SPOILERS FOR RISE OF SKYWALKER!! Read on at your own risk.
The Star Wars Prequels were about how fascists and hate rises to power. It focuses on someone gaining power, people with power refusing to stop them, how hate groups fear on people’s fear, and the removal of the illusion of democracy. The Original Star Wars trilogy is about how the belief in being better solves fascism. The sequel trilogy decides to focus in detail, all about recruitment and how people get into fascist groups, and eventually out of them (In this framework, the 9 movies are about A LOT of things).
Before we continue: if you would like to know more, you should read JM Berger, or listen to his appearance of the podcast Factually with Adam Conover, or watch the YouTube series The Alt-Right playbook by Innuendo Studios. Now, since that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the fun subjects of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Nazism, and fascism.
We’re gonna have a good time.
For all the successes and failures of the sequels VII – XI its focuses much of their time on their interpretation of the two sides of the force Rey and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. It was not just for shipping bait, as much as that happened anyway (welcome to all fandom groups! Get your incognito browser out! As you go we have x-fic to your right and rule 34 to the left, and don’t forget to write your long comments explaining in specific detail why your head cannon is right). No, they were used to mirror and parallel each other on their journey through the trilogy.
Ben Solo/Kylo Ren is the son of Han and Leia (Skywalker) making him someone of light who goes bad. Meanwhile Rey is the granddaughter of Palpatine (which will go uncommented except for… ewww the idea of old Ian McDiarmid getting it on during the prequel trilogy makes me have heart burn) who sides with good. They also see themselves in the other. Rey sees Ben in Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren sees the Sith Empress in Rey. Hence, mirror.
They have fatherly connections to Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Han is Ben’s father, and though we get nothing of them when he’s a child, Ben has many of Han’s mannerisms and skills (finger pointing to accentuate a point, and blasting/using the force behind him, without looking until after. He just knows). Rey on the other hand, sees Han as her first father figure. They do not get a whole lot of screen time, but Rey sees potential in Han, and Han sees a chance to fix his mistakes. Rey takes his advice about a good blaster at your side as a good idea. She still has a blaster with her, and went to it faster than her lightsaber in group fights with stormtroopers until the end. Rey and Ben were both trained, and failed by Luke in different ways (this will be important later, keep it in mind). From those experiences they diverged into different people. Hence, parallel.
Now you’re probably thinking that this is all nice and obvious English 1 analysis here, but what does it have to do with fascism and hate groups? Well, I mean who does Ben Solo join with when he is almost killed by Luke? Supreme Leader Snoke and the First Order, a clearly fascistic group (Hux makes a whole Hitler speech and they do a raised arm salute. Subtle it is not).
Abandonment and the sense of being lost drives a person to find a group to belong. We do not know a lot about how Han and Leia’s parenting, but from what we get in VII they hand a tenuous relationship. Thus, losing all connection to his good half, Ben adopts from the other side of the Skywalker and idolize Darth Vader. This comes with Snoke’s (implied, but Palpatine did the same to Anikin so it would be easy to make a similar connection here) offers of more power, fulfillment, a place to call home, and ability to let out his pent up anger and frustration on those deemed deserving. When he takes it he becomes Kylo Ren, along with the rest of the Knights of Ren, his Chapter of the hate group (in the way the KKK had different chapters in different states). This seems to be fairly secure position until both Rey and Han enter the picture in episode VII. When they enter appear, Snoke poses Kylo the challenge of proving himself and eliminating any doubts about his loyalty to the group by killing Han and Rey. Kylo proves himself by killing Han, further cementing his isolation from the good side of himself and has another reason to not go home to Leia.
Rey is not trying to be recruited at the start. She is introduced in VII. She’s seen more as an anomaly, with her biggest contribution (in terms of this analysis) is beating Kylo Ren and wield Luke’s lightsaber, some Kylo felt was owed to him. Rey’s recruitment process, and Kylo Ren’s push into being a “lone wolf” (it’s in quotes because though he technically isn’t one, most of what he does moving forward is either by himself, or with Rey) begins in VIII.
Both Rey and Kylo are shaken at the start of VIII. Rey has found legendary hero Luke Skywalker and he’s just tossed his laser sword aside and refuses to help her. Kylo is called out by Snoke for his weakness in the previous film and to say how weak he is (this being part of Snoke’s plan). With both of them in a low point they get linked via a connection in the force. In modern day this would be the internet connecting two fans (in the real world it’s Star Wars, in universe it is the force/Jedi-Sith).
Rey’s shock at what became of great hero, Luke, along with the promise of finding out her lineage and the possibility to save Kylo Ren back to Ben she starts on her journey. Luke teaches her many things about the force and Jedi Order, but nothing she really wants to know. That, along with her descent into the Sith hole, revelations about her parents, and confrontation with Master Luke push her into trying to save Ben.
During Rey’s training, Kylo Ren pushes Rey further to come see him because he knows Luke is bad and that he, along with Snoke (though that is a trick on both him and Snoke) can show her, her true power. This is because of their blood line. Kylo Ren does not know that, and it is unclear if Snoke did either, but that is why.
