Everything is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.
So, I have spent a good half year delving into the bowels of Youtube exploring the reactions of fans(?) to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Specifically I spent time watching reviews of people who hated The Last Jedi. (The things I do for you people.) Needless to say, most of them also hate the idea of Reylo, even though most of them did like the dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi.
I wasn’t going to post any of these videos but I figured that an example would help.
He says what many others on Youtube have said: Romance has no place in Star Wars. Except for Han and Leia, which was amazing.
Why is that?
Why do they make exceptions for Scoundress (Han and Leia), and why does the idea of a relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey draw such vitriol, more than the relationship between Anakin and Padme, which is just as problematic and creepy? (Seriously, Padme knowingly marries a man who murders children.)
I have thoughts, and they relate to the quote at the beginning of the article.
Scoundress: The Taming of the Space Bitch
There are a lot of people who don’t like my character in these movies; they think I’m some kind of space bitch. Carrie Fisher, Rolling Stone, 1983
During my deep dive into the Youtube abyss, I discovered that the idea that the near universal love everyone has for Princess Leia was not universal at the time that the movie came out. In 1983, Carrie Fisher told Rolling Stone that a lot of people didn’t like her character. She didn’t totally disagree with them. She correctly pointed out that the writers wanted to make her strong, but that the only way that they knew to make Princess Leia strong was to make her angry. All. The. Time. In the third movie, she was allowed to become more feminine.
I said in a previous article, that Princess Leia is the most static character in the original trilogy. I stand by that, but she is less static than I thought. Carrie Fisher is right, Leia does become more feminine in the third film. Which means, Han and Leia remind me of something.
Ahh, yes, the grand daddy of the warring couples, Katherine and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew.
For those who haven’t read Shakespeare since high school, here is the barest of bones version of the story. Katherine is a shrew, a rebellious, bad tempered woman who talks too much. A man named Petruchio decides to marry her for her money. He marries Katherine, and then takes her away from her family and friends. While she is living in his house, he starves her, deprives her of sleep, and destroys her fine clothes until at last she agrees to obey him. He takes her back to her father’s house, where he wins a bet for having the most subservient wife. At the end, Katherine gives a speech in which she councils the other women in the play (and the women in the audience) to be obedient wives. (OK, there are a couple of subplots involving three silly men wooing her sister, but that is irrelevant to our purposes.)
When I think about the story of Han and Leia, I realize that it actually parallels The Taming of the Shrew in surprising ways.
First of all, Princess Leia at the beginning of the trilogy is a rebellious woman. She is literally a rebel. When she meets Han, she starts giving him orders and they fight. This dynamic continues into the beginning of Empire Strikes Back.
Then, in Empire, Princess Leia is separated from everyone she knows and is trapped with Han. While she is with him, she has no control over anything that happens and she bitches and whines in vain. He doesn’t listen to her when she doesn’t want to go into the asteroid belt, nor does he listen to her when he wants to leave the asteroid. He even touches her against her will.
By the time we get to the third movie, Leia has become far softer as a character. She does not yell or bicker with anyone. She cries and asks Han to comfort her.
Most notably, in the planning for the attack on the Second Death Star, Leia discovers Han has been made a general. As far as we can tell, Han is promoted above her, despite the fact that she was active in the Rebellion longer than he was, and was planning evacuations in the Hoth System. Is she angry that Han is promoted above her, perhaps undeservedly? Not in the least. She says, “General, count me in.”
At that moment, I can hear the words of Katherine.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li’st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience–
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
Read more at http://www.monologuearchive.com/s/shakespeare_020.html#FVqqR4BrrHcVvkVE.99
Leia has graciously accepted her place, subordinate to Han’s leadership.
