The relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy has been thorny from the start. On the one hand, the movies have always made it clear that they care about each other, in one way or another, but the connection is shaded by Kylo’s cruelty and penchant for doing evil things. Anything deeper between the hero and her First Order adversary might require redemption — and maybe some suspension of disbelief — if the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were to be believed.
For no group has this particular issue been more complicated than Reylos, the Star Wars fandom group that ’ships a romantic relationship between Kylo and Rey.
The Rise of Skywalker caps the new trilogy of movies, and concludes the story between Rey and Kylo (for now). But rather than providing closure, the J.J. Abrams-directed finale of the Skywalker Saga has caused a divide in the Reylo community. People had hopes, but didn’t see this coming.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.]
In the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, the relationship between Rey and Ben — who Kylo basically “reverts” to in the final third of the movie, after seeing a vision of Han Solo and shaking off the Sith — is less than explicit. The heroes of the Light and Dark Sides have a deep connection, thanks to their frequent Force chats and the bond they developed over the course of The Last Jedi. Even though Rey refuses to join Ben, the two still clearly care about each other. The Rise of Skywalker takes things a giant step further, ending their intertwined journey with a kiss.
Despite their obvious connection, the Reylo ship has spurred miles of discourse debating the potential catharsis of a Rey/Kylo romance. Aside from the countless murders and a patricide, fans have regularly flagged two instances in the first two movies: In The Force Awakens, Kylo breaks into Rey’s mind with the Force, and in The Last Jedi he tells her that her parents were no one and that she is nothing, except to him.
For many Star Wars fans, this manipulative behavior means that Reylo will only ever be a toxic ship. But the possibility of redemption gave Reylos hope up until The Rise of Skywalker. There’s a tradition in Star Wars where one deed can redeem a dark soul. Anakin Skywalker can use his dying breath to kill the Emperor, and wind up a Force ghost alongside Yoda and Obi-Wan despite an adulthood of murder that involved killing younglings. True remorse and true love for Rey could have saved Kylo and brought Ben Solo back into the fold.
For many Reylos, the criticisms of the ship never made sense because of Ben’s life and continued pain. As many have argued over the years, Ben knows what it’s like to be away from your family and to feel betrayed. His parents sent him off with his uncle, the most respected and greatest man in the galaxy, and that man almost killed him. He doesn’t say Rey is “nothing” because he wants her to feel bad; he says it because he’s trying to tell her that he knows what that’s like.
But rather than explore that nuanced reading of the scene, the Rise of Skywalker script by Abrams and Chris Terrio explains that Kylo simply “sees more now” than he did before. The movie indulges in their connection and romance, and skips over the difficult parts.
One particularly clear example of that connection, and favorite of Reylo fans so far, has been the moment immediately after Rey thinks she’s killed Chewie. While she looks up at the crashing ship in horror, Ben is sympathetic. He looks remorseful and seems pained by the loss that Rey has — she thinks — suffered. Another moment of connection between the two comes after their fight in Kef Bir, the ocean moon of Endor, when Leia communicates with Ben, after which Rey stabs him. Before any real damage can be done, it seems, Rey looks horrified at what she’s done and uses the Force to heal Ben’s wound, Baby Yoda style.
These brief moments all lead up to the climactic confrontation between Rey, Ben, and the very much alive Emperor Palpatine. The Emperor reveals that the two are part of a Force Dyad, an abstract Force power that connected them from birth. They float through life as two parts of a significantly more powerful whole. The movie never really pays off that idea, except for when Palpatine sucks the life out of them when they stand right next to each other, but it sounds heavy.
Palpatine eventually throws Ben into a pit, and Rey kills the emperor herself, possibly dying in the process. Ben crawls out of the pit and, grieving over her body, sacrifices himself — we think? — to save her. But in the brief moment that they’re both alive, the Jedi and the ex-Sith acolyte share a kiss, canonizing an online ship forever. Reylo fans got their wish ... in theory.
For many Reylo fans, this was a moment of triumph, a validation of a hope that many have held since The Force Awakens was first released. Kylo and Rey were, as many would reiterate over the years, were destined to be together. The Rise of Skywalker delivers on that.
But a vocal side of the Reylo fandom retracted after the reveal. As one Twitter user wrote, “i’m not angry just numb. i’m so happy we got reylo endgame but ben deserved so much better and i will never shut up about it.” By letting the two kiss and then immediately killing off Ben, the writers were hand-waving Reylo out of existence. One kiss isn’t a love story, and it certainly isn’t a real relationship. Rather than attempting to justify the two’s time together by doing the work to redeem Kylo, Disney had its cake and ate it too, putting a stamp on the relationship a moment before ending it.
For this segment of the fandom, Ben’s death feels pointless. Perhaps most importantly, it denied Ben a real redemption arc. He didn’t get a chance to progress from Kylo Ren, heir to Darth Vader, to Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia and protector of the galaxy. All the questions of his countless murders, or his abusive behavior toward Rey, were simply pushed aside, leaving the ship unresolved.
For these Reylo fans, having the on-screen kiss wasn’t worth the death of Ben Solo. Rather than see the two of them live a life together, it was just a kiss. Even seeing the characters live on separately, for some, would have been better than Ben simply dying.
In a series that so often sees morality as a black-and-white issue, or at least one where characters can flip at a moment’s notice without repercussions, the Rey-Kylo Ren relationship challenged Star Wars fandom to grapple with a complicated issue. Perhaps it’s fitting that in a trilogy that’s been so divisive, even Reylo coming true didn’t happen in a way that could make the whole Reylo community happy.