Warning: This review contains massive spoilers for Star Wars : The Last Jedi. Read at your own risk.
After seeing The Last Jedi in theaters twice I can honestly say that it is my favorite Star Wars movie of all time. It had everything I wanted and felt extremely true to the spirit of the original trilogy. At the forefront of the movie is again the classic struggle between the Light and Dark, but the difference in this movie is that this struggle is culminated in a single relationship—Kylo Ren and Rey’s. Their burgeoning and tentative romance, goes above and beyond the relationships we saw in past Star Wars movies. Sure, Anakin and Padmé struggled, Han and Leia argued, but never before have we seen a relationship embody the cosmic struggles of Star Wars quite like this.
Kylo and Rey are the last remnants of the Jedi and the Sith. If one of them were to switch sides, there would be galactic ramifications. This, in itself is interesting, but the complexity and intensity between the characters is so electric that it left me gasping in my seat and desperately wanting for Finn and Rose’s alternatively bland adventures to hurry up and be over so I could go back to watching Kylo and Rey’s beautiful and fragile interactions. I loved every part of how the movie handled Rey and Kylo Ren’s connection. There is nothing like watching two people who grew up isolated—betrayed by their own blood and without anyone to understand their unique personal struggles—find a special connection that is only theirs. For them, this recognition and understanding, albeit in the eyes and minds of their enemy, is indispensable.
This tenuous relationship, dubbed Reylo by fans and shippers, parallels every Star Wars relationship, but easily exceeds them with complex character development and the expert use of imagery. It was obvious to me since my first viewing of the previous installment in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, that something about the duo’s interaction was not the normal status quo villain versus hero interaction. Kylo carries Rey bridal style, not at all like a villain dragging a hated enemy to his ship. And when it comes to questioning his prisoner—something he did completely differently and much more violently with resistance fighter Poe Dameron—he removes his mask, something he hates being without, and creeps closer to her, speaking gently that he could “take whatever he wants” and “Don’t be afraid, I feel it too” while looking at her lips. The chemistry took me by complete surprise and I shifted in my seat uncertainly. Surely I shouldn’t like a murderer and a villain with Rey, but I couldn’t help it. This very chemistry, though probably amounting to less than ten minutes of actual interaction between each other, again dominates the screen in The Last Jedi, easily rendering Finn’s growing romance with Rose (who was clearly introduced as Finn’s new love interest as a device to free up Rey to be with Kylo), bland and tedious in comparison.
In The Last Jedi, Kylo is at his most sympathetic and tempting; Rey at her most understanding. Both are outcasts because of their power, mere tools to be wielded in the galactic war. They are lonely and vulnerable, whispering to each other comfortingly “you’re not alone” and “neither are you.” Kylo is the first person to truly recognize Rey as herself, to understand her plight, her demons. It is no wonder that Rey goes to him, seeking not only to turn him to the light, but also in actuality trying to find her own place in a world that is anything but welcoming. In the process of finding each other through their Force bond, they strike down Kylo’s very abuser in an epic battle where they stand back to back, covering each other, brandishing each other’s lightsabers (something they violently fought over in the first movie), and destroying anything and everything in their path.
They finally have, in each other, someone they can trust, an ally. Snoke tries to take credit for their unique bond, to Kylo’s obvious devastation at this revelation, claiming that he planted the duo’s visions of their future together—Rey sees Kylo turning to the Light, and Kylo witnesses Rey joining him in the Dark. However, upon Snoke’s death, the bond still stands. After their fight against Snoke and his Praetorian guards, Kylo still believes the bond to be Snoke’s doing, but cannot bear losing his connection with Rey, the first person he feels honestly cares about him and actually understands him as his equal. Kylo offers Rey a place at his side and his hand in marriage, but it is the proposal of an awkward boy, grasping desperately at a relationship he has only begun to understand. His proposal is blatantly and non-coincidentally remnant of Mr. Darcy’s first insulting proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (it is rumored that the cast even auditioned for their roles by reading this very Austen piece), in which he insults her lower standing and the impropriety of her family. But even after his coarse offer, the great Kylo Ren tells her “You are nothing…but not to me” and then begs her to stay with an urgent, “Please.”
And when Rey reluctantly turns him down with tears on her face, both stick to their convictions, doomed not only to face each other on the battlefield, but more tragically, to face life without the support of one another—something they each increasingly relied upon and treasured. The rest of the movie is filled with subtle hints that point towards Rey and Kylo being the redemption arc of Star Wars that we never got with Padmé and Anakin, who blatantly parallel the struggle between Rey and Kylo. In fact, Kylo perfectly copies his grandfather Anakin by asking his love interest to rule the galaxy at his side, and Rey duplicates Padme with her refusal and heartbreaking dismay. It is truly as Maz Kanata says, “If you live long enough, you see the same eyes in different people.”
But where the prequels were about the balance of the force falling to the forces of the Dark side, and the original trilogy was about the balance of the Force being found again in the Light, all signs point to this trilogy being about finding the true balance in the gray—neither the Dark or the Light, nor the Sith or Jedi—and that Kylo and Rey are the key to achieving this. The movie continually demonstrates through the absolutely brilliant imagery surrounding it and the idea that Rey and Kylo are the new balance of the Force. This imagery makes it possible for Kylo and Rey to fall in love in very little actual time, as it allows the two to seem predestined as the balance to the Force and allows them to always be with each other.
