The potential romance that got the biggest boost of energy out of Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn't one between Kylo Ren and Rey. It's not Finn and Poe’s. It's not even Finn and Rose’s.
The pairing that seems to have gotten the most fuel out of the latest Star Wars installment is that of the unpredictable Kylo Ren and the volatile First Order general, Armitage Hux.
You’ve likely heard of Stormpilot, the name for the presumed romantic potential between Finn and Poe Dameron. Even Vanity Fair knows what Stormpilot is. You might even have heard about Reylo, the ship between trilogy hero Rey and trilogy villain Kylo Ren.
But unless you’re inside the Star Wars shipping fandom on Tumblr or fan fiction platforms, you probably haven’t heard of Kylux. The notoriety of a ship outside of fandom spaces in the new Star Wars trilogy seems somewhat inversely proportional to its size within them.
Tumblr’s Fandometrics blog, run by Tumblr staff, tracks the rise and fall of frequently used tags on the blogging service, publishing results weekly. On Fandometrics, Reylo’s star has been rising steadily all season. Use of the tag has consistently put it in the top 20 most-mentioned ships on Tumblr; by Nov. 20th, it had hit fifth place on the list, and it has only risen since.
In the week ending on Monday, Dec. 18th, which included The Last Jedi’s release weekend, Reylo finally ascended to the first place spot in Fandometrics’ rankings. But Last Jedi’s release had only hopped it up one spot, from second place in the previous week, to first.
Meanwhile, Kylux leapt to fifth place — after not even being on the list in months. The Last Jedi’s theatrical premiere also gave Stormpilot a big boost — but not as big as Kylux’s, bumping it only to eighth place.
But while Kylux got the biggest boost from Last Jedi, Reylo still certainly has the more consistent attention of the Tumblr community. Let’s try another platform.
This is a screenshot of the most popular relationship tags in the Star Wars — All Media Types tag on Archive of Our Own (AO3), a fan fiction platform hosting more than three million individual works in over 24,000 individual fandoms.
After a little math to make up for slight variations in labels, you’ll find that there are 4,220 Stormpilot works on AO3, 5,404 Reylo works and a whopping 11,421 Kylux works — more than the other two combined.
I wanted to see if this dichotomy held out on another giant of online fan fiction publication and curation, so I did some quick searches of FanFiction.net. What I found surprised me: On FF.net, Reylo reigned supreme, with many times the works of Stormpilot and Kylux.
So I decided to ask our sister site Vox’s Web Culture Reporter, Aja Romano, why that might be.
“In a nutshell,” Romano told me, “Fanfiction.net and Wattpad are the two most mainstreamed fan fiction communities, and they essentially bookend the historical spectrum — FF.net is the oldest, Wattpad is the newest. And because they're the most mainstreamed they both are far more geared towards heteronormative expressions of fandom ... AO3 in particular was built by fans, and specifically by slash fans. And the symbiosis of fandom between AO3 and Tumblr (and Live Journal fans migrating to Tumblr) means that slash fandom has always been more popular and prominent on Tumblr than on other fandom corners of the internet.”
Slash fandom describes a fan community that concentrates on ships between two male characters. It’s a term that is generally traced back to ancient (OK, maybe it just feels that way) conventions for describing and tagging ships from Star Trek: The Original Series.
The predisposition of AO3 and Tumblr toward slash fandom means that there’s precedent for Kylux to be so popular on those platforms, Romano told me, and for it to be more widespread than Stormpilot, which, after all, is another slash ship. Slash fandom’s history with race is also a factor.
“Prior to Kylux there were a lot of dominant ships, all white male/male slash ships, that sprang out of fandoms with little to no basis in canon,” she said. “The ones that come most instantly to mind are Sterek in Teen Wolf, which was based on very little canonical representation but became HUGE in the fandom [and] Bond/Q in 007 fandom.”
Romano also listed Arthur/Eames from Inception as an example of this trend, as well as Raleigh/Chuck from Pacific Rim and Hawkeye/Coulson in the Avengers fandom.
So don’t judge a ship’s popularity by its mentions in mainstream media — as with most fandoms, you never know what you’ll find under the surface.
Unless, of course, it’s properly tagged.