Ok, the last two pieces were kind of prologues to this post. Now, at last, we get to my opinions about the Reylo ship, as well as my thoughts about what Disney should do next in the films.
1 There is a sexual dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren.
Now, I need to be clear about this. This does not mean that I believe that Rey is attracted to Kylo Ren, or that the two of them are going to fall in love and live happily ever after. When I say that there is a sexual dynamic between the two characters, I mean
- Kylo Ren is played by a young man and Rey is played by a young woman. A few years ago I watched Charlie Rose’s interview with Christoph Waltz. He talks about a script interpretation class that he took with Stella Adler, a famous actress and acting teacher. In the interview, Charlie Rose plays a clip of Inglourious Basterds and asks Christoph Waltz to analyze the scene. Christoph Waltz says, “First of all, a good thing to go by is you have a man and a woman, so you’ve got some energy right there.” This is how he began to analyze the scene. A scene between a man and a woman has a different energy than a scene between two men and a scene between two women. This makes the energy between Rey and Kylo Ren different than the energy between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi.
- The very first interaction (first interactions are crucial in setting up character dynamics) between Kylo Ren and Rey uses the sexual imagery of the bridal carry.
In film language, the monstrous figure carrying a fainted woman in his arms telegraphs to the audience that the monster sexually desires the woman.
And if anyone says, “Well, just because the director used that image does not mean that he was thinking of the monsters carrying the fainted woman,” my answer is, “If that’s the case, than J.J. Abrams is an even worse director than I already think he is.” A director must understand the language of film and how to use film language to convey a point of view, just the way a painter must understand the language of painting. For example, there is a painting hanging at the Cleveland Museum of Art in the section of American painting by Benjamin West. The artist painted his wife holding his son.
(Painting courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Website)
When he painted the picture, he was deliberately referencing the Madonna and Child paintings that are so prolific in art.
(Virgin and Child Tiziano Vecellio)
Now, the painter could have chosen to use the reference ironically, or in a way that parodies the reference, even in a grotesque way.
But if the painter sat down to paint a woman holding a baby in a Western context without at least considering the Madonna and Child iconography, he would have been a grossly deficient painter.
In the same way, J.J. Abrams would be a grossly deficient director if he asked the actors to film the bridal carry without at least considering the imagery’s use and meaning in monster movies.
2 Rey’s Strength as a Character is Unrelated to her Relationship Status
A few years ago I was discussing The Hunger Games with a man at work. I was talking about how disappointing the end of Mockingjay was, and how a teenager related to me that she felt that Katniss should not have been with either Peta or Gale. (She did not feel it made sense within the context of the story, and she could not have been more correct.) The man agreed, saying that it would have shown that Katniss was strong to have her end up alone.
I probably shouldn’t get into how upset that makes me, but here goes.
First of all, again with the Strong Female Characters! As Sophia McDougall writes in her excellent article “I hate strong female characters”
“Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”
But setting aside the Strong Female Character (I’ll come back to that in a minute) let me state the obvious.
A woman is not strong because she is single. She is not weak because she is single. A woman is strong because of her disposition and character. A strong woman will be strong, single or in a relationship. A weak woman will be weak, single or in a relationship. Was Leia weak in The Empire Strikes Back and in The Return of the Jedi because she was in love with Han?
Or perhaps more telling, was Han weaker than Luke because he was in love with Leia? Is Luke stronger than Han because he is single at the end of The Return of the Jedi? Or is Han weak at the end of The Return of the Jedi because he is with Leia and then strong in The Force Awakens because he and Leia are estranged?
How many men saw Han Solo in the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, clearly in love with Leia, and thought to themselves, “Oh. I thought Han was a strong, independent man, filled with agency and totally in control of his own destiny. But he is in love with Leia. so that cannot be true. Clearly Han is weak and needy and unable to live without a woman.” I am willing to bet none.
Rey is strong because she kept herself alive in an incredibly harsh environment, entirely on her own. She has scraped a living as a scavenger and defended herself against attacks. She survived on very little sustenance and in almost total isolation for more than a decade. She has continued to survive, day in and day out, in a situation that would have caused many people to give up and die. Not only did she survive, but she taught herself mechanics and flying spaceships. That is what makes Rey strong. The writers should not think about how Rey’s relationship status reflects her strength; they should think about how her being single or being in a relationship would serve the story, and what would serve the story best.
If Rey ends up in a relationship, she will still be strong.
And yet, the man I talked to, and other men as well, have expressed the idea that if a female character is portrayed in a relationship, this makes the female character weak. I think there is a reason for this attitude, which brings me to my next point.
