Whatever the reason for the confusion about intentions: while it felt like Johnson was flirting with the idea of Rey and Kylo forming some kind of relationship in episode 8, it also was obvious to me by the end of the film that this was one of his infamous subverted expectations. We're meant to see Kylo Ren as redeemable and "soft" (from Rey's point of view), only for it to be revealed that he isn't. The young woman he's drawn to--his equal in the Force, who has no familial ties to complicate things--asks him to stop the slaughter of her friends and he turns her down. He takes leadership of the whole First Order and confirms his own commitment to destroying anyone who opposes them.
This is why it's so confusing for me to see reylo fans make comments about how Rian Johnson's hypothetical version of episode IX would have given them the reylo happy ending they wanted. I disagree; we'll never know what Johnson might have written (was he even given the chance to refuse that job?), but I think he would have written Kylo in full villain mode, with a more tragic ending than what Abrams and Terrio gave Ben Solo.
In other words, the reylo content made in IX was far more reylo-positive than what "Reylo King" Johnson would have given us. That's my two cents on the matter, anyway. Would Rian Johnson have written more interesting material for Kylo Ren than Abrams and Terrio did? Quite possibly. But that's a different question.
Edited to add: this tumblr post and reblog basically argue something similar.
glompcat: There is a looooot of Star Wars discourse that I can not stand. Rather than focus on all of it (there is SO MUCH), I will just say that one of the main ones that really gets me is the argument that by having the main villain of the ST play a major role in the movie… where he is the main villain…. Rian was trying to make Kylo sympathetic/something less than a villain.
There are just countless posts saying “Rian probably wanted us to think Kylo wasn’t a terrible person BUT (lists things that were overt in TLJ, or from the books Rian himself edited like Bloodline, actual main text that displays that Kylo is a terrible person - almost as if his arc in TLJ was about how no one was forcing him to make the choices he was, as if even though he is torn up about it that doesn’t change the fact that he keeps making the bad choice, as if the movie showed us him killing Snoke so there is no one left to blame, and yet he STILL chooses to stay and lead the First Order rather than go for any form of redemption.. oh wait THAT WAS EXACTLY WHAT THE MOVIE SHOWED US).”
I mean there is a lot about how the fandom latched onto a few people’s hate of Rian and then warped the movie around that, claiming he wanted Kylo to be something other than the villain when… that movie was so restlessly damning of him, like TFA pushed a ~poor manipulated Kylo~ narrative and then TLJ tore that narrative to shreds, but alas even talking about that is impossible because everyone on here just wants to send this man death threats, and have done so to such an intensity that LucasFilm changed all their policies so we no longer can know anything about what is coming to shield the people involved with them from the never ending hate everyone involved with TLJ got.
Note: Literally the only reason this is my least favorite Star Wars discourse, and “Anakin did nothing wrong and the Jedi were evil/abusive/terribad” isn’t, is because this discourse involves death threats to a real person. If it wasn’t for that, the people who read all kinds of malicious stuff into the Jedi’s actions would be getting the #1 worst spot on my list.
permian-tropos: God thank you for this omfg I keep trying to figure out where the idea that the movie sides with Kylo comes from.
Like. There’s subtext and then there’s text. Cinematic language is a language, a language to convey images and sounds through a narrative point of view. Visual framing has textual elements.
Kylo Ren’s point of view isn’t one the narrative favors and that’s not open to interpretation. I don’t mean his point of view as in his beliefs and opinions. Actually being in his head, having him be the perspective the audience inhabits. Outside of a few shots and one piece of a flashback presented Rashomon-style, we don’t see things through his eyes. The Rashomon sequence only works as this unreliable narration because his point of view isn’t the film’s point of view. And also the hate that people give the scene with shirtless Kylo is really kinda funny because it’s Rian Johnson’s way of absolutely smashing the idea that Kylo is an object of audience gaze over everyone’s heads. Kylo isn’t just shirtless for some cheesecake (as in that one Anakin scene) – the fact that Rey is seeing this is the point of the scene. She is the looker, he is looked upon.
Kylo is extremely looked upon in the movie, like pronouncedly so, and this is not how white men are usually portrayed. It’s such a reversal of expectations that despite Johnson using the most heavy-handed cinematic language he could to put Kylo external to the POV, it looks like it actually confused people.
“What the hell do you mean I’m supposed to be looking at him? Why do you want me to look at him??? I don’t get it, are you obsessed with him? Are you in love with him? Why is he the only thing this movie cares about?”
He’s not! He’s just the only main character who is object and not subject. Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, Luke, Leia – we are not looking at them as much as we look through them, unless they’re looking at each other. (except Luke at first but I have Too Much to say about that). Kylo is set apart from every other main character in that sense.
*gets out a megaphone, clears throat* PROBABLY BECAUSE HE’S THE ANTAGONIST.
When Johnson implied that Kylo and Rey are two halves of a protagonist, that was a) probably misdirection because the fact that Kylo is the true main villain of the film (not necessarily for the trilogy, but for this one film) is a TWIST and b) not something we should override basic film language for. The movie speaks for itself.
Kylo is framed through a lot of close third person limited perspectives up until the twist. Far more than in TFA. When he’s framed through Rey’s gaze, he seems redeemable. When he’s framed through Snoke’s gaze, he seems soft-hearted and pitiable. Through Luke’s, he’s a victim. These are subjective points of view, and they’re not Rian Johnson’s true POV.
So what is? Well we could wait for the scene where all eyes are on Kylo in the barest open space. Where Kylo gets to be framed from far away in long shots, no longer at the middle (conversational) distance or in intimate (interpersonal) close ups.
That’s the clearest we’re supposed to see him. It comes at the end of the film, end-of-film conventionally being the time to reveal things you were concealing earlier.
We see impotent anger. We see him blinded by his narcissism, believing Luke is there to save him, and not Leia and the Resistance. We see violence. We see hatred. There is still a glimmer of uncertainty and confusion and humanity. But he is no longer as pitiable as he is pathetic. The enemy he rages against is literally an illusion. And Luke spells it out: he is wrong about everything.
But who am I to know better I guess? This movie honestly does make me doubt my film literacy sometimes but opinions I saw from people who aren’t 24/7 fandom gremlins (my family, internet people, THE CRITICS) read the movie more or less like this. I’m pretty sure it’s the text.
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