SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Star Wars Shadow Council, “a website and blog dedicated to following the continuing Star Wars mythos,” has made the claim that the story between Kylo Ren and Rey in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker promotes and “romanticizes abuse and assault against women” based on an interpretation of the film as seen through the lens of one specific book on domestic abuse.
On December 20th, Star Wars Shadow Council published a post by guest contributor ‘Emily,’ who also goes by the Twitter handle of ‘@reys_speeder’, titled “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Glorifies Abuse and Assault Against Women,” in which Emily argues that the film “romanticizes abuse by portraying the myth that fixing an abusive man is the ultimate responsibility for a vulnerable young woman.”
“On Friday, December 6th, a timely two weeks before the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Disney issued a warning that certain scenes in the film would contain flashing lights and may negatively affect those with photosensitive epilepsy. While the announcement was admirable and demonstrated a gesture of goodwill from the company to consumers, there is another warning needed for Rise that the company didn’t disclose: That the film romanticizes abuse and assault against women.
It is important to note that the descriptions following technically qualify as spoilers for the new film that debuts in theaters today on Friday, December 20. However, when it comes to the portrayal of serious, harmful, and triggering content, the safety of viewers should be more important than allowing oneself to be surprised while watching a film. Not all surprises are enjoyable.”
In her analysis, Emily uses only one text, Why Does he Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft as a guide to analyzing the text. The book, written in 2002, has become a highly praised staple text in the field of understanding domestic abuse, though it has also been met with criticism, such as how it “propagates some really toxic ideas” and “dismisses some counterexamples, especially along the lines of gender.”
Using Bancroft’s book, Emily applies the dynamics of abuse discussed by Bancroft to the traditional hero-villain dynamic of Rey and Kylo Ren, removing the context of the story and their history to frame Kylo Ren as an abuser:
“In order to inform what is meant by abuse and by stating that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker promotes unhealthy myths about abusive behavior, work from a specialist in domestic abuse, Lundy Bancroft’s (2002) book, Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men will be utilized as a guide to understand how Kylo Ren is abusive, how Rey is his victim, and how The Rise of Skywalker romanticizes abuse by portraying the myth that fixing an abusive man is the ultimate responsibility for a vulnerable young woman.
The abusive character in the film, apt to real life abusers, has two names; two personalities; a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ as if to represent his kind side and his abusive side: Kylo Ren and Ben Solo. The abuse victim has only one name: Rey. While they portray the role of abuser and abused throughout all three films, neither of the previous two films went so far in pushing the myth that abuse is romantic, or that the abuse victim must forgive and fall in love with her abuser than did The Rise of Skywalker. Therefore, this analysis will only describe his abusive behavior as they occur in this latest film.”
Emily states that the movie shows “two scenes in particular in The Rise of Skywalker that include classic portrayals of Kylo Ren manipulating, abusing, and assaulting Rey.”
The two scenes include the moment when Kylo Ren steals and destroys the necklace Rey received from the Aki-Aki on Pasaana:
“Their interaction ends with Kylo approaching Rey and then assaulting her by tearing off the necklace she is wearing, thereby destroying it.
Using Bancroft’s work, this scene qualifies as depicting physical abuse. According to Bancroft,
“Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that’s physical abuse” (p. 128).”
As well as the scene where Kylo Ren taunts Rey with the truth of her parents and their reasons for abandoning her on Jakku:
“[…] You may want to prepare yourself if you plan on actually watching it. Daisy Ridley, the actress who plays Rey, emotes in a heart wrenching manner and portrays her pain and discomfort to a degree that it is hard not to hurt along with her. Rey’s repeated cries for Kylo to stop, and his unwillingness to, immediately bring to mind the trauma that so many people, especially women, experience at the hands of men.”
However, this analysis completely ignores various points of context and general storytelling. Kylo Ren and Rey have been enemies, one a Sith the other a Jedi, poised against each other to be polar, diametric opposites.
Kylo Ren, under the influence of the Dark Side of The Force, gives in to his anger and engages in battles with Rey regularly throughout the trilogy, and in an attempt to sway her to his side, taunts her with the truth of her clouded memories.
Kylo’s goal is less “I get a sense of power from controlling this one woman with whom I am in relationship with” and more “I am attempting to rule the galaxy, and wish for this powerful Force user to join me.”
Kylo Ren has also specifically been tasked with killing Rey by the Emperor. He steals the necklace and has it analyzed in order to discover her location.
Emily also takes issue with the death of Kylo Ren, who returns to the Light Side of The Force after giving his energy to revive Rey from the dead, calling it the “most dangerous part of the film,” mostly due to her assumption that Kylo Ren is part of the “majority of abusive men [who] do not make deep and lasting changes.”
“The most dangerous part of the film, unfortunately, masquerades as a happy ending. Kylo Ren inexplicably ‘sees the light,’ so to speak. He decides to change his actions and comes to aid Rey in her fight against Emperor Palpatine. The battle ends in their embrace and kiss. Strange writing aside, the decision to portray Kylo Ren first as an abuser and then as someone who has changed his ways feeds into the myth—and yes, it is a myth—that abusers can easily change to become loving, respectful partners. The reality is, according to Bancroft, “the majority of abusive men do not make deep and lasting changes even in a high-quality abuser program” (p. 335). While change is possible for abusive men, the most effective motivation for change are external factors, such as risk of the woman leaving them, or requirement by the court.
Given that Kylo Ren passes immediately after this kiss, it is unknown if his change of allegiance would have been permanent or if he would have fallen back into corruption. Emily’s analysis infers and assumes many points that are not featured in the film.
Emily’s article continues, citing Bancroft’s book and attempting to fit the narrative of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker into the definitions of abuse as provided by Bancroft, before concluding with stories shared by anonymous and alleged “abuse survivors” who similarly criticized the film for its portrayal of Kylo Ren and Rey’s relationship.
Following the publication of this article, the Star Wars Shadow Council official Twitter account began to retweet tweets agreeing and praising Emily’s article before dismissing criticism of the article and pushback against its claims because, according to the account, “the pushback for hosting this is from guys.”
We find it very telling almost all of the pushback for hosting this article is from guys. https://t.co/qFym8RCrfV
— Star Wars Shadow Council (@swshadowcouncil) December 21, 2019
Meanwhile, we’ve had several dozen women thank us for it. Hmm…
— Star Wars Shadow Council (@swshadowcouncil) December 21, 2019