Look, friends, I’m not here to debate you on shipping. Wondering which fictional characters I want to see boning isn’t my bag, for Star Wars or any of my other fandoms. That’s fine if it’s your thing! Just not mine. But the new Star Wars trilogy introduced one of the most compelling romantic relationships in movie history with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and Rey — and then ruined it in The Rise of Skywalker for reasons that remain unclear (other than to please the fandom’s most vocal fans).
Warning: Minor spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
Despite not being into ships, I’ve long been intrigued by “Reylo,” the pairing coined by fans who wanted (and got) Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s Rey to kiss and fall in love. I’m especially compelled because it’s canon now. I’m intrigued because, for the first time in Star Wars, it is something that is very, very horny.
Yes, Han/Leia and Anakin/Padmé were lovers, but in that old movie matinee way that’s just a bit sexless. The furthest the franchise went was Natalie Portman’s increasingly revealing wardrobe in 2002’s Attack of the Clones, a detail you can’t shake off after you notice it.
I’ll never forget one of the teaser posters for Attack of the Clones, featuring Hayden Christensen’s Anakin back to back with Padmé Amidala. The tagline promoted the ascetic side of the Jedi: “A Jedi shall not know anger. Nor hatred.” And spaced further down closer to Padmé, “Nor love.” (Attack of the Clones was an epic sci-fi romance and you can’t convince me otherwise.)
But The Last Jedi cloaked its romantic opponents in visual metaphor, engulfing them in red lighting, warm color temperatures, and glistening moisture. Rey is regularly soaked; Kylo Ren doesn’t wear a shirt. Their stint talking through Force-powered FaceTiming ended in a climax, a hot and heavy lightsaber battle (surrounded by enemies brandishing whips and chains). But immediately after, Rey sees through Kylo, the disappearing cloud of their encounter sobering her to the grim reality of his true, unwholesome nature.
As others have pointed out, Kylo and Rey in The Last Jedi was a bad date. And I loved it! It was refreshing to see Star Wars embrace sexuality in a way that felt dangerous for its characters. And it was profound to filter their “connection” to the Force (much, much later, we learn was due to Palpatine, but that’s so lame). Kylo and Rey shared a deep, primal bond that can’t ever be cleanly defined.
Such relationships really exist. They’re never healthy, but they are fun. To feel a deep connection with someone, maybe fueled by lust but sometimes with something more, can be a reminder that you feel alive. That’s why people skydive. The threat of danger is an adrenaline shock to the system that reminds you that, holy shit, you’re here and alive. It’s intoxicating.
And it was fun to see this in The Last Jedi as metaphor. It was less fun to see it realized in The Rise of Skywalker, a movie plagued with giving fans everything they want almost, never for better and exclusively for worse. Again, I’m not opposed to these characters feeling something for each other; their fight on the Death Star wreckage is charged with so many primal feelings that the scene is a strong early contender for the new decade. I’m not even mad about their fight with Palpatine, if we’re going by sheer cool factor.
I’m not even mad about Kylo’s touching of Rey’s stomach, inspiring new fan theories of a Force-made pregnancy. Again, metaphor; the Force is a power of life, and the power to give life. If Rey is pregnant with Kylo’s child and did so through using the Force, then that’s so very Star Wars.
There’s just something ugly about their kiss. It’s ineffable, but director J.J. Abrams showing an actual, physical intimacy between the two characters just feels cheap. Maybe even gross. I know, it’s a contradiction! They’re a hot pair that shouldn’t be together. As Kylo Ren is a violent extremist whose personality equals that of a school shooter, it is bizarre to see anyone, let alone the fiercely competent Rey, show any physical affection towards him.
Rey/Kylo Ren, to my estimation, works better in metaphor. Their connection together existed beyond our actual parameters of love and lust. Like many people’s relationships, they are fundamentally flawed together but they can’t help from wanting to be together. That is infinitely more interesting to see play out, and would have been more interesting in a better movie than The Rise of Skywalker.
How “Reylo” almost ended was perfect. If only it weren’t for the kiss.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now in theaters.