If you told me five years ago that the one fictional romantic pairing I couldn’t tolerate would become one of my favorites, and that I’d be writing scholarly articles on how they actually follow one of my favorite storytelling themes…I would’ve laughed in your face.

Yet here I am. The year is 2020, this my second post for the Everything Star Wars Blogathonand I’m welcoming you to my little corner of the Internet for an in-depth discussion about how Reylo–the romantic pairing of Rey Skywalker and Ben Solo (formerly known as Kylo Ren)–follows the time-honored motif known as “The Search for the Lost Husband”…but doesn’t follow the one known as “Death and the Maiden.”

THE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS DEAFENING WITH THESE TWO. (@ Pinterest, but probably originated on Tumblr)

First, one distinction and one clarification (because I am all about distinctions and clarifications):

  1. I do not want Rey to be with Kylo Ren. I want Rey to be with Ben Solo. There is a difference.  
  2. Just because you enjoy a fictional romance DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN you yourself want to live out that particular story in your own love life.

Number One is more critical to my point, but I figured I’d better mention Number Two before someone accuses me of wanting my own version of Rey Skywalker’s…ahem…tumultuous love life.

Long ago and far away, I hated the very idea of “Reylo.” Rey became one of my favorite heroines of all time as soon as I met her in The Force Awakens. I couldn’t bear the idea of her ending up with anyone who didn’t deserve her, and in my fiercely-protective, motherly opinion, Kylo Ren was as far from deserving “my Cupcake Princess” as he possibly could be.

But then I saw The Rise of Skywalker, and my mindset changed…to a certain extent. I still did not want my beloved Rey to end up with the Supreme Leader. What I did want–desperately–was for her to finally be with the man she always believed he could be: the hero he finally became in the end.

(*cries in Reylo*)

After delving into the mythological and literary influences behind Star Wars this year, I’ve realized it was only a matter of time before I fell for Rey and Ben. For one thing, I’ve always had an OTP type: “Tragic, Haunted Dude + Kind, Headstrong Girl.” Rey and Ben fit in quite nicely with the likes of Victoria and Melbourne, Beren and Luthien, the Doctor and Clara, and Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

But their story also mirrors three other favorite romances of mine: Belle and the Beast, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and Eros and Psyche. In their own ways, these stories all carry the redemptive themes of “The Search for the Lost Husband.”

“I have for the first time found what I can truly love: I have found you.” –Jane Eyre

According to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Tale Type Index–a vast catalogue of the different types (and sub-types) of fairytales–“The Search for the Lost Husband” motif includes these elements, among others (which are just as fascinating for our purposes today):

  1. a man trapped under a villain/villainess’ beastly enchantment
  2. a compassionate heroine who falls in love with him (and may even marry him)
  3. her quest to find and/or rescue her lover/husband
  4. a happy ending where the heroine finally breaks the enchantment trapping her one true love

You can see lots of Beauty and the Beast parallels here, though the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche is most likely the source for all later variations. Jane Eyre is another great example. Even if Charlotte Brontë didn’t set out with this particular motif in mind, her revolutionary masterpiece features a principled heroine, a disillusioned (“beastly”) anti-hero, a reunion after a tragic but morally necessary separation, and a happy ending full of repentance and renewal.

But notice that in Beauty and the Beast, Jane Eyre and even Eros and Psychethe happy ending really only comes once the “beasts” change of their own free will. The Beast selflessly allows Belle to leave his castle. Mr. Rochester repents of his dissolute ways long before Jane returns to him. Even Eros defies his mother Aphrodite, possibly for the first time, and rushes to save his beloved Psyche.

Belle, Jane, and Psyche have a profound effect on their men; they “loosen” the enchantments and show them a way out. But the Beast, Rochester, and Eros have to take that final, irrevocable step themselves. They must forsake their own selfishness and spite before they can ever be completely free.

“…there must be something there that wasn’t there before.”

One can argue Ben Solo is “under a beastly enchantment” for most of his story. This does not excuse him from any responsibility whatsoever. I would never argue that. But we do know Palpatine targeted him from the time he was in his mother’s womb; he was tempted and tormented until he finally gave in to the Darkness of his own free will. Yet goodness and light never stop chasing him, hence his constant state of feeling trapped and “torn apart.”

Enter Rey, stage right: a beacon of Light if ever there was one, and the first person who sees the conflict in him and actually understands it enough to fight it well. Rey doesn’t just loosen the enchantment: she rattles it. But it doesn’t break away entirely until Ben Solo makes the decision, for himself, to turn away from the Dark and join her in the Light.

“…with the blood of a scoundrel and a princess in his veins, his defiance will shake the stars.”

Now let’s look briefly at how this compares with the “Death and the Maiden” motif. This classical trope finds its roots in another ancient myth, that of Hades and Persephone. According to Wikipedia, it primarily features “a young woman being seized by a personification of Death,” and one immensely popular variation of this tale (which I do love) would be The Phantom of the Opera. 

