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The allure of Reylo

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Apr 18, 2019

The novel Black Moon Rising by Frankie Rose tells a familiar tale. From the first page, this story of a future where "mankind took to the stars" and an evil interplanetary force known as The Construct rules over the galaxy will set alarm bells ringing loudly in your head if you’re a fan of a certain sci-fi franchise — but it's when it gets into the relationship between its romantic leads that things get even more familiar. There's Reza, a nobody girl on the run from The Construct, and Jass Beylar, the deadly secret weapon of The Construct whose Seer powers allow him access into people's minds. The pair are joined together by a psychic bond that forces them to meet one another in their dreams, usually in sexy ways. They both seek to bring one another to their side of the battle but their loyalties are tested as their passion grows.

Black Moon Rising isn’t technically Kylo Ren/Rey fanfiction, but if you’re a Star Wars fan then this will all seem so very familiar to you.

The wonderful Jenny Nicholson dedicated a highly detailed and very entertaining video to this book, which I heartily recommend you watch now, but it’s only in reading Black Moon Rising for yourself that you see just how much the story plays out like Reylo fic. The dynamic is near identical to the fandom’s favored reading of this pair and the stand-ins for all the Star Wars details and tropes are less than subtle. Still, this book is well reviewed on Goodreads and Amazon, and the evident comparisons have escaped none of these impassioned readers. Indeed, search for “Reylo” on Amazon and this book comes up.

So clearly, there is a market for this story, and in a new era of publishing where fan-fiction is a legitimate form of business, emerging from the shadows of fandom and its age-old rules, it makes sense that writers would seek to fill this particular gap. After all, the more recent Star Wars films have been some of the most financially successful of all time as well as achieved new critical heights for the franchise. A whole new generation has their heroes and villains, all of whom reflect audiences’ evolving tastes and the added layers to this beloved narrative. First generation Star Wars fans got Leia and Han; we get Rey and Kylo.

Reylo

Reylo GIF by compromisedfacade.tumblr.

Star Wars is currently the most popular movie on FanFiction.net, with over 50,700 fics to its name. Archive of Our Own currently has 11382 Rey/Kylo fics available to read. It is the second most popular pairing on AO3 for the extended Star Wars universe, behind only Kylo and Armitage Hux. However, that pairing is pure fandom, something that everyone knows won't happen in the movies, whereas Reylo is something that may actually become a reality, and that's not just a theory. Various set leaks and rumors have made Reylo fans very pleased with their prospects for Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, not to mention the endless blogs dedicated to showing the evidence on Reylo as the franchise’s endgame. And even without those, The Last Jedi fuelled many a fandom fire thanks to the building dynamic between Kylo and Rey.

Not that we can blame them: Who can resist the torrid relationship between two people from opposite ends of the tracks, bound together by powers they can barely comprehend and torn apart by their warring stances on the fate of the galaxy? It was taken to a new level in The Last Jedi when Kylo seemed to turn to good, influenced by Rey, only to return to his lust for power. All that and a shirtless Adam Driver? We get it, that’s all we’re saying.

The canon narrative of Reylo taps into a lot of relationship dynamics that are particularly popular in fandom. For one thing, it’s a pairing of pure power: the apprentice who has honed his craft but is hindered by his rage, versus the naïve underdog who is only now discovering her untapped strengths. They bring out the sheer force, no pun intended, in one another. Any paranormal romance reader worth their salt can wax lyrical about the joys of such stories. One key scene in The Force Awakens has proven crucial in understanding the ship’s appeal, as explained by Dot, a Reylo fan:

"I suppose it started with the interrogation - she's in this submissive position, chained to a chair, but she distracted him so much it took him a while to get to the point of it (trying to get the map) and then she mentally KICKED HIS ASS. So here's this big scary dude and this scared woman, and yet she is clearly stronger than he is - and he knows it. That's the key to Reylo for me [...] The "big scary dude who knows the woman is better than him" really continued into TLJ, but had the added bonus of lots of tears and gentle hand touches. She is only emotional when she's with him, and it's just beautiful, because she understands him and he needs that, too."