3 When men watch a film in which the main character is a woman, they imagine that the character is a man.
Collider Videos on Youtube posted a video in which they discussed the idea that Rey is related to Luke Skywalker. (I’ll address that idea later.)
In the video, I noticed that the hosts (all men) kept asking the same question. “Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s son?” They said this several times. Finally, they realized what they were doing and they switched to saying “daughter,” but they had a difficult time saying the word. To me, that is very telling. They watched the film and imagined that Rey is a man. There was another podcast (also men) in which the podcasters bragged to each other how there were times when they were watching The Force Awakens that they forgot that Rey was a woman. (It’s as if they forgot that she only had one arm!) I don’t think this is simply a coincidence. I think that when men see a film where a woman is the main character, they attempt to imagine that the main character is a man (preferably themselves.)
This is why there is a plethora of Strong Female Characters in films, such as the eponymous Lucy starring Scarlett Johannson or Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road (surprisingly good movie), Angelina Jolie’s Salt, or even Star Wars Rogue One. Men get to watch these films in which women play a macho role that would normally be played by a man. The men imagine that the woman is a man, usually themselves, and do their best to ignore the fact that the main character is a woman. They then get to congratulate themselves for having proven their feminist bona fides.
Nice try guys.
A few months ago I saw the play Octoroon, a play in which a black man plays two white characters, a white man plays a Native American, etc. This is spelled out in the play itself. Afterwards, I heard the director talk about the play. He talked about how the idea that “racially blind” casting is inherently racist. What that really means is, “We are going to allow a black person to play a white person.” Instead, directors now talk about “racially conscious casting.” They ask themselves, “What would the actor’s race add to the show?” To use Octoroon as an example, at one point in the play, a white man wearing red face throws a noose around the neck of a black man wearing white face. In the context of the play, a Native American throws a noose around a white man. However, the audience sees a white man throwing a noose around a black man. This has an added meaning to the audience.
Just as racially blind casting can be considered inherently racist, gender blind casting could be considered inherently sexist. It means, “We are going to pretend that the woman is a man.”
This is also why men seem to think that a female character in a relationship with a man is a weaker character. The straight men in the audience can no longer imagine themselves in the main character’s role. The main character’s relationship reminds the straight men in the audience that the main character is a woman, and the fact that she is a woman diminishes her in their eyes. (A quick aside, this is also another reason why a film starring the Strong Female Character will never give the protagonist a female friend. Their interaction would also remind the men watching the film that the main character is a woman.)
4 Four hours (and two movies) is a long time.
By this I mean, it is difficult to sustain interest in films for four hours. Ideas that are riveting in the beginning of the film, or in a series of films, can become stale and tired.
Many people see Kylo Ren as simply becoming a static, one dimensional antagonist, completely undoing the nuance that the screenwriters tried to give him in the first film. They think that killing Han Solo now makes him wholly evil, and he will simply be evil for the rest of the film. I wonder if this is sustainable for two more films and another four hours.
Seriously, how does this play out?
Kylo Ren meets Rey and they fight in one location. Kylo Ren then meets Rey and they fight in another location. They then meet again and fight in a third location. After which, a mushroom jumps up and says, “Thank you Rey! But our princess is in another castle!”
This is difficult to sustain over four hours. It is possible, but it is difficult. It’s also not a movie. It’s a video game.
This is made even more difficult by the fact that Rey defeats Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. The audience will not go into The Last Jedi wondering, “Can Rey defeat Kylo Ren, and if so, how?” We have already seen her defeat Kylo Ren, so there is no sense of suspense or danger about their next meeting.
The original trilogy did not have this problem. Luke and Darth Vader did not meet in A New Hope. They meet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back and Darth Vader toys with Luke and then completely defeats him, before giving him the news that they were his father. This lead to a great deal of anticipation for their final meeting in The Return of the Jedi.
5 Disney Needs To Be Bold and Take Risks
The Force Awakens was an acceptable movie, but it was derivative. As many people have pointed out, it was basically a rehash of A New Hope. I can sit through a remake/rip off of A New Hope once. I cannot, will not, do it again. Nor am I going to watch The Empire Strikes Back ripped off, sorry Disney.
This is the primary reason that I do not want Rey to be Luke Skywalker’s daughter. I feel as though I have seen that story before. Plus, the fact that everyone is expecting it makes it even less intriguing. And for those who say, “Well, that would set up an interesting dynamic with Kylo Ren,” I say, “Not really.” Perhaps this is simply because I don’t really have any kind of relationship with my cousins, but I don’t consider that to be a compelling relationship.
