Friday, March 11, 2016

In Defense of Reylo: Part I

Since I'll be delving into the details of the accusations that have been made against the characters' dynamic, trigger warnings for abuse, rape, pedophilia, incest, and sass.

Kylo Ren and Rey. It’s one of the most controversial ships to come out of the Star Wars franchise. It seems that Reylo has just as many haters as it does shippers, and it’s hard to come by a Star Wars fan these days who hasn’t taken part in some heated debate about it, no matter what side they’re on. Some call it beautiful, others call it harmful and problematic. And, of course, as a devoted Reylo shipper myself, I knew I would have to write something in its defense.

My first instinct was to write an article about how amazing the ship is. But no one is going to care about the positive aspects while they are still concerned about the negative ones. And with all the arguments going around about how the ship is harmful, I realized I would need to debunk those first before I moved onto the things I like about Reylo. So, today, in the first installment of my series on Reylo, I’ll be tackling five of the ten most common arguments I’ve seen levied against the ship.

*Ahem* Let’s begin.

1. “We should defeat villains, not fall in love with them. Viewing villains as romantic prospects is unhealthy and sets a bad example.”

I’ve seen many people give this argument, and each person seems to mean something a bit different by it. Some of them just mean they have seen one too many of their friends fangirl over antiheroes/antivillains and are sick of it and want something else. “First Zuko, then Loki, then Bucky Barnes, now Kylo Ren? When does it end?” To those people I would say I’m sorry to be so cliché. (Although, I’m also not sorry. ;) ) Trends can be tiresome, but they are not inherently harmful, and people have the right to like what they like.

Other people give this argument because they believe the popularity of antiheroes in media is a sign of society’s moral decay. “Our culture is quickly embracing moral relativity. And because of that it’s now only politically correct to have morally grey characters. If we want people to know right from wrong, we need heroes who are truly good we can root for, and villains who are truly evil we can despise.” To these people I would say that, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with stories about “true” heroes vs. “true” villains, there is also nothing wrong with stories about grey characters. Regardless of the black and white nature of deities and devils (or even humans in the afterlife), here on earth humanity is very grey. The best people have huge flaws, murderers show kindness, and almost everyone has had their turn being the abuser and the abused at some point. Grey characters are therefore more relatable as well as more interesting because there are more layers of morality and immorality to analyze and discuss. It’s nothing to be afraid of.

The majority of people who give this argument, however, seem to be coming from what is basically social justice’s division of One Million Moms in that they are very concerned for the children. “Heroines falling in love with villains glamorizes abusive relationships and may cause impressionable young girls to enter abusive relationships themselves!” I think we are all familiar with the kind of stories they’re talking about – usually fanfics, erotica, and poorly written YA novels that portray a “sympathetic bad boy” type who stalks, manipulates, or abuses his girlfriend. But because he’s so handsome and tragic, the naïve girlfriend writes off his faults as him being “just misunderstood,” forgives him, and they live happily and unrealistically ever after.

What people don’t seem to realize when they compare this to Reylo is that Star Wars is not a fanfic or a poorly written erotica/YA novel. Kylo Ren is not anyone’s abusive bad boy boyfriend. Rey is not a naïve girl who forgives whatever he does because he’s “misunderstood.” Anyone who thinks they have been or ever will be these things doesn’t understand the Star Wars universe. And anyone who thinks that is what the majority of Reylo shippers want them to be hasn’t been paying attention.

There are two main groups of Reylo shippers: those who ship Kylo Ren and Rey as a Foe Yay relationship and want them to stay that way, and those who ship them as a Foe Yay relationship but hope Rey will redeem Kylo Ren and enter a more traditional romantic relationship with him post-redemption. I don’t know of many who want them to be in an actual romantic relationship pre-redemption. How would that even work anyway? “Alright, honey. It’s time for me to go to work and try to kill your friends.” “Alright, have a good day, sweetie!” Yeah, no. It would be hard to make that work in even a fanfic, let alone the actual movies.

For those of you wondering what Foe Yay is, it is a trope in fiction where two equally powerful archenemies dedicate themselves to defeating the other but also find themselves strangely drawn to each other in ways they might not want to admit. Regardless of the characters’ gender and actual orientation, there will be a purposeful romantic subtext in their interactions. The trope is built on the idea that hate itself is a sort of twisted form of love. After all, no one can spend that much time obsessively thinking about a person – even negatively – and remain apathetic about them and their well-being. In fact, many characters in a Foe Yay relationship will find difficulty in actually killing their nemesis as they’ve always dreamed of once they finally get the chance. They may also find themselves telling others that only they are allowed to kill/harm their nemesis, in a subconscious effort to protect their nemesis from others. And they may also get strangely jealous when their nemesis fights other people.

