Reylo and why it’s a problem beyond any shipper war….
I’ve been part of many shipper wars over the years. Absolutely crazy and disgusting ones that left me wondering why I had ever joined the fandom in the first place. I have seen people call each other retarded and freaks over a ship and bully people, stalk their social media accounts… I have seen people insult actors and writers on social media over shipping - even sending them death threats (!!!!), I have seen people insult the significant others of actors because their ship wasn’t happening in real life as well… You name it, I’ve probably seen it. Some of these things also take place in the Star Wars fandom and I find them just as appalling and disgusting as I do in any other fandom. However I have become used to this insanity to a certain point and so there is a level of shipping-craziness I can ignore. Is this good? Probably not, but that’s simply what happens when you are confronted with bullshit for years and years, you become immune to it to a degree.
What I have seen in the Star Wars fandom recently though has crossed my line…and sometimes it has not just crossed it, it jumped past the line and blew itself into the freaking stratosphere of unacceptable behaviour.
Look, Reylo started out as somewhat of a crack ship, something that exists in almost any fandom. The villain + the hero… people writing fanfics about it, enjoying the idea. No problem so far because what you imagine in fics and have as a head canon can be problematic and unrealistic. As long as you are aware of it and don’t take it too seriously, everything’s cool.
The thing started to blow out of proportion when people suddenly became convinced that it will be canon. And that it’s the only acceptable, interesting canon, and that the entire Star Wars crew is playing some giant goose chase game with the fandom and only the Reylos get it. Shipping Reylo became some sort of detective game that only the truly smart people can figure out. Hidden clues, fairytale motives… Half of it seemed like we had suddenly entered a real life conspiracy theory scenario.
All of this is weird and insulting the intelligence of non-shippers but it can still be overlooked with an eyeroll. The real problems began when people started to justify why Reylo is better than any other ship and entirely unproblematic. They did not stop at plot points and hidden clues…no! In the course of defending their ship as a realistic option for the future of Star Wars, huge issues arose that made Reylo even MORE problematic instead of making it more acceptable.
Issue 1: The treatment of Finn
Some of the biggest treats of any ship are obviously other ships that involve one of the characters. In case of Reylo the biggest treat is Finnrey, ie. the ship between Rey and the character she spent the majority of time with during TFA. This ship somehow had to be discredited. Looking at the dynamic between Finn and Rey in the movie, making this ship not just unrealistic but downright horrible should be quite a challenge. Yet it was shockingly easy for the Reylo fandom. Not by using any valid plot points, but by stepping over lines that should never be crossed, not only in fandoms but in society in general: racism, homophobia and toxic masculinity!
Finn is, for many reasons, an absolutely groundbreaking and incredibly important character in the Star Wars franchise. Played by John Boyega, a man of colour, he is one of the few POC lead characters in any major franchises, cinema and TV alike. But not only that, the character himself is representing an incredibly important arc: A person brainwashed by an ideology for most of his life questioning this ideology and breaking free from it, breaking out of a facist organisation, refusing to follow their blind ideals and joining the fight against them. Finn becomes a hero in TFA for many reasons. He saves Rey, the other lead of the movie, several times and it is obvious she adores him. So the version of Finn we are presented with in TFA is that of a hero who becomes best friends with the heroine.
Somehow many members of the Reylo fandom considered it necessary to reinterpret this version of Finn to the point he became unrecognizable to justify why he is wrong for Rey. The fact that he broke out from the First Order suddenly became an act of cowardness because he was not strong enough to kill for them. His fear when he ran away from the facist organisation that turned him into nothing more but a number was interpreted as weakness. Him pretending to be a member of the Resistance was not seen as the act of someone ashamed of where he came from or someone who thought no one would trust him if they knew the truth – it was seen as a character flaw. His lie to personally get to save Rey from the First Order was interpreted as a sign of him being a pathologic liar instead of someone who would do everything for his friend. Even his motives were questioned…wondering if he REALLY left the First Order or might just be a double agent, trying to infiltrate the Resistance, even though there is absolutely no evidence for it in TFA! The fact that a man of colour is villainized, ridiculed, made out as weak and essentially a loser, who did everything just because of fear and because he is a liar, when all of his character’s storyline does originally make him look like a hero, is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start - and all of this seemingly to justify why he is not a suitable love interest for Rey! The fact that people did this with ease can’t help but make you wonder if they could do so because of their internalized racism. In this scenario a black man is made unworthy of a white heroine, even though his character was meant to be a hero just like she is. Turning a black man into a pathetic loser, even though his storyline contradicts it completely, falls right into racist behaviour patterns… especially if you do so to justify why a white character, who was constructed as a villain, is a better choice for the heroine than the black character who was constructed as a hero.