(I will make one exception to the idea of Luke Skywalker as Rey’s father. If they use that dynamic to set up Luke Skywalker as a villain, then I would be fine with that. Here is what I mean. If Luke Skywalker is Rey’s father, this means that he abandoned her on Jakku. He left his daughter to die. This is not the same thing as Obi Wan leaving Luke in the hands of his aunt and uncle, whom he knew would feed and raise Luke. If Luke truly is Rey’s daughter, then he threw her out like a piece of trash. Furthermore, Maz tells Rey that her family is simply never coming back for her. This means that Luke abandoned his daughter to die and had no intention of ever coming back for her. What an asshole. Imagine what Rey would feel when she discovers that her father, a legendary great man, left her to die without any intention of ever rescuing her. Imagine how the audience will feel when they discover that the hero of their childhood has become the kind of man who leaves his children to die without any intention of rescuing him. Imagine if Disney had the guts to completely discredit Luke Skywalker, to transform him into terrible person, a callous, villainous man who the audience would be forced to hate! I would totally see that.)
6 Giving Kylo Ren a “Villanous Crush” can serve the film, without being part of the story.
An antagonist can have a sexual interest in a protagonist without the two of them dating, or the antagonist raping the protagonist.
A classic example of this is in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The actor who played Gul Dukat always played his scenes with Major Kira as though Gul Dukat had sexual designs on Major Kira. Fortunately, this never became anything more than a suggestion. But it was incredibly creepy, and only made their interactions more disturbing.
A director will often give actors those kinds of directions in order to get the right reaction in a scene, even if it is not mentioned in the script. David Lean supposedly told Omar Shariff in Dr. Zhivago that when he was watching the police massacre innocent people, he should imagine that he was fucking a woman and trying to hold off his orgasm. Why did David Lean want that reaction? I have no idea. But directors will frequently give their actors unusual or unexpected directions. It would not hurt for the director to give a similar direction to Adam Driver (the actor who plays Kylo Ren.)
7 We have never seen a character return to the light side and live with the consequences.
On Collider Videos, one of the hosts argued that he did not want to see Kylo Ren return to the light side because “we have seen that already,” ie Darth Vader’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is actually not true. Darth Vader was redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi, and then he died. We never got to see what happened when Luke Skywalker tried to bring Darth Vader back to meet Leia, Han, and other members of the rebellion. He never had to earn the trust of the people whom he attacked or tried to kill. We also never saw Darth Vader try to live with the guilt of the countless number of lives he took or otherwise destroyed.
To me, that was the biggest frustration with Finn’s character. He was bad, and then he wasn’t, and everyone was fine with that. Finn was, as he said, “raised to do one thing (kill on order)” from birth. And then one instant he changed his mind, decisively and permanently. He never wonders whether he should return the First Order. He returns to Starkiller Base to kill the people who were his fellow soldiers and allies, perhaps even friends, and has no second thoughts. Moreover, not one single person ever doubts Finn’s conversion. Poe and Leia accept that Finn defected from the Resistance and never suspect that Finn could be a double agent or that he could return to the First Order. He never has to earn their trust. Rey discovers that Finn lies to her about his true identity, and then she easily forgives him and harbors no ill feelings.
This was a tremendous missed opportunity.
8 If Kylo Ren does return to the light side and he hooks up with Rey, the fanboys will lose their shit.
A few years ago I was reviewing The Dark Knight Rises, and I talked about the forced romance between Catwoman and Batman. At the time, I wrote as follows.
The romance in this film, as in both of the previous films, are at best half baked, closer to uncooked. I find that annoying, and somewhat patronizing. It’s almost as if action directors are thinking “Oh no! Women won’t sit through this movie unless there’s kissing in it!”
I ended the comment that way because, growing up, I always assumed that the romance in super hero movies and James Bond films were thrown in by studio executives to try to placate the women in the audience. I have since decided that is not the case. The romances in super hero or James Bond films are in there for the men. The men in the audience expect that if the protagonist meets some sort of masculine/moral code, then the film will reward him with a woman. And since most men imagine themselves in the role of the superhero or James Bond, they are imagining that the film is rewarding them with a woman.
Kylo Ren, on the other hand, while he has embraced the masculine code, he has abandoned the moral code. He has joined the First Order, embraced the dark side of the Force, and killed his father. Most damning of all the fan boys, Kylo Ren’s father was Han Solo, their childhood idol. If Kylo Ren is able to “get the girl” after killing Han Solo, the fanboys will see this as fundamentally unjust. This would be a moral crisis straight out of Amadeus.