Foe Yay is an extremely common trope that one finds in almost all media. It’s such a well-known trope, it is parodied often, such as in Perry and Doofenshmirtz’ relationship on Phineas and Ferb:

And in the music video to Miike Snow’s "Genghis Khan":

One of the more famous serious examples of this trope is the complicated relationship between Batman and the Joker:

(Source: DC Comics)

When little boys are inspired by Batman and want to become law enforcement officers when they grow up, no one worries that they’ll end up idealizing the criminals they chase because of Batman’s complex love/hate relationship with the Joker. And in the 75 years we’ve watched Batman alternate between fighting and caring about his archenemy, we’ve had no issues with boys putting themselves in dangerous relationships because of it. Whaddy’a know? It’s almost like fiction can actually serve as a safe, consequence-free zone to explore interesting dynamics that are not always 100% vanilla and ideal! Kind of like how, despite what some people say, videogames don’t cause violence and LGBT characters don’t turn straight viewers gay. I guess no matter what they watch, people are in control of their own actions and identities! Imagine! And guess what else? If little boys are smart enough to realize the difference between fiction and reality and are able to watch a love/hate relationship between a good guy and a bad guy, I’m pretty sure the girls can handle it too.

Will some people watch media and be inspired by it to do something harmful? Of course! But it’s like what they say about fiction being a mirror. What you take away from a story depends on what kind of person you are. If you’re a super healthy person, you can read almost anything and grow from the positive elements as well as explore the negative elements without being affected by them in any bad way. If you’re an unhealthy person, you can read anything – the Bible, Emily Dickinson poetry, The Cat in the Hat – and come away from it inspired to ruin your life and/or the lives of other people. Playing it safe as an author or filmmaker will have no effect on whether or not people abuse your work. This is why each person, and no one else, should be accountable for their own actions. This is why it’s wrong to blame media for the actions of audience members. This is why both makers and consumers of media are expected to adhere to the rule that fiction is description, not prescription.

Ultimately, fiction isn’t there to be your role model. It isn’t there to inspire your children or teach them the correct way to live. And it isn’t there to take your ideals and put them on screen. Sometimes fiction does end up doing these things, and that’s great! But when we start viewing fiction through the lens of that being its ultimate purpose, it becomes a problem. That’s when we start holding media up to a standard it is not obligated to meet. Fiction can do many things, but the only thing it is obligated to do is entertain, to explore situations and relationships, both good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. And regardless of whether or not the Reylo dynamic is something that should be imitated in real life, it is interesting in how it explores the similarities between love and hate, the connection the two characters have through the Force, and the possible themes of redemption. It is compelling, and that’s all it needs to be.

2. “Shipping Reylo condones rape. Case in point, the interrogation scene where he forces himself into her mind. And the line ‘You know I can take what I want’ pretty much speaks for itself.”

Let’s get something clear once and for all:

Yes, Kylo Ren did “Mind Rape” Rey.
No, Kylo Ren did not rape Rey.

If you’re confused, allow me to explain. “Mind Rape” is the name of a trope that, despite its loaded phrase of a name, is not actually rape. It is called such because it contains an element of violation that reminds people of rape in some cases. There are many variations of the “Mind Rape” trope, some playing on the association with rape more than others. The specific variation used in The Force Awakens is probably the least “rapey” of them all and is known as the Mind Probe. The Mind Probe trope is when any character possesses and uses the ability to sift through someone’s thoughts and memories in order to acquire a needed piece of information. It is often accompanied by head pain or discomfort for the person being probed, the intensity of which varies. This trope is very common to fantasy and sci-fi stories. One well-known example being that of Darth Vader and Leia in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Just like Kylo Ren mind probes Rey in order to find information placed in a droid, Darth Vader mind probed Leia Organa to find information that was placed in a droid as well. In fact, this is most likely one of the many intentional throwbacks to A New Hope that is in The Force Awakens. I don’t think it would be fair to say that Darth Vader raped Leia. Which is why I think, despite the trope name, the rape comparison is a bit too extreme to be accurate in the case of mind probes. They don't really have an equivalent in our world. The closest comparison would be to imagine struggling with a massive migraine while one of your enemies reads your diary in front of you. It’s certainly not an enviable position, and it’s definitely a violation of privacy, but it’s not rape.

