Read with full visual aids at: https://ohtze.tumblr.com/post/137735730948/death-and-the-maiden
What follows is an exhaustive, essay-length thesis-length deconstruction on the canon possibilities of Rey/Kylo (and all their variations), and why the symbolism in the film reinforces the erotic subtext between them (yes, you read that right. Erotic). The essay is a roundabout continuation of last week’s meta on Force Bonds and the similarities between Revan/Kylo and Bastila/Rey (which you can read here). Spoilers for TFA, EU/KotOR, and general craziness after the jump. Again, if you’re looking for surprises, don’t follow. I basically give everything away in detail.
Why Rey/Kylo (“Reylo” for short) will be canon
So I want to start this off by saying that the Interrogation Scene – even though it’s a fan favourite – is not actually the most important scene in the movie when it comes to Reylo, and where this whole arc is headed. It is important, very much so – and I’m going to get into it in detail (as I am for all the other Kylo/Rey scenes in the movie) – but it’s not the keystone. It’s not The Big One, the act that explains it all. Honestly I think the interrogation might have been a bit of distraction tactic from the really, really obvious clue staring us straight in the face earlier on: a way to make you forget about what a huge spoiler it really is. But that’s just me, and to be honest you can easily make a case for or against it, so I’m not going to spend too much time on this theory.
Another thing I’m going to say about all of these scenes (before we get into the subtext behind them) is that we’re going to look at the surface content first – i.e. what’s visually happening, right in that moment. Not the words beneath the words. We’re going to look at these scenes in order of their importance, and we’re also going to look at them in the context of Star Wars, specifically, because in the context of Star Wars literally anything else would have been more practical than what Kylo did. This dude is not thinking clearly when it comes to Rey, and I’m going to call him out on it.
To be honest, I wanted to call this section “Kylo touches The Rey,” because that’s basically all he does, but figured it would be a tad bit juvenile. But this is supposition.
Kylo and Rey’s backstories: loneliness, isolation, and parallels
Just before I split up the scenes, I want touch on Kylo and Rey’s backstories. There’s a lot of parallels going on between them – combined with in-canon context and historical archetypes – that let us know where Kylo and Rey are (probably) headed, romantically and psychologically.
This archetypal story is theirs, but it’s not really theirs in that they’re not the ones telling it. They don’t have control over their own narrative (despite being incredibly nuanced as individuals), and it shows. If you want to get depressing about it, you might even say that Kylo and Rey are fated with interconnecting destinies, and they have no choice in the matter (which honestly sucks). But this isn’t their fault. It isn’t, and to be truthful I kind of feel sorry for them, because the symbolism behind their characters – and what they mean to each other – is so strong there’s no escaping the other. They’re stuck in perpetuity on a loop.
So what do we know about Kylo’s backstory? So far, at least? (And for this part I’m going to draw on the novelization a bit, even though I probably shouldn’t). First, the facts:
We know that Kylo is the son of Han and Leia, the nephew of Luke and the grandson of Vader. We know from the visual evidence presented (as well as from last week’s comparison with Revan) that Kylo has been born into a legacy that’s too big for him, and he’s cracking under the weight of it. It’s making him miserable. In the movie Kylo is clearly uncomfortable/distressed by his father (see: his reaction to taking off his helmet for Han, his sniping comments about his father’s negligence). It’s also revealed (through supplementary media) that Kylo hates Han, so we know that he didn’t have a good relationship with his father.
We don’t know what Kylo’s relationship with his mother was like, but we do know that Leia is a General. And while Leia probably did her best to raise her son, she was also very, very busy with other duties, and this might have facilitated Snoke being able to snatch Kylo out from underneath her (see: distracted mother VS. child predator).
So what can we infer from all this? From the facts, and from Kylo’s visibly unhinged, anxiety-prone despair that he exhibits all throughout TFA? We can infer that his parents probably loved him, but didn’t know what to do with him. Kylo would have been a Force-sensitive child, and while Leia would have been supportive, Han has canonically derided the Force, time and again.
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Han told Luke in A New Hope, and Han has always been this way: dismissive of the Force and unable to understand it. Then he has a son, and this son ends up being Force-sensitive. Extremely so.
As a child – on top of already dealing with all the issues that come along with being Force-sensitive (and the regular, child-like anxieties, too) – Kylo would have had an absentee father who couldn’t accept his identity. Not in full. A father who didn’t accept a very, very crucial aspect of who he is, and that can damage a child, psychologically. In Kylo’s case, this damage seems pretty severe. Kylo’s been desperate for love and acceptance for a long, long time, but he hasn’t gotten any. It’s made him angry, and this anger and isolation/parental rejection made him open to manipulation. It made him open to the Dark Side, and to Snoke.
When you take TFA and its related media into context, it becomes very clear that Kylo hates and loves his father in equal measure. He loathes this absentee, neglectful smuggler who never lived up to the legends that Kylo so desperately needed him to (see: that of a hero), but he also loves Han because Kylo desperately needs to be loved back. He needs his father to love him unconditionally, as children wish their parents would. And this may be part of the reason why Kylo appeared so conflicted when he killed his father; he’d been searching for Han’s unconditional love for so long that this was (perhaps) the first time he’d seen it. But by then, it was too late. He had to kill him.
This lack of love/parental support is probably what precipitated Kylo’s obsession with Vader, and more than likely a big reason why he fell to the Dark Side. Kylo has always been looking for father figures that are never there: his dad can’t guide him, so Kylo latches onto the idea of his grandfather instead – a man who everyone says Kylo is more similar to, anyways. Being constantly compared to a mass-murderer from a young age had to of been damaging. It must of hurt.
So up until this point, Kylo’s never met anyone like Kylo. Kylo thinks “if grandfather was alive, he’d love me. He’d love me because we’re the same.” But grandfather isn’t alive, so Kylo clings to the remnants of corpses because he’s desperate. He looks to the dead because he has no one living to comfort him. He falls under Snoke’s manipulation because Snoke is an authority figure who tells him he’s “special,” instead of dismissing his concerns. This would have been a first for Kylo.
And Snoke is the “father figure,” here, make no doubt about that. Snoke is a source of authority and guidance, and this is how child predators work. This is grooming, actually – the preying on the emotionally and physically vulnerable – and adult-Kylo is the result. Kylo is what abuse victims can look like when they’re older (if they haven’t had time to heal). He is the product of neglect and isolation. He has rage at everything, but also despair, and he doesn’t know how to manage these disparate parts of himself. I’m not sure if that’s what Disney intended, but that’s definitely what’s coming across.
So Kylo has daddy issues. Mountains of them, and they’re destroying him. Again, I can’t comment on Kylo’s relationship with his mother, nor his relationship with Luke – its not discussed much – but its also clear from watching TFA that Kylo is lonely, in a general sense. Incredibly so. He might not think of Snoke like a father figure anymore, but even if he did Snoke is at a different power level than him. Everyone else in The Order is beneath Kylo, too. Kylo has no one to talk to, really; no one with whom to share his deepest insecurities or desires. There’s no one in his life at his level in anything, except for the skull of his long-dead grandfather enshrined in his room. And if this sort of isolation goes on for more than a decade (which it did) – this bitterness and this desperation and this unspoken need to be loved (see: the call for the Light) – its going to mess you up. It’s going to stunt your emotional development and its going to make you unable to cope with the most basic of stressors (see: temper tantrums).
Then Rey comes along. Rey, who’s not above Kylo but not below him either. Rey, who’s desperately lonely and searching for (platonic) love and a father figure too. And Kylo, he can feel this. He can feel it like a shiver up the spine, like the Force itself, and he goes oh. Oh, it’s you. The person I’ve been waiting for. And because Kylo’s waited so long for someone like him, this equal of his – because he’s so emotionally fragile and close to the edge – he’s going to cling to this strand of brightness that is Rey, and he’s going to cling on with a tenacity that is terrifying. Kylo is going to go to extreme lengths to keep Rey in his grasp – which he did – because the thought of going back to that loneliness and isolation is unbearable. He won’t do things in halves (and we’ve already seen this).
Now Rey is very, very much like Kylo in all of this, and while we don’t know as much about her backstory, we do know enough to make an inference.
We don’t know who her family is, but we know that Rey was abandoned on Jakku as a child, and she spent her crucial years in development all alone, without familial support, having to fend for herself in a hostile environment (Unkar Plutt keeping the other scavengers off her back doesn’t count).
We also that know that – until she was kidnapped – no one has ever come back for Rey, and this is very, very important, because it can make your sense of self somewhat fragile. Rey’s good at hiding this brittleness, or she doesn’t have time to think about it – probably because she’s always on the verge of starving (see: how she almost sells BB-8 for extra rations). She’s also strong, physically, but she’s got this thread of delicacy in her mental state, and Kylo gets to the heart of it when he captures her.
Kylo calls her on this fragility in the interrogation scene, when he sees how lonely she is; how scared she is to step foot off Jakku, lest she become even lonelier. How she finds it so hard sleep. Rey has had no one for a long, long time now, just like Kylo, and even though she gains her first friends in TFA, when you’ve been alone for so long – when you’ve been abandoned, and no one’s came back for you – you start to think that maybe no one wants you, too. That maybe it’s your fault. And this is a very insidious thought, because it’s incredibly hard to get rid of. It exists in a state of what ifs, even if you try to bury it.