Let’s take a diversion (like Canto Bite or the slow speed ship chase) for a second to talk about blood lines. Blood lines are something the Sith find to be important in determining power and destiny. This is basically the villain plot in Rise if Skywalker (which we will get to). It’s also a large part in Nazi Ideology. The more Arian the better. Though the First Order and its predecessor the Empire are not shown having concentration camps, or talk about racial purity; their quest for growth through force, inducting children into their ranks early, and having foot soldiers called Storm Trooper (and Hux’s Nazi speech and salute thing) all solidify the allusion. There are also allusions and connections to modern day fascism and hate groups (I mean that is what this post is about). The fact the new rebel group is called the Resistance, and Snoke is a larger than life figure who ends up failing in the end is a tenuous connection to Trump (stay stay stay, it’ll be over in a second). Episode VII came out a year before the election, but hate was on the rise; VIII came out mid-presidency is where we see Snoke at his weakest, a failing figure head. The second part, the rebel group being called the Resistance. Resisting is something many advocated (and I’m sure still do advocate) for with Trump, to fight back against what’s perceived to be the new normal.
Once Rey and Kylo meet physically on Snoke’s ship the truth comes out that Snoke was the one connecting them and making them see what they wanted in the other one in order to get Rey in front of Snoke. Here, at this moment, is one of the biggest steps taken by either of them. Kylo was failed a second time, by a second master. Luke tried to kill him, now Snoke wants him to kill someone who he sees as a strong member of his group. Snoke was not radical in the way he felt was necessary so he’ll take his own path.
When he kills Snoke, the two fight the chamber guards and it goes into the standoff. He offers his hand, Kylo knows that everyone else is weak and useless. He can do it, and he can do it better with her. Rey rejects him because Kylo only cares about himself and his accomplishments while Rey cares about those she wants to help.
This event is emblematic of how Luke failed them in different ways. Luke seeing Ben as evil pushed him into being evil because the only person who helped him (Ben) turned his back on him. Luke seeing that same potential in Rey, but being too cowardice to do anything pushes Rey back to her friends.
Rey escapes to save the Resistance while Kylo faces off against the last connections to his better half by taking on Luke. Luke denying Kylo to strike him down in hatred takes away that satisfaction from Kylo, forcing Kylo deeper into anger. He is now a lone wolf. No master, just his own discretion and subordinates. This sits in contrast to Rey; she is able to save her friends and decides to try and be better, even after Luke not helping in the way she wanted. The two seemed to have greatly diverged, until they don’t.
Episode IX begins with the return of Emperor Palpatine, the ruler of the universe, and slayer of the Jedi Order. It would be like if we got a YouTube of actual Hitler saying he discovered the fountain of youth in Brazil or wherever they say he is, and has an army of Nazi Zombies (a la Call of Duty, Wolfenstien, and Overlord). It could also be read as the return of actual Nazi extremism in the world. Kylo, being the fascist he is, goes to crush that threat only to see that he too has something he can bring to the First Order, but only if he kills Rey (this is again another ploy that Kylo is unwittingly part of). During this, Rey feels that awakening push her and cloud her Jedi training. This clouding is exacerbated by the force link infecting her mind, like a low droning thought of a need they can fulfill for her that the people she’s around cannot.
With Rey infected and Kylo wanting more power, and believing Rey can do it, Rey’s recruitment begins. The first step is isolation. This happens constantly throughout the movie. Rey goes off over, and over to take care of what she feels she must. She pushes her friends away by doing it. These solo adventures put her closer and closer into conflict and relation to Kylo. She is getting a negative feedback she wants and desires from him. This reaches the apex when they clash on the destroyed Death Star on Endor (I know it’s a moon, but that doesn’t sound as good does it?). Rey gets a piece of what she needs, runs away from a part of her telling her it’s okay to give into the desires, and yet Kylo still manages takes that piece and withholds it again.
The clash Rey and Kylo have on the Death Star continually pushes Rey away from her friends (Finn in particular). Every time Finn gets close Rey moves further away and closer to Kylo, something Kylo wants. He craves attention and need, he does get it during the fight, but from his mother’s dying wish and last ounce of force to show that she still cares, instead of the literal force he used. Rey uses that moment to strike Kylo only to realize that Leia has gotten through to him. This is where their parallel paths finally cross. Rey uses her ability to heal others to heal Ben and leaves. These two acts of kindness awaken Ben, and with an honest talk from his father (ghost or memory, not specified or important) realized his error. Ben might not be fully released from the grasp of hatred, but he is taking steps.
Rey has at this point been pushed to her break and goes back to Luke’s island and gets a pep talk by the ghost of Luke that what she chooses matters. When she finally faces Palpatine she is given the satisfaction Kylo was not. She is told to kill him in anger. She is told that it will save her friends. It’s interesting that she is told that when she was also forced away from them and told that they don’t know her (a comment on how flimsy these tactics can be at best). It is also interesting how Rey is always given a chance to stop the conflict in each movie by giving into fascism, but refuses each time in hope of a better solution.
Rey sees good and thrives because of those connections. She did not fall like Ben did, and even saved Ben because of her connection to people and compassion. Once she is able to overcome Palpatine that connection between her and Ben is used to help conclude Ben’s arc. He gave into the fulfillment the Dark Side provided because he had no meaningful connections. He got out thanks to Rey. Rey becomes that connection. In the end he did bad things, expects nothing in return, and knows that giving his life to save hers will begin to make things right.
Star Wars has always been about hope. The original trilogy begins with “A New Hope.” This trilogy ends by quite literally saying that hope and connections are what keep us together. It proves that in the text time and again.
Hate is out there. Hate says that our problems are the fault of our neighbors, not those in charge. Hate says that fighting and conflict is the only way to reach peace. Hate says to embrace the worst in yourself. Hope says that even if someone believes that you have the power to help change their mind.
(Now, help change everyone’s mind and prove that FinnXPoe is the only ship that even Starkiller Death Star can’t destroy – whoops that supposed to be on my Tumblr page [I don’t have a tumblr page]).