The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as well as Avengers: Endgame, the second season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, and the series finale of Game of Thrones.
This is not the end of the year fandom letter I expected to write, but walking out of The Rise of Skywalker I noticed something. In 2019 I lost a favorite character in each of my main fandoms.
- April 18, 2019: Katrina Cornwell sacrifices herself to save the Enterprise, and the galaxy, in some ways to atone for her past sins
- April 26, 2019: Natasha Romanoff sacrifices herself to save the galaxy, in some ways to atone for her past sins
- May 19, 2019: Daenerys Targaryen is sacrificed to save Westeros, as atonement for her past sins and to prevent her potential future sins
- December 19, 2019: Ben Solo sacrifices himself to save Rey after she sacrificed herself to save the galaxy, to atone for his past sins.
I have a type. It’s sinners, clearly, but there’s more. They are abuse victims. They are survivors. They are avengers. They are angry. They are damaged. They are dangerous. They were groomed since childhood to be murderers, sold into servitude, born into powerful and unstable bloodlines, had monsters in their head whispering harmful lies and painful truths. They don’t “deserve better” because it’s not about that. They are flawed, they have done terrible things, but they try. And they were sacrificed to the story, to make a point I don’t agree with.
Katrina Cornwell was sacrificed to provide the story stakes, as if the fate of the universe isn’t enough, or to provide emotional engagement for the audience, but I am the biggest Katrina Cornwell fan you know and I felt nothing when she died. In fact, I have felt nothing for Katrina or Discovery in the eight months since it happened.
Natasha Romanoff was sacrificed to the story long before she leapt to her death in exchange for an infinity stone. She was whatever the narrative needed her to be from introduction to demise and has only been gifted her own narrative as a swan song. Her death forwards the plot, and Clint’s characterization, and has as much to do with Natasha as anything else that ever happened to her in those movies, which is nothing.
Daenerys Targaryen was sacrificed because she was an irredeemable monster. I don’t believe in irredeemable monsters. Too pithy? OK. But Daenerys went through too much to be denied any chance at redemption.
Ben Solo was sacrificed…because it was expected?
Ben Solo’s redemption is exactly what I wanted it to be. He is given the chance, he makes the choice, he wields Anakin’s lightsaber (earns Anakin’s acceptance), he returns to Rey through struggle, he sacrifices himself to save her. And he is utterly adorable, a bright shining legacy to his father particularly and his family generally.
But then he dies. Because it’s easy, because it’s expected, because it’s safe and doesn’t require any bravery. Because it’s easy.
I don’t want Ben Solo to live happily ever after. I want Ben Solo to live.
I want Ben Solo living in self-imposed exile on Tatooine, performing small anonymous acts of good, choosing the light every single day. Years go by before Rey returns and when she does they travel to communities harmed by the First Order and the Empire and the Republic and they help. They bring balance.
2020 is a new year. Perhaps I will spend it writing my own story of quiet, extended atonement.