This is why Rey is so surprised when Finn and Han come back for her – why she’s so touched by the gesture. And this is the truly tragic undercurrent beneath it all. You can see – visually, in her surprise and her body language – that she’s internalized the idea that she’s not worth saving. That she thinks no one will ever come back for her, because no one saved her on Jakku, so why bother entertaining the thought? Why not save yourself?
I love this about Rey – her resilience (and through it, the bond she shares with Finn) – but the source of her strength makes me sad. It really does.
Rey is desperate for a father figure, which she sees in Han. It’s something Kylo calls her on, repeatedly. She’s also desperate for love, although I’m fairly certain its in the platonic/familial sense. I’m pretty sure Kylo feels this – that he senses it. He says as much. He feels compassion for this state of what ifs, because he knows exactly where Rey is coming from. He’s desperate for a father figure, and desperate for love too (see: the call of the Light), so Kylo sees himself in Rey. He sees someone who will understand him. He sees this other half of the whole, and because misery loves company Kylo thinks that if they’re lonely together, maybe it won’t be so bad. That it won’t hurt quite so much. That he’ll be stronger. That they’ll be stronger, together, and Kylo desperately wants strength. He wants to be like his grandfather, because Vader was like him, so he HAD to of loved Kylo. Right? Right? There’s nothing sexual about this. This is just depressing, in general.
This is why Kylo goes to Snoke and practically begs Supreme Leader for permission to keep Rey (because Snoke is the father figure in this, and he can take away Kylo’s toys). This is why Kylo is so big on touching Rey, and keeping her close, because – beyond the comfort that people derive from physical closeness – I think (subconsciously) he’s afraid that if he doesn’t, she’ll literally slip through his fingers. Rey does, in the end.
This fear is also why – when Rey escapes – Kylo flies into a rage. This is why he acts so vicious towards both Finn and Han, because as far as he’s concerned they’re a traitor and a scumbag father ruining his life all over again.
And honestly, the traitor comment is very telling, because Sith/pseudo-Sith like Kylo normally don’t give two shits about lowly Storm Troopers. They really don’t. If a Storm Trooper does something stupid, Sith just kill them, but Kylo drags this confrontation out. Kylo hacks at Finn with his ‘saber, which speaks to something personal. Finn is also standing between Kylo and Rey, and that just won’t do. Gods of Death tend to be very possessive over the souls they keep, and Kylo’s even more tenacious then Vader.
Now I’m not going to get into this (SNOW FIGHT) scene too much (not yet), except to reference it in the context of their current relationship. In the Interrogation scene, and in the Final Fight in the forest, Kylo doesn’t actually hurt Rey (in context). He could have done way, way worse instead of making idle threats, and in the forest he literally pulls all his punches. When Kylo fights Rey, he never strikes harder than he has to, and always, those strikes are done to disarm her/protect himself.
As strong as Rey is – as talented as she is – there’s no way she should have been able to take on a nearly-full-fledged-Sith/pseudo-Sith and won, and this victory has nothing to with Kylo being injured. It has everything to do with him being hesitant. This is partially why – when Rey’s about to lose and she still won’t give in, thereby necessitating him having to hurt her – Kylo practically begs her to be his apprentice. If she’s his apprentice, she can be saved. If she’s his apprentice, he can keep her with him. He wont have to hurt her.
These parallels between them are also why Rey hesitates around Kylo, time and again. Why she perpetually looks so confused in his presence, because she can feel him in a weird way (see: potential Force Bond, bleeding emotions) and she doesn’t know what to make of it. But Rey is afraid (while being simultaneously brave). She’s afraid to leave Jakku or her new-found friends or anything outside the accepted boundaries of the mission she’s been given, because she’s terrified that if she steps a little bit beyond the line in terms of what’s allowed (see: affection from others), then the universe will take everything from her in retribution. Just like her parents.
And I want to preface this analysis of Rey’s character by saying that even though I’m focusing on her weaknesses here – even though Rey’s character arc fits very easily into an archetype – she herself is not. Rey (as an individual) is incredibly rich and nuanced and honestly one of the best female characters I’ve seen on film. This is why I adore her so much, or a personal level. She has her weaknesses, but she’s also strong, and this is how real people should be. We can’t discount that, even when we’re discussing her fragility.
So Rey’s not weak, but she is skittish. She’s got cracks in the façade, and Kylo’s just desperate. He’s coveting corpses – both those of his grandfather, and the metaphorical ones. This is the current context of their relationship as it stands, and how their backstories mirror each other. It will become crucial to later meta.
The Hunt for Rey
I’m including this build-up to Kylo and Rey’s first meeting because while it’s technically not a scene with them, it concerns them, in disparate parts. The hunt for Rey is told in bits and pieces, and those bits and pieces get longer and longer (and the tension ramps up) as Kylo gets closer to capturing her. Kylo is always seething with rage and barely-pent-up misery, and he’s prone to violence, but we don’t actually see him “flip out” until Rey is involved. We don’t see him caring that much about “the hunt for the droid” beyond what’s expected of him, until “the girl” is mentioned. Suddenly, things get personal.
When Kylo arrives on Jakku after the attack on Tuanul and has a discussion with Lor San Tekka, he’s sniping and nasty – and make no mistake, this hate is personal. But still he drags the conversation out, even though they’re pressed for time. When he does inflict violence, there’s no frantic-ness to it, nor actual panic. Just a casual sort of brutality, which is very typical for Kylo. Same goes for the violence he inflicts on Poe.
After BB-8 escapes and goes into hiding, Kylo still follows the trail, but he doesn’t care about the droid on a personal level. He wants the map, but he doesn’t mind the particulars, and he delegates the job of finding BB-8 to Hux and his underlings. When one of those underlings tells Kylo about the droid escaping Jakku, he’s definitely angry, but he doesn’t perk up until “the girl” is mentioned. When “the girl” is brought up, Kylo’s stance goes stiff. He becomes incredibly aggressive, and without waiting for a reply he turns around and picks the man up by his neck with the Force, dragging him closer. He demands to know about “her.”
What we can gather from all of this is that it is only after discovering Rey’s involvement in BB-8 that Kylo becomes personally invested in the fight, and rather dogged about it too. The longer the hunt drags on, the more agitated he becomes. When things don’t go his way Kylo becomes enraged, and we see this sort of inability-to-cope-with-failure when Rey escapes his grasp on Starkiller base, too. There, its infinitely worse.
On Starkiller, Kylo is already agitated when he goes back for Rey, after speaking to Snoke and Hux. When he finds Rey gone, he loses it. He seems utterly unable to deal his failure (in relation to her) and Rey’s rejection of him as his “guest” (by escaping). We’ll talk more about this later.
So we don’t get any of this nascent interest towards Kylo on Rey’s side leading up to her capture, at least none that’s shown in the movie (although we known that canonically she suffers from insomnia, and its been mentioned she has nightmares, so maybe he’s involved). Rey’s not actively hunting Kylo, like Kylo’s hunting her, however; she knows that the order is aware of her existence, but she’s not aware that Kylo’s interested in her, specifically. When he does express interest, it comes across like a shock.
So what does all of this tell us, in relation to Kylo’s feverish hunt for Rey? Honestly, it hints heavily at the idea that Kylo might have known her from before, or he’s intrinsically aware of her, either through some Force Bond or vision, and it places Rey’s importance to him as an individual above all others.
It makes Rey “special,” because when it comes to her, Kylo is willing to go that extra mile in keeping her close. He’s willing to break conventions in order to get the job done, and he’s actively hunting her (for personal reasons), instead of being told what to do by Snoke, which is atypical. It also means that when Kylo fails at this Very Important Thing – when he fails in maintaining his grasp on Rey – his inability to deal with stressors (as we discussed before) makes him lash out. He can’t bear this particular type of disappointment. Not with her. He’s made this decision to do this on his own (unlike everything else in his life), and he’s failing at it. Vader would hate him.
The Force Vision
Now my memory of the sequence of events in Rey’s Force Vision are somewhat jumbled, but I’ll do my best to explain them in order. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten any.
The first scene we see (in the Force Vision) is of Rey, stumbling out into the hall in shock. Around her Maz’s basement corridor turns into a hall of a different nature; a cold, eerie looking one with a geometric design that could pass for the hallway on a First Order ship, but honestly reminds me a bit of the Star Forge from KotOR, too (and with the Bastila and Revan similarities, this makes me go HMMMMM).
Now I can’t show a picture of this hallway, because no one’s gif’d it yet – probably because no one thought a hallway is important – but in this hallway, Rey looks around herself, bewildered. She then runs down it. The hallway begins to disintegrate behind her, and Rey falls down. Once she falls, the vision shifts again.
Now we come to another scene, and it is here where my memory of the sequence of events gets really murky (so my apologies for the mix-up). In this new scene, we see Rey as a little girl. A very little girl, and she’s screaming and crying, being dragged away by Unkar Plutt as she begs some unseen figure to stay with her. We see a ship flying off into the distance with an eclipsed moon. The scene changes again. This time, there’s a man in Jedi robes, leaning down beside R2D2. We see embers floating on the air – there’s a fire nearby, and a temple is burning. The man puts his right hand on the droid, and his hand is robotic. The hand has a passing similarity to Luke’s, but honestly we don’t see it for long enough to be sure. The scene changes again.
