I can’t afford therapy – in part, because of this blog. So when something happens in my pop culture life that makes me question my concept of self, you have to hear about. That’s our deal.
It all started on a Thursday evening in mid-December. I was minding my own business, seeing a Star War, like the rest of the world. And while my heart still beats for Finn and Poe, I walked away with the stirrings of a new ship. A ship I’d disavowed after The Force Awakens as being gross and weird. How the HELL did this movie turn completely around on Rey/Kylo Ren? And what does that say about me?
Having such a reaction to a pairing doesn’t usually throw me into an existential crisis. But Han Solo is dead. Kylo Ren had the chance to turn and he didn’t. Rey is an independent, Force-strong woman who don’t need no man. There are so many reasons to be repulsed by the very idea of them, and THAT, my friends, is what makes Reylo so appealing. When we say “I’m trash,” it’s often a point of pride. There’s something in us that delights in going down a rabbit hole of something that other people don’t get. It’s a way to remind ourselves that broadly held opinions don’t control us.
But that comes later, after the initial seduction. That’s that little voice telling you to track the tag and mine AO3. So let me backtrack a little bit and talk specifically about how The Last Jedi changed my mind about a punk bitch and the warrior princess who’ll always be too good for him. I can identify three separate but connecting factors:
1. The Force Bond
Shipping culture is big on pairs who are two halves of a whole, as well as the enemies-to-lovers set-up. It’s kind of surprisingly that this is the first time that the Star Wars movies are playing with that in terms of building sexual tension on top of a Force dichotomy. (Anakin and Padme were both on the side of the Light when they fell in love, so that doesn’t count.) But is there anything that gets the juices flowing more than an intense, scrappy dynamic between two people who shouldn’t even be TALKING to each other, let alone sharing deep personal secrets? No, there’s not.
Like…they’re literally in each other’s heads. They are connected more intimately than any other two characters in the entire movie. So ship it or not, you can’t really blame anyone else for going there. The first time it happened in the The Last Jedi, distant ambulance sirens went off somewhere in my head because Force Bonds are so fanfic that it hurts. (They may as well have ended up at a hotel with only one one-bed room left.) Because it’s not just about what we actually see in canon. It’s about the possibilities that canon opens up. The moisture on the gloves was a bold and particularly horny choice. And the shirtless scene speaks for itself. As if Ben Solo fangirls were going to listen to ANYONE after that.
2. The Near-Miss
So, keep in mind that Rey had zero friends until Finn showed up on Jakku. And Kylo Ren is the loneliest goth boy in school. (That’s his own fault, but still important.) They’re both desperate to understand themselves and to feel as if they belong somewhere. And they’re strangely desperate to bring each other over to their respective way of thinking. Though he’s told her it’s hopeless, Rey gives Luke the whole “but Daddy, I love him!” routine before she jets off in the Falcon to save his former student. And it’s just human nature to want her to succeed because we love Rey and we want her to be happy and triumphant. But there’s more at work in her than just the desire to remove a Dark leader from power. She wants to believe that her own instincts are right and that she hasn’t been spending all this time with a monster. She wants to believe that they are connected for a reason. (And fwiw, yeah, I think Snoke was lying when he said it was him who created that link.) Rey craves attachment, but she won’t abandon her values to hold onto it.
things reylo did: THAT pic.twitter.com/DFqhEBi4dh
— klaudia (@tarasjedi) January 10, 2018
Which brings me to the throne room scene, which is where it all went to hell. (For me. I could not deal with it on either my first or second viewing. This is when the Bruce Banner-sized Reylo feels I got from the Force Bond scenes exploded into a Hulk-like reality.) The way Rian Johnson lets that tension build as Snoke holds Rey captive and Kylo makes his decision. The thrill of the turning point, where Kylo ices Snoke. And when two people with contradictory goals and values can fight a common enemy together with that kind of wordless harmony, the mind actually races. The movie gives us what we want only to sour it a couple of minutes later, basically pouring gasoline on that ship. They may SAY they want resolution, but there’s nothing a fandom like this loves more than having the carrot that was in front of them snatched away.
3. She. Says. No.
The greatest aspect of Reylo as it exists right now is that Rey doesn’t fall for it. While fans may be under the spell of the possible redemption of Ben Solo, she snaps out of it. (Or rather, she gives up on the idea that turning him is HER job. She’s washing her hands of the burden, because he’s being shitty and she has other things to do.) It’s a beautiful thing. Because it’s not romance when he says, “You are nothing, but not to me.” (And you’re killing me with these Darcy comparisons, Tumblr. Read the book again.) It’s an attempt to direct her insecurities and shore up his own power. But at the same time, I was like, “Oh damn, he’s really in it. That poor bastard.” I honestly feel like Kylo Ren doesn’t want JUST to use her, but that he has this Dark Queen fantasy that Rey has no interest in embodying. So we get the tease of the enemies-to-lovers consummation capped off with a satisfying rejection that keeps Rey the heroine we need and deserve.
Here’s the great secret of shipping, you guys: enjoying a pairing doesn’t mean that you want it to happen in canon. I can’t conceive of a resolution of his arc that makes Kylo Ren worthy of Rey. (And if that does happen, the likelihood is that worthiness would only come from him sacrificing himself for her. And we done did that in Star Wars already.) I’ve seen a lot of lecturing about how problematic this ship is, and though I’ve definitely seen “my poor sad boy save him” posts too, I think a lot of us are fandom veterans who know that that’s true, thank you very much. But I’m definitely not going to apologize for finding some fun in reading into their canon interactions and delving into transformative fan works that — let’s be absolutely clear on this — are NOT rationalizing abusive relationships in any way. Because fiction.
Of course, someone who’s unclear about what healthy relationships look like could certainly utilize Reylo in their delusion, but that’s true of so many things. That’s a larger issue to be dealt with, and people who write fan fic on the internet for free are not responsible for the psychological and emotional wellbeing of the entire moviegoing populace. I don’t like to see intra-fan policing when, for the most part, we’re distracting ourselves from a real trash world where real trash men behave like real trash by finding a fictional trash man and his trash attempt at wooing his crush a tiiiiiny bit sexy and interesting. Let us live, god damn.
Featured image source: StarWars.com