“Enemies, but complicated enemies”
Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship
The Last Jedi has been criticised by some feminist fans for Rey and Kylo Ren’s storyline. Through Rey, the film asks us to sympathize with Kylo, and some fans argue that the film is telling us to excuse Kylo’s actions, in the same way we are told domestic abusers and mass shooters are actually good people. If The Last Jedi tells us to have the same response to a fictionalized neo-Nazi, it perpetuates real harms.
However, The Last Jedi is actually critical of this phenomenon. It’s true that we are often asked to sympathize with young, violent white men, but what we are really being told is that being sympathetic excuses wrongdoing. The Last Jedi, by contrast, fleshes out Kylo Ren’s sympathetic character, but refuses to excuse his actions because of these qualities.
In this paper, I track Rey and Kylo’s relationship, looking at how Kylo is an unreliable narrator, how Rey responds to what she learns from Kylo and Luke, and how the lessons Rey learns parallel the lessons learned by the other protagonists. Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi positions Kylo as being like violent men in real life. Rey’s response to him is important, therefore, because she is teaching young women how to respond to their friends, family, or boyfriends. Like them, Kylo Ren may have good qualities, but he shows no signs of moral improvement. Rey may affirm Kylo Ren’s humanity, but she does not fail to see him as an enemy to be fought.
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