If you're worried about spoilers, stop here.
The young man knelt in the dark cave, his black robes spread out around him. In his hands he held a burnt and twisted mask. His eyes were closed, and he whispered under his breath.
“Guide me, Lord Vader. Show me what I must do.”
As he spoke, a dark figure appeared at the other end of the cave. The long black robes brushed the floor as it paced towards him, and the breath echoed through the cave. The mask was a new and perfect copy of the one in the young man’s hand.
“Lord Vader.” The young man bowed his head as the dark figure stood before him.
“Look up,” said the figure in a deep voice.
The young man lifted his face to the figure before him, his eyes bright, his lips parted in a smile.
But the figure changed.
The black robes and mask melted away like smoke on the wind. And in the figure’s place stood a tall, fair-haired young man dressed in black.
“What happened to—what happened to my grandfather?” gasped the visitor to the cave, jumping to his feet. “Who are you?”
“I am your grandfather,” said the man before him. “Anakin Skywalker.”
“Vader was my grandfather,” persisted the visitor. “He was a very great man.”
“Vader was a mask,” replied the vision of Anakin. “I am the reality.”
“Smoke told me—” protested the cave’s visitor.
“Snoke has told you a great many lies, Ben Solo,” said the vision. “I have come to show you the truth.”
“You—you aren’t real.” Ren waved a hand in front of his face. “You’re an illusion. Go away. That name no longer has any meaning for me.”
“You thought you knew me,” said the vision, ignoring Ren’s protests. “But you have pledged your life to an empty mask,” he looked down at the twisted wreck in Ren’s hand. His voice grew sad as he spoke again. “Yet, there is still hope. First, see my past.”
He raised one hand, and visions appeared before them. Ren watched, unwilling, but unable to tear his eyes away.
A young, fair-haired boy hugged his mother. He smiled at a lovely young girl—who bore a strong resemblance to Rey—and a tall, robed man. He laughed as he piloted a strange vehicle over burning sands, a crowd cheering. The scenes shifted, and now he turned away from his mother, unable to resist looking back. He panicked and pushed buttons frantically as a sleek craft took off into the sky . . . [BJ1]
A speeder zipped in and out of glittering skyscrapers, the pilot grinning in exhilaration, an older bearded man looking exasperated. A young man made fruit float across the table to his companion, and she smiled at his antics. Then she stood in front of a fire, looking at him sadly. They appeared in a meadow, laughing as they rode strange creatures.
Ren stood transfixed, but the vision of Anakin looked wistful. The images came, swiftly, but terribly vivid.
A dark hut, a battered figure in his arms, his mother’s hand caressing his cheek. Eyes bright with anger, the flash of a lightsaber. A silver ship landing in a desert. An arena, roaring monsters, a kiss. A duel with an old gray-haired man in a black robe, a searing pain . . . holding hands with a lady in white by a peaceful lakeshore.
A young Togruta girl, smiling as she swooped through the skies, the young man beside her laughing and teasing. Their happy reunion beneath a landed ship. And finally, his sorrowful expression as she turned away.
A daring space battle, the clash of lightsabers, an enemy falling dead. A lovely lady’s embrace, and a smile that transformed his features. Her face, twisted in agony . . . a shadowed room . . . seeming comfort from a kindly old man . . .
Now the visions became more jumbled, mere snippets of time. A man flung screaming out a window, the frightened eyes of a child, the glow of lava, the face of a woman pleading and begging. Kylo winced.
A furious attack, and a terrifying duel. Everywhere, there were flames . . . terrible agony . . . a man on a burnt lakeshore, shouting in anguish.
Pain . . . terror . . . regret . . . guilt . . . anger
“Noooooo!” Ren shouted. “This . . . this can’t be true!”
“Watch,” commanded the vision at his side.
Unleashed fury, everything seen in hellish orange. Death and destruction on all who opposed the Empire. An old man, falling at Vader’s hand . . . Vader dueling a young Luke . . . a bottomless pit . . . the flash of lightning . . . a broken man, unmasked.
The flames fading in a forest clearing. A smiling ghost, watching his children.
“That can’t . . . that can’t be,” stammered Ren. “Snoke said—”
“A great deal of lies, no doubt,” said Anakin. “It has always been the way of the Dark Side.”
“That’s not true!” retorted Ren. “You can’t be . . .” He buried his face in his hands.
“Those who seek answers find them, but not always the ones they desire,” said the vision. “Now see this.”
