Written by Francisco Meléndez, E23 Staffer
Edited by Zack Hohenstein, E23 Digital Director

Image: © Disney

Out of the many, many, many, many incomprehensible, bone-headed creative decisions made in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”, canonizing “Reylo” as the logical conclusion for the Star Wars franchise is without a doubt the most baffling. 

There were many things that bothered me about the ninth episode in the Skywalker saga.

  • The sidelining of Rose Tico
  • Poe Dameron’s racist drug-dealer backstory
  • The countless plot threads with no purpose
  • The reveal of Rey’s Palpatine bloodline 
  • Chewie’s weird medal moment 
  • The obliteration of Finn’s purpose in the story

However, “Reylo” struck a chord with me that no other Star Wars moment has before. Out of all the moments where J.J. Abrams tried to satisfy the Star Wars fanbase, this is the moment that crossed the line beyond just general, ungraceful fan pandering.

Image: © Disney

For the uninitiated, after the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in December 2015, a large group of fans did what they do and shipped many of the new characters. For those who are not young, shipping means to wish for two characters to become a couple. The two most popular pairings were Rey & Kylo Ren (Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver) and Finn & Poe Dameron (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac).

“Finnpoe” shippers were drawn in by their undeniable chemistry, the way the characters cared for each other and other typical elements found in healthy romantic relationships. This was bolstered by a desire within the LGBTQ+ community to see themselves on screen in a healthy manner.

With “Reylo”, the reasoning is a lot more messy. It wasn’t a ship driven by the potential of a healthy relationship. It was driven by some fans’ hots for Driver.

The reasoning behind “Reylo” is one that may be familiar to devout Harry Potter fans. As the Harry Potter franchise progressed, fans began hoping Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy would end up together because… well, because they had a crush on Tom Felton. As Hermione was the most prominent girl in the series, she became the surrogate for young girls to imagine themselves as Tom Felton’s- I mean Draco Malfoy’s girlfriend.  

If you’ve never been too involved with the Harry Potter franchise, you may wonder what’s the issue with people writing fan fiction of two characters they like ending up together as wish fulfillment. The issue is, to put it mildly, that Draco was a huge bully that tormented Hermione and her friends throughout the course of the Harry Potter series. This ship essentially sought to bring together a bully and his victim. 

This became so popular and spread so far beyond the Harry Potter forums that it got its own name: “The Draco in Leather Pants” trope. This trope sees a character who’s abusive, villainous, or antagonistic get revised as a saint, or the characters flaws will be described as part of what makes them so attractive. Other examples of this include but are not limited to Azula from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”, and JD from “Heathers”. These characters’ evil actions will be seen as something relatable, attractive, or possibly redeemable. It’ll lead to fans applying a revisionist lens to the work.

For the longest time, this trope was self contained enough that it wouldn’t bleed into the actual work, but with social media’s increased popularity, fans’ desires to see characters end up together became louder. Sometimes it gets loud enough to reach the creators’ ears.  

In the past, a pairing of characters had to be incredibly ubiquitous to gain the attention of an author. One example would be Laurie and Jo in “Little Women”, which actually managed to influence Luisa May Alcott’s ending for the book. However, in a post-Twitter world everything can easily reach a writers’ room. This has manifested in creators adapting their work in response to online discussions, including shipping circles.

Image: © Disney

One example is the response to “Stucky” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of the Captain America movies shipped the lead character of Steve Rogers with his childhood best friend Bucky Barnes, with the ship’s momentum increasing greatly after “Captain America: Civil War”. The story of Steve doing everything in his power to protect Bucky from the rest of the world resonated with audiences, and the ship became one of the most popular in the MCU. It even surpassed the popularity of many of the canonized couples.

In what could have been a response to this, the movies seemed to greatly diminish the screen time Steve and Bucky’s relationship got. Whether you ship these two or not, it’s hard to ignore the drop in interactions between “Captain America: Civil War” and the last two Avengers movies. Heck, when Steve’s character arc comes to a close, he doesn’t even get a scene with his longest friend. This seemed to be yet another case of the MCU quickly making arrangements to avoid having noticeable gay representation, except in this case the representation in question was a result of online shipping, not anything within the movies themselves. While the deleted scenes in “Black Panther” and “Thor: Ragnarok” were removed out of a fear to take that dip into the 21st century, the downplay of Steve and Bucky’s relationship reads as a panicked response to online shipping groups.

Okay, but what does all this Draco, online forum, Marvel talk have to do with Star Wars? 

Well, against the hopes of all rational people, the people over at Lucasfilm saw the massive pool of fans that wanted Rey to end up with the man that she’s been enemies with this whole time… and they said “Alright sure let’s do that”. Which is why near the end of “The Rise of Skywalker”, when Rey is about to die, Kylo sacrifices himself to save her, they share a kiss, and Kylo disappears.  

