Well, Rian Johnson did it. He actually gave us more than the Reylo tease we got in The Force Awakens. Not only that, he gave us an absolutely fantastic film. It’s everything Star Wars should be– the creatures, the plucky heroes, the dogfights, the humor. But it’s also a lot more. It’s deeper, richer, more nuanced than the early movies, the characters more well-rounded and human. In my opinion, this is THE best Star Wars film.
* * * SPOILER ALERT * * *
This post contains major spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, stop reading now and go see it. I’ll be here waiting until you come back.
Since The Force Awakens, I’ve found the dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren the most compelling aspect of the new films. I never bought the Princess Leia/Han Solo or Anakin/Padme romances. They always seemed forced and unconvincing. But even when they’re in full antagonist mode, Rey and Kylo Ren have chemistry. The fuse TFA lit really burns in The Last Jedi, taking simple antagonism and turning it into a complex, ever-changing bond.
A lot has been said about Kylo Ren– he’s weak, he’s bratty, he’s a Darth Vader wannabe, blah blah blah. This is a gross misreading of his character. His temper tantrums are a result of extreme and agonizing inner conflict. He says so himself, when he says he feels the call to the light, and when he tells Han how he’s torn apart. Everyone from Rey to Snoke talks about his conflict. So why does he continue forward on his path of darkness? Ah, now that’s the question. One I think is revealed when he talks to Darth Vader’s melted helmet.
Kylo Ren says, “I will finish what you started.”
Has everyone forgotten who Anakin Skywalker was supposed to be? What he was supposed to do? He was the Chosen One. The one who would bring balance to the Force. Is this what Kylo Ren intends to finish? The Last Jedi gives us hints.
In the newest film, the point is hammered again and again that the old binary system must fall. Luke says it and Yoda says it. Kylo Ren says it best: no more Dark and Light, Sith and Jedi, Rebellion and First Order. They all have to end.
If this is in fact what Kylo Ren is trying to do, we can argue that his methods are, um, less than savory, but there are two possibilities. One is that he has Force-based reasons for doing what he does. This fan theory best explains the idea.
In fact, there are hints of some greater goal in play in Rey and Kylo Ren’s Force-mediated conversations. When Rey calls him a monster, he calmly agrees. Then she demands to know why he killed his father. Why did he hate him? Kylo equally calmly tells her, “I didn’t hate him.” How can Kylo Ren accept these facts? Is he really this dissociated and psychopathic? He’s definitely not stable, but I don’t think he’s a psychopath. He has a greater purpose.
What does this have to do with Reylo? Well, it’s pretty hard to have a romance when you’re enemies. So if there’s to be a Reylo, somehow, they have to bridge the divide between them. And I find the concept of Rey and Kylo Ren coming together (reluctantly?) for a common goal much more interesting than pitting them against each other in another shallow, boring good guys vs. bad guys plot.
The Last Jedi goes a long way toward bringing them together. In Rey’s first Force-connection with Kylo Ren, she tries to blast him on sight. But she gradually comes to understand and even sympathize with him, especially after she learns exactly why he turned on Luke. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is after Rey accesses the Dark Side of the Force in search of her heritage only to be bitterly disappointed. Kylo tells her, “You’re not alone.” And Rey replies, “Neither are you.” And they reach out through the Force to touch hands. Wow.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. When they touch, Rey has a powerful vision that Kylo Ren– whom she’s begun calling “Ben”– will turn to the Light. A vision powerful enough to send her to him. Yet Kylo has seen that it will be Rey who turns. This seems to suggest that they’ll both turn to meet somewhere in the middle. The fact that Rey has no hesitation to connect with the Dark Side of the Force supports this idea.
In the new movies, the Force seems almost sentient, determined, through these two gifted people, to break free of the limitations imposed upon it. Both the Jedi and the Sith are insults to the wholeness of the Force. The Jedi continually seek to do away with with its initiates’ humanity– they’re allowed no ties to other people, and are conditioned to deny and suppress their emotions. (Here’s an in-depth post on the topic.) The Sith, with their insatiable lust for power and control, warp the Force just as much. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren and Rey are both searching for something new, something more complete. Kylo wants to destroy the old order. Rey sees the Force in its completeness: dark and light, warmth and cold, peace and violence, life and death that begets new life. And each is bound to the other.
Snoke tries to wave away the importance of Rey and Kylo’s Force bond when he tells them (both of them, not just Rey!) that he was the one who bridged their minds. But keep some things in mind: first, they already had a connection in The Force Awakens. When Kylo was Force-probing Rey’s mind, she turned around and read his most secret fears. Just as importantly, the two connect again at the end of the new film– after Snoke is dead. Yet another clue is the physical manifestations of the bond. Not only do they physically touch hands, Kylo wipes away the water that splashes Rey during one of their talks. Furthermore, Luke can see them when they touch. If their connection is nothing but a product of Snoke’s manipulation, how would Luke be able to see it? No, their Force bond is real, potent and survives every setback and division.
But if Kylo Ren envisions a Force made whole again, why would he talk about ruling the galaxy? Has he been so blinded by his Sith indoctrination that the only role he can see for himself in this new world is that of ruler? Or does he truly desire only power? His goal is hardly noble, and as disappointing to us as it is to Rey.
Rey’s violent rejection of Kylo/Ben is just as disappointing. Look at it from his point of view. He’s saved her life. He fought beside her to defeat Snoke’s Praetorian Guard. He pleaded with her, not threatened (“Please,” he whispers when he asks her to join him, holding out his hand to her). And what does she do? She goes for her lightsaber. No wonder he wants to kill her after that. He’s discovered, again, that he can trust no one. Not even the one he’s bound to through the Force.
To be fair, I don’t think either of them could do anything different at this point on their journeys. Kylo Ren is trapped in the machinery of the First Order and still a captive of Snoke’s longstanding manipulation. Even with his power and his best intentions, it will be difficult to free himself. And how can Rey trust him, not only with her own life, but with the lives of everyone she cares about?
As a writer, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the conflict can be resolved. I think the last film will provide a lot of revelations. What worries me is how Kylo Ren’s arc will be resolved. Popular culture’s usual redemption for bad guys is death. But what I really want is to see Kylo/Ben and Rey come together to create a better world.
I’m not much of a fanfiction writer, but I’m tempted to explore their journey myself.