“I won’t, I can’t—”
“You came here to learn, did you not? Watch.”
Ren raised his eyes, unwillingly, to the images before him.
A young boy laughing, his unruly hair falling in his eyes, leaning on the arm of a tall man with a roguish expression, while a Wookie watched, and a lady leaned back from her desk and smiled. The same boy following an older man with a patient smile, an intent look on his face . . . A young man kneeling before a deformed, black-robed figure . . . . The faces of his former companions, now turned to him in terror . . . An old man, pleading with him over a bottomless pit . . . and falling, stabbed to the heart . . .
“Stop! Stop!” screamed Ren, turning away.
“Can you not bear to look at what you have done?” said the vision at his side. “Like me, you have listened to lies and been led astray. But I never sought to sever all ties . . . you never knew about your grandmother, did you?” His voice was soft and sad.
“I never . . .” Ren looked aside.
“Of course not,” Anakin’s voice was touched with sorrow. “I loved her, even though it was forbidden in my day. She was lovely, brave, compassionate . . . It was not my love, but my fear of loss, that led me down to darkness. Yet even then, she still loved me.”
“Vader never loved anyone,” replied Ren stubbornly.
“Which is why, in the end, I rejected him,” said Anakin. “Love can lead to error, but the lack of it leads to an equally bad one. Evil comes in pairs of opposites, and each one is dangerous. You saw my life, and that there were many who I loved, and who loved me. You saw your life, and how you have turned on all who loved you, to serve some ideal of me that you built up in your own head.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” protested Ren.
“I think you do,” the vision of Anakin sighed, if a vision could be said to sigh. “You were discontented with the flaws of the people around you, so you formed this ideal of Vader in your mind. You could imagine him, based on Snoke’s false information, and make him what you wanted—A Vader in your own image. Since you didn’t have to actually live with him, he wasn’t there to surprise you by acting in a way you couldn’t predict. He wasn’t real, just a puppet moving by your own thoughts. And yet you grew closer and closer to him, to this fake image, until you were entirely distanced from the people around you.”
“I was acting on true information!” shouted Ren.
“No doubt you thought you were,” replied Anakin. “But, like me, you were too easily led astray by lies. It is a failing in our family, we have great power, but we struggle to use it as we ought.”
“Vader was a great man,” insisted Ren, gathering his robes around him and lifting his chin.
“Vader was a pawn and a tool,” answered Anakin, his voice rising. “And a slave,” he added sadly. “A broken man, trapped in a machine, used by the Empire like an attack dog. He wasn’t a person to build your life around.”
“Yet he is part of you,” said Ren proudly. “You cannot deny it!”
“I do not,” said Anakin, sighing. “But there is a difference between acknowledging the darkness in yourself, and embracing it like a long-lost friend, as you have done.”
Ren was silent, as if he could think of nothing to say.
“And because you have embraced it,” continued Anakin, stepping closer to Ren, and seeming to tower over him. “You are complicit in the deaths of millions of innocents. You betrayed and murdered your companions, who trusted you. And you come to me, with your own father’s blood on your hands, and claim that you did it all in my name. I reject it.”
Ren stepped back, his eyes wide, his hands trembling. “You claim to finish what I began,” said Anakin, “And yet, you are blind to my true identity, my true nature. You turn from the light, and stumble in the darkness.” His gaze focused directly on Ren’s as he spoke. “I died free, but you forged your own chains!”
“I am no man’s slave!” shouted Ren, stumbling backwards. “I have powers you never dreamed of!”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Anakin, his voice now quiet. “But mere power is not enough, if you cannot prevent it from being exploited by others. “ His expression was sad, even pleading. “If you truly wish to imitate me, turn your back on this darkness. There is still hope for you. If I could turn back to the Light, you can as well. No one is destined for the Dark Side. They all have a choice.” He held out one hand. “Ben Solo, come home.”
For a few moments, he was surrounded by other figures, some from his own life, and others from Ben’s. There was Shmi, Padme, and Ben’s namesake; Luke, Leia, Han, and Rey. But foremost among them was a smiling Ben Solo.
Ren backed away. “This can’t be true!” he screamed, his eyes wild. “It’s impossible!”
A faint smile played on Anakin’s face as the other visions faded away. “Search your feelings. You know it to be true.”
Kylo Ren turned and ran as the vision of his grandfather disappeared behind him. As he stumbled up the rocky hill that led from the cave, one line from their long conversation echoed in his mind.
I died free, but you forged your own chains.