For all of the misogynistic dog whistles blown around the new Star Wars films and Rey being apparently “overpowered” and a “Mary Sue”, it’s that strength that makes Reylo work as a ship. There’s an evident appeal to a story where the man is the stronger one and dominates as his will commands, but in a franchise that is building itself up based on the tenacity and determination of women, seeing Rey fight back and truly believe in Kylo’s inherent goodness is what makes the fandom tick. This isn’t an “I can change him” narrative for those fans: It’s a coming together of two minds, the smartest people in the room at any given time, and one where the man is always aware and respectful of the woman’s power. As is fitting with a story about the Force, Reylo is all about balance, as described by another shipper, Cristina:

"Ben and Rey see in each other a new start, but what really hit me in the heart is that in TLJ they are on two different paths, both thinking that in the dark (the first order) and in the light (the rebellion) they could find their place, who they really are. They are in some way mirror characters, that while searching for their true selves found the other, and that are starting to doubt that maybe they could find a common path, that maybe there is a third option between light and dark. And I hope that in The Rise of Skywalker we will see something more about that grey area."

It doesn’t end at Reylo either. The ship crosses over with other Star Wars characters and opens up the action beyond mere monogamy. Dot, also a shipper of FinnReylo, explained:

"They dance around each other through that whole movie in really interesting ways [...] because a lot of Reylos see Finn as a rival to Ben for Rey's affection, so he gets sidelined in fics, and then Finnrey shippers don't like Ben so their Finn metas sideline Ben [...] All three of them are beautiful to behold. so it's a win-win all around."

The hard thing for any Reylo doubters and general fans to overcome with this ship is the unavoidable issue of how Kylo violated Rey’s mind against her will. He causes her pain and invades her deepest thoughts in a manner that is, at best, deeply discomfiting. Science fiction and fantasy are full of stories where the mental and emotional penetration of a woman’s mind by a more powerful man is employed as a metaphor for rape and sexual assault. For Cristina, the growth of Kylo was crucial for understanding the depths of this.

"I understand the critics about what Kylo did to Rey in The Force Awakens, and I must admit that I started to ship them in The Last Jedi in fact, because I was able to analyze better his character. He was taken from his family when he was just a boy, growing up with someone who manipulated him to turn him into a monster; in The Force Awakens we see a man who his capable of doing anything for his master, because he sees him as the only person he could trust, so he did something so wrong even for a Reylo shipper like me, but he did that because of who he is in the first film. He is so used to a dark path that he even kill his father because he wants to be the perfect pupil for Snoke, but we see his struggle as time passes, and in fact he couldn't kill his mother or bear to see Rey tortured in The Last Jedi."

Reylo as endgame, or even just as a fandom interest, is something plenty of Star Wars fans struggle with. Even with Rey as powerful as she is, it still presents a dynamic of strength, control, and societal differences that cannot easily be separated from fans’ lived experiences, especially those of women. Reylo endgame would be a diluted conclusion to a striking story of female empowerment for some Star Wars fans. However, as a purely fandom-based practice, there’s always something to be said for using a ship built on problematic tropes like Reylo as a means for fans, particularly young female ones, to explore those topics and emotions. Every fandom has it. Hell, even Star Wars did in the original days, thanks to Han and Leia. Reylo is a new generation’s Beauty and the Beast in many ways, not so much in direct parallels but in how the dynamic is used as a means for fans to dissect ideas, feelings, and fantasies around such romantic ideals.  

Whether or not Reylo will come to fruition in The Rise of Skywalker is almost inconsequential to some shippers. It would be nice, of course, but it’s not a necessity because the creativity of fandom has done the work in that regard (and it’s led to books like Black Moon Rising). Ultimately, Reylo is a narrative of power, redemption and the balance between the two. It just so happens to involve very sexy people.

Shirtless Kylo

Credit: Giphy

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