When Kylo is with Rey, he is calmer, and calculating, where normally he is a storm of unending rage, lost hopes, and violence. For Kylo, formerly Ben Solo, the seduction is not to the Dark Side, but to the Light. However, when Rey first searches out the Force with her feelings, she immediately ends up in the Dark Side, and is unafraid to take what she wants from it. In battle, she is furious, screaming and bent on destruction—the very opposite of her Jedi counterpart and even Kylo when he fights by her side.
But Kylo, upon their first connection through the Force, slides like a happy teenager on a first date to keep his connection going with Rey, even after she attempts to shoot him at first sight. Not to be deterred, he almost giddily asks her if she can see his surroundings, and tellingly informs her something along the lines of, “I can’t see your surroundings—just you.” Clearly, Kylo can’t get enough of Rey. Kylo, who usually wears layers of heavy black cloaks and a mask, unflinchingly lets Rey see him in a state of undress and dares her to not only ask questions about the Force and her new teacher, but to look at him.
When Rey gives in to the beckoning Dark Side, she journeys down below the island of Ach-To, where a mirror shows her what she wants to see, her family. Unsurprisingly, she sees two figures, who look like Kylo and Rey, merging together to form the unmistakable figure of Kylo. His appearance, the mirror’s refusal to show her “family,” aka her parents, and the time delays with Rey’s snapping, appear to signal that they are each other’s “other half,” both romantically and also Force-wise, and the key to true balance in the Force, at last. It is as Maz said in The Force Awakens, “Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku is never coming back…but there is still someone who could.” All signs point to Kylo Ren being that person.
If that weren’t enough to convince you of the magnitude of their bond, Kylo and Rey, alone in a dark hut, slowly lean towards each other, and very hesitantly touch hands in a scene fraught with romantic tension. Notably, the Force music plays during the scene, signaling their relationship’s importance. A tear crawls down Rey’s face as the two connect and understand each other on a level so deep that it is reminiscent of sex, and causes Luke Skywalker to pull the ultimate Dad move and blow up the hut. Unsurprisingly, Rey goes to Kylo, armed with the knowledge from the mirror that it is time to let go of her parents, something Kylo reiterates, and the truth from Luke about what truly caused his nephew Ben, to become Kylo Ren.
In a moment of weakness, the Jedi Master did, in fact, momentarily attempt to strike down his sleeping nephew, Ben Solo, in a desire to quell the growing darkness in his heart. Ben consequently acted to save himself, believing the worst of his uncle and the teachings of the Light, and thereafter gave in to the Dark Side and joined Supreme Leader Snoke. With neither man clearly in the right, Rey echoes this moral gray area and markedly cloaks herself in gray for her journey to Kylo and for the rest of the movie, signaling that maybe there is finally room after all between Light and Dark and Jedi and Sith—something that is also echoed by both Luke and Yoda. And when she arrives to Kylo laying down, with her eyes latching to his immediately, it evokes strong Snow White or Sleeping Beauty imagery—that the prince, in this case Kylo (Sidenote: he is technically a prince as Princess Leia Organa’s son), holds the key to awakening some spell.
In actuality, Rey is no Light-hearted damsel in distress. She does not accept Kylo’s gloved hand when he asks her to be his co-ruler of the galaxy, which is contrast to her accepting his hand when he had purposefully removed his glove to touch her in the hut, suggesting that Rey can tell the difference between the new Supreme Leader and Ben Solo. This is also demonstrated by her insistence on calling him by his true name, “Ben,” something he won’t tolerate with other people, just with Rey. Later, when Kylo faces Luke in the final showdown of the movie, the camera flashes to Finn and Rey reuniting with a long hug, which admittedly looks pretty platonic, only to purposefully shoot back to an incensed Kylo, who senses their reunion and jealously proclaims that he will destroy her. But the audience can feel he is bluffing by his quivering lips, his feelings for Rey are simply too strong for him to give up on her.
After the battle, as Kylo kneels down to find the dice of the Millennium Falcon, only for them to disappear in his hand, it further signals how utterly alone he is—he has no father, no uncle, no Supreme Leader Snoke, no mother who seeks remaining Light in him. And when he looks up with desperately hopeful eyes as he senses Rey yet again—despite Snokes’s death, the bond still exists as something of their making that is truly and wholly theirs—only for her to look at with him at disappointment and to willfully close the door on him (and their bond), he flinches and looks down—he, who finally has all the power he could want to fulfill his grandfather’s legacy—is shattered without her.
This movie and its relentlessly powerful imagery and character development makes you not only desperately long for Kylo and Rey’s fragile romance to work out and to restore balance to the Force, especially after the imagery and the fight scene together, but also to root for Kylo Ren’s redemption—something we never really got to enjoy with his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. What’s more, is if Kylo Ren, with his rage, obsession, and desperation, can be redeemed, so can every member of the audience with family problems, depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness. If Kylo’s mistakes can be forgiven, so can our own screw ups. If Kylo Ren can finally accept himself as Ben Solo, the audience too can accept themselves for who they are. If Ben Solo can find love with the girl of his literal dreams, the audience too can truly be loved. And if anything, Star Wars has always been about providing a home for misfits and hope for the lost.
There has never been a movie or romance truer to the original ideals, spirit, and the timeless struggle of the Light and Dark in Star Wars, something Luke Skywalker himself describes best to his sister, Ben’s mother, “No one is ever truly lost.” Episode IX cannot come soon enough. And though we don’t know exactly what is to come in the next installment, we can be certain due to the imagery and foreshadowing, that it will undoubtedly include Kylo and Rey’s inescapable bond and relationship.