In this new sequence (again, can’t remember if this is in order), Rey has tripped – either over a body or a rock, and it’s storming, the rain torrential and the ground is filling with water. She’s in a dark place devoid of sunlight, and there’s thunder and lightning overhead. Rey looks up, and sees one of the Knights of Ren about to bring his weapon down on her. She’s defenseless. Just as he’s about to bash her brains in, Kylo comes up behind the knight and shoves his lightsaber through the knight’s chest, killing him. He saves her in the process.
There’s a brief jump in the scene, where Rey scrambles to her feet, and the images she receives are all disjointed. We see her standing in this muddy grave, and the Knights of Ren standing across from her. Kylo is in the center.
Rey watches him, and he watches her, and when Rey starts to back up Kylo walks forward, stalking after her in an aggressive fashion. He walks faster and faster, and Rey panics. She trips and falls again.
At the very end of the dream, we are treated to one final scene; a scene where Rey is stumbling through snow-covered woods, dark and treacherous, and she’s looking around her in a panic (we later learn out these woods are on Starkiller). As Rey walks forward, tripping over logs, Kylo steps out from behind a tree and ignites his ‘saber. He’s wearing his mask and his hood is drawn over his head.
This scene in particular is important, because we already saw it – it happened at the end of TFA, although not quite the same as Rey had pictured it (or at least, this is my interpretation of it). It’s also important because it gives us an idea of how fast these scenes play out. We know Rey being abandoned as a little girl has already happened, and Kylo finding Rey in the woods did too. All that’s left is R2D2 and the robot hand, the Star Forge(ish) hallway, and Kylo and the Knights of Ren, standing in the rain (although the writers already hinted that the Knights of Ren happen in the future – we don’t know about the others).
So after looking at all of these scenes, in context, what does The Force Vision tell us? It tells us that Rey’s visions are prophetic, and they show what has happened/what will come to pass, but they aren’t necessarily a perfect imitation of reality. Another thing these dreams tell us is that Kylo and Rey are intimately connected (although not necessarily on a physical level, but on a spiritual one), because in Star Wars the people you dream about become A Thing. They are your primary adversaries, or someone you have a bond with, or both (see: Luke having visions of Vader, Anakin having visions of Padme).
The final commonality in all these sequences was that Rey was either alone or scared or confused, and she was running away. That every time Kylo showed up, he was either hunting her down or protecting her. This motif – of the young woman dressed in white (or what stands for white), fleeing a shadow (and the awakening of danger/sexuality) is Death and the Maiden. This is the crux of Kylo and Rey’s relationship with one another, and crucial for later meta.
The Interrogation Scene
So this scene – if I explained it in detail – would be even longer than it is now, and I’m already past the 4000 word mark in this essay. I need to cut down where I can, which means I’m going to summarize. Sorry.
Now the Interrogation Scene is a fan favourite, and I can understand why. It’s a part in the movie where you can see the subtext becoming the text-text, in how Kylo and Rey react to each other. It also becomes glaringly obvious that something beyond the ordinary is going on between them, and that Kylo has personal interest in Rey, specifically.
And this scene is important, very much so, not only because it symbolizes the “awakening” in Death and the Maiden, but also because it gives us clues as to what’s happening in the world of Star Wars beyond the meta and the subtext (see: Kylo’s inability to control himself and his hatred towards his father). The Interrogation Scene is an immediate, visual clue as to what’s going to happen in the text of the film: as to what’s going to become canon, specifically. Of course people are going to like it.
So after being carried through the woods, unconscious and absconded away onto Kylo’s ship like a kidnapped bride, Rey wakes up in the interrogation chamber strapped to a reclining table that could bear a passing resemblance to a bed (remember, symbolism/context matters). The scene is set up identically to Poe’s, and this is very important because you never show the same scene twice in a movie unless you are trying to get across the differences between them. In this case, the difference is in how Kylo treats Rey VS. everyone else.
Unlike Poe, Rey has not been harmed by Kylo, nor anyone else. There’s no blood – not even bruises – and it doesn’t look like her restraints are uncomfortably tight. Kylo is crouched across from her, staring at her with his helmet on. He’s seated much lower than her and he’s looking up: he’s put himself in a lower position than her so he’s not looming over her, and this is very important. When you’re lower than another person (physically), the position is less threatening, and the individual you’re lowering yourself to feels more at ease as a result. This setup also indicates that Kylo was taking pains to calm her, because the position in which he was crouched is actually really uncomfortable if you hold it for long periods of time.
Rey asks Kylo why she’s there, and Kylo – his helmet still on – tells her she’s his “guest.” Rey asks him where her friends are, and when she does Kylo grows agitated; he becomes annoyed. He tells her those “thieves, smugglers and traitors” she calls friends are alive, but expresses bitter incredulity that she “still wants to kill him,” along with resentment towards the fact that she’s not grateful towards his so-called generosity.
Kylo’s reading her mind when he says this, but not in a violent way. When Rey tells him that he’s a monster in a mask, that she hates him because he’s hunting her (remember these adjectives: they’re important), Kylo removes his helmet and stands.
This is another distinction in how Rey is treated VS. everyone else, because by taking away his mask Kylo is putting himself at a distinct disadvantage. He’s taking away the impersonal nature of the scene (which would have given him a psychological hold over her) and he’s taking away a source of fear that he could have utilized to keep Rey passive. Once again, Kylo’s doing things to calm her: things he doesn’t have to, as he’s already in a dominant position of power.
Rey looks at Kylo’s face, confused and blinking. Kylo looks back. His expression isn’t necessarily soft, but it definitely isn’t hostile either (which is very atypical for what amounts to a Sith-stand-in). When Kylo steps closer to Rey, he begins questioning her about the droid. Rey deflects his questions.
As she does, Kylo keeps on stepping closer and closer until he’s almost touching her; until his face is practically hovering over her skin. He’s still reading Rey’s mind at this point, and as he’s drawing closer to her he seems to lose the thread of their conversation. Instead of talking about the droid, he begins to talk about her, and her loneliness in particular:
“You’re so lonely… so afraid to leave. At night, desperate to sleep… you imagine an ocean. I see it. I see the island.”
And you can see him reacting to this: to the reveal of this crucial bit of information and this tenuous link between their disparate experiences. You can see Kylo leaning in closer, and you can hear his voice cracking as he speaks. This is an incredibly important moment, because this is where Kylo (in the movie) goes from generalized fixation to personalized fixation, because he identifies with what Rey’s experienced and he feels compassion for it (mixed with curiosity). He’s found someone like him, which is what he’s always wanted.
Kylo continues to increasingly losing the thread of their original conversation as he rifles through Rey’s mind, until he comes across thoughts concerning his father, Han Solo. Kylo grows agitated, and slightly aggressive. He leans away from Rey, putting distance between them, and once again the mask (the psychological one that protects him from mental damage) is back up. Even still, you hear his voice hitching with emotion – perhaps even more strongly than before. He decides to go into her mind full force.
This is the part where Kylo tells Rey “Don’t be afraid. I feel it too.” This is the part where – even though he breaks into her mind (and he’s increasingly agitated) – he still takes pains with her. He tells Rey not to worry, and when he goes into her mind we can see how careful he’s trying to be in not doing any additional damage (in relation to Poe). We had this exact same scene with Poe, and when it was Poe, Poe was shaking like he was about to have a seizure; veins were bulging along the sides of his neck and he was screaming. Rey grits her teeth, and we see her clenching her facial muscles in concentration – she sheds a few tears – but that’s it.
Part of this has to do with the fact that Rey’s Force-sensitive – she’s got more resistance to what he’s doing – but its also because Kylo’s going into her mind with surgical precision, rather than the blunted aggression he usually applies. It makes a difference.
When Rey fights back, it is Kylo who suffers. She manages to push him out of her mind and goes into his, and once there she pulls out his deepest, darkest fear: that he’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader, the father figure he clings to (as was discussed in their backstories). This is a deep, deep psychological blow for Kylo, and one he doesn’t know how to deal with. Because if he can’t be like Vader, Vader won’t love him, and then who will? After Rey drags this information out of him, Kylo leaves, shaken and terrified.
Now there’s a lot going on in this scene that I wish I could get into; a lot of nuance that would make a fascinating discussion in of itself. But lets boil down this scene to what’s crucial to the meta, both in this film and for future ones. So what does the Interrogation Scene tell us? It gives us real world context into Kylo and Rey’s relationship with one another. We’ve had two interrogation scenes by this point, and we get to see (up close) how special Rey is to Kylo, in the manner in which he treats her; how much he gives away in his body language and in how he wants to pacify her, rather than terrify.
This scene also shows us how Kylo relates to Rey and her loneliness, setting up a link of commonality between them that he can draw on. It shows us how he becomes incredibly covetous of Rey after this fact – because Death Gods don’t like to share in the souls they’ve reaped – and it shows us the awakening of the Maiden. This scene – where Kylo rifles through her mind – is where Rey is exposed to the full brunt of the Force (through him). It’s the scene where Rey has the awakening of her own Force-sensitivity (and her ability to use it) as a result of his. But more on that later.
The Final Fight
So I’m not going to dip too deeply into this scene, because its not as important to Kylo and Rey’s individual dynamic as it is to the series as a whole. The setup for this scene is that The Resistance has attacked Starkiller, and Starkiller is currently in the process of blowing up. Rey has escaped confinement along with Finn (Chewie has gone to get the ship, irrc), and Han is dead: killed by his son Kylo Ren (née Ben Solo).
After Kylo kills Han, he pursues the fleeing Rey and Finn, chasing them into the woods. This is the scene from Rey’s Force Vision – where she’s wandering through the snow-covered forest and Kylo pops out from behind the tree, his ‘saber drawn. As noted in The Force Vision section, this dream doesn’t quite add up to reality (if you’re following my theory on it).
In this version of reality, Kylo stalks after them without his helmet, and it isn’t long before he catches them, igniting his lightsaber and challenging the two even though he’s injured. Rey and Finn stop, almost in a resigned fashion – Rey is clearly perturbed by Kylo beating on his own wound – and words are exchanged. Rey calls Kylo a monster, and raises her blaster to shoot him. When she does so Kylo uses the force to throw Rey against the tree, incapacitating her. He’s angry and agitated for multiple reasons, but Rey’s rejection of him as a person, and her trying to fire on him first (see: “you’re a monster” comment) is definitely part of it.
Kylo gets even angrier when Finn rushes over to Rey’s side. He becomes enraged when Finn picks her up and cradles her close, slashing at the air with his ‘saber. Kylo screams at Finn that he’s a traitor, hunching over and practically spitting, and this scene very much translate into what basically boils down to as “my treasure, no touching.” By this point, Kylo is fixated on the idea of Rey, and he’s got a personal vendetta against traitors and thieves (a discussion that I won’t get into here). The fact that someone like Finn is touching someone like Rey – an ideal that Kylo’s fixated on, and yet another person who’s rejected him (and who he is) – becomes entirely unpalatable.
Finn stands up, and in an act of incredibly bravery, he takes Kylo on. And here we see again – even more strongly than before – how Kylo treats Rey VS. everyone else. With Finn, Kylo’s just vicious. He drags out the fight, and he increases Finn’s pain. He burns him in a manner that basically amounts to torture.
While Kylo’s torturing Finn, Rey wakes up to the sound of his screams. She wakes up just in time to see the lightsaber swiped out of Finn’s hands, and Finn go down. Kylo tries to call the lightsaber to his side, but Rey calls it instead, and the two of them fight: Rey with determination (she’s aiming to protect Finn and kill Kylo), and Kylo with resignation. Kylo doesn’t try to attack Rey until she ignites the lightsaber and it becomes clear what she plans to do. This is important, because Kylo’s reluctance doesn’t come from a lack of energy (remember, he was just torturing Finn with ease). His reluctance to fight comes from Rey, specifically. He doesn’t want to do this with her, but he must.
After that, the Final Fight becomes another glaring example in how Kylo treats Rey VS. everyone else. Rey’s losing badly in the beginning, and Kylo could easily take her down by attacking her flank. He doesn’t, nor does he cut at her, like he did with Finn. Kylo has to strike back, because Rey’s carrying a lightsaber and if he doesn’t go on the offensive he’s going to die, but he doesn’t strike at her in an overly-aggressive manner. Instead, all Kylo does is hit at her ‘saber, and these are heavy hits, designed to knock her off balance and disarm her. As Rey flees into the woods, Kylo follows behind her at a slower pace, stalking her but giving Rey enough space so that she doesn’t totally panic.
It is only when Rey’s backed up against a ledge and Starkiller is literally crumbling beneath their feet – and Rey still won’t give in – that Kylo closes in on her and speaks, in an attempt to coax her towards a truce. He tries to offer Rey an alternative to fighting, and all but begs to let him be her teacher: both because she desperately needs one, and as a way to tempt her back to his side without hurting her. He really doesn’t want to injure her.
Rey seems confused by this offer for a moment, and deeply conflicted, before ultimately deciding “no.” Then she draws on the Force – some secret well of it – and beats Kylo handily. Kylo is defeated, not so much because of her sudden strength (Kylo is strong too) but because she takes him off guard. He was too relaxed around her, and unlike him, Rey is definitely aiming to kill.
When Kylo falls, Rey hesitates on the finishing blow; then the earth splits between them, separating one from another, and it becomes impossible to finish the attack either way. They stare at each other across the chasm for a moment, before Rey flees back into the woods to find Finn. Kylo – unable to follow her – watches Rey leave. He remains behind in the snow.
Now this scene is more important to Star Wars as a whole, because it shows where things are heading with the Force, specifically. In Star Wars there’s this constant search for balance between the Dark and the Light, and both Rey and Kylo have good and bad qualities in them. We see this in how Kylo is so careful with Rey, despite the horrible things he’s done to others; we see this in how Rey propels herself with rage, despite her overall kindness in comparison. The two of them are essentially stand-ins for Grey Jedi (like Bastila and Revan, at one point in their lives), and in Star Wars EU Grey Jedi – those who were neither dark nor light – were very much A Thing.
So this duality between Kylo and Rey – and their inability to inhabit either extreme – is a huge clue as to where this series might be headed with the whole “bringing balance to the Force” thing in general. This balance may come from them. I think there’s a good chance it will.
But this final fight also gives us clues into Rey and Kylo’s relationship – their burgeoning, fractured one – and its rife with Death and the Maiden symbolism. So what does this scene tell us, exactly? It tells us that Kylo and Rey are equals – both in their use of the force, their ability to defend themselves, their issues, their insecurities, and the duality of their emotions – something that Kylo (in particular) has been searching for desperately, for a long, long time. Probably since childhood. It shows us unequivocally that Kylo doesn’t want to kill Rey, or even hurt her, and this becomes crystal clear when Kylo asks permission to become her teacher instead of pushing her over the edge (which he could have done so, easily).
This scene also shows us that Rey is just as conflicted over Kylo as he is over her – perhaps more – and she doesn’t know what to make of him. Constantly, she oscillates between murderous rage and almost dumbfounded recognition when she’s around Kylo, as if she knows him from somewhere. Always, she stops before she can kill him completely, for reasons we can’t discern and reasons she probably doesn’t understand. Their complex, convoluted relationship only promises to become more convoluted as the series goes on, but this scene also remains heavy in symbolism, because once again this is Death and the Maiden.
In the Final Fight, we have the Maiden, newly awakened (see: Rey, alive with the Force). We also have the maiden fleeing her captor and the source of that awakening, the God of Death (see: Kylo) for the first time. Death gods are covetous, tenacious things, and if we’re basing this off of one of the earliest Death gods in western culture, this is Hades tracking down Persephone after she escaped him with Demeter’s help (see: Leia, ordering the destruction on Starkiller). This scene is the original Death and the Maiden, upon which all other Death and the Maiden motifs are based. But we’ll get into that in a bit.
The Bridal Scene (aka The Big One)
So the last scene I’m going to talk about is the Bridal Scene (even though chronologically it’s before The Interrogation and The Final Fight). I’m going to spend more time on this scene in order to deconstruct it, because this scene – more than any of the others – tells us where the content of this story is going (i.e. the actions themselves), and specifically Kylo and Rey’s relationship.
Some of the other scenes in this movie are more ambiguous, and can be taken multiple different ways. The meaning and symbolism behind this one can’t. This is raptus. This is Death kidnapping his Bride (see: the Maiden), and the meaning behind it is unequivocally sexual. You can’t really get around that. So either the TFA team knew exactly what they were doing when they shot this scene, and wanted to drive home the point with a sledgehammer, or they’re the biggest idiots in the world for not putting two-and-two together. I really hope it’s the former and not the latter.
Over the past week I’ve gotten a lot of comments from readers asking me to explain the difference between sexuality and sensuality. I’ve also gotten a lot of opinions submitted to me (by readers) telling me which one of these things they think the dynamic between Rey and Kylo really is. People tend to divide into two camps on this (which is (one reason) where shipping wars come from, I guess). On one side you have people claiming TFA is not sexual at all. That the movie is applying narrative sensuality (my words) to the text, which is getting mistaken for sexual tension. On the other side you have people saying the sexual subtext is blatant, and those that don’t see it are crazy (I’m paraphrasing here).
So before we get deeper into the analysis of this scene, I would like to point out (and explain) that it can be both. Narrative sensuality and sexuality can co-exist in the same space harmoniously; it’s just that when they do, things become incredibly nuanced. It becomes difficult for the general audience to make a distinction between them. A great example of this narrative sensuality/sexuality co-existing would be the vampire movie/book genre, specifically the more literary ones like Dracula (i.e. not Blade, which is action). Basically, Gothic Horror 101.
In vampire movies, the narrative sensuality comes through the world-building; in the motifs being applied (i.e. the symbolism behind the color red), and in the biting of the neck (which isn’t strictly narrative sensuality, because it can very, very easily veer into sexuality itself, but usually its used as a stand-in for the seduction of the innocent and loss of virginity/penetration, among other things).
If TFA, examples of narrative sensuality would be the aggressive, predatory way that Kylo stalks around Rey; it would be in Rey getting lost in the woods (twice) while dressed in white, and in Rey’s theme song, which is rife with fairy-tale motifs. All these little things thread through the text of a film to create narrative sensuality, which people are picking up on. Trust me, it’s there. You aren’t mistaken in that. But if you’re looking for unequivocal sexuality/sexual imagery, this is it:
Because this is the moment where the set-up between Kylo and Rey goes from symbolism to action. This is the moment where the sexual connotations become literal. Kylo is basically committing raptus in this scene (and while I don’t have time to go into raptus in detail, I would definitely look it up online. @a-shipper-despite-herself wrote a good introductory thread on the history of it).
The act of carrying a “kidnapped” bride through a door and into a bed (see: the reclining interrogation chair) is what Kylo’s essentially doing […]
And this act of raptus – this iconic imagery of Death carrying his bride (see: the Maiden) back into the underworld is an old, old archetype codified into western culture. The reason for this is because for the longest time, raptus was an Actual Thing that Happened. Women aren’t forcibly taken over the bridal threshold anymore (at least not in in the west) but the action itself remains.
So there’s really no getting around the meaning of The Bridal Scene, and what it points to (specifically, Kylo’s interest in Rey). Not in the practical sense (i.e. why Kylo did what he did), nor in the subtext of the scene (i.e. what capturing/carrying an unconscious woman over the threshold of a door means to western audiences), nor in the symbolism of it (i.e. Death and the Maiden). Kylo may not understand the significance of his actions – and believe me, you could make a very, VERY good argument that Kylo may not understand the “nature” in which he’s attracted to Rey just yet – but the filmmakers do.
So now that this huge, rambling definition of narrative sensuality vs. sexuality is out of the way, let’s review this scene and break it down, so we can get into the meat of it. Ready? Ready. Alright, let’s go. This one is a whopper.
So the set up for this scene is that Rey, Finn, Han, Chewie and BB-8 (AKA “The Crew”) have arrived at Maz Kanata’s castle, where they’re trying to make contact with The Resistance so they can return BB-8. Finn’s trying to get the fuck outta dodge (wise move, my man. I approve), and Rey’s had her first Force Vision/found Luke’s lightsaber. Utterly distraught by this experience, she runs off into the woods. BB-8 follows her. Unbeknownst to the crew, they’ve been sold out to the First Order by the mercenary Bazine. This lady, on the right:
Meanwhile, Rey is having a legit breakdown in the woods. Exhausted and distraught, she tries to tell BB-8 to go back, to leave her alone, but BB-8 won’t. Suddenly they hear the sounds of the attack, and Rey looks up to see the First Order arriving. She and BB-8 race back to help their friends, but along the way they’re ambushed by troopers, who are already searching the woods. Rey fires on them, then flees with BB-8 back into the forest. She tells the droid to go on without her – that she’ll protect him and try to hold the troopers off. BB-8 (reluctantly) flees.
Back on the battlefield, Kylo’s stalkin’ around, being his usual animalistic self. When he hears that BB-8 fled into the woods with “the girl,” he immediately tenses up and turns at the word “girl,” then stalks into the forest after them. In the woods we see Rey stumbling around, clearly exhausted, confused, and terrified. She’s hearing sounds – the hoot of animals – and she’s disoriented and sweating. The whole set up is a babe-in-the-woods motif.
You hear the sound of Kylo’s lightsaber igniting, but you don’t see him until Kylo steps out from behind a rock. Immediately Rey begins firing her blaster at him, but Kylo deflects every shot, languidly stalking towards her. Eventually he seems to tire of the hunt, and with a wave of his hand he makes her freeze with the Force, rendering Rey helpless before him. Kylo advances towards her, calling her “the girl I’ve heard so much about” – but he hasn’t heard that much about her, not even in the context of the movie. So this speaks more to his preoccupation with her, rather than reality itself.
Kylo gets very, very close to Rey, moving into her personal space. She’s dressed all in white – or what’s basically a stand-in for white – and he’s dressed all in black, hooded and masked. He’s looming over her, and Rey’s vulnerability is especially poignant in this scene (as is her somewhat-doomed defiance). When Kylo walks around Rey in a circle, he examines her closely. He then ignites his ‘saber and holds it close to her neck, demanding to know where the droid is. I want to make a dick joke about the particular shape of his lightsaber and the way its positioned close to her mouth, but I’m going to resist the temptation.
The scene jumps back to the fight at Maz Kanata’s castle for a bit, and when it returns to Kylo and Rey, Kylo is deactivating his ‘saber. He moves towards Rey, reaching for her face. Kylo reads her mind and discovers that she’s seen the map. Stopping for a brief moment, he then goes back into Rey’s mind, searching for more. In the script, Kylo actually touches her face here – his hands are all over Rey’s face, which he doesn’t need to do to read her mind – but in the movie he just hovers, really, really close. Rey is still at his mercy.
A call comes in from the Storm Troopers, telling Kylo that they’re overwhelmed and The Resistance has arrived. They need backup. Kylo (in the script, his hand is still on Rey’s face) tells them to pull the division out and forget the droid: they have what they need. He means Rey. Kylo then knocks Rey out with the Force, and she faints. Kylo catches her before she can hit the ground and he picks her up, bridal style, carrying her back to the ship. (NOTE: In the script Rey simply falls from frame, but that doesn’t happen in the movie. They actually added to this, to make the gesture more intimate, which is important).
So Kylo walks rather languidly through the battlefield, carrying Rey in his arms. He doesn’t hand her over to the troopers, or carry her with the Force (remember, we’ve already been shown that he can multi-task with it), and he doesn’t move Rey into a more convenient position to carry her. Kylo walks across the threshold to his ship with the unconscious Rey still in his arms. When Rey wakes up, she’s strapped to a reclining interrogation chair that honestly looks a bit like a bed, or could pass for one (motif-wise).
SO. There’s the breakdown of the scene, summarized as best I can. Lets break it down further, on a practical level (with a little bit of subtext thrown in towards the end), because on a practical level, why is Kylo doing this? Seriously, WHY IS HE DOING IT? Rey’s actions are easily explained – she’s frightened and overwhelmed and feeling very much alone, so she flees – but Kylo’s behavior essentially boil down to “thinking with your dick” (in the crudest possible terms). I’m sorry, that’s a horrible way to say it, but I don’t know how much more succinct I can make this.
So Kylo goes into the woods after Rey, right? He goes after her alone, and on the surface this makes sense. Kylo’s a stand-in for the Sith, and Rey’s “just a scavenger” at this point. Even with her latent Force Sensitivity, she can’t do anything with it, and without her ability to use the Force she’s basically helpless. But let’s look at the whole scene, in context, because when you do the gist of Kylo’s actions essentially go from “sorta makes sense” to “whut.” I’m not even exaggerating when I say this.
There’s a battle going on – a big one – and although Kylo can easily hold his own, he’s in enemy territory, striking out blind. He can sense others nearby – again, we’ve seen this earlier in the film – but if an entire Resistance squad happens upon him (which is a very distinct possibility in this situation), he’s probably not going to make it. He’s probably going to get injured, and Rey will slip out of his grasp. Kylo’s also leading this assault on Maz Kanata’s castle – and yet he’s wandering off into the woods for what (right now) essentially amounts to a slip of a girl? Shit don’t make sense, son – tactically, at all – unless you realize that Kylo’s not thinking tactically. He’s not even really thinking. He’s just hunting, and he wants Rey. This is very, very sexual imagery. This isn’t even really subtext.
And when Kylo comes upon Rey in the woods, this toying that he does with her – this slow, cat-like stalking – is very much a Kylo thing, outside of her. It’s a character trait. But after that, when Kylo grows tired of the hunt and approaches her, his actions towards Rey make no sense (unless you use the framework of him not thinking in general, or thinking sexually, however subconscious that sexual desire might be).
Kylo doesn’t need to hover that close to Rey to read her mind; he doesn’t need to get all up in her personal space to intimidate her, and he’s almost-touching her immediately. Kylo doesn’t do this with anyone else who’s minds he reads, so why is he so keen on this physical closeness with Rey? Why is he taking his time with her, when they’re in the middle of a battle? Why is he hovering? Sith don’t do that. Kylo may not be a Sith, but he’s a Sith-stand-in, and this is not Sith-like behavior at all. Kylo, what u doin’ buddy? Stop, don’t do The Thing.
And when Kylo says “Forget the droid. We have what we need,” why on earth would you do this from a tactical standpoint, unless you really couldn’t hold off The Resistance? Which they could, btw, because those First Order drop ships are not long-distance spacers, which means they’ve got a Destroyer nearby (probably in orbit).
The First Order has been chasing BB-8 for a long, long time, and it’s always better to have two assets (Rey and the droid) instead of one, in case one of those assets turns faulty. Rey’s human, and as it’s been shown in this film, human memory can be fragmented, patchy and misguided. So when Kylo says “we have what we need,” he’s not really talking about the Order, or what’s tactically sound, so much as he’s talking about himself. He’s the one that’s fixated on “the girl” and never the droid, so for him Rey really is the central focus. She’s what he needs, and he seems to have a hard time making this distinction between self-and-other. It’s a common theme with him.
And when Kylo knocks Rey out with the force – when she collapses and he picks her up, cradling her close – why on EARTH would a person do this, in what essentially amounts to the middle of a battlefield? Kylo can multi-task with the Force, so if he wanted to he could just pick her up using the Force and carry her back in that manner. Or he could throw her over his shoulder and it would have still been more practical, because then it would have freed up the use of his hands to use his ‘saber. By carrying Rey bridal style, all he can do is carry her. He can’t even gesture with the Force, and by doing what he’s doing Kylo has literally left himself defenseless. What a fuckin’ idiot. I’m sorry.
And when Kylo finally reaches the battlefield, he doesn’t hand Rey over to his troopers (which would have been a very, very smart thing to do). He just keeps on carrying her himself, with both his hands occupied, straight through the middle of the ruins while bombs are dropping. He carries her like this all the way onto his ship. Again, an idiot. Again, why. WHY, KYLO. WHY? VADER WOULD BE DISAPPOINT.
And this is dumb, from a practical standpoint, regardless of subtext. This is so, so dumb on infinite levels, and you would never, ever do this unless you weren’t thinking about how dumb it was. Unless you weren’t paying attention to the world around you and focused specifically on one thing. On one person alone. It’s not comfortable to carry someone like this for long periods of time (which he did); Rey’s not injured along her front (which would have been a legitimate excuse to hold her like this), and she’s not a child (Rey’s small, but not that small). So the only reason why Kylo would carry a person like this was if he wanted to touch them. If he wanted to touch them a lot. And that, combined with Kylo’s aggressive hovering and the gender dynamics between them makes this gesture overtly sexual. Not sensual.
I mean, can you imagine Anakin being carried Bridal-style by Darth Sidious over the threshold of a ship, which was the last (Psuedo)Jedi/Sith dynamic? Or Luke being carried Bridal-style over the threshold of the ship by Vader? His FATHER? When you put Kylo’s actions in context, this shit don’t add up at all except for one, singular point. And yes, the gender dynamics between Rey and Kylo matters in this, and in how we perceive the sexual nature of them. It matters that Kylo is not Rey’s father, like Vader was Luke’s (god forbid). It matters that both of them are young and attractive, and it matters that Kylo is aggressive and passionate and animalistic in his rage, while Rey is skittish (see: masculinity vs. femininity, and how gender is preformed).
It especially matters that Rey is a woman, and a rather delicate-looking one at that. It matters that Kylo is a very tall, broad-shouldered man, because this sort of binary behavior is distinctly coded to heteronormative sexual dynamics. It’s coded this way because of cultural signifiers and the physical size difference between them; in the sexual dimorphism they exhibit.
If Rey was a masculine looking woman, or if she was big or burly – if she wasn’t distinctly coded as female, and Kylo wasn’t distinctly coded as male – we wouldn’t read this gesture as sexual. We wouldn’t, but they are, so we do, and the filmmakers know this (everyone does, on an instinctual level). Kylo may not realize that he’s interested in Rey this way – and to be honest I think that’s probably the case (another discussion for another time). But his body does, and sexual arousal works differently from the intellect. Intellect and arousal aren’t the same things. So Kylo’s instinct are there, and he’s responding accordingly. And we – the audience, who are watching these events unfold in what amount to real time – see it too. We’ve been trained for it.
Everything’s an archetype: The symbolism between Kylo and Rey, and their relationship to Death and the Maiden
Before I get into the archetypal parallels between Kylo and Rey/other Death and the Maiden stories – to show why this sort of symbolism between them is iconic – I want to apologize. This list of parallels has been heavily, heavily culled, because there are countless examples out there and we’re now over the 10,000 word mark. I had to cut back somewhere.
If I had the time, I would tell you about the history of Death and the Maiden during The Renaissance. I would tell you about the fairy tale motifs in Kylo and Rey’s story; about getting lost in the woods and young maidens being snatched up by predators, either by an actual men or the stand-ins for one (see: the wolf).
I would tell you about Death and the Maiden motifs in monster movies, where an attractive young woman – coded as feminine – is kidnapped by a monster, to the horror of onlookers. I would talk about how this young woman is always carried unconscious and in Bridal-style back to the monster’s lair, where he keeps her locked away from her saviors.
I would talk about how this young woman learns to pity the beast; how she learns to feel compassion for this creature devoid of love from others. I would also talk about the fact that Rey calls Kylo a monster, specifically, and how he reacts to it, because this is important. Or if I had more time, I would talk about the obvious Phantom of the Opera parallels. How these scenes were basically blocked the same way.
And how both Rey and Christine are kidnapped by Kylo and Erik (the Phantom) – these monsters in masks – and taken back to their lairs where the monsters plans to keep them, but treat them “kindly” so as to forge a bond with the object of their affection. So as to have these young women fall in love with them (see: you’re my guest, you need a teacher moments).
I would also talk about how there’s an unmasking scene in each, how in both the male friend (Finn and Raoul) try to help Rey and Christine escape, only to have Kylo/The Phantom fly into a fit of rage that’s fueled (partially) by jealousy. Kylo and the Phantom also torture these male friends in retaliation (see: Kylo burning Finn with his lightsaber). Again, this sort of thing is not subtle.
I would talk about the fact that both Kylo and the Phantom never really saw their fathers (see: Han Solo, the absent smuggler); how their mothers were horrified by their appearance/what was happening to them (see: Leia trying to turn her son away from the Dark Side). I would also talk about how Christine was extremely close with her father, and Rey is desperate for one (see: thinking of Han like the father she’d never had). But I’m not going to talk about any of that – not in detail – because there’s an even better example.
I’m going to talk about Hades and Persephone, because Hades and Persephone are where this whole Death and the Maiden/raptus thing got started. Welcome to the grandaddy of assholes kidnappin’ women.
So a long, long time ago, there was this Greek God called Hades. And this Greek God – this Lord of the Underworld, wrapped in black – ventured into the world above, and there he saw the daughter of the goddess Demeter; Persephone.
Persephone was beautiful and clever and strong, and she called to him like the Light. And so Hades fell in love with her, but he wasn’t allowed to have her. He wasn’t considered worthy, so Hades committed raptus.
He took Persephone far, far away from the light of the sun. He picked her up and carried her back with him, past threshold of the dead into the Underworld, so she’d always be at his side.
And the two of them became lovers, and Persephone became trapped there. And although this daughter-of-the-gods was rescued (once) by the rage of her mother (see: Leia and The Resistance destroying Starkiller), and Zeus was forced to intervene (see: Snoke), her escape did not last for long. Hades tricked Persephone back into the underworld by making her eat the magical seeds (see: power of the Dark Side), and there she remained, a goddess of death beside him: his consort and equal. Persephone’s old life was ushered away by the new. By meeting him.
That’s where this tale of Death and the Maiden predominantly originates from, folks; that’s where this carrying-the-bride-over-the-threshold-of-a-door is rooted in western culture. That’s why I’ve been comparing Kylo to Death and Rey to the Maiden – why I’ve been talking about this scene so much – because that’s literally where all this subtext is going, and sometimes it isn’t even subtext. As @a-shipper-despite-herself pointed out, when you see this sort of symbolism, 99% of the time its sexual. When the woman is unconscious, that estimate jumps up to 99.99999% (conservative estimate).
Now the crux of my thesis was revealed last week, and once it was a lot of you added interesting tidbits of information. I won’t post the full responses here – that will take too long, but I will link to them and quote the parts that are important:
One anon (speaking about Death and the Maiden) said:
In [ancient cultures] there were fake abductions (and some not-so fake) were a man ‘kidnapped’ his intended bride during their wedding and carried her over the threshold to symbolize the death of her old life with her parents and the start of a new life with him.
Another anon (who may or may not be the same person) added:
I think it’s important to remember a big part of “Death and the Maiden” stories are about sexual awakening (usually on the girl’s side), and Reylo definitely fit the pattern in a lot of ways.
And both of these anons are correct in their assessment. This symbolic (and sometimes not-so-symbolic) kidnapping of brides has been very much A Thing for a very long time, even though some of the context behind the symbolism has been lost in the current era. And yes, this symbolism is sexual, not sensual. The question really should be how far with Disney take it? And in what direction will the take it in? Will they leave it as a motif, simmering just beneath the surface, or will they drag this stuff right out into the open? Will they make Episode VIII and IX a combination of both?
If we take this symbolism to its source, Hades (the groom) is the representation of Death and the destruction of the old life. He is the death of innocence and the arrival of sexual awakening. And in the context of TFA, I think this is actually a metaphor for the awakening of the Force we see in Rey (@pernillapalpatine picked up on this too – you can find their post here). Rey’s awakening to the Force isn’t actually initiated by her Force Vision – she can see things with it, but she can’t really do anything about it until she meets Kylo. Her awakening is initiated and amplified by Kylo. Kylo kidnaps her and essentially inserts his consciousness into hers, exposing her to the full brunt of the Force (and in a wonderful flipping of sexual symbolism and female agency, we see Rey using this force and turning it around on him).
Only then – when Kylo’s briefly made himself a part of her – is Rey able to utilize this spiritual energy, essentially destroying her old life while ushering in the new. Kylo also symbolizes Death – or Death Gods, in particular – because once these reapers of immortality get a hold of you, it’s almost impossible to escape them (even though in this movie, Rey did – at least for a time – and once again this a fantastic flipping of the archetype). Kylo’s tenacious.
