one simple act of heroism to fix anything: movies are a dramatic medium so using a single moment as a turning point works for me dramatically. But if this were something longer form (TV, print, comics) where the creators can take their time, I think it would work better if they did.
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