Imagining a Better End to The Rise of Skywalker

Three fan-fiction writers dissect the divisive ending of the Disney trilogy—and the role of romance in the series.

Kylo Ren in <i>The Rise of Skywalker</i>
Many die-hard viewers are sensitive about Rey and Kylo’s relationship, though the reasons for that sensitivity vary depending on the diehard. (Disney)

This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Earlier this week, the actor John Boyega riled up Star Wars fans by pointing out that in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, love is rarely kind. “Star Wars romance 😗👀🙂,” he tweeted, along with images of Rey and Kylo Ren—the hero and (mostly) villain of Disney’s trilogy that just concluded—battling. In one picture from the latest film, The Rise of Skywalker, Daisy Ridley’s Rey stabs Adam Driver’s Kylo with a light saber.

The tweet’s effect on Star Wars fandom wasn’t unlike that of Princess Leia’s thermal detonator on Jabba’s palace. Many die-hard viewers are sensitive about Rey and Kylo’s relationship, though the reasons for that sensitivity vary depending on the diehard. Ever since Darth Vader’s grandson invaded the mind of the scavenger from Jakku in 2015’s The Force Awakens, some fans have “shipped”—slang for fixating on a hypothetical relationship—the idea of Reylo, a.k.a. Rey and Kylo, getting together and bringing balance to the Force. Other fans have argued for the fiercely independent heroine and the murderous man-child not to hook up, for the reasons hinted at in the Boyega tweet. Vocal contingents of both fan factions are critical of The Rise of Skywalker’s resolution: Kylo turns back to good, reclaims the name Ben Solo, helps Rey kill Emperor Palpatine, kisses Rey, and then immediately dies.

In 2016, I interviewed the authors of a few lengthy and widely read fan-fiction works shipping Reylo after The Force Awakens. When 2017’s The Last Jedi showed Rey and Kylo telepathically communicating and then teaming up to kill the evil Supreme Leader Snoke, I spoke again with three of those authors to hear what they thought about the series seeming to head in a Reylo direction. Earlier this week, I interviewed them once more, and they shared their decidedly less-than-jazzed reactions to The Rise of Skywalker—as well as larger thoughts on Star Wars, redemption, and how fan fiction can help viewers cope with the end of the saga.

Rosie and Ricca are the pen names of the authors of the fan fiction Interstellar Transmissions, and Lex is the online alias of the author of Forms. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

Spencer Kornhaber: As people who have been rooting for Reylo for a while, what did you think of the way Rise of Skywalker handled Rey and Kylo’s relationship?

Rosie: I don’t know if you can accurately say that any of us was rooting for Reylo. I’m not saying that we weren’t. I don’t think any of us would say that what we have written, or what most of the Reylo fandom writes about, is good, healthy, happy relationships that we should idolize. Is that safe to say?

Lex: I agree. It is that mess. A very toxic sort of relationship.

Rosie: I don’t think that any of us were surprised that there was what a lot of people are calling “Reylo endgame.” Everything had it set up to happen in some capacity. I think they did it bad. I think they could have gone worse … But I don’t think any of us were psyched with this one.

Ricca: It was a profoundly dissatisfying iteration on the idea of Reylo. Okay, yes, they kiss on-screen. Which is somehow less meaningful than the angry looks, or the reaching out, the hand touches [of the previous movies]. Then having it end there, with Ben Solo dying, redeemed kind of, is unsatisfying.

Rosie: There is a piece from the Tumblr user Star Wars Nonsense called, “Why the ending of The Rise of Skywalker hurts you so damn much right now,” about how there’s no catharsis at the end of the film. There’s some setup for catharsis, but the death of Kylo/Ben is unsatisfying because we have some buildup to it—the Reylo kiss, the Force dyad—and then one of them immediately dies.

Rey doesn’t get to debrief with anybody. Man, if only the Rebel base had therapists: “Hey this person, my nearly lover, this not-quite-anything-but-still-incredibly-important-and-intimate-relationship-that-I-had-and-based-everything-to-some-degree-on is gone.” Maybe BB-8’s her therapist. Maybe she’s going to go into Owen and Berru’s abandoned yurt and talk to BB-8 about her feelings. But we don’t get to have a catharsis through Rey, because Rey is not allowed to have any catharsis.

Kornhaber: Do you think the film understood why you, and other people, felt like Rey and Kylo had something together? Did it get their chemistry?

Ricca: A little bit, but not compared to the first one, which J. J. [Abrams] also wrote and directed, which is very confusing to me. Maybe they didn’t have space for it and it was cut.

Rosie: It’s not like these things happen by accident. Reylos have clung to this forever: There is no reason that J. J. Abrams made Adam Driver take off his helmet like that in The Force Awakens and filmed him like a pillow-lipped, dewy-eyed space sex prince. Like, it was all so intentional. Then Rian Johnson gave us sexy Force Skype with Adam Driver looking like a goddamned beefcake.

Lex: Fridge.

Rosie: Then here, except for the kiss scene—Daisy and Adam, they did very well with what they were given—I didn’t feel a spark. Maybe that was editing. Could have been writing. But the tension, connection, and emotion that comes through in the Force Skyping in The Last Jedi did not exist in this film.

Ricca: It might not be there because they didn’t give it enough time. You can’t sow that tension when you’re doing quick cuts every 30 seconds. You need the long lingering shots of them gazing at each other. You need those micro-expressions that both of those actors are really good at.

Lex: I think the issue with that is that the Force bond didn’t get expanded on. Instead it got used as special effects. They chose to go that route instead of expanding the Force bond and deepening it.

