(It has been a whole six months since I made a shameless plug for more views. High time I did it again!)
I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell me the story of Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. The catch? You cannot mention the name Darth Vader. You cannot describe Darth Vader. You cannot mention any scene that Luke shares with Darth Vader or anything that Luke believes about Darth Vader.
Tough, isn’t it? More than tough. It’s impossible, really. That is not an accident. It’s because Luke Skywalker is the protagonist and Darth Vader is the antagonist. We more popularly think of the protagonist as the hero and the antagonist as the villain. It is the conflict between these two characters that form the shape of the plot as well as the emotional heart of the story.
This is why so many people were so confused and disappointed in The Last Jedi. The general audience failed to identify the protagonist and antagonist of the Sequel Trilogy. Many people felt that the protagonist of the Sequel Trilogy would be Luke Skywalker. This is why they were so upset that Luke dies in episode VIII and the fact that he is so defeated and dejected. But for better or for worse, Luke Skywalker is not the protagonist of the Sequel Trilogy. Rey is the protagonist. (As I said before, Han, Luke, and Leia should never have been in these movies.)
At the same time, fans also failed to identify the main antagonist of the films. Star Wars fans typically like one dimensional villains. This is why Boba Fett and Darth Maul are so popular among fans. Neither Boba Fett nor Darth Maul are characters; they are costumes. The fans who like Boba Fett and Darth Maul do not like the characters; they like the costumes. They also like the fact that the costumes conform to the qualities of “being a badass.” It doesn’t matter that Boba Fett and Darth Maul have no characters whatsoever. To most Star Wars fans, a badass costume = villain.
(If you’re wondering what makes a good villain, I present to you the one, the only, Gul Dukat.)
(Here’s another video that describes why Gul Dukat is an amazing villain.)
This is why so many Star Wars fans struggled with Kylo Ren as the villain. He shows up dressed in a badass costume, but he does not behave like a badass. His anger controlled and projected outward (as Vader’s was) but is erratic and projected inward. He is not a “badass costume.” This confused many of the Star Wars fans, so when they met Snoke, a shadowy gigantic figure with a scarred face, they decided that he must be the antagonist.
The idea that Luke was the protagonist and Snoke was the antagonist drove the online discussion (cough *Collider Video* cough) for two years. This is why there were so many articles and videos about the identity and backstory of Snoke, and what Luke would do in Episode VIII. There was a video on Collider Video Jedi Council that asked “Will Luke Fight Snoke?” This is indicative of the fact that the average Star Wars fans did not understand The Force Awakens on a fundamental level. They did not correctly identify the protagonist and antagonist in the film.
Why is this important? The plot of a story is driven by conflict. In most cases, this conflict stems from the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. Remove this conflict from the story, and the story falls apart. It is like removing the spark plugs from a car. The engine dies; the car sits idle.
Since it is the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist that drives the plot, the best way to determine what will happen next in the story is to look at the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.
What does this have to do with Reylo?
In the aftermath of The Last Jedi, many, many fans were upset (horrified) at what happened in The Last Jedi. Specifically, they were upset over the death of Luke and Snoke. It wasn’t just disappointment. It sparked a genuine confusion over what the story was and where the series could possibly go from here. To them, killing Snoke and Luke in Episode VIII is the equivalent of killing Janet Leigh in the shower scene in Psycho.
People who were invested in the Reylo ship, were far less confused by The Last Jedi. This makes sense. People who cared about Reylo focused their predictions on the interactions between Rey and Kylo Ren, which means that they focused their predictions on the interactions of the protagonist and the antagonist. This does not mean that they got everything right, or even most things right, but they got far closer than Collider Video’s discussions about Luke fighting Snoke.
To my mind, this is a great reason to kill off both Luke and Snoke. It clears away the clutter, and The Last Jedi was very, very cluttered. (Sorry everyone, but Luke and Snoke were clutter in the films.) It forces the audience to focus even more strongly on the the protagonist and antagonist.
Rian Johnson even states that this was his motivation for killing Snoke. His quotes make it clear that his primary focus on Snoke’s origins on fate revolved around, “What does this mean for Rey and Kylo Ren?” This is the appropriate way for people to think about supporting characters.
I get that a lot of people are disappointed that the protagonist is Rey and that the antagonist is Kylo Ren.
But what fans cannot do, if they wish to make serious predictions for the films, is to add protagonists or antagonists to the film. Instead, they should take a page out of the Reylo playbook. Focus on Rey and Kylo Ren. Where is Rey at the end of The Last Jedi? Who is she? What does she want? Where is Kylo Ren at the end of the story? What does he want? How do his goals conflict with Rey’s and how can he serve as an obstacle to her goals?
These questions will ultimately get Star Wars fans far closer to understanding the sequel trilogy, and predicting its conclusion.