Reylo: Jane Eyre in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace
(Note: If you read my past Reylo posts I have never been completely convinced that these characters were going to end up together. I suspected/hoped that it would be a Silence of the Lambs dynamic with a creepy eroticism which would end with Rey killing Kylo Ren at the end, but they decided not to go that route. Sadly. However, since the Geeks + Gamers guy assumes that Reylo means that Rey and Kylo Ren end up together, that is what I am addressing.)
When most Youtubers who don’t ship Reylo compare it to another relationship, they always make the same allusion: Twilight. But I am going to set aside the Twilight comparison, and whether Reylo deserves such a comparison, for a later post. I will come back to it eventually, I promise.
In the meantime, I want to address another book, a book frequently mentioned by people who ship Reylo, and one of the influences on Twilight. That novel is Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte, and it is far and away her most famous and beloved novel. It tells the story of Jane Eyre, one of the greatest bad ass motherfuckers in all of British literature.
Jane Eyre was orphaned as a young child and sent to live with her hateful aunt and cousin. Her cousin torments her, but she fights back, because she is Jane bad-ass motherfucking Eyre. Her aunt is horrified, and sends her away to a strict, Puritanical boarding school, but not before Jane bad-ass motherfucking Eyre pronounces that her aunt will be judged for her maltreatment of her niece. Jane Eyre is punished by being forced to stand on a stool for a day, given poor food and thin clothing, and her best friend dies of typhus. But Jane bad-ass motherfucking Eyre still earns an education, learning painting and French, and she eventually earns employment as a governess.
Jane Eyre is hired to work at Thornfield Hall, a grand ancestral home. Her employer, Mr. Rochester, teases her at first and is rather arrogant, but she refuses to be intimidated by him. She slowly finds herself falling in love with him. At the same time, all sorts of strange, dangerous occurrences begin to happen. Mr. Rochester’s bed is set on fire and attacked. When Mr. Rochester taunts Jane about how quickly she would forget him after his marriage, Jane bad-ass mother fucking Eyre angrily reveals his feelings for him. She tells him that she is “a free human being with an independent will.” He proposes marriage to her and she accepts.
Unfortunately for Jane, she discovers during her wedding that Mr. Rochester already has a living wife, an insane woman who lives in his attic, who is responsible for the fires and the attacks. Mr. Rochester proposes that Jane become his mistress. But Jane bad-ass motherfucking Eyre refuses to violate her beliefs and principles. She runs away, penniless and with nowhere to go, and nearly dies. She is rescued by a potential missionary St. John Rivers, and his sisters who arrange for her to work as a teacher at a local school. While she is there, she inherits a small fortune and refuses to marry St. John Rivers and go with him to India, because she does not love him and he does not love her. Instead, she returns to Thornfield Hall, only to discover that his wife burnt his great house to the ground and committed suicide, leaving him blind and without one of his hands. Jane bad-ass mother fucking Eyre, now rich enough to live independently, chooses to marry him freely out of love.
(My poor description does little justice to the masterpiece. Please read the book. It’s a classic, and a precursor of Joyce and Proust. Indeed, an article in the Atlantic Monthly boldly proclaims that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre popularized the idea of the modern individual. )
I posted the lengthy description of the story because, just as Han and Leia have (very) loose similarities with Petruchio and Katherine, Rey and Kylo Ren do have (very) loose similarities with Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. First of all, Rey, like Jane Eyre, grows up in a harsh environment without parents. Kylo Ren also has a higher social status then Rey, being the child of Princess Leia, the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, and the nephew of Luke Skywalker, just as Mr. Rochester is of a higher social status than Rey. Mr. Rochester probes Jane Eyre for painful memories when they meet, asking her to tell him her tale of woe, but Jane bad-ass motherfucking Eyre defiantly tells him that she has no tale of woe. Kylo Ren probes Rey’s mind but she eventually overpowers him and probes his mind in return. Mr. Rochester asks that she join him in a relationship that would defy her moral beliefs; Kylo Ren also asks Rey to join him in a relationship that would violate her beliefs. Jane Eyre refuses Mr. Rochester, Rey refuses Kylo Ren.