Ricca: Well, they made it more powerful in this movie for sure. ’Cause they’re passing stuff back and forth, and that is a huge power. But it’s not an interesting, meaningful, interpersonal one. Putting too much weight on interpersonal relationships, Star Wars has never really been a franchise that does that. It’s there, but a lot of the expansion comes from the books and the fan community.

Rosie: But we got more of that expansion in The Last Jedi because they were allowed to have conversations. Where in this film, it was quick; it was quippy. There weren’t real conversations. The Force bond becomes more powerful, but it doesn’t become more deep. That can be said of the Force overall in this movie.

Lex: It has about the depth of a teaspoon, this movie.

Kornhaber: What about the handling of Kylo’s redemption? I know that’s something you had to think through in your stories.

Ricca: Star Wars again and again shows that the way you redeem yourself is through death. That was a huge part of the story we wrote: We didn’t want to do that. It’s cheap. It’s unfair. And it really doesn’t give you anywhere to go from there. The common conception is that Darth Vader was redeemed by killing Palpatine in his last moments, and maybe the same holds true for his grandson. But that’s not fixing the things that you did. That’s not making amends. That’s not making the world a better place—except in the very immediate sense that someone even worse than you is dead, maybe, maybe not. Is Darth Vader still redeemed if he didn’t actually kill Palpatine?

Rosie: Letting someone die is so final. It’s like, Here’s your get-out-of-jail-free card. You’re dead, but you also don’t have to pay for your crimes. We’ve seen it not just with Anakin, but we’ve seen it in other pieces of media as well: The heroic sacrifice, that’s what makes you a hero. Ricca and I really tried to focus, in the pieces we wrote, on, “Your actions make you a hero. Not your death.”

Lex: I think in the 15 minutes that Kylo had for a redemption arc—start the clock when he can see Han Solo and get closure with his father—Adam Driver does more emoting with body language than I thought he could cover in two hours. It was a master class in body language. He became Ben Solo. He became the scoundrel’s son. That was my favorite part.

Rosie: I think you’re right, and that’s total kudos to Adam Driver and to J.J. or whoever was directing those scenes. When it came to the writing, I would have loved to have had a conversation: people talking to each other about their feelings. But there was no time.

Kornhaber: What did you think of where Rey landed at the end? There had been a lot of excitement around Star Wars having a female protagonist. Do you think she lived up to the promise of her character?

Ricca: No. She doesn’t get a resolution. There’s a climax, but she doesn’t get to react really to anything that happened to her. So how can you call it an arc if it doesn’t end? She doesn’t have a purpose or a place in the world. The movie closes with her alone with the comic-relief robot, which is really not the same.

Rosie: Also, not her droid.

I feel like there has to be so much more. Imagine being in that space. Being on Tatooine, a place that you’ve never been but is kind of like where you grew up. Alone. After this incredibly catastrophic and traumatic experience. Also you’ve lost what we’ve been led to believe is the other side of the Force dyad—someone who’s been inside her head. There’s no resolution there. So I think that’s disappointing.

Kornhaber: I’ve seen criticism of the movie that argues it’s akin to “fan fiction” and that is has too much fan service. As fans and fan-fiction writers, how do you react to that?

Lex: I’ve seen fan fiction better than that, with better resolution for all of the characters.

Rosie: I don’t necessarily know what they would be talking about when they say it’s fan service, because as far as I’ve seen, none of the fans really felt serviced by this.

Ricca: I think that the comparisons to fan fiction are because the two characters kiss at the end after having this whole thing played up. Honestly, fan fiction would have done it better. Fan fiction has done it better. And [almost] every single Star Wars movie has a kiss in it. Because all these movies are about the love between two individuals. Except for the spin-off movies. I haven’t seen The Mandalorian.

Rosie: The Mandalorian, from what I understand, is a love story between a man and a baby Yoda. It’s all about family. And how no matter what, if you’re adopted by a Mandalorian, then you get to be a Mandalorian, and that’s the dream.

Ricca: Okay, that’s cool. I don’t think that takes away from the point that all of these stories have a romantic story, and then it’s got the space battles and the laser swords.

Rosie: Saying it was fan service-y was on the money. That’s what sequels are. That’s what franchises are. Do we need as many Marvel movies as we have? Absolutely not. Do we keep making Marvel movies, because people will go see them? Yes we do. Did we need Chewbacca to get a medal in this one? No we didn’t. But did we want it? Yeah. It made people feel nice.

But saying it was “like a fan fiction” because people didn’t like it, or because it was sloppily written, is a real disservice to the incredible amount of work that people put into the fan works they create. They don’t make any money off of it. They do it because they want to play in this incredible world that we all want to play in. That’s why we go see the movies.

Kornhaber: Are you still going with any Star Wars fanfic?

Lex: There’s a renaissance that’s happened because of this film: The Rise of Skywalker “fix-it” fics. Essentially where writers are giving their own ending.

Rosie: Including you …

Lex: Yeah. But it’s really profound to see people that want to make a better story out of it than what we were given.

Rosie: There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of better endings that people are writing. Or maybe not even better. But different endings. I haven’t personally been writing any of it. One of the great things about starting to write when The Force Awakens came out was there was so much we didn’t know. Not that the people who are creating now are not creating amazing things, but it felt for me personally like there was more to explore after the first film.

Lex: It was a whole new world at that point.

Ricca: It was really something, when it started off, that I felt like I didn’t choose to do. The chemistry and the dynamic between the two characters really hit something deep with me. It just poured out. We were publishing a chapter a day.

Rosie: I got a Tumblr message the other day that was like, “My friend sent me your story and I read it in three days. This is the hopeful ending that we wanted after The Rise of Skywalker.” It felt really good to have been able to be a space where people could feel that, because they didn’t feel that coming out of this film. That’s so true of fan works in general. They can be the spaces where people can create the stories that they need.