In the first installment of this three-part article series on Reylo, I attempted to debunk half the arguments commonly raised against the ship. In today’s article, I will tackle the remaining five. Trigger warning for misogyny, shootings, terrorism, abuse, and brainwashing/grooming.
6. “Shipping anyone with Kylo Ren is wrong because he’s a misogynist/gatekeeper/emo man-baby whose mindset is similar to that of a Red Piller or school shooter.”
Let’s just say I’ve seen Kylo Ren accused of being many things. For those of you scratching your head at some of those terms, the gist of the argument is basically this: Kylo Ren is an immature little brat, and the reason why he does bad things is because he’s a petty drama queen who holds grudges over dumb things people did to him as a kid/teen, and now he’s taking his anger out on innocent people. And if we like him as a character, want him to be redeemed, or ship him with anyone, we’re ignoring/excusing his actions and therefore giving validation to people who do similar things in real life, such as school shooters or Red Pillers (men who blame all women for the fact they can’t get/keep a girlfriend).
Here’s the problem: that’s not who Kylo Ren is. It may be fun to read the Emo Kylo Ren account on Twitter, and browse the many fan-made pictures on Tumblr that show him complaining about how he’s “misunderstood” because his parents tell him to turn down the MCR song he’s blasting or freaking out when girls don’t find his Darth Vader obsession as attractive as he does or vowing to get revenge on all his friends and family because they refuse to buy him hair conditioner.
But there is nothing in canon that indicates his villainy is, in any way, motivated by petty teenage angst. It’s just not there. And what is there indicates something very different. I would even go so far as to say Kylo Ren isn’t really the villain. Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t completely blameless. And his narrative position is that of a villain. That is, his actions are harmful and benefit the evil side, the suffering others have experienced because of him is valid and important. And for the sake of the universe’s safety he will ultimately have to be stopped – either via redemption, imprisonment, or death. I’m not denying any of that. However, on a personal level, Kylo Ren is not the villain. Snoke is. And Kylo Ren is a victim of Snoke, as is every person Kylo Ren has hurt.
Stay with me here. Let me explain. I’m not going all “unreasonable fangirl” on you. I’m not going to argue that Kylo Ren “has so many struggles! So many feels! Poor conflicted (attractive) baby boy is probz just misunderstood. :( ” I’m not just taking everything Kylo Ren has done and randomly tacking it onto Snoke so I can avoid calling my favorite character a bad guy. Instead, I’m referring to a very important part of canon that many people are either accidentally missing or purposely pushing out of their minds. I’m referring to the fact that it was strongly insinuated in the film itself, discussed in several behind the scenes interviews, and stated outright in canon books that Snoke groomed and brainwashed Kylo Ren since infancy, using religious indoctrination, into believing that the dark side is actually the good side, and that the light side is both evil and weak. That his family members and their comrades are actually evil people – terrorists – who need to be defeated in order for justice and goodness to truly prevail.
Kylo Ren thinks he’s on the good side. And I don’t mean in the way all villains smugly think their way is the “right” way. His status as a villain is circumstantial and not necessarily due to any real evil within him. He is not like characters such as Loki who is motivated by ambition and bitterness and takes it out on innocent people (and who, interestingly, most people have no problem wishing redemption for). He is far more similar to characters like Bucky Barnes, who have been used and abused and twisted unknowingly into “bad guys” by the true villains. Although he suspects Snoke views him as disposable, Kylo still believes in the rightness of the ideals Snoke has brainwashed him into believing are truly moral.
The fact that this is the case has been confirmed and insinuated numerous times in canon material. I don’t have room in this article to show them all. However, I will show a few. The Force Awakens novelization says:
He met her eyes steadily. "We've lost our son forever."
Leia bit her lower lip, refusing to concede. "No. It was Snoke."
Han drew back slightly. "Snoke?"
She nodded. "He knew our child would be strong with the Force. That he was born with equal potential for good and evil."
"You knew this from the beginning? Why didn't you tell me?"
She sighed. "Many reasons. I was hoping that I was wrong, that it wasn't true. I hoped I could sway him, turn him away from the dark side, without having to involve you." A small smile appeared. "You had–you have–wonderful qualities, Han, but patience and understanding were never among them. I was afraid that your reactions would only drive him farther to the dark side. I thought I could shield him from Snoke's influence and you from what was happening." Her voice dropped. "It's clear now that I was wrong. Whether your involvement would have made a difference, we'll never know."
He had trouble believing what he was hearing. "So Snoke was watching our son."
"Always," she told him. "From the shadows, in the beginning, even before I realized what was happening, he was manipulating everything, pulling our son toward the dark side..."
Then there are these quotes by the actor of Kylo Ren, Adam Driver:
We did not think of Kylo Ren as bad, or evil, or a villain and tried to make something that was more three dimensional. That to me seemed more dangerous and more unpredictable, someone who feels morally justified in doing whatever they need to to publicly state that what they’re doing is right. It seemed something more active to play than just being evil for the sake of it.
What’s more, Kylo Ren displays his backwards view of who’s good and who’s evil in the things he says. Unlike most villains who attempt to insult the heroes by calling them self-righteous idealists, Kylo Ren calls the Star Wars heroes “traitors, murderers, and thieves” and appears to believe these labels are accurate. He also seems to find it surprising that Rey hates the First Order and wants to kill him. In The Force Awakens novelization, he says to her:
…I should be the one who should be scared. You shot first. You speak of the Order as if it were barbaric. And yet, it is I who was forced to defend myself against you.
It’s true that Kylo Ren has harmed and killed innocent people. But we have to remember that he doesn’t know these people are innocent. He’s been deceived into believing these people either are villains or harbourers and sympathizers of such people. And if you think about it, he hasn’t done anything that most western countries haven’t done to those they deem criminals and terrorists, or that heroes of pretty much any franchise haven’t done to their enemies in order to win the battle in favor of what they believed was good.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you were born into a family who was part of some terrorist group. You grew up with their ideology, so it seemed normal to you. Then someone showed you the light – showed you the kind of people your family really are. This person takes you away from your family, trains you to fight dangerous and evil people like them, and sends you on a mission to rid the universe of such people so that peace and justice will finally prevail. Because you want to do the right thing, you are determined to succeed in this mission. And yet you are conflicted. Because, even though you know your family is evil, you still care about them, and you can’t stop. And so you go to desperate measures to rid yourself of this needless sentimentality that only gets in the way of your destiny. In this situation, wouldn’t defeating your family despite your feelings for them be the right thing to do?
This isn’t the situation Kylo Ren is in. But this is the situation Kylo Ren has been led to believe he’s in, and he’s had very little opportunity to find out otherwise. As viewers, we see him hurting our beloved heroes, striking down his own father – a character we know and love – and it stirs up our emotions, causing us to want to view him as evil and heartless. But when you remove the emotion and look at it objectively, you see something very different. Kylo Ren has been placed in a false world that is very real to him. And in that world, our heroes genuinely look like villains who need to be shot down, and fan favorite Han Solo looks like a dangerous criminal who needs to be stopped despite any familial emotions that try to cloud Kylo's judgment.
We live in a world where Luke Skywalker was a hero who showed his father love and was himself spared because of it. Kylo Ren lives in a world where Luke Skywalker was a terrorist who was allowed to continue in his criminal activity because he appealed to the one weakness of the otherwise great hero Darth Vader. On the surface, Kylo Ren looks like a villain trying to extinguish what little good is left in him. But under the surface, is an abused and confused boy trying to do what’s right when it is actually wrong – “To,” as The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary says, “succeed where Darth Vader and his sentimentality failed.”
It’s important to remember that abuse and bad ideology can lead good people to do bad things. And while that doesn’t completely excuse them for everything they’ve done or erase the fact that they need to be stopped, it is important to take these things into account when analyzing a fictional character’s motivation and figuring out where the narrative ultimately needs to take their story arc. Fiction is not like real life in that all that matters is the end result or what must be done to fix the problem and save the day. Fiction is also meant to be a meaningful exploration of humans and their motives. And understanding the true nature of Kylo Ren’s character is vital to understanding not only the Reylo ship, but everything we want for his character in the new trilogy.
7. “Rey should never be with Kylo Ren, nor should he be redeemed, because Kylo Ren doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”
This is another argument different people say for different reasons. Sometimes the reason people give this argument is because of Rey. “Rey is not so weak that she would just forgive everything Kylo Ren has done. Why are women always expected to be ‘good little girls’ and forgive the people who hurt them? Why aren’t women allowed to have their anger? Why do men think they are entitled to forgiveness?”
First of all, it genuinely terrifies me to see something like forgiveness be framed as something sexist and problematic (especially in reference to someone who has been literally brainwashed and abused?). And I mean, maybe I’m biased since this is the very principle my religion was built on, but I’m pretty sure forgiveness has nothing to do with its recipient “deserving” anything. If someone “deserved” forgiveness, they probably wouldn’t really need to be forgiven in the first place. And forgiving someone does not make you “weak”. Is God (whether you view him as a real being or a fictional character like Rey) “weak” when he forgives the millions of people he himself admits don’t deserve it? Forgiveness is and always will be powerful and liberating. It’s about letting go of your pain, defining yourself not by what people have done to you in the past but by what you choose to do right now. What’s more, it is not, in any way, a gendered action. And portraying it as some patriarchal cage is just dishonest and harmful. I’m sure there are people out there who have been pressured to forgive others and even been told to take someone back when they didn’t want to. But that isn’t what we’re talking about when we say we want Rey to forgive Kylo Ren. If Rey forgives Kylo, it will be because she, an independent person, chooses to do so of her own free will. Not because people expect or pressure her to do so or because she wants to be a “good little girl.”
There is also an enormous difference between once again forgiving and taking back an abuser who claims he is “sorry” when he's not really and is going to go back to abusing you when he has the chance versus forgiving someone who has gone through a legitimate change of heart and repentance process. Before any forgiveness or genuine romantic relationship with Rey is going to happen, Kylo Ren’s redemption and repentance will need to be both genuine and realistic. And if the filmmakers go that route, it obviously will be? I mean, this is Star Wars we’re talking about. It’s not like Kylo Ren is just suddenly going to go, “Ummm okay, I decided to stop being bad? So, yeah. I’m on the good side now. Y’all forgive me?” and everyone else is going to say, “Omigosh, of course! All those people you tortured and killed? Outta sight, outta mind. I’m just glad to see you back again!” That isn’t going to happen. If they go the redemption route, it’s going to be blood, sweat, tears, and joy. It’s going to be pain and ugliness and beauty. It’s going to be a big deal. This would be, after all, bringing Han and Leia’s son back home. And repentance and forgiveness are both vital to that. Not just forgiveness from Rey, but from Leia, Luke, the viewers, as well as Kylo Ren learning to forgive himself.
It must also be pointed out that Rey killing Kylo instead of having Kylo Ren be redeemed and forgiven would be a bad move for plot reasons. Why? Because, in the Star Wars universe, killing your nemesis rather than redeeming them is stepping onto the path toward the dark side. Luke stayed on the light side because he did all he could to save his father, rather than give into the Emperor’s temptations to strike him down. If you want to stay on the light side of the Force, killing your enemy is the last thing you should do. And it has already been canonically confirmed that this also holds true for Rey. In the TFA script, it says:
And she could kill him — right now, with ONE VICIOUS STRIKE! But she stops. Realizing she stands on a greater edge than even the cliff — the edge of the dark side.
And in The Force Awakens novelization, it says:
One downward cut, she saw. One quick, final strike, and she could kill him. The landing lights of a shuttle appeared in the distance, coming over the trees in her direction. She had to make a decision, now.
Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion.
So easy, she told herself. So quick.
She recoiled from it. From the dark side.
It has also been noticed by fans that, in the audio version of the book, the “amorphous, unidentifiable, raw” voice she hears telling her to kill Kylo sounds suspiciously like Snoke’s voice. Which means killing Kylo Ren might not just be the path to the dark side but the path Snoke himself is actively trying to manipulate Rey into taking. Rey will need to do something to try to stop Kylo Ren somehow. And if killing him is out of the question, redemption is the only other available path.
Those are my rebuttals for when this argument is used because of Rey. Other times, people give this argument because of Kylo Ren. They say, “Kylo Ren is a bad person. Just because a bunch of teenage girls find him attractive and like his character, that doesn’t mean he deserves a redemption arc. Sorry to break it to you, but some people die evil. Some people need to be defeated. And why care so much for some evil brat like Kylo when you could be caring about, you know, the main heroes?”
What these people fail to see is how antithetical this attitude is to Star Wars' overall narrative, and just how important Kylo Ren’s redemption really is. It’s not just something we fangirls want because we think he’s attractive or even because we like his character. It’s because of the themes of the story. Star Wars is a space fairy tale. It works within a narrative of happy endings and the hope in wishing for the impossible. The overall message of Episodes I-VI was that anyone, no matter how far they have fallen, can come back to the light. It focused on the Skywalker family line, starting by showing the goodness of young Anakin Skywalker, chronicling his fall to the dark side as he got older, and ending with his return to grace before death. When the main point of the original trilogy was that Darth Vader was redeemed, it is even more important Kylo Ren is redeemed. Kylo Ren is the culmination of Anakin and Luke’s stories. He is the Skywalker heir. And this being the final trilogy, Episodes VII-IX form the culmination of the entire Star Wars narrative. Whatever message Episode IX gives us, it will not only be the message for the new trilogy but the overall message of Star Wars itself. Do you really want that final message to be “Yes, Kylo is the heir of Anakin Skywalker. And yes, he was abused and manipulated into going to the dark side, and that's sad. But in real life, not everyone gets redeemed in the end, and sometimes people just die evil. What can you do? Life sucks, deal with it”? What do you think this is? DC Comics? Save it for your grimdark gritty realism stories. As Lewis Carrol would say, “It shall not touch, with breath of bale, the pleasance of our fairy tale.” Here in the Star Wars fandom, we take pride in our happily ever afters. #BringBenHome
Although, this could change later in the trilogy (I expect Kylo to get a lot worse before he gets better) Kylo Ren is, even under brainwashing, a lot less evil than his grandfather and role model, Darth Vader. He still has a strong moral code and respect for life. Unlike Darth Vader, who strangled anyone nearby without a qualm whenever he got upset, Kylo Ren usually tries to take his massive temper out on inanimate objects. And while Darth Vader was all for blowing up planets with his Death Star, Kylo Ren was against Snoke and Hux destroying planets with their death star; he wanted to stop them but had no power to do so. What’s more, although it was under tragic circumstances, Anakin Skywalker became the evil Darth Vader knowingly, of his own free will. If we can root for redemption for Darth Vader, surely we can root for the same with Kylo Ren, who became less evil and under circumstances of deception and brainwashing.
8. “If Kylo Ren is going to be redeemed by someone, shouldn’t it be his mother Leia? Or even his uncle Luke? Not Rey.”
I know, I know. *sigh* When will we silly fangirls realize family is far more important than our shallow desire for romance? Seriously though, I don’t believe romantic love is more important than familial love. But vice versa, I don’t believe familial love is more important than romantic love. I think all the different forms of human relationships can be equally valid and powerful. And some of the people making this argument might be unfairly dismissing romance as more shallow or weak than it really is. Having said that, I get why some people would rather have Kylo Ren redeemed by his own mother or uncle instead of some new girl outside the family. But there are two big reasons why I don’t think the filmmakers will go that route.
First of all, Leia and Luke have already tried and failed to redeem Kylo Ren. Leia spent the entirety of his childhood years trying to stop Snoke’s influence to no avail. She then sent him to Luke to see if he could redeem him, and that ended in disaster. So when she sent Han out to bring Ben home, it was one last attempt to have someone do what she knew neither she nor Luke could do. So how would Leia or Luke redeeming Kylo Ren now make sense? If Kylo Ren is going to be redeemed, that redemption has to come from a place that hasn’t been tried before. It has to come from someone new.
Second of all, the Star Wars producers have made it very clear that they do not want the original trilogy characters to take any of the attention away from the new trio. One of the biggest reasons Luke’s role was so small in TFA was that they had to keep cutting the scenes they wrote for him because it kept stealing the spotlight away from Rey and the others. The original trio is there for one main purpose: to step down from the main stage and hand the reigns to the new characters. I think expecting Leia or Luke to redeem the main “villain” of the series is expecting too much from characters who are purposely being sidelined. It’s much more likely to be done by one of the new main characters. And since Rey is the one out of the new trio that Kylo Ren has the strongest connection with, she is the most likely candidate.
9. “Having Rey redeem Kylo Ren would play into the tired, misogynistic trope where women are ~pure~ beings who can magically cure evil men with just the wholesomeness of their love.”
In part three of this article series, I will get more into the particulars of how Rey redeeming Kylo Ren would most likely play out. But – spoiler alert – it looks nothing like that. Human beings affect other human beings when they spend any amount of time – positive or negative – together. And considering there are a thousand and one ways one person can help redeem another person without it having anything to do with the “purity” of their gender, I’m not sure why so many anti-Reylo folks think this is the most likely way the ship would turn out or that this is how most Reylo shippers would even want it to turn out.
I mean, I understand there’s probably some shippers around the internet somewhere writing fanfics and meta portraying it with such a shallow outcome. But you do realize shallow fanfics exist online for every ship, yeah? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen fanfics about Batman randomly giving up his crime fighting and skipping merrily into the moonlight with the Joker. How many times I saw shippers of my previous OTP, Zutara, portray Katara as magically healing all the angst and potential evil out of her “poor, misunderstood boyfriend” Zuko. It happens in all of my ships, it happens in all of your ships. But for all of the shallow shippers, there’s an equal or greater amount of shippers who want the relationship to play out realistically.