To be clear, this wasn’t Kylo’s sad-boy self pulling Rey into a kiss. This was presented as a mutual kiss between them, as if a culmination of their relationship across these movies. Let us remember that in the first movie of this trilogy, Kylo ends the movie by killing the first parental figure Rey’s ever had and almost killing Rey’s new best friend. I’ve seen bad, gross, inexplicable romances before, but this has to be the worst I’ve seen.

To make matters worse, this movie among all of its needless plot padding scenes, decided to sideline Kylo. It opens with Kylo killing countless people in a bloodthirsty hunt for the MacGuffin of the film. Later, has some interactions with Rey that go about as well as all their other interactions (“yadda yadda join the Dark Side, Rey, I swear I’m a nice guy”). Oh, and then Rey nearly kills Kylo in a lightsaber battle. After that, Kylo gets revived.

He finally sees the error of his ways and decides to be a better person HALFWAY THROUGH THE FINAL MOVIE.  

I already saw where this was going, but I decided to go along for my own sanity. I expected that maybe Kylo would get a chance to prove himself, use his status to call off his army or maybe even try to help the others. Instead, for some reason, Driver is suddenly not allowed to talk anymore and is absent for a good chunk of the movie, until he arrives as a Deus Ex Machina when Rey needs help in her fight against Palpatine.  

From here Kylo gets knocked out while assisting Rey, comes back to revive her, kisses her and disappears. That means that their only interaction after Rey tries to kill him for, well, everything is fighting side by side against Palpatine. They don’t share any dialogue. She doesn’t get a chance to express what in the world she could see in him. 

There is nothing.

I’m not saying that it would’ve suddenly made everything better, but the movie just seems to assume that viewers have been on board with them getting together the whole time.

On the other hand, what happened to “Finnpoe”? Surely if Lucasfilm and Disney approve of a woman kissing to make up with her abuser, they’ll at last give us a healthy, normal relationship too right? Well, you’d be wrong.  

Image: © Vanity Fair

After “The Last Jedi” separated Finn and Poe for the majority of the runtime, “The Rise of Skywalker” sought to erase this ship from the phase of the franchise. Most of their initial interactions are based on bickering, they share far fewer tender moments than in either of the previous films. Oscar Isaac claims his attempts to make the ship happen were quickly shot down by Disney.

While I was sad these two didn’t interact much in “The Last Jedi”, it’s hard to deny that the brief moments they did share were very sweet; whether you wanted them to be a couple or not, it was nice to see two men of color in a movie be so affectionate and vulnerable with each other. Alas, Disney went the same route as the MCU and decided to pivot as drastically as possible to avoid any possibility that two of their major characters are gay.

Disney’s fear of a homophobic backlash is the only reason I could find as to why they added Zorii and Jannah into the movie. 

Image: © Disney

Zorii serves very little purpose in the movie, aside from a) explaining Poe’s aforementioned racist drug-dealer-backstory and b) being Poe’s narrative beard. All of her interactions with characters are directly related to Poe, and this is meant to communicate to the audience that there’s no way Poe could be gay if he’s in love with this woman.  

Jannah is an even more blatant example of this, as she’s almost completely identical to Finn, except she’s a woman, and she’s here to finally give Finn an “appropriate romance”. When “The Force Awakens” came out, people who weren’t shipping Finn with Poe were shipping him with Rey (“Finnrey”); this meant the two most popular romantic destinations of the time were a straight interracial couple or a gay interracial couple.

This brought in a bit of controversy from people who claimed Disney was “ruining Star Wars” by merely having a female lead and a black stormtrooper that have chemistry together. Jannah is the one of the blandest characters in Star Wars. She’s not a person, she’s a plot device. She exists exclusively as a distraction, a mechanism for Disney to wash away the aforementioned controversy.

Ideally, Disney would’ve realized they’re one of the biggest media companies on the planet and stood their ground. Ideally, they would’ve discarded the concept of “Reylo” in the early development of the movie. Ideally, Finn and Poe would’ve given us the first gay couple in a Star Wars movie, instead of two unnamed background characters who share a kiss for a split second. 

Instead, we got “The Rise of Skywalker”.  

As I said before, the movie is full of issues. “Reylo” is just the most egregious. At the end of the day, a franchise like Star Wars can get by with some narrative issues. Star Wars isn’t a perfect franchise, but I am amazed they decided to embrace such a despicable, gross relationship in their final Skywalker saga movie.  

Even the worst moment in the previous movies can best be described as narratively flawed. This goes beyond that realm. I can forgive flawed pacing, subpar dialogue, and superfluous characters to a point, but I draw the line when a movie goes into abuse apologia.

This is what it comes down to. Disney had built so many connections for Rey throughout the previous movies. If they were dead set on having a couple at the end of the series, there were so many other places to end it on. Even if they were set against “Finnpoe”, they could’ve paired up Rey with almost any other companion she’d met along the way and it would’ve been better than this. 

Disney could’ve had a spine or an ounce of creativity and come up with something on their own. Instead, they were so determined to play it safe, to only take ideas the fans had already come up with in forums, that it sank the film. 

And here we are, this is where the franchise ended. Not with thunderous applause, but with a bland whimper.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,