I must also emphasize that, while there is some ethical questions around it, mind probing is something done by both villains and heroes in media. It is worth pointing out that Rey also “Mind Rapes” Kylo Ren right back in the interrogation scene. And she, along with most Jedis, take it a step further, using their powers to get into other people’s heads and force them to do things they would never do of their own free will, using Jedi mind tricks. This is much more extreme than a mind probe. And what’s more, it’s never frowned upon in-canon.

All that leaves is the “You know I can take what I want" line which many people have misunderstood. A lot of people interpret this line as Kylo Ren gloating over the fact that he is in power over Rey. But it is actually the opposite. Unlike his interrogation of Poe in which he gloated and made the Mind Probe as painful as he could, Kylo Ren makes it clear he is trying to get through Rey’s interrogation with as little unpleasantness as possible. He calls her his guest, even takes off his mask so they can speak to each other as people, tells her the truth about her friends, and tries to convince her to give him the map of her own free will first. This is why he says that line. He is telling her that, no matter what she chooses, he will have the map by the end of the day, so why not choose to cooperate and avoid all the pain of the mind probe? The novelization delves into this further:

     "I know you've seen the map," he repeated. "It's what I need. At the moment, it is all that I need." When she maintained her silence he almost sighed. "I can take whatever I want."
     Her muscles tightened. "Then you don't need me to tell you anything."
     "True." He rose, resigned. "I would have preferred to avoid this. Despite what you may believe, it gives me no pleasure. I will go as easily as possible–but I will take what I need."

All in all, I think we can conclude that the Mind Probe scene does not make Rey a victim of rape nor does it make Kylo Ren a rapist. It’s simply one of the unpleasant ordeals she (along with Poe Dameron, who suffered far worse than she did) had to face while being held hostage by the enemy. I see nothing unusual or scandalous about this since, considering he is on their enemy’s side, we shouldn’t expect Kylo Ren’s actions toward the heroes to be positive and pleasant at this point. I also see nothing about this that would prevent him from being redeemed. (Darth Vader mind probed Leia, and it never got in the way of his redemption) And I certainly don’t see how it would get in the way of a Foe Yay relationship as his actions toward Rey are quite mild compared to other Foe Yay relationships. (Batman and Joker anyone?)

3. “Shipping Rey with Kylo = shipping a victim with her abuser.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that if I root for Rey to forgive, care about, and redeem Kylo Ren, then that means I'm “ignoring her trauma,” “triggering victims of abusive relationships,” and “sending a bad message to people who have been in abusive romantic relationships, telling them they need to get back together with their manipulative ex-boyfriends.”

Whenever I see this, I can’t help wondering why these people don’t hate the original trilogy. In the original trilogy of Star Wars, Darth Vader gives Luke plenty of trauma. He fights him, cuts off his hand, gives him a choice of going to the dark side or falling to his doom, kills his mentor and many others Luke cares about, threatens to turn his sister evil, and takes him to the emperor to be toyed with, manipulated, and tortured. Yet viewers root for Luke to redeem Darth Vader, to continue loving his father, and ultimately to forgive him. And Luke does. In fact, if Vader hadn’t died in the end, Luke would have even taken him back and spent as much time with him as he could, forgetting all the trauma his father put him through. And the movies present this as a good thing. What about all the people watching who were abused by their parents? What if it triggers them? What if the story makes them feel like they have to forgive their abusive parents and take them back?

Despite all the backlash against Reylo, it’s been strangely silent on this front. Which strikes me as odd. Not because I think the original trilogy should trigger victims of parental abuse – just like with Reylo, I think it’s an apples and oranges comparison. But at least it makes a little more sense. At least Darth Vader really is Luke’s evil father. Whereas, Kylo Ren is not Rey’s manipulative ex-boyfriend. They are not victim and abuser. If you look at Rey and Kylo and see a poor traumatized girl being abused by some manipulative dudebro, you are not seeing what J.J. Abrams put on screen. They are adversaries. Think Superman and Lex Luthor. Batman and the Joker. Holmes and Moriarty. Tom and Jerry. You get the picture.

They are nemeses fighting on opposing sides of a war. Unless you’ve joined the military and have done combat with the enemy, you haven't experienced a real life equivalent of what they are to each other.

And another thing. If your beef against the Reylo ship is that you see Rey as a victim of Kylo Ren, I want you to say the following sentence out loud: “Rey is not a victim.” Say it. Very good! Now say it again. Yep, out loud. Again. Keep saying it. Say it in the mirror. Say it when you get up in the morning and when you lie down to sleep at night. Say it until it rolls off your tongue. Until it gets in your veins, and you can dance to it like a smooth piece of jazz.