Rey and Ben’s story definitely features a few details of this motif. In the ancient myth, Hades kidnaps Persephone and carries her down to the Underworld in his black chariot; in The Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom takes Christine to his underground lair where he tempts her, coaxes, and intimidates her. Similarly, Kylo kidnaps Rey in The Force Awakens, carrying her aboard his black shuttle–while in The Last Jedi, he asks Rey to be his Empress aboard the Supremacy, a massive ship with lots of hellish vibes.

“This haunted face holds no horror for me now / It’s in your soul that the true distortion lies.”–The Phantom of the Opera

But here’s where “Death and the Maiden” breaks down in the Reylo story. Unlike Persephone or even Christine (until the very last moment), Rey has agency, and she uses it. She fights Kylo Ren every step of the way, yet she fights for Ben. She refuses to give in to the Darkness even when it’s most tempting and consistently appeals to Ben’s conscience. She knows he’s still in there, deep down. As a result of her influence (according to the Rise of Skywalker novelization), even he has to admit that “Rey [is] his light.” She is his true north, leading him home. He is the one who can’t resist her–not the other way around.

Which is why, once again, I believe the Reylo story is ultimately a “Search for the Lost Husband” tale. At the end of the day it’s a story of redemption and restoration, not captivity and temptation.

The hand-touch that launched…(*checks the Archive of Our Own stats*)…23,000 fanfics.

I know this is all a bit controversial, and not everyone sees it the way I do…but WOW, I had a lot of fun writing this! There are many, many podcasts and articles that articulate these things in even greater depth, but getting to explain why I became a Reylo convert (which also explains why I write happily-ever-after AU fanfic, hehehe), and how it tickles so many of my storytelling fancies has been amazing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

And once again, Eva-Joy and Katie Hanna, THANK YOU for hosting the Everything Star Wars Blogathon!

5 Comments on “Tale As Old as a Galaxy Far Away (Star Wars Blogathon #2!)

  1. Oh wow, sooooooooooo much juicy mythological content in this post!!! I Love 😀

    I learned a lot here–I actually didn’t know either of these terms, “Search for the Lost Husband” OR “Death and the Maiden.” And reading your post helped me understand why I don’t like most “Search for the Lost Husband” stories: Jane & Rochester, Eros & Psyche, and so on. Even most iterations of Beauty & the Beast! It’s just not a trope that suits me, because as a general rule, I’m actually … strongly repelled by … the dynamic of the heroine who helps redeem the hero. *shifty eyes* *giggles*

    I can definitely understand why it’s emotionally compelling and symbolically & allegorically beautiful, I’m just like “NOPE” because it’s so far removed from what I want for my own life. Which pretty much dictates what I want to see in fiction, because I have ZERO filter between fiction and reality. #I know #I’m odd 😛

    So why do I love Ben/Rey ANYWAYS, even though it clearly belongs to the “Search for the Lost Husband” trope? I, um, don’t know? *scratches head* I’ll have to think about that a lot more … It definitely seems to be an exception & not the rule, though, in terms of romance-dynamics-I-enjoy.

    I loved reading your post so much. I feel so Educated and Scholarly now. Catch me throwing around academic literary terms like I know what I’m talking about 😉 😉

    Thank you SO much for participating, Maribeth! I’m so glad you had fun–it was a delight to party with you! ❤

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    • So that’s actually one of the things that I find so fascinating about the “Search for the Lost Husband” motif: the heroine is an instrument in the hero’s redemption, but she isn’t ALWAYS the deciding factor—at least not in the stories I mentioned! There’s a distinct, powerful moment where the hero decides to turn away from his dark path. It’s not necessarily what I‘d choose for my own life (hence my clarification at the beginning, haha), but if the Lord called me to a *considerably*-less dramatic version where I might be some instrument of healing or comfort, I would definitely see this sort of story as an inspiration!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! And thank y’all for hosting this party! I can’t wait to delve into all the different articles and meet some new Star Wars friends 😍

      Like

      • No, I definitely see what you’re saying there! I can see how different versions of this story (the Search for the Lost Husband) would appeal to different people, or how some version of it could play out in real life. And I think that could be sweet if it happened to you in a calmer sort of way 😉

        To me, though, the entire motif is just something that EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING goes “NOPE” to, on a highly visceral level.

        It is very odd that I love Ben/Rey despite all that … hmmmmmmm … what are you up to there, brain? We Have Questions. 😛

        Yes, yes, yes!! So many new Star Wars friends! 😀 ❤

        Like

  2. You just made me realize… I write almost nothing EXCEPT The Search for the Lost Husband books. That’s a theme I clearly love, believe in, and cherish, a sort of throwback to the medieval notion of women being pure and man changing to become worthy of them. There’s a strong theme of moralistic women vs. more carnal and selfish men in my books — and their purity influencing the man to choose goodness for himself. Who knew?

    I love Jane Eyre for that exact reason — Jane’s purity and goodness, her refusal to debase herself for him, changed him into a better person. And I love PotO for that reason — Christine’s pure and selfless love for Raoul allows Erik to see what true love looks like, and embrace it in releasing her from his captivity. And I loved Reylo from the start, because I had a hint that’s what would unfold (and it did, it made me little heart overflow with happiness).

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