This is however just one kind of mistreatment Finn receives. Other scenarios involve Finn being gay to get him out of the way as a love interest for Rey. This way of thinking does not interpret Finn as gay for the sake of equality and representation but mainly to make him unsuitable as a love interest for the heroine. To use the sexuality of a character only to make room for a ship is obviously a totally wrong way of approaching homosexuality in fiction. Connected to this is people’s reception of some of Finn’s characteristics: for whatever reason many see Finn as unmanly, because he shows fear and seeks for support in dangerous, scary moments. This apparent unmanliness of his made some come to the conclusion that he is gay. So a man who does not fit into stereotypical ideas of how a man should be like… of course has to be gay, implying that a gay man is unmanly due to his sexuality? URGHS! If this is not the conclusion drawn by people, another popular one is that the “unmanly” Finn is not strong enough for Rey. Yet many of the people who express these ideas have no problem with Finn potentially being with a WOC who will be introduced in the Last Jedi. So he is too weak for Rey but not for an Asian woman they know nothing about? Does this scream racism? It obviously does…
Another tactic is….ignoring Finn. Removing him from all discourse, from all fan art and fan fics, erase him in pictures and switch him for Kylo Ren. Not only does this make no sense looking at the actual movie, but it removes the movie’s black lead from his rightful position. You can’t tell me it doesn’t leave a sour taste in people’s mouths if TFA’s black hero is switched for the white villain? In the end it’s the erasure of a black person, no matter how you look at it. And that is just WRONG.
Let’s summarize: If your tactics to convince people of your ship involve sidelining and demonizing a POC character or discrediting a man because he doesn’t fit into stereotypical masculine characteristics… you got a problem.
Issue 2: The racist attacks towards other fans and John Boyega
People love to pretend this is a tiny issue and does not reflect the fandom but… Something like this can never be a tiny issue! I am not saying that no vile, wrong actions took place outside of the Reylo fandom (check out the very beginning of this post…I acknowledge the usual shipper war insanity, which did take place from all sides, not denying this for a second) – however there is a difference between people insulting each other for a ship, and people sending anonymous messages full of racist slurs to people of colour in this fandom because they are against Reylo or adore Finn. That is, to put it mildly, an absolute catastrophe and the fact alone that this sort of behaviour was inspired by a ship is shocking. If you then remember that one character of this ship is in fact a facist… It has “abort mission” written all over itself. Yet people did not even manage to keep their trash inside of the fandom… it made its way into the comments section of the actors’ social media accounts. One much cited incident took place on Daisy Ridley’s instagram page, where people threw around racist insults towards John Boyega. If anyone has followed her, they will know she took down her instagram. I can only assume that this incident did not do anything positive for her view of social media. Since apparently this is still not enough, some racists feel the need to spread lies about John Boyega, turning him into a sexual predator even… I don’t think I have to explain that this is absolutely, utterly unacceptable!! From slight, internalized racism to open, inexcusable racism - we have now seen it all. This has to stop! And it will not stop by the Reylo fandom insisting it’s not all of them. Of course it isn’t. But that doesn’t make it any less of a giant problem! I could as well now draw the conclusion that Reylo fans are okay with shipping Rey with a facist because they are okay with facism…. and racism. It would be unfair to many of them, sure… but let’s be serious…can anybody be blamed if they come to this conclusion at this point? And is it such a crazy idea to assume that this ships draws in racists and facists??