Now the context behind this symbolism has mellowed out a lot since the “good ol’ days,” at least in the west, but those symbols of Death and the Maiden have stuck with us, kept alive by our media. The Star Wars Franchise has always drawn heavily on archetypes, even before this (it was based on Flash Gordon, which in of itself is heavy with archetypes/motifs). So that’s why we’re seeing archetypes again, in their current iteration. Death and the Maiden hasn’t been done by Star Wars before, but the entire series needed a reboot after the disastrous prequels. It also needed something fresh to add to the mix. I think that might be why the production team of TFA latched on to this particular motif and decided “ah, this is it.” That, and Bastila and Revan. Seriously, you need to read this: it adds context to the discussion, and explains a lot about Kylo and Rey’s dynamic in relation to the world they live in.
And there’s power in archetypes, you understand? So much power. That’s why we keep on coming back to them, again and again. That’s why they’re recognizable on a subconscious level. This is part of the reason why Star Wars has remained so popular for so long, because it’s simple in its execution and depends on archetypes to forge a bond with its audience. So I hope this Death and the Maiden motif comes to fruition. I really hope the production team of Episode VIII can pull it off, because if they do, the payout for it will be immense.
Everything happens for a reason (AKA movies are expensive/the logic behind the insanity)
So what does all of this mean, in context? What does this mean in relation to Kylo and Rey – the repetition of these actions/motifs, the relationship they share with one another, intermingled with narrative sensuality and questions about the Force at large? The fact that these symbols show up again and again (similar backgrounds, illogical behavior unless viewed through a sexual lens, Death and the Maiden, the performance of masculinity VS. femininity) means that their story is an archetype, and because its an archetype we can gauge where the filmmakers are going with this, to some degree of accuracy.
Either the Episode VIII team is going to play this trope straight (i.e. literal Death and the Maiden), they’re going to subvert it – and we’ve already seen TFA’s ability to do so with great success (see: Rey, damsel in distress, rescuing herself) – or they’re going to do a mixture of the two. Personally I would like to see a mix. It makes things more interesting and less predictable, and to be honest if I go into Episode VIII and discover that I’ve guessed almost everything, I’ll be a bit disappointed. Because then there’s no tension left, and there’s no mystery. I’ve already provided them with their thesis. But we do know the Episode VIII crew is going to do something with all this symbolism, regardless of where they take it, because they spent a lot of time and money on making this thing apparent. At least they should, so long as they’re not completely insane.
In our world – the world beyond the motif – there is logic to this. There are a ton of people you have to hire and book for every day of filming; tons of scheduling and the balancing of different priorities, and in order for a film to succeed you need to run a pretty tight ship. The costume designers are not dumb when they’re making their decisions, either (see: Rey in white and Kylo in black) and as someone who works in a visual medium, there is a method to their madness too. And because there’s so much money and time and effort involved in the process of film-making – because all of these scenes have survived the editing process – you know the TFA team wanted you to see them. That’s important. You can’t discount that.
When I was getting my BA and studying Creative Writing, there was an ongoing joke in my upper year classes that went something along the lines of “the writer writes 50% of the content. The reader creates the rest.” This is true, because whatever you don’t directly fill into the text, the reader will do so themselves with subtext. As someone who writes a lot of original work (and dabbles in fanfiction, when the time permits), I’ve see this first hand. There’s intent – what you planned to put into your work – and then there’s the reception to that intent (what other people glean from it). You really have no control over the second half of this process.
That said, the big stuff – the repeating themes like Death and the Maiden, the bridal symbolism, the parallels between Kylo and Rey themselves – that’s the stuff you plot out ahead of time. The stuff you sit down and purposely insert into the text, because you want your readers to notice. Stuff like this? The stuff I’ve talked about above? That’s intentional. It has purpose.
What do I think they mean when they said “Episode VIII will be weird”?
Kylo and Rey, basically. Distinctly Kylo and Rey, and their relationship with one another, because while the expanded Star Wars Universe had been full of Force Bonds and strained sexual tension, this has never happened in the movies. This has never happened with the stuff the general public consumes, and for them, this will be odd.
In the EU Sith seduce Jedi, and vice versa. And when I say seduce, I’m not exaggerating or using euphemisms – I mean they fuck. This overt sexuality between the two sides is nothing new for long-time fans, but for movie-only fans all they’ve ever seen is the asexual, very vanilla version of the “special relationship” that Sith and Jedi share. They’ve seen Vader VS. Luke, which was Father VS. Son. They’ve seen Anakin VS. Padme, which was horribly executed but supposed to represent Mother VS. Child (yes, you read that right. That’s the subtext). They’ve never seen Death and the Maiden, though – or at least the subversion of it. They’ve never seen Sith VS. Jedi at its most basic, and Death and the Maiden (as a concept) is a Very Different Thing from Father VS. Son and Mother VS. Child. It’s a very complicated, nuanced thing when combined with narrative sensuality, and its not bad VS. good or black VS. white. It’s not this ship or that or straight up fuckin’ like rabbits. It’s kinda grey, like this spot in the Force that both Kylo and Rey occupy, and whatever happens between them its not going to be a straightforward romance (I would be shocked if it was). Maybe this is also what the filmmakers mean when they things will get “dark”.
So we might see some encompassing, destructive passion between Kylo and Rey in Episodes VIII and IX. Instead of Kylo’s redemption, we might see an anti-hero who was so close to redemption fall fully from grace, which would make the moment all the more poignant and tragic. We could see Kylo’s odd fixation with Rey turn into a mutual obsession. Rey might be the one to fall, as they’ve already hinted that she and Kylo are two sides of the same coin, and she flirts with the Dark Side. Who knows? I do know that if Disney went this route, it would be a bold move for Star Wars movies (and I specify the movies, because EU has no qualms with this). It would be a brilliant move, on every level, and when JJ said this story was a villain’s arc as much as it was the hero’s one, I think this is what he was hinting at.
The Importance of Finn and the Malleability of Archetypes
So before I wrap all this up, I want to talk about Finn. I want to talk about him because he’s very important to the text and a good example on the malleability of archetypes (and how you can subvert them). While I’m fairly confident on the roles that Kylo and Rey will play, I’m not sure on Finn’s, and this is because his symbolism is multi-faceted. We don’t really know what role he’ll play in the Great Game of Archetypes, but we need to, because he’s a central character. What he does and says will change the way the script plays out.
Is Finn the Knight in Shining Armour, and Kylo the Dragon? Is Finn the one that will drag the princess – Rey – back towards the light after she’s fallen? I LIKE this idea, and it’s no accident that they give hints towards Finn’s romantic attachment to Rey throughout TFA. Nor is it an accident that they had Rey and Finn face off against Kylo together, because that scene could have been done with just Kylo and Rey and still retained the same emotional impact (see: Han’s death. Rey was already angry. She didn’t need another reason to fight him).
If we’re looking at this through the lens of archetypal symbolism, Finn picking up an unconscious Rey, then picking up the lightsaber to defend her – and Kylo’s furious scream of traitor afterwards (as he curls defensively over a crackling, spitting fire-sword that could be a stand-in for fire itself) – are all Very Important Things. Incredibly important things, because this scene is basically St. George and the Dragon
The scene was subverted, with Rey saving herself – which was great – but the set-up of it was very much the brave knight going to rescue his precious lady who has been snatched up by the fire-breathing monster. And Kylo is that monster, folks. The sulking, looming dragon that’s emerged from its den, ready to munch and crunch and chew its way through the pithy upstarts that dared to touch its coveted treasure. THAT is the subtext of that scene, from a Finn-as-knight-in-shining-armor perspective, and it’s an interesting one.
Or is Finn the Red Herring? Is Finn going to play the Luke-is-your-brother role in this, where the Episode VIII crew try to distract us with one pairing and then go nOPE, GUESS WAT. THESE TWO ARE TOGETHER INSTEAD.
Star Wars is known for this bait-and-switch, and the reason I’m pinning this on Finn instead of Kylo is that we don’t get the same sort of straightforward symbolism that we get with those two.
Kylo has a lot of symbolism behind him, but he’s basic as fuck, folks. He really is. There’s no subversion with his archetype, at least none that we’ve seen yet. We also don’t get the Bridal Scene with Finn, the parallels between Bastila and Revan, nor the themes of seduction and innocence from a monster in a mask. Those are unequivocally sexual archetypes threaded throughout the movie, and if pushed just a little bit further, incredibly erotic. If you’re knowingly going to pull a bait-and-switch, why would you do that with Rey’s brother? That said, there’s also a lot of romantic intent between Finn and Rey (at least from Finn’s side. We don’t know how Rey will feel in Episode VIII), and there’s no denying this attraction. So I don’t know? I don’t???
And before this becomes a huge issue/huge argument, let me state unequivocally that there is romantic tension between Finn and Rey. There’s great chemistry between them, and there are obvious signs throughout the movie that point towards Finnrey being A Thing. It’s in the comments about a potential boyfriend from Finn, and the blocking of the two characters on the stairs, when Finn’s about to leave. It’s in the scene in the infirmary, where Rey kisses Finn’s forehead and calls him “my friend.” And I’m willing to look at this scene through a romantic lens, because for Rey, friends are the biggest thing there is. They mean the world to her.
