Star Wars Celebration is upon us, and that means one thing: lots of Episode IX information is coming our way. On Friday, April 12, 2019, the first Star Wars panel revealed a teaser trailer and the film’s title (The Rise of Skywalker). Though we’ll have to wait until December to get any concrete answers about our favorite characters, we still have about a billion theories about what might happen in the final installment of the Skywalker Saga.
So today, we’re offering up one of those theories—an academic reflection, shall we say—on how Nickelodeon’s brilliant animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender offers up a possible redemption route for one of the new trilogy’s most controversial and popular characters, Kylo Ren.
Fans of both Star Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender may have already noticed the similarities between Han and Leia’s son and the Dante Basco-voiced Fire Prince, Zuko. The pair’s journeys share a startling amount of similarities—they even share a scar. And we think that if Kylo continues to follow the path of his animated counterpart so closely, it could mean that he will eventually be redeemed.
From the outset, Kylo has shared similarities with Avatar’s conflicted antagonist. Just like Zuko, Kylo was born to royalty. His self-imposed familial exile after killing the students at his Uncle Luke’s Jedi Academy is a dark reflection of a vital moment in Prince Zuko’s life and ultimately his redemption arc. After speaking out during a war council with his father, the 13-year-old Prince was banished, setting him on a quest to capture the Avatar in an attempt to appease his father and regain his place in the monarchy of the Fire Kingdom.
It’s a mission similar to Kylo’s attempts to crush The Resistance and finish “what his grandfather [Darth Vader] started.” Both characters shoulder a heavy family legacy that they think they can be a part of if they just achieve one specific and brutal thing. Obviously, for both, the reality is far more complex than that, and as they attempt to take on that burden they come across people who make them question their motives and ultimately their dedication to darkness.
Just like Kylo and his quest for Rey, the newest Force user in the universe, it’s the very person that Zuko is hunting down who eventually changes his life. After pursuing Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph, Zuko eventually rejects the brutal and violent ways of the Fire Nation, battling to become the new leader and ending the devastating war that’s been ravaging the four nations for a century. This is, of course, where Zuko and Kylo’s paths seem to diverge, as when he was given the chance, Kylo refused to join Rey and the Resistance.
But that wasn’t the first time Zuko had a chance to turn over a new leaf and potentially join Team Avatar; just like Kylo, he initially refused. So what was it about his journey that led him to turn his back on the dark side and join the other young peacemakers that he’d come into contact with? Well, there’s one key figure that we have yet to speak about: Zuko’s Uncle Iroh. Just like Kylo, the young Prince’s life has a kind and compassionate elder who takes care of him during his banishment and manages to instill a sense of good, morality, and ultimately balance in the young and conflicted man.
We know that Luke apparently died at the end of The Last Jedi after projecting a Force hologram of himself as a way to distract his fiery and furious nephew whilst the last of the Resistance escaped the salty surface of Crait. But we also know that Mark Hamill will be returning, and it’s pretty likely that it’ll be in the form of a Force ghost, who could potentially return to haunt/mentor his nephew. Kylo’s proven to be driven by the specters of his past; the fact he worshipped Vader’s melted helmet is a monument to that.
The potential for Luke to reappear—just like he warned his nephew he would when he stated “strike me down in anger and I’ll always be with you”—is huge. It could also mean a continuation of Kylo’s parallel journey to Zuko’s, as Luke could take on the sarcastic-yet-supportive role of mentor, just like Iroh, teaching him balance, forgiveness, and the power of friendship. That last part is key, as one of the major things that made Zuko switch sides was his bond with Katara, something that he shunned at first but came to value greatly later. Sounds like a certain Solo when he fought alongside Rey in Snoke’s throne room, only to shy away from her offer of redemption.
Star Wars has always tried to offer up redemption, whether it was for the original trilogy big bad Darth Vader and his last-minute reversal to save his son, or Galen Marek’s decision to turn to the light at the end of The Force Unleashed. It makes sense that Kylo would likely get the same chance, and the similarities of his journey and Zuko’s seem to hint that he will—if they continue to follow the same path—be afforded with a kind of redemption.
Though, after committing genocide and killing his own father, it’s far more realistic that it’ll be a last gasp in which Kylo sacrifices himself, rather than the happy ending and long life that Zuko was afforded. But there’s always a chance that in a very Avatar-ish turn of events, Kylo utilizes the force of the First Order to help the Resistance stop the war or even battle a greater threat that we have yet to see coming. As much as we’d love it, we wouldn’t hold our breath for that one, though.
Images: Disney, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon