Note: This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Avoid reading if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
I have done a post on the things I liked about The Rise of Skywalker–and having seen it a second time, I largely stand by that. The sequel trilogy as a whole is definitely good, though it’s also definitely not great. That said, the new canon is at least consistently good whereas the EU had a mix of good and absolutely terrible–and everything in between. So progress, I guess.
That said, there were two moments in the Rise of Skywalker that I’ve got mixed feelings about, and would like to visit examine more closely. These are two kisses, one between two major characters and one between two minor characters, that happen near the end of the film. Both have good things about them, as well as bad things–and both jarred me a little bit when watching the first one–and not, initially, in a pleasant way.
Reylo For The Wi…WHAT?
During the Battle of Exegol, Palpatine and the spirits of the Sith have been defeated by Rey and the spirits of Jedi past, seemingly at the cost of Rey’s life. Redeemed Jedi Ben Solo, climbing out of the abyss he was thrown, cradles Rey’s body and then, possibly because of the nature of their Force bond, manages to bring Rey back to life through Force healing. Rey wakes and they share a passionate kiss–then Ben Solo instantly drops dead and becomes one with the Force, his body discorporating. Quite apart from the whole passionate kiss followed by instant death thing that seemed a little jarring, the full context of the whole Rey-Ben Solo/Kylo Ren relationship is–weird.
When The Force Awakens was released it became clear Rey was going to be the Luke Skywalker equivalent in this trilogy. Many fans were happy with this new direction–though there were plenty of strong female characters in the books, comics, and animated shows, the big screen Star Wars films hadn’t been quite as good on that front. Now finally, the main hero was going to be a young woman.
The Force Awakens didn’t shake things up too much, and Rey and Kylo were set up as clear opponents–it seemed impossible that they could ever have any common ground. The Last Jedi then came on the scene and complicated the narrative. Through a Force bond of some sort, Rey and Kylo Ren got to know each other and both saw something admirable in the other. Kylo Ren thought Rey would join him, and Rey thought Kylo Ren would come back to the light. When Kylo Ren killed Snoke, Rey thought the time had come–but then she realized that Ren was acting for his own gain, and the happy moment was ruined. In The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo and Rey crossed blades on multiple occasions as Ren, armed with the knowledge Palpatine had given him of Rey’s true heritage, tried to convince her to join him again and again. In a confrontation that Rey seemed sure to lose, Ren’s blade was stilled by a Force contact made by Leia Organa and in the moment of her death, Rey struck Ren a mortal blow–only then did Rey also feel Organa’s death. For reasons unknown, Rey then chose to heal Ren and steal his ship. Ren, overwhelmed by events, finally realized he had gone down the wrong path and reclaimed his identity as Ben Solo. He managed to make it to Exegol in time to save Rey from going through with a terrible Sith ritual and taking the Throne as Empress, but things still very nearly went awry as their Force bond proved the means for the cloned Palpatine to fully regenerate.
The problem is, Rey and Ben/Kylo’s relationship is a mixed bag and can be looked at from multiple angles. To make the negative case: Kylo, who was a good 10 years Rey’s senior, did everything he could to manipulate her using tactics like gaslighting and emotional abuse to get her to renounce her view of reality and join him. He was, definitely, a very bad man. While he did show up and help Rey in the end, it doesn’t really seem entirely natural for that to earn him her full acceptance so quickly. On the other hand, one of Rey’s defining traits is her compassion and her ability to see the good in so many. To Rey’s great credit, while she holds out hope for Kylo Ren reclaiming his identity as Ben Solo, she refuses to stand with him until he does indeed do so. She’s not willing to enter into partnership until he does choose the selfless compassion of the light. Rey’s healing of the wounded Kylo Ren of a mortal wound she herself dealt is also typical of this combination of hope and kindness–it’s a terrible risk to heal such a dangerous opponent especially when you were just beat into submission and only saved by a last-second act of intervention that’s unlikely to be repeated–and yet she does so anyway, and in so doing enables Ren to finally become Ben Solo once more and play a crucial role in the Battle of Exegol ultimately ensuring her survival. I have also read some writings by female Star Wars fans praising The Last Jedi for portraying female desire, and I think there is some merit to that.
So this is where I’m left–is the Rey-Kylo Ren/Ben Solo relationship one to be reviled, or one to be celebrated? Or perhaps it has elements of both? Maybe, just maybe, it’s a very human relationship–messy, with good and bad, joy and sorrow, and a dance of mutual discovery and exploration that ends in a place of selfless, life-giving sacrifice.
Commander D’Arcy and her wife
The second kiss is during the victory celebration at the Resistance base on Ajam Kloss. It’s really a blink-and-you-miss it moment. Commander D’Arcy, one of Leia’s top assistants in the Resistance, shares a post-battle celebratory kiss with a character we find out to be her wife in the companion material to the movie. While I do applaud an on-screen same-sex kiss in a Star Wars movie, this isn’t exactly the most stunning example of LGBTQ+ media representation. Many fans were holding out for a Finn-Poe romance, but alas, that did not end up coming to fruition. The books and comics have had many examples of LGBTQ+ representation in the new canon, but there is indeed something more rewarding for fans in the on-screen representation. So while I certainly approve of an on-screen same-sex kiss in a Star Wars film, I’m disappointed that it was such a small moment between two fairly minor characters. Star Wars once again lags behind Star Trek on the representation front, even if it is taking steps in the right direction.