It remains to be seen if Kylo Ren will end up blind with a missing hand.
So, what does all of this have to do with why I think the reaction of Geeks + Gamers types to the idea of Reylo is so vitriolic?
Well, this is where we get back to the quote at the beginning of my article.
3 Chapter 3: Everything is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.
In The Taming of the Shrew story, the power of men over women is promoted, particularly the power of the alpha male. In Star Wars Han, the alpha male, encounters and subdues a shrew, Leia.
We see this clearly in the most romantic scene in The Empire Strikes Back. Leia protests and tells him to “stop that” but he does not listen, and she ultimately relents. This scene shows the powerful woman submitting to the alpha male and also implies that women always secretly want the alpha male, even if they don’t admit it, and would readily submit if the alpha male was forceful enough.
This is why the romance in the story is not perceived as “feminine” or “soft” and why men are allowed to like it. It is a power fantasy for men.
In Jane Eyre, the power of men over women is subverted, particularly at the end. If (and it is still a massively huge if in my opinion) Kylo Ren repents and returns to the light side to be with Rey, he would be submitting himself to her. This is a power fantasy for women.
Most women who like Reylo are very open about that. For example, on the Star Wars Forums, one poster called Moonjump05 writes,
For me, Rey/Kylo hits those Byronic hero archetypes, the bad boy who basically ends up ‘submitting’ to the female lead- it’s a total feminist power fantasy. Which is why it has been around for so long and so popular with the female demographic.
And it happens in mainstream media sooo rarely(and almost never well), and when it does it gets undue ridicule from every corner. How often has the audience laughed at a female character reading a romance novel? Or mocked ‘fangirls’ for daring to think a villian is sexy? It doesn’t fit into the male experience so it must be wrong, and the poor women must be corrected in their thinking.
No, I would rather read about a badass chick who takes no crap and makes the murderous villianous ******* so in love with her he can’t do anything but change since she won’t have him otherwise, because it makes her powerful in her womaness.
(FYI, Jane Eyre‘s Edward Rochester is a Byronic hero. Also womaness is not a word.)
And that, I believe, is at the heart of why Geeks + Gamers fans react so strongly to the idea of Reylo. They recognize that this particular version of Reylo would represent a woman’s power fantasy in which the man is ultimately subjugated. That would mean that the story is no longer for them.
4 Episode Nine
So, what does this mean for Reylo?
It means that if (and it’s a massively huge if) J.J. Abrams decides to go this route, many men who are fans of Star Wars will likely walk out and not return.
Is this inevitable?
Possibly. It is possible to make a man’s film with a woman’s perspective and story, but it is incredibly difficult. For example, most men loved Mad Max: Fury Road even though it was about women who rebel against being kept as sex slaves. Even so, it would have to be exceptionally well executed, and I am certain that J.J. Abrams simply does not have that in him. He is not an artist. He can forge and copy masterpieces (which is why he gets jobs), but he cannot create them. This would be a monumentally difficult task, and while I want Disney to go big or go home, I know J.J. Abrams lacks the vision and skill to succeed.
I also think it would be inevitable because both men and women can be very unforgiving of each others’ power fantasies. Some women look at men’s power fantasies and declare that all men who enjoy them are misogynistic rapists. Some men look at women’s power fantasies and declare that women who like them are castrating bitches. It’s a bit simplistic.
The uncomfortable truth is that, as Nietzsche said, humans have a will to power. And that will to power affects the way we think and behave sexually. Since Star Wars has largely been pitched towards a male audience (though women do like Star Wars too) Star Wars has catered to men’s power fantasies. If Star Wars suddenly begin to cater to women’s power fantasies, then the men will decide that they are no longer the primary audience for Star Wars and revolt.
I do plan to come around and address the Twilight comparison, as well as the problematic elements of a potential relationship, in another post at some point in the future. So stay tuned.