Warning: The following contains spoilers for “The Last Jedi” and other Star Wars films. Proceed at your own risk.
There comes a point near the end of the latest “Star Wars” movie where Luke and Leia have a conversation about her son, Ben Solo (now known as Kylo Ren). Ren fell to the Dark Side of the Force a long time ago and has been busy doing all the typical Sith Lord things ever since — killing his father, helping create planet-destroying weapons, trying to seduce idealistic Jedis to the Dark Side, etc., etc.starwars/Instagram
Ren’s goal is to be the next Darth Vader. But he’s conflicted. We’re given ample reason to believe there is still good in him. And we know that finding good in the original Darth Vader is what helped bring down the Emperor. So, when Leia appears to agree with Luke that Ren is lost to them, it’s a heartbreaking moment. It seems like Leia is truly giving up on her son. And it led me to consider a stunning possibility:
Could it be that Leia isn’t the greatest mother?
Yes, I am about to mommy-shame Princess/General Leia Organa. But if you help create one of the greatest monsters in the galaxy, maybe it’s a question that should be asked.
To be fair, I’ve always considered it improbable that Ben Solo would turn to the Dark Side to begin with. His parents are Princess Leia and Han Solo, for goodness sake. His nanny was probably Chewbacca. How is it possible to have anything other than an awesome childhood in that situation?
But Leia and Han split up at some point — which had to be at least as difficult on their son as it was for fans.
And while dad was a little dubious about the whole project, Leia sent their kid off with his uncle to train as a Jedi — during which time he was seduced by the Sith, felt alone and afraid and betrayed by Luke, and turned into Kylo Ren.
Did he turn to anyone (like his parents) in his moments of doubt, as he felt the Dark Side pulling him in? Not as far as we know. Maybe Leia was too consumed with her role as the leader of the Resistance to pay much attention to what was happening with her son. It’s tough to combine work and family. Maybe Ren had been taught that there wasn’t much for him at home.
So there’s the question of how Ren fell so easily into evil in the first place, which argues for a less-than-stellar upbringing. And then there’s what happens after he falls.
After Ren turns Dark and gets busy with the killing and conquering, there’s nothing to indicate Leia does anything to bring him back (other than ask Han to take care of it for her). We know Ren has doubts. We know he can’t bring himself to kill his mother. But we see nothing to suggest she does anything to try to help him, even though turning Ren good again would solve a lot of work problems for her.
Am I being too hard on Leia? I don’t think so. I’ve written stories about the parents of heroin addicts who spent their nights driving through the worst parts of the city in a desperate attempt to find their child. Those parents never stopped trying to save their kids, no matter how bleak things became.
Leia is unquestionably sad that Ren has become an evil galactic overlord, but she’s too preoccupied with the Resistance to stop for a chat about why he murdered his dad or if he might want to come home.
You could argue that I’m letting Han Solo off the hook, so I’ll add that it’s possible that Han wasn’t a great dad either. However, he does get credit for admitting as much to his son. And he also went to Ren and tried to save him, getting killed in the process. One wonders what would have happened if Leia had gone instead.
Of course, none of this is aimed at the late, great Carrie Fisher, who invested every line of Leia’s dialogue with such weary strength that you believe Ren’s defection weighs on her. If it weren’t for Fisher’s performance, Leia would seem even more callous and detached.
It’s hard to accept because we’re so accustomed to thinking of Leia as practically perfect in every way. She’s smart, steely, beautiful, and a great leader. But the evidence shows that she gave up on her son and that she might not have been there for him in the first place. Call it a family trait — the Skywalkers are great force users but lousy parents.