Now while I don’t think Rey is sexually attracted to anyone, either Kylo or Finn – and while I’m also willing to “accept” the argument that Rey may (currently) be friend-zoning Finn (in cinema, where you kiss someone says a lot) – this has less to do with Finn being Finn and more to do with Rey being a babe-in-the-woods and kinda oblivious to male attention. She’s been alone for most of her life, and its clear she has a hard time grasping the idea that people want to be around her as a friend, much less like that (which, by the way, makes the seduction-of-the-innocent all that more potent). I think Rey would be like this with everyone, given half a chance. Even Kylo, if he wasn’t breathing down her neck like a creep. He’s kind of too obvious in his intent to ignore, so she’s reacting to him differently.
And while Rey’s full feelings are ambiguous at the moment, its very, very clear that Finn means a lot to her, and Finn likes her back. So I don’t see these mutual feelings of affection going away anytime soon. They’ll probably grow (and I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if they ended up together).
I mean, Finn was her first friend. He came to rescue her when no one else had, and I can’t overstate how important this act is for her. Finn was also willing to take on what was essentially a Sith in her honor; a Sith who could and did fuck his shit up, and Finn worked in Sanitation on Starkiller. That is devotion right there, my friends, and it is beautiful. It is SO important, the subtext in this scene, and Finn’s actually a lot like young Luke in this sort of selfless compassion he exhibits towards Rey. But just like Luke he might be a distraction, so I can’t discount the possibility.
In the original trilogy we had a scene where Luke was injured and stuck in bed (just like Finn), and Leia kissed him. And not just on the forehead, either, but full on the lips. This kiss makes it look like they’re meant to be together – that they’re going to be each other’s romantic interest – and when I was five and saw it for the first time, I thought they were going to be together too. Only later, we find out that Leia is Luke’s sister. His sister. Like fuck. I’m not saying that Finn and Rey are siblings, but they might be using him as the bait-and-switch. And I’m not pinning this on Kylo, because to have another pair of brothers and sisters mackin’ out would be dumb, from a script writing level. Especially since you can’t really remove the sexual symbolism between them at this point.
Like why show that same setup again? Did you not hear how much the fans groaned about what was essentially another Death Star?
Or is Finn Luke Skywalker himself? Is Finn the Hero, and Rey the Red Herring? Will Finn be the newcomer who slowly learns the way of the Force, and through him brings good to the galaxy? Is he? wHAT is he?! The Knight in Shining Armour or the Romantic Interest, the False Lead of the Hero himself? Tell me, Disney, tELL me, or I’m going to keep on guessing and I’m really good at guessing and oNE of THESe dAYS I’M GOING TO GUESS RIGHT AND THEN YOUR BIG SECRET PLOT IS GOING TO BE OUT IN THE OPEN –
Anyways, all this is to say is that Finn is hard to pin down, symbolically, because there’s so many different options. Until we get a firmer grasp on those options, we don’t really know how Episode VIII will play out.
Where things could go wrong
They really could be related (even though I just said it was a dumb move to make)
And not just as cousins, but as brother and sister. Rey could be Kylo’s little sister – his baby sister, basically, with their age difference. That said, I don’t think this will happen. There are a lot of theories about Rey’s parentage floating around right now – a lot of interesting ones – but to be honest this theory has more plot holes than most, and we don’t really know enough about her to make one decision or another. The only reason I’m bringing this up is because there’s a precedent for this in Star Wars. As I’ve mentioned before, incest is kind of a thing.
There’s also another precedent for dark-VS-light siblings that I haven’t brought up before – the Solo twins Jacen and Jaina, from the Star Wars EU. Now in the Expanded Universe, Han and Leia have a pair of twins, instead of a son called Ben – the aforementioned Jacen and Jaina. Unfortunately Jacen (like Kylo) was taken by the Sith and turned to the dark side. He never gained redemption, and in the end Jaina was forced to kill him. Honestly it was pretty tragic, and yes, there’s a chance this story might go down that road. I’m also sure they’re combining elements of Jacen and Jaina and Bastila and Revan’s stories together when it comes to Rey and Kylo. That said, I can’t stress enough that I think the chances of them being brother and sister are very, very slim. Not only because the screenwriters have said they’ve never met before (and because the symbolism in the script doesn’t add up), but because this is Disney. They have a reputation to keep, and while they’re starting to expand their list of “what’s acceptable to show” (i.e. a black man a woman leading for Star Wars would have been unthinkable a decade ago, hello progress), I don’t think they will dip into full-on incest. I don’t think they’re gutsy enough to take the plunge. It would hurt their brand and their bottom line too much.
Or things could just be bad
Like really, really bad. All my predictions are based off the assumption that the screenwriters and production team involved are competent: that they know what they’re doing, and HOW they’re doing it, and they’re not just shooting blindly in the dark. If this isn’t the case, they could mess up Episode VIII as badly as The Prequels, and all of this symbolism could be for naught. We could be left with another Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones in levels of sheer cringe-worthy dialogue.
Try it. Try watching it without cringing. Try watching the whole thing. This is how bad it got.
My very conservative predictions (Or why Reylo will be canon, but not in the way you’d hoped)
There will be an “I am your father” moment in Episode VIII – and by that, I mean the same level of shock that the original reveal produced. This moment will either be about Rey’s background/identity, or Rey and Kylo’s relationship, specifically. Rey will become a much more grey character (remember, seduction of the innocent), while Finn and Kylo will veer out towards the Light and the Dark sides of the Force, respectively. All three of them will become an Avatar of each mindset by the end of the film. Each of them will come of age in their new roles that they occupy within the Star Wars universe.
I also don’t know where Poe fits into all of this (still), and we’re supposed to be getting another female character. I’m interested to see what position she’ll fill.
So by now – after the reams and reams of evidence I’ve provided, the visual context we see in the films, and the archetypal precedents we have backing this up – I think its safe to say that Kylo is heading off the emotional cliff when it comes to Rey. He wants her, and he wants her bad. He’s tenacious, and we see a propensity towards rage and impulsiveness in him, so when he does go after Rey, he’s probably going to do something really stupid to get her back. This will be tied into how the movies will be “weird,” and it will be tied into the “I’m your father” moment, and it will (probably) be a core component of Episode VIII. But this attachment will more than likely be one-sided.
Rey might end up with Finn, or she may end up alone, but I highly doubt she’ll end up with Kylo in the way people are hoping, because to be honest the symbolism behind her character is very, very fragile, and you could very easily fuck it up. Rey means a lot of things to a lot of people, and while you COULD pull off a romantic relationship between Kylo and her, I don’t think Disney will try. Right now the scenes between Rey and Kylo have sexual undertones, and those undertones are fairly non-abusive because Rey has agency. She wins every time they have a showdown. This offsets Kylo’s possessive, sexually aggressive attitude towards her. But if Rey gives in, if she falls for him and this possessive attitude isn’t corrected – if she loses – then everything in the subtext between them becomes kinda problematic.
And Rey is a hero. Rey is a hero to many, many little girls – the ones that are dressing up as Rey herself – and you can’t take that away from them. You really can’t. You shouldn’t be cruel. You can’t tell all those little girls who want to be a hero too that they can only be a hero if they have a boy they like, or if a boy likes them. You can’t tell those little girls dreaming of becoming Jedi or Sith or Storm Troopers that they can only be the center of their own story if it centers around a man, and what a man needs. Especially if this man is a possessive man, like Kylo is, who wants to keep you locked away, taking instructions from him. That’s literally what Kylo propositioned Rey with during the Final Fight, with the “you need a teacher” moment. I’m serious.
This sort of message is incredibly damaging to little girls (who will see this movie in droves, by the way). I should know because I was a little girl too once, who loved Star Wars, and I wanted to be a Sith Lord really badly. I wanted to be a Sith, but because I was a little girl and this was the 90s I was told no, you can’t do that. You can only be the princess, and only then if find a prince to kiss. It fucked me up. This sort of narrative will fuck up others too, if they’re too young to properly deconstruct the subtext. If they’re not old enough to see the nuance behind it.
So right now the only way I can see the Episode VIII team team making this dynamic work between Kylo/Rey is to have Rey being stronger than Kylo, consistently, or having them always poised as equals. They could possibly pull it off by having them on opposite ends of the Force spectrum – separated by different ideologies and driven to grief by being parted from one another. That would translate obsessive fixation into legitimate longing, which is An Okay Thing To Like (and show to the kids). But I digress.
Let me also clarify that even if Reylo is one-sided, this doesn’t mean Rey won’t feel anything for Kylo. As I pointed out before – and as it has been mentioned by others – this is a Death and the Maiden motif; the seduction of the innocent through erotic passion, and I’m pretty sure Rey will be tempted by Kylo, either sexually or spiritually (through the Force). Maybe she’ll be tempted by both. I’m not sure how far this temptation will go or where it will lead, but I do think it will be part of the movie. And just because I don’t see any way for Reylo to be together in their current context doesn’t mean that the screenwriters won’t do it. They might surprise me and pull it off, and they’ve certainly left themselves room to play with it. They wouldn’t have spent so much time and effort setting up these scenes, otherwise.
And there you go: how Kylo and Rey are Death and the Maiden, and one of the longest things you will ever read on this site.