And honestly, this ~magical healing powers of female purity~ thing is really the least likely way Rey could help redeem Kylo Ren. If being a woman is so magical and pure in the Star Wars universe, how does someone like Captain Phasma exist? And why wasn’t Kylo Ren’s morality improved by being in her presence? Or if only affectionate, moral females count, why didn’t the years of Leia’s motherly efforts to redeem her darling son work out? Clearly, it takes a lot more than magical female purity to bring Kylo Ren back from the dark side. Which makes sense as, like I said in the past, Star Wars is not a fanfic or poorly written YA novel. This really is not something to be concerned about.
10. “Rey is a powerful character. She doesn’t deserve to have her story overshadowed by Kylo’s redemption arc nor would she give up her own goals just to chase after him because she feels sorry for him/wants to save him.”
First of all, if anyone in this ship is getting sidetracked from their goals due to their feelings for the other, it’s Kylo Ren (more on this in part three). When Reylo shippers say they want Rey to help redeem Kylo Ren, they are not suggesting she becomes suddenly blindly infatuated, drops everything, and throws herself at his feet. Rey isn’t the type of person to ever do that. If she was, we wouldn’t be shipping her with Kylo Ren. She is a powerful character, and she is not going to become any less powerful by trying to help someone or by stopping a villain through redemption instead of death.
The fact that so many people are equating a woman helping someone she loves with weakness is…concerning to say the least.
Let me give you a hypothetical example. Let’s say, in a future Star Wars movie, all of the characters want Rey to kill Kylo Ren. But at this point, Rey has grown to care about Kylo Ren very much. She doesn’t want to kill him and is desperate to redeem him instead. So desperate that she even risks her own safety by going to him to beg him to come back to the Light. This doesn’t turn out so well, as Kylo Ren refuses and hands Rey over to Snoke instead. However, though he doesn’t want to admit it, Kylo Ren secretly cares about Rey too. And when he sees Snoke torturing her, about to kill her, he is overcome by the power of love, rescues her, and is finally redeemed in the process.
If they put something like that in the films, anti-Reylo folks would be outraged. They would say Rey’s agency had been thrown away for the sake of Kylo. They would compare her to a sad, loyal little puppy for going and begging him to turn good. They would say the writers turned her into a damsel in distress for Kylo Ren to heroically save, and that his “magical love for a woman” redeemed him in the most sexist of ways. Here’s the thing, though. Read that hypothetical example again. But this time, switch Rey’s name with Luke’s, Kylo Ren’s name with Darth Vader’s, and Snoke's with the Emperor. Yes, that’s right. That hypothetical example I gave is literally the end of Return of the Jedi.
And here’s where it gets interesting. No one says that Darth Vader’s redemption overshadows Luke’s story. No one thinks Luke is obsessed or unhealthy when he begs Darth Vader to come back to the light or that he's weak when his attempt leads him to be tortured and almost killed by the Emperor, or when he has to be saved by the person he was trying to save himself. Just like no one calls Thor weak when he tries to redeem Loki, and no one calls Captain America weak when he tries to redeem Bucky Barnes. Yet, they call Rey weak when they imagine her trying to redeem someone she cares about. Why? Is it because she’s a woman and all the other examples were men? Is it because her love would be romantic in nature, while the others were based on friendship or family? Because, to be honest, both of those reasons are pretty misogynistic. Women are strong. They don’t become less strong by falling in love. And they certainly don’t become less strong when saving someone becomes part of their mission. We need to stop thinking that the only way a female character can be strong is if they only care for themselves or that their story arc can't involve anyone else to be valid. As Lori Summers said in her famous quote about strong female characters:
In our totally understandable desire to see portrayals of strong women (in reaction to decades of damsels in distress and women as appendages), we’ve somehow backed ourselves into this corner where the only acceptable portrayal of a woman in the media is a strong, kick-ass woman. That is not doing women any favors. It just leads to the attitude that you have to be ONE WAY ONLY to be legit as a woman.... Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.
If Luke can redeem someone he cares about without being weakened or sacrificing his own Hero’s Journey arc, then Rey can also redeem someone she cares about without sacrificing hers. By all means, let her be powerful and independent. But also, let her be human. Don’t be afraid to let her love people.
Hopefully I’ve set your mind at ease about all the problems some fans have with the Reylo ship. Now that I’ve refuted these arguments, next time I will delve into the many things that make this ship great. See you then!