This is not a review of The Force Awakens. This is a discussion of Jacen Ben Solo’s arc. Specifically, comparing it to the arc of Anakin Skywalker. I don’t claim to have any kind of canonical authority, just an opinion with lots of facts to back it up. Let’s start with the punk whiner baby first.
I never really bought the Anakin to Vader transformation. Don’t get me wrong, this kid had Dark Side all over him. However, as far as character transformations go, Darth Vader was nothing like Anakin. Anakin Skywalker was a whiny man-child with raging hormones. He was angry pretty much all of the time. His murders were crimes of passion. His decisions were rash, bold, and improvised. His major sin was Wrath, followed closely by Envy and Greed.
Darth Vader may have been a servant of the dark side, but he always struck me as cold. Darth Vader’s presence was chilling and inhuman. He seemed to know your thoughts before you thought them. He killed swiftly and brutally, punishing his opponents relentlessly. He killed all who got in his way, even if it was his own subordinates giving a show of incompetence – he would dispatch them quickly, with the turnover for his second-in-command subordinate rank in any mission notoriously high. Darth Vader did not yell in anger. He did not cry out in rage. Well, not after that first time.
That was the major problem. Anakin Skywalker was supposedly seduced. He was supposedly a victim. Darth Vader is nobody’s victim. If you look at Darth Vader, his character is completely different from Anakin’s in more ways than just which side he’s on. When did Anakin become so cunning? Using the torture of Han and Leia to lure his son via the Force so that he could ambush his son and freeze him in carbonite (The Empire Strikes Back)? That’s not an Anakin plan. That’s a Vader plan.
In fact, it’s a bit ironic that the Jedi Order promotes a lack of passion and serenity, because it almost seems like Anakin attains this by becoming what Obi-Wan called “more machine now than a man.” As Vader, he feels no love, has no possessions, and feels no jealousy… or at least that’s the vibe that he gives. For someone whose power flared the most in times of passion, Anakin lost everything that made him turn in the first place… and not just literally.
Would Vader, the villain of IV, V, and VI lose himself and kill his entire reason for turning to the Dark Side in the first place? No way. That’s some Anakin tomfoolery. Vader is cool and calculating. Vader does not look like someone who was just turned to the Dark Side. Vader is a master of the Dark Side.
How does Vader find this mastery? Could it be that some promises were kept between him and Sidious the Liar Who Transparently Offers You What You Want at That Exact Moment? I read the Darth Vader book that supposedly takes place right after Revenge of the Sith in search of this answer, but to no avail. Yes, it showed a bit of the Darth Vader Learning Curve, but nothing about how he went from the screaming, hormonal, unwieldy, potent, explosive rage monkey of unspeakable and often uncontrollable power to the icy, relentless presence of Darth Vader. I’m pretty sure I saw Luke hit this guy twice with his lightsaber and he kept on coming. Han Solo shot him, but he simply absorbed the energy of the blaster bolts into his hands. (As Corran Horn would later learn to do to a greater extent. Read I, Jedi for more info… you know, after you read the rest of the Jedi Academy books.)
Darth Caedus Kylo Ren. Unlike Vader, this character is extremely angry. All the time. He is also conflicted, as if traumatized by the recent stress of turning his back on all that he was taught as a child. The Dark Side is a big, powerful thing that he has just joined as an older person. Not trusting its volatile nature save when needed in moments of sheer destruction, Ben Solo uses his lightsaber more than his Force abilities, which are fierce indeed, showing us some feats never used before.
Ben knows his grandfather was full of the same rage… yet Vader was obviously on point with his powers, never showing his emotions. Never letting them consume him. Ben is adamant about finishing Vader’s work. He has vowed to learn from Vader’s mistakes too, as evidenced by the handguards on his saber that would easily prevent the wielder from getting his hand severed. You know, like in every single movie so far.
(UPDATE 5/2/2016: I know that the official explanation is that the quillons of the saber is formed from raw power vented out the sides from the primary central blade. Whatever you say, what do I know? I’m only an expert in the LEGENDS of Star Wars, not the CANON.)
Ben Solo looks a lot like his grandfather in terms of style choices. In fact, for those of us who just watched RotS, the resemblence is uncanny. He has shown himself to be powerful and extremely angry as well. Immediately we think of Anakin in his “prime.”
Look at this beast. In his prime, Anakin was uniquely gifted with powers of an unprecedented magnitude, even if they were not extremely diverse in variety as Ben Solo’s abilities. He was a superb duelist, with Temple training and Jedi experience built in to his combat repertoire. Anakin Skywalker, Hero of the Jedi.
But we know that Ben Solo is no Anakin. He is not dogmatically sure that what he is doing is right. He has no Padme to blind him. We have no idea what Snoke used to get him… all we know is that for some reason, he identifies with Darth Vader on a near obsessive level. Why? Have they both experienced love? Is he wondering how Vader could turn, and become so powerful as to master the Dark Side without any kind of doubt, such that he could kill his mentor – which perhaps Ben attempts to mirror in his father’s murder for the same kind of catharsis?
Well, for one thing, we know that Anakin’s story is not one of the best-preserved pieces of history in the Star Wars Universe. Nobody seems to recognize Vader as Anakin… ever. So really all the knowledge Ben logically has at this point is that Anakin became Vader in the pursuit of power… and according to Vader’s reputation, Ben has to assume that he got what he wanted.
Ben will never be Vader. This has to eat him. Maybe he’ll try cyborging himself one day in an attempt to try. He wants to be Vader, but this is shown especially in the way he is only human. He is injured twice by Finn, defeated by Rey, and let’s not forget shot in the side by Chewie’s bowcaster. He can’t keep on coming like Vader can. Not yet.
I think that when Ben finally finds out enough, and does enough, such that he can truly understand his grandfather, he will also find himself in a position more than ever to understand why Vader came back to the light. I think Ben’s last moments will be those of redemption, even as we hit Episode VIII, where it’s – as Kevin Hart would put it – about to go down.