Issue 3: The reinterpretation of Kylo Ren as a misunderstood anti-hero
One preferred way to make the villain Kylo Ren worthy of Rey is to try and explain why he is the way he is. This goes beyond a serious psychological analysis of why he turned into a facist murderer. It is used to turn him into a guy who is not responsible for his actions and actually kinda nice. “Poor Ben Solo was targeted by Snoke in the womb, in the WOOOOMB!! He couldn’t do anything about it. His childhood was traumatizing (why exactly we do not know), he had nobody and so of course he fell into Snoke’s hands, the poor boy! He is so lonely and misunderstood!” I can’t even count how often I have read these kinds of things. Yet in TFA itself we have examples of people who were brought up by the First Order (Finn) and abandoned by their parents on desert planets (Rey), but neither of them follows Kylo Ren’s path at this point. Neither of them is drowning in self pity and going around killing and torturing people. So resistance is possible, even IF you are related to facists and even IF some dark force is targeting you. Portraying Kylo Ren as the victim of this storyline is doing injustice to all the people who suffered from his actions. He is not a brainless puppet. He made a decision. Maybe he will realise himself that it was the wrong one… but never in Star Wars has it seemed like those who join the Dark Side did so because they were brainwashed and had no other choice. Mostly they did it for selfish reasons and from everything we can see at this point, so did Kylo Ren. Does his background story make it understandable why he became evil? It seems so. It is meant to. But it is not meant to excuse his behaviour or make him a victim. Anakin, even before he became Darth Vader, always had the potential to be evil because of his character traits. It is the same for Kylo Ren and also Luke. Luke chose to become a Jedi and Kylo Ren chose the Dark Side. So no, he is not innocent, he isn’t a victim, he isn’t an anti-hero… He is a murderer, plain and simple. So turning him into some emo Disney-Prince is nothing but disturbing. It alters the story and changes what he truly is. Many do this to make him worthy of Rey and so that they can keep the illusion alive that he can be completely redeemed and fall into her arms. This is however not logical and should not happen under any circumstances if the Star Wars writers take their own writing and the legacy of the saga seriously. A facist and murderer is no misunderstood puppy. He is evil. If people romanticise him, they have issues. But then there’s also a serial killer fandom, right? And tbh I see clear similarities between that and some of the Kylo Ren fandom…
Btw: Diagnosing Kyle Ren with all sorts of mental illnesses does not make him a better person either. Nowhere among the symptoms of depression, PTSD etc. will you find “turns person into a facist killer”. The idea alone that blaming his acts on what could be a mental illness is insulting every single person who struggles with mental illnesses! It makes it seem like they are all potential murderers! This is HORRIBLE!
Issue 4: The acceptance and downright glorification of a facist regime
If only all members of the Reylo fandom tried to make it a possibility by redeeming Kylo Ren. This is of course also problematic to the moon and back, yet it is still preferable to the other option, which is to say that he has the right to do what he does. I have seen people say that the Republic is evil and someone had to do something against it, so what if they take drastic measures? (like killing everyone??) I have seen fanfics were people wrote about Nazi experiments like it’s some kind of kink. I have seen people call Kylo Ren and Hux “extra”, as if they were some fun drama queens and not members of a facist regime. I have seen people who hope Rey becomes evil, so that she and Kylo Ren become some evil super couple. What is this meant to say about the people who do and say these things? Some of them seem to see all of this as some joke, pointing out again and again that it is not real. Sure, supporting this in real life is a huge step further than squeeing over murderers in fiction… however if you see your views as unproblematic and hope they will find support in canon… God, I don’t even want to think about this… it’s just NUTS.
