Warning: full spoilers ahead for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker!With the Star Wars sequel trilogy now concluded with The Rise of Skywalker, fans everywhere now know how Rey and Kylo Ren’s story comes to a close. Those who have long shipped "Reylo" and yearned to see "Bendemption" finally saw it happen, but the film doesn't quite do the work to earn those moments, and forcing these issues highlights how profound the thematic disconnect between TROS and its predecessors. What started out as a compelling dynamic between protagonist and antagonist in the The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was unfortunately derailed in the last act, delivering an unsatisfying conclusion to Rey and Kylo Ren's relationship.
A Knight and a Scavenger
Even before we learn exactly how they will be connected, The Force Awakens portrays Rey and Kylo as diametrically opposed. Both are introduced wearing masks, yet Rey’s lasts for barely a minute while Kylo doesn’t take his off until two thirds through. Rey is a scavenger on a backwater planet, scraping by on her own skills to survive, while Kylo is a major leader in an autocratic military organization about to achieve dominance in the galaxy, a position he secured via his connection to his grandfather, Darth Vader. Setting aside how we now know the story ends, as initially presented in TFA, Rey is from nowhere and Kylo is our heir apparent to the Skywalker name.We understand by the midpoint of the movie that Kylo has a familial connection to all three of the Original Trilogy heroes, and yet he has inherited none of their heroism. Rey, meanwhile, has everything to gain from selling BB-8 and doesn’t, and within seconds of learning his importance to the Resistance is ready to put herself on the line for it. Rey looks to Han Solo as a potential father figure; Kylo cuts him down because he’s his actual father. Their opposing views are even literalized by the massive canyon that tears them apart after their duel in the snow. But there is something that does connect their characters in this film beyond their strength in the Force: their fascination with mythic iconography. Rey, a starry-eyed collector of Star Wars memorabilia (she lives in an AT-AT!), and Kylo, a vindictive child who prays to the burnt husk of Vader’s helmet. Both of them are children of the OT’s legacy, but one pulled to the Light, the other drawn to the Dark.They spend all of The Force Awakens and most of The Last Jedi being enemies, and as presented on paper in all three films, there’s simply not enough build-up to sell the romance that the final film wants to go for. Not even The Rise of Skywalker fully commits to this concept, because the first half of the film is so focused on Rey’s struggle with her burgeoning Dark Side power, and her big team-up with Ben at the end is cut short because the movie also wants to get to the “all the Jedi live in you” finale, which Ben has nothing to do with. Perhaps moving towards a romance in Episode IX was always the plan, but the way it’s realized here, what’s supposed to be their heartfelt final moments together are lacking the emotional weight they needed.
A Shattered Alliance
Before we ever hear the term “Force Dyad” from Palpatine, The Last Jedi effectively communicates that Rey and Kylo are intrinsically linked just as much as they are fundamentally opposed. The connection Snoke forges between their minds through the Force gives us some of the film’s best scenes, and it’s understandable why they are drawn to each other after Rey’s journey into the Dark Side cave. After learning what might have been the worst possible answer to the driving question of her own existence, Rey lays her cards on the table. “I’ve never felt so alone.” Her emotional vulnerability is conducive to her reaching out to Kylo, a man who feels just as dejected by his origin story as she does by hers, and to mistakenly believing that she can turn him to the Light just as much as he hopes to seduce her to the Dark.This tension (of multiple varieties) explodes in the throne room, with a lightsaber battle against the Praetorian Guards that glistens with passion and rage. The Light and the Dark, for a dazzling moment, unified in purpose. Yet when the battle ends, both of them believed they’ve won the other to their side. Rey begs for Kylo to tell the First Order to stop firing at the Resistance shuttles, and Kylo asks her to take his hand and help him rule the galaxy. Neither of them have changed. They are still opposing forces, and they once again pull apart, literally tearing the Skywalker saber in two during their struggle. Rey accepts her place as the last Jedi, while Kylo doubles down on his darkness by assuming the mantle of Supreme Leader. At the end of the film, even though they briefly united, they end with Rey closing the door on him. If anything, The Last Jedi reinforces their disparate nature rather than subverting it.The Force connection they share is exploited further in The Rise of Skywalker, but rather than being used to explore their dynamic, it’s used more for the sake of spectacle. Consider how small moments of physical exchange in TLJ (some drops of water materializing on Kylo’s hand) are replaced with lightsaber duels happening in multiple locations. Cool? Sure. But the deeper meaning of why this bond was even established feels subdued here, particularly when Rey and Kylo destroy Vader’s helmet, not in a conscious cooperative act, but accidentally mid-battle. The thematic coherence of this aspect of their relationship feels lost in the chaos of the film’s frantic plotting and roller coaster pacing.
A Broken Promise
But with two major plot turns, The Rise of Skywalker tries to get Rey and Kylo back on the path towards not just reconciliation, but romance.The first is the reveal that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, which once again sends Rey into an existential crisis about her parentage, but this time saddling her with the same issue Kylo had: a grandparent on the Dark Side. Now her bloodline does matter, and it's no coincidence that Kylo is the one who reveals this information to her. After all, he is a tragic example of how the weight of an important lineage can turn someone to the Dark Side — and now Rey is being crushed by it. While the attempt to create another mirror between the two makes sense in theory, it comes at the cost of being completely divorced from Rey’s character journey in the last two films. The shape of her own destiny she forged across the trilogy, the idea that her origins don’t need to define her capabilities, is destroyed. Becoming the Light Side’s new hero despite “having no place in this story” was powerful. Revealing that she did have a place in it all along feels like a shortcut to ensure Rey has another connection to Kylo rather than a natural evolution.The second is Kylo’s rushed redemption arc, which makes no sense in the context it appears in. After Rey and Kylo's duel on the Death Star wreckage, a defeated Kylo gets another chance to turn to the Light with some help from the memory of his father, and this time he takes it. However, nothing that has happened to Ben in the previous movies or this one indicates that this would turn him. His opinion of his father hasn’t changed in any way since he murdered him, and his mother reaching out to him through the Force sadly falls flat given that they haven’t shared any scenes across the whole trilogy. Rey says she wanted to “take Ben’s hand” after healing him, and while that is an effective call-back to TLJ that could possibly get him to reconsider his morality, it also feels like a small piece of what should’ve been a larger arc across the movie. Instead, everything related to Ben’s turn has been shoved into this one scene. It’s not enough to communicate why, after all the horrific things he’s done, now is the moment he is redeemed.Rather than getting us invested in an ending that felt thematically connected to the previous films or even coherent on its own terms, The Rise of Skywalker shuffles its pieces to get where it wants to go without justifying how it gets there. Ben joins Rey in her duel with Palpatine, running in with his father’s blaster, and all of his darkness is simply washed away. The idea of their connection being based on how they were representations of the Light and Dark Sides, how one came from nothing to become the last hope for the Light while the other was born from the Skywalker legacy and still turned to the Dark, is tossed aside. After such a strong first two acts, Rey and Kylo deserved a better conclusion, one that truly solidified the emotional bond these two characters were supposed to share.Midway through TROS, Rey says “People keep telling me they know me. I’m afraid no one does.”Maybe she was right.
Carlos Morales writes novels, articles and Mass Effect essays. You can follow his fixations on Twitter.