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 Blogathon, and 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.”
First, one distinction and one clarification (because I am all about distinctions and clarifications):
- I do not want Rey to be with Kylo Ren. I want Rey to be with Ben Solo. There is a difference.
- 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.
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.”
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):
- a man trapped under a villain/villainess’ beastly enchantment
- a compassionate heroine who falls in love with him (and may even marry him)
- her quest to find and/or rescue her lover/husband
- 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 Psyche, the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Ahhh, Star Wars…my problematic yet lovable fairytale in space! It’s been part in my life for as long as I can remember. Long before I first watched the movies, I spent hours playing with my cousin’s Leia and Padmè action figures and even performed the Opening Fanfare with my piano class one year. But not until I was 20 did I see the Original Trilogy–and I enjoyed it so much, it inspired me to write my first (now trunked) novel. Then in 2015 I adopted Rey as one of my favorite heroines of all time…and in 2019, she and Ben Solo singlehandedly pulled me out of the worst writing slump I’d had in years.
There’s so much I love about Star Wars–its unique blend of science-fiction and fantasy, its mythological elements, its characters. But as soon as Eva-Joy and Katie Hanna announced the Everything Star Wars Blogathon, I knew the first thing I wanted to write was a tribute to John Williams and his epic soundtracks.
Thanks to the incredible “What the Force” podcast, I’ve learned quite a bit about Williams and his influence on Star Wars. Not only has he told the story through his music just as much as the writers and actors have, but he transformed modern filmmaking with his leitmotifs (recurring musical themes) and epic, sweeping scores.
I could wax eloquent on themes we all know and love, like the Opening Fanfare, “Duel of the Fates,” or Rey’s Theme. Today, however, I’m highlighting a few of the lesser-known but absolutely brilliant tracks. A few of them may still be a little more familiar, especially if you listen to a lot of Star Wars music–but I did try to think outside the box! I’ve also included links to each track so you can listen to them yourself 🙂
“Anakin’s Theme” (The Phantom Menace)
Let’s start off with a nice juicy helping of tragedy right off the bat. Anakin Skywalker is introduced as a round-faced, irrepressible little boy, the very picture of childhood innocence and resilience. His gentle, classical-sounding theme seems to reflect this…until the lilting melody descends into the forebodingly martial tune the world first heard in A New Hope: the Imperial March. It’s an appropriate touch for a prequel trilogy where, in many ways, you know exactly how things will end right at the beginning.
“The Meadow Picnic” (The Attack of the Clones)
Everyone knows “Across the Stars,” Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala’s haunting, beautiful love theme…but in my humble opinion, this less-familiar piece is just as magical. The middle of the track features a brighter, almost playful version of “Across the Stars,” and while there are some darker melodies threaded into the track, it does reflect the more lighthearted side of Anakin and Padmè’s doomed romance.
“The Birth of the Twins & Padme’s Destiny” (The Revenge of the Sith)
Similarly, everyone talks about how John Williams went all out for Obi-Wan and Anakin’s duel in the lava fields of Mustafar…but what about the absolutely heart-wrenching music during Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, the births of Luke and Leia, and Padmé’s death? A dark, chanting chorus rises in intensity against a feeble but stubbornly persistent Force theme, underlining the apparent triumph of Emperor Palpatine over the Chosen One.
“Ben’s Death & TIE Fighter Attack” (A New Hope)
I admit, it was hard finding a track for A New Hope that was distinctive, but not so famous that it’d feel like a cop-out. I suspect my difficulty arose from the simple fact that the universe, themes, and characters of Star Wars were still very much in development, and both George Lucas and John Williams were still mastering their craft. It just wasn’t as rich yet. That said, this is definitely a good track: you go from the swelling, almost melodramatic strains of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death to the all-guns-blazing Millennium Falcon theme as it evades Imperial pursuers.
“The Duel” (The Empire Strikes Back)
Okay, this one may be somewhat on the “more famous” side–but guys, it is just GOOD MOVIE MUSIC. “The Duel” is from the scene where Darth Vader reveals the Big Whopping Truth to Luke–the Big Whopping Truth that still sends millions if not billions of jaws crashing to the floor. The Imperial March is fantastically dark and triumphant and the brass section is having an absolute field day…until Leia and Lando swoop in with the Falcon!! And they rescue Luke!!! And the whole mood of the piece changes!!!! And it’s all just…(*chef’s kiss*)…ABSOLUTELY EPIC.
“Leia’s News/Light of the Force” (The Return of the Jedi Original Soundtrack)
So apparently this track isn’t on the new remastered soundtracks, and I’m not sure why???? But this is the music from two different scenes: when Leia merrily assures Han that Luke is her brother and not a love interest (thus making certain memories of The Empire Strikes Back a bit icky for the rest of us), and when Luke burns Darth Vader’s armor. This track, in my opinion, features the most intensely emotional rendition of the Force theme–which is very appropriate for Anakin’s redemptive end.
“The Abduction” (The Force Awakens)
I dithered back and forth between this one or “Kylo Ren Arrives at the Battle”–but I finally chose “The Abduction” because, according to musician and Star Wars enthusiast Felicia Wisniewski, Williams likely “quotes” Tchaikovsky’s famous Romeo and Juliet Overture in the moment when Han spots Kylo carrying Rey into his ship. Since Williams is so heavily influenced by classical music, it wouldn’t shock me at all if he did this on purpose. I also love the strained, desperate version of Rey’s theme at the end of this track…and the way it ends on an unresolved note.
“The Spark” (The Last Jedi)
The Last Jedi is one of the richest, most emotional of the Star Wars soundtracks, and “The Spark” is a great example of this. As Luke Skywalker (apparently) arrives on Crait to help Leia and the Resistance, the track starts off with a somber version of the Force theme…then transitions into Luke and Leia’s gentle theme…then slips into Han and Leia’s love theme as Luke gives her the Falcon‘s golden dice. (*cries softly*) And then, rather abruptly, the music rallies and intensifies, growing aggressive and defiant as Luke walks out alone to give Kylo Ren the finest slap-down the galaxy has ever seen.
“Parents” & Coming Together” (The Rise of Skywalker “For Your Consideration” Soundtrack)
I chose two for The Rise of Skywalker and I will not apologize, because these two tracks go together like, well, “two halves of the same protagonist.” (*wink*) You won’t find them on the official soundtrack, but the reason is delightfully obvious: The Rise of Skywalker soundtrack came out before the film, and if we’d heard a heroic version of Kylo Ren’s theme followed by a romantic, twinkly Force Theme before we saw the movie, we would’ve been spoiled. But you can listen to “Parents” and “Coming Together” on the nearly-complete soundtrack submitted for the score’s Oscar nomination! These glorious pieces of music are, of course, from Rey and Ben’s final Force connection…the scene that left me, an anti-Reylo for four straight years, slack-jawed and starry-eyed.
And thus concludes my first post for the Everything Star Wars Blogathon! I hope you enjoy listening to these musical selections–and I’d love to hear your thoughts/favorite tracks, as well. Be sure to check Eva-Joy and Katie Hanna‘s sites for links to other blogs participating in this event–and stay tuned for my second post on Saturday where I nerd out over the classical and mythical connections to Reylo, the OTP that launched a thousand fanfics.
Oh yes indeedy, it’s gonna be fun 😉