The conflict I see often in a conversation between whether or not Rey is going to be able to help Kylo through a redemption arc, or simply be the one to kill him, resides in assuming that whatever dynamic they have in this first movie is going to carry forward into the other two. That places people into the camp of ‘Rey was being violated’ vs. 'Kylo went easy on her’, and to try and argue through either of these is inconsequential; because we are watching an act of war, in this movie. Not a love scene. Definitely not a sex scene. Rey is a prisoner of war, and she’s being treated as such. Whether or not he showed compassion for her, or went easy on her, doesn’t matter yet - because he is a soldier, performing an act of war on a civilian, and should be thought of as such. That is the dynamic to keep in mind when watching this first movie on it’s own. Kylo is doing his job. Rey is being tortured, even if it’s supposedly not as bad as it could have been - and she rightfully hates him for it. He kills his father as an act of war, and she hates him for it. You can see that hate continue forward when she attacks him in the snow, in the snarl in her face, and the way she unnecessarily cut through his face - and probably, however briefly, considered killing him right then and there, before the choice was taken away from her.
This is likely why it’s hinted that Rey will be flirting with the Dark Side. Because she has hate in her, now. Hate that needs to be dealt with. And that is the takeaway from the first movie. But is it the takeaway from the trilogy? Of course not.
Throughout the movie we’re introduced to Rey as an indomitable spirit. She’s abandoned as a child - a CHILD - to live alone in the desert. She’s starving more often than not, she’s completely alone, she’s subject to the whims of a creature that has no empathy for her plight and swindles her at every turn. She’s tortured by her very life, her abandonment, her loneliness. And she has people to blame. There are people - helpfully FACELESS people, which are always the easiest to hate - that she could blame for all of this.
And perhaps, as a child, she did. Perhaps it took Rey a lot of time to forgive whoever abandoned her, and begin to hope for their return. We certainly see anger and heartbreak in that child’s face as Unkar pulls her away. Who’s to say she didn’t let that turn into a hate that revealed itself in childish tantrums?
The only thing we do know, is that she doesn’t hate them now. She scratches notches into the wall, waiting for their return. She speaks of them as if they are benevolent beings, who must have had a good reason for abandoning her. She not only hopes they still care about her enough to return, she staunchly stands by it, stubborn enough to want to return to her desert starvation in order to wait for them to return. She has no reason to believe they will return. She has had no sign from them her entire life, and Unkar certainly isn’t the kind of man to instill hope in a being. Why, then, does she get over whatever abandonment issues and betrayal this act performs, in order to think of these faceless people with a desperation that makes her want to stay on this planet? That makes her want them back?
And keep in mind, she does have the chance to leave the planet. Not just in this movie - in the Rey excerpt of the Star Wars novel, “Before The Awakening”, (small spoilers incoming, skip the next few paragraphs if you’d rather read it on your own), Rey finds a ship that she actually manages to get to work, with the help of two other scavengers. The first thing those scavengers want to do with that ship is leave Jakku - and they want her to come with them. This prospect thrills them, because they’re ready for freedom, for adventure, for a life that isn’t subject to the whims of Unkar Plutt. They’re blown away when Rey informs them that she can’t leave. She’s still waiting for her family. She just wants to sell the ship for enough rations to keep her fed until they return.
She’s still hoping that these faceless abandoners will relent. She still has faith, in that tiny little starving body, that there’s something more to her family than what they’ve done to her in the past.
And here comes yet another example of Rey’s refusal to hold a grudge. These two people - the closest things she might have had to friends in her entire life, for a little while - steal her ship from her, and leave Jakku. They only do it when they know for sure she’s unwilling to leave - at the moment she’s heading to Unkar, to haggle the price - but they steal it, just the same.
And this is Rey’s reaction.
“Rey stood there a long time. When she finally moved it was to mount her speeder and drive home, back to the walker. She knew she should be angry, but she wasn’t.”
Anyone else in that situation would have been absolutely murderous with anger. These people stole all of her hard work, her chance at food, and they lied to her even as she left them with the ship to go talk to Unkar. She’d been betrayed so completely, that she has every right to hate them. She even lets out some frustrated rage once she’s home, punching the lenses out of a stormtrooper helmet, because this betrayal is so life-changing.
And still, she can’t hate them. Because she looks past the act, and understands the intentions of their cruelty. She can’t turn a blind eye to the reasons behind what they’ve done, even though the act itself is so horrid.
And this is the Rey we’re presented with, in this first movie.
A Rey who has not only forgiven the people who’ve left her to a life of starvation and loneliness, but waits hopefully for their return.
A Rey who never holds a grudge against the man who constantly swindles her, leaving her half-starved no matter how good her scavenger haul is.
A Rey who’s been so completely, utterly betrayed, that she has nothing to look forward to but a lifetime of pain, and can’t find it in herself to hate the people who’ve done it to her.
A person who finds hope where hope should never be, and refuses to let go. (Even her name is a nod to this nearly unbelievable characteristic.)
This is the Rey who’s been tortured at the hands of the First Order. A Rey whose mind was scoured for memories that she never wanted shared. A Rey who hates the man who killed Han Solo, the closest thing she’s had to family in her entire life.
If you think Rey’s never going to see past all of that hate, all of that anger, and find something in Kylo Ren worth fighting for, you might just be looking at this story from the point of view of only 1/3rd of it has offered. Can I blame you? Of course not - that’s all we have, so far. But we’re inundated with Rey’s backstory and her indomitable spirit for a reason. This character was made into a beacon of hope for a reason. She’s not like most of us. She’s not supposed to be like most of us. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t hold a grudge. And that’s possibly the most rare trait a human being could possess in this entire world.
I don’t relate to Rey. I admire her. She is what I wish I could be, in the face of pain and strife. And that’s why I love her.
And that is also why I’m confident, moving forward, that with time and probably a whole lot more outbursts of hate before it happens, Rey is going to see something worthwhile past the monster. She’s the one who gave him that title - she’s the only one who can take it away.
The Buddha, sitting in one land,
Appears reflected in all lands;
Bodies of millions of varieties, pleasing,
Pervade the reaches of the cosmos.
From one hair of the Buddha light beams
Emerge, annihilating the afflictions of the world;
The elemental particles of the land may be counted,
But the number of those light beams cannot be known.
Sometimes they show buddhas imbued with supreme characteristics
Turning the wheel of the highest teaching;
Sometimes there appears the lord of humans, pure and calm,
With his most excellent, unsurpassed, conduct, in other lands.
The Guide is seen in the abode of happiness,
Dying there and so coming to Earth,
In the womb, thus in millions of lands,
Or seen being born there in the land.
The Guide, going forth for the sake of the world
And becoming supremely enlightened,
So turning the wheel of the Dharma,
Is seen in millions of lands.
Just as a magician versed in the arts of magic
Shows many objects for people,
So does the Teacher, versed in supreme knowledge,
Show all bodies to the people.
Empty, quiescent, essentially signless,
The nature of things is equal to space—
The enlightened Teacher, by ultimate truth,
Shows the exalted sphere of the Buddhas.
As is the essence of the buddhas,
So is that of sentient beings—found in the nature of things.
Signs and signlessness are equal in that way—
All things are ultimately signless.
Those who seek enlightened knowledge Abandon assumptions, notions imaginations;
Aware that being and non-being are the same in essence,
They will quickly become supreme human leaders.
Avatamsaka Sutra - 787, 788
Note on the image: Samantabhadra yab-yum, the primordial buddha.