Ben Solo, by all accounts, had a normal childhood.
The son of two rebel heroes, his home was full of love. His senator mother, although she worked hard, made sure to dote on her son; his racer father made sure to frequently call whenever he was away. Visitors were a common sight, from Han’s old Wookiee copilot with hugs aplenty; to Baron Calrissian, who always had a new story to share; to his Jedi Uncle, always kind, always determined. Even once he was sent to study the ways of the Force under Luke, his parents never failed to communicate, writing letters and calling at least once a week to ask him what he had learnt. Even when he was alone, Ben was surrounded by the love of his family.
And yet, he felt that it wasn’t enough.
FN-2187 was raised for one purpose.
From an early age, he was trained to be a soldier, a grunt, never more than a faceless white mask among millions of others. His bedtime stories were tales of the greed and corruption of the Republic; his bogeymen were the decadent Jedi; his lullaby, the hum of the Finalizer. No one came to his side when he’d awake from a nightmare; no one held his hand, comforted him, regarded him as anything other than cannon fodder. Even his fellow masks were wary of him, knowing not to get too close to someone who might one day fall in combat like the rest of them.
He was never alone for a moment, but FN-2187 couldn’t help but feel lonely.
Ben Solo had many friends. From his schoolground playmates and neighbor’s kids, to his fellow Padawans at the Jedi School, he had no shortage of companionship. They’d play smashball, make jokes about his large ears (“how else can I hear everything?” he’d answer, laughing), swap their double-moon pies for his Fenelli fizzes and soda straws. His childhood friends called him “Prince,” while his Jedi companions had christened him Benji. Even now, he can remember their names; Ema Ryker, Cal Omrin, Tannel Yu. Friends with inside jokes, favorite holodramas, beloved parents and baby sisters.
FN-2187 had no such luxury. All he had were his fellow stormtroopers, who’d make small, polite conversation (out of fear of reconditioning) and whose idea of a compliment was “you’re useful.” The closest he had to proper friends were the other members of his squad; Zeroes, Nines, Slips. Obedient, patient, useful. Even among them, he was the outsider, the only trooper without a nickname. Phasma had repeatedly told them that a real trooper had no room for compassion, for sympathy. Friendships, she insisted, were a distraction from the real cause.
Even so, he had always doubted her words.
There was nothing in common between Ben and FN. And yet, one thing remained as a sharp similarity: Choice. Conscious decisions.
For when they turned twenty-three, both men turned their backs on everything they knew.
Here’s how it happens:
Ben Solo is twenty-three when he raises his lightsaber against his fellow students. He slaughters everyone in his path, student and teacher; slashes across the dormitories, overturns desks; sets fire to the library where he and his friends would spend hours studying and cracking jokes.
Ben comes across Tannel in the courtyard, green saber shining against the rising smoke and his horrified face. “What’s going on, man?” he asks, putting his body between the Knight and the younglings, timid thirteen-year-olds cowering behind the old stone fountain. “What have the Jedi ever done to you?”
“What haven’t they?” he says, raising his new lightsaber. After a few parries, his old friend screams, before falling limp onto the ground. He has new companions now, the Knights of Ren; he has no use for these decadent Jedi.
The younglings trip over their own feet as Ben strikes them dead.
Here’s how it happens:
FN-2187 is twenty-three when Tuanul is ordered to be burnt down. The old traitor has been executed, the Resistance pilot captured, but that isn’t enough. It’s never enough for the Order.
Phasma gives the count as they raise their blasters. FN can still feel Slip’s fingers on his helmet, marking him with his lifeblood (this wasn’t a training exercise, he was gone). He aims, looks through the scope.
A mother holds her sobbing daughter close to her as the flames engulf them. And something concrete shifts.
As Zeroes and Nines take fire, FN lowers his arms.
Everyone will mourn Tannel except for Ben.
No one will mourn Slip except for FN.
Ben Solo offers himself into the outstretched hands of Snoke, who bestows upon him a name better than what even his closest friends could offer.
FN-2187 breaks a Resistance pilot out, who offers him the first nickname anyone’s ever given him.
But, as we all know, names only hold so much significance. It is not the title that defines character, it is the individual.
The son of the light turned his back, let himself be consumed by the raging darkness within. He turned cold, calculating, unfeeling. He will not become soft like his parents.
The child soldier awakened. He threw away his shot, risked reconditioning and death for the sake of what he felt was right. He felt; so strongly it made his heart ache.
Kylo Ren became as soon as he put the mask on.
Finn became once he took his off.
This is how their fates converge:
The scavenger lies in the snow, barely awake. Finn feels a surge of grief that his friend is hurt; Kylo is rage at the thought of a good soldier not following orders.
The dark viciously points his flaming saber. “It belongs to me.”
The light raises his, protectively, yet with a passion he has never felt before. “Come get it.”
Kylo Ren longs for solitude. To live without attachment is the ultimate dreams; to kill, to torture, to conquer without guilt. The other Knights have no such concerns; they are orphans, wards; hand-picked by Snoke to raise an army of the Force. They will never know the burden of his relation to the smuggler, the senator, the Jedi.
Finn hopes for a family. For parents, hearts beating in tandem as they look upon him with pride. For friends to love unconditionally, to fight alongside for the same goals. He’s picked up the scavenger and the general, pilots and droids; not replacements for what he has lost, but with love in their hearts aplenty.
After all, isn’t it human nature to long for what the other has?
This, surely, is how it will end:
The dark and the light will meet once more. They will have more training, more knowledge as they cross further away from their origins.
Finn will bear his own saber, constructed under the watchful eyes of the last Jedi Master. Kylo will still be lusting for his uncle’s lightsaber, unsatisfied with the jagged red of his own.
They will clash. Further away, the pilot with kindness in his eyes will be leading his squadrons across the red sky; even further, the mechanic-turned-fighter will be heading a strike team against the weakness of the new superweapon; at the heart of it all, the scavenger who walks the middle path will confront the Supreme Leader. She has the blood of the sky running through her heart, which beats fondly for her friend, yet contains no sympathy for her cousin.
Light will win, as it should; its faithful prophet (who came from ruin to triumph) will strike down the knight (for want of nothing, but wrathful against all). The Order will fall; Luke’s new order will rise, with compassion in their hearts.
Finn will put his arms around the pilot and the scavenger, while the mechanic will rest a hand on her shoulder. The sun will set on the Jedi, but it is not the end of the Force.
For he has awakened.