Rey has been in multiple battles with Kylo Ren and has easily won all of them. Look at other heroes like, say, Batman. Batman, with his years of training, his ninja moves, his billions of dollars to create every gadget you could possibly think of. And in each of his fights, he gets more battered and takes more abuse than Rey does with zero training, zero gadgets, while she is restrained to a chair. People don’t call Batman a victim. But they call Rey a victim?

Ohhh, but Rey is a woman. Ohhh, and she’s being placed in a fight with a man. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh. Well, if a woman – even a strong woman – is placed in a fight with a man, she must automatically be a victim!

Like? What? No? Why are you? the way that? you are?

Also, while I’m sure Rey would totally win in a fight with someone who’s, you know, actually good at fighting, the part about Kylo Ren being Rey’s “abuser” is really, really funny. Like, I’m not sure if you were all watching, but Kylo Ren kind of downright sucks as a fighter? I mean, yes he can stop items in motion using the force, and he can slash the crap out of inanimate objects. But anything involving like…other people? Yeah, he’s going to lose.


And he couldn’t be someone’s abuser even if he tried really, really hard. You can’t call Rey “Kylo Ren’s victim” when she’s stronger than him and beats him every time they battle.

Your homework for the day is to go to the blackboard and write “Shipping Rey with Kylo = shipping a badass fighter with the flailing, incompetent guy who will never beat her at anything ever” 100 times.

4. “Shipping Reylo condones incest, as they are most likely related to each other.”

The idea that Rey and Kylo Ren are related is just one of many theories out there, not something that has been confirmed. Picking one of the many theories going around, assuming it’s true, and judging fans of a certain ship based on that is a bit silly. What’s more, I think the theory of them being related is not very likely to come true. I definitely don’t think they’re siblings. Han and Leia treat Rey like a stranger, not like someone who could possibly be their long-abandoned daughter. So the most Rey and Kylo Ren could be is cousins.

If they are cousins, the Reylo ship still does not condone incest. Someone dating their own cousin is frowned upon here in America, but this is a highly US-centric view. The taboo nature of cousin relationships is completely subjective and cultural. In other countries, such as in Europe, cousin marriage is legal and considered quite normal. And I have to remind everyone that we don’t know what the rules are concerning cousin marriage in the Star Wars universe.

However, I find the idea of them being cousins also very unlikely. Making Rey Luke’s daughter would just be too obvious to make a good plot twist. Also, Maz Kanata’s advice to Rey was framed in a “you can’t get your real family, but you can have Luke instead” kind of way, which wouldn’t really make sense if Luke is her real family. And being Force-sensitive, I think Maz would have known if that was the case.

5. “Shipping Reylo condones pedophilia, as Rey is only 19 and Kylo is in his early 30s. That’s a ten year age difference.”

Pedophilia means attraction to a child. It doesn’t mean attraction to someone younger than you. I can see how this would be a problem if Rey was underage – say, 16 or 17. But she is 19. She is an adult. If two people are adults, there is nothing immoral in them having any kind of romantic interaction they both want to have.

We've all seen relationships that came across as a bit skeevy due to a massive age difference. Like when a 60 year old starts dating a 20 year old. But ten years apart? You know relationships with that little an age difference are incredibly common, right? In fact, do you know who else had a ten year age difference in their relationship?

That’s right. Not only did Han and Leia have ten years between them, but they were the same ages as Kylo Ren and Rey. Han was in his early 30s. Leia was 19. Like parents, like son. If it didn’t bother you with them, it shouldn’t bother you with Reylo.

Join me next time in Part II of my three-part series on Reylo where I'll tackle the final five arguments made against the ship.


  1. very thorough. eagerly awaiting part two!

  2. Love it. Thank you for this well-written piece!

  3. YAY!!! Fantastic post! I'm not sure if I ship Reylo yet, I'll have to see the next movie to make up my mind, but I completely agree with your defense of it! I feel like if it was an abuser/victim relationship, it would be the other way around. XD And actually, it is legal to marry your cousin in several states, but I doubt that there would be a romantic relationship between the two if they were cousins. (Which I don't think is the case). Fabulous post. Can't wait for part two. (-:

  4. I ship it so hard. Great posts! Reylo is an amazing ship and I believe it will happen!

  5. I felt the last part so hard. It irritates me when people equivocate age gap relationships with pedophilia. I met my husband when I was 18 and he was 30. We didn't begin a relationship until I was 21, and we both had long discussions about our age difference to make sure I felt comfortable and that there wasn't some misbalance of power or maturity going into a relationship.

    Age gaps are great, and I think strong, mature young women are often drawn to older men because they match their mental and emotional maturity. Just my two cents!

  6. Has part II come out yet? I'd love to read it.