Issue 5: The interpretation of abusive behaviour as sexy and romantic
To make the scenes Kylo Ren and Rey share in TFA romantic, they require a certain interpretation. Take the torture scene. People say things like “He was sitting by her side, waiting until she wakes up herself because he didn’t want to wake her” So we have a villain that ties up a heroine to get information out of her. He sits down and watches his prisoner for a certain time, waiting until the prisoner wakes up. The idea that he admires her looks in this scene is something I have often seen as an argument why this scene is romantic. However people seem to ignore that this is not, let’s say, a friend who is staying in the same place with someone and watches them sleep. This is a villain who knocked out a woman, tied her up and now waits for her to wake up to get information out of her. Is this really a romantic situation or a creepy one? Another argument as to why this scene is romantic is that he apparently holds her captive in his private rooms. I have no idea if there is any evidence for this, but is it really romantic that a villain keeps a woman imprisoned in his private rooms to read her mind? Or is it an abusive action by a kidnapper who clearly has disturbing ideas? I mean imagine you get knocked out and kidnapped by someone and then wake up in a dark room, with the person who kidnapped you watching you in silence? Would you find this creepy or cute?
Even if we take a look at the kidnapping scene itself people can’t seem to get over the fact that Kylo Ren carries an unconscious Rey. Could this be a romantic moment in another context? It surely could be. IF he had not been the one to knock her out in the first place, and IF he was not carrying her into his spaceship to get information out of her (by torturing her with his powers)! We are not watching a man carrying his unconscious love to safety. We are watching a villain carry the unconscious heroine into the enemy’s headquarters. This is a scary situation, NOT a romantic one!
Obviously we have to end this with their final fight. Arguments I’ve heard mainly talk about how he did not kill her because he has a soft spot for her. Not only does this ignore the fact that he was quite severely injured during this scene but also the obvious reason why he is so interested in her. He wants her power. He wants to train her, wants her to join HIS side of the force because she is crazily powerful. Is her unique power enough of a reason not to kill her at this point? Of course it is! People who are strong with the force are rare and special. You do not just chop their heads off if they don’t directly do what you want. So no, this is again not a romantic scene. It is a scene between the villain of the movie and the heroine where he is trying to bring her to his side. Something else I keep hearing is that they apparently exchanged romantic looks when she escapes and he lies in the snow. He was just defeated by a scavenger from a desert planet! He, the mighty Kylo Ren! He knows that there probably won’t be a way around her on his way to power! And she knows that the head of the First Order wants to get his hand on her because of her power, because of something she never wanted to be part of. This is a “Holy Shit, this is our future” – moment. This is the start of an epic fight. Not two lovers staring longingly at each other!
To summarize: All scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren get reinterpreted as romantic, even if they are creepy, abusive and potentially lethal. Dare I claim that they would not be seen as such if they would not take place between a young woman and a young man? The fact though that these two people could theoretically put together their sexual organs should not make these scenes romantic or nice or hot. That people interpret them this way is more than problematic and makes it look like they find abuse, kidnapping and trashing each other with light sabers cute, when it would honest to God not be in any other context.
Issue 6: The sidelining of Rey in favour of Kylo Ren’s character development
Sadly most arguments for Reylo seem to centre around Kylo Ren and the redemption this relationship could bring to him. No words about why it is a great idea for Rey or why it should further her character development to fall for the villain. Kylo Ren often suddenly takes the position of the hero, it becomes his storyline and she, the actual heroine, becomes an asset that is being used to make him a better person. She is supposed to save the lonely, misunderstood man from his misery. Why she should do this mostly seems obscure. Most of these scenarios are combined with Issue 3. Kylo Ren’s crimes are downplayed, so that Rey can fall in love with him and “save” him. So again… canon Kylo Ren’s actions have to be reinterpreted and canon Rey’s storyline shoved aside in favour of his.
These six issues are my main reasons to stay away from the Reylo fandom. I have mostly experienced it as a toxic space for reasons that go beyond the usual shipper war problems. Even though I have read some of the theories and tried to stay open-minded… it was simply not possible looking at all the problematic and sometimes downright disgusting things that were happening all around. I only hope for the sake of Star Wars that Reylo stays nothing but a fanon ship and that this will somewhat calm down the situation. Canon Reylo could give power to people who clearly should not have any.