It’s not simply that this will strike them as sappy. It is an affront to their basic understanding of right and wrong.
The outrage this would spawn would be, let’s see how can I put this?
9 Kylo Ren’s fate is tied to Rey, because the protagonist and antagonist’s fate are bound together.
Collider Videos had a discussion a few months ago about whether or not Kylo Ren was redeemable. What struck me in this video was how they focused entirely on Luke and Leia in terms of whether or not Kylo Ren could be redeemed. They never mentioned Rey, which is stunning. Rey is the protagonist of the film. Kylo Ren is the antagonist. An antagonist’s fate is bound to the fate of the protagonist’s fate. Imagine going to a James Bond villain where the villain does not die at the hands of James Bond, but by slipping in the shower and hitting his head. Imagine if the Emperor had died before meeting Luke Skywalker by choking on food. The audience would feel frustrated by this. They expect that the fate of the antagonist to be bound to the actions of the protagonist.
When Collider ignores Rey’s role in Kylo Ren’s fate, they are rejecting the idea that Rey is the protagonist.
So, these are my thoughts about the Reylo phenomenon. The question is, should Disney actually pursue this?
Sure, why not?
Disney needs to take chances. They need to take risks, they need to be bold and potentially piss off a lot of people. They need to risk failure. Reylo would certainly do that. Could it fail disastrously? Oh, most definitely! But at this point, I would rather see Disney take risks with Star Wars and fail rather than play it safe by remaking the original trilogy over and over again and “succeed.”I want to see Disney gamble.
Plus, this would take advantage of the fact that they cast a young man and young woman in the title roles. We have never seen a Star Wars movie where the protagonist and the antagonist were members of the opposite sex. Why set up this dynamic and then ask the audience to simply pretend that both of them are men?
This would also give them the chance to actually play out a dynamic that is implicit in the language of the Force. When Snoke wonders whether or not Kylo Ren will be able to resist the temptation to the light, Kylo Ren has a striking reply. Kylo Ren does not say, “By the grace of your training I shall not be persuaded.” Or coerced. Or convinced. Or influenced. Or even lured. Kylo Ren says, “By the grace of your training I will not be seduced.” He uses a word with a very clear sexual connotation. This is not new. “Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force,” Obi Wan Kenobi said. This dynamic exists within the language of the Force. Why not play it out for the first time?
It would also make the imagery in the first film meaningful, rather than a sign of a shoddy director who doesn’t understand how films work. If the J.J. Abrams put the bridal carry image in The Force Awakens without being aware of the significance of that image in film language, then I am genuinely afraid of how the other two films play out because they could become laughably bad. I can easily see Ryan Johnson working on a storyboard for The Last Jedi saying, “You know what would be really scary? If we have Rey go out on a balcony and see Kylo Ren down on the ground below, and the two of them talk to each other! The audience will see that and say, ‘Oh my goodness! The balcony scene was terrifying and didn’t remind me of anything I have ever seen in any other context whatsoever!'”
Then in Episode Nine, Rey will lose one of her shoes and Kylo Ren will find it.
Disney could go a variety of ways with this. They could simply write the story so that Kylo Ren is sexually fascinated with Rey, without this ever being returned. They could write the story without that but the director could ask the actor to play scenes in the film as though he is sexually fascinated with Rey. They could also make Rey attracted to Kylo Ren, making her somewhat conflicted about killing him. (If Rey is straight, then being attracted to men is a part of her lived experience, sorry straight men!) They could redeem Kylo Ren and force him to adjust to life in the Resistance, and after a long and arduous penance, he and Rey end up together, or at least with some kind of understanding. Or Rey could turn dark and hook up with Kylo Ren, before returning to the light and killing him. They could also pick an option that I have not listed above.
Or they could do none of the options above and ignore the Reylo phenomenon entirely.
But whatever you do Disney, remember three things.
1 Rey is the protagonist, and she is a woman. Being a woman is NOT a disability, despite what men might think, and being a woman is a part of Rey’s lived experience. Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting to see Rey carrying around a box of tampons on the Millenium Falcon, but Rey’s life experiences are different than that of the men in the film, and there is no reason to ignore that. (On an unrelated subject, can Rey have a female friend to talk to? Please, pretty please? That is my dearest wish for her and for the upcoming films.)
2 The visual language in a film is crucial and provides cues to the audience as to how to interpret the story. A film’s visual language is also not invented from scratch each time a film is made. It exist within the context of all the films that have preceded it.
And lastly, as Ms Frizzle would say,
3 Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!
Good luck Disney. 🙂