Reylo Johnson Strikes Again, Bitches: Fannish Identity and Rhetorical Bleed in The Last Jedi

Curator's Note

Since its debut in December 2018, The Last Jedi has proven divisive among Star Wars fans for a whole host of reasons. One of the most prominent, however, is the film’s foregrounding of the increasingly romantic relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. This pairing—one fans call "Reylo"—has become the nexus for criticism about TLJ. On Tumblr, for instance, Reylo and those who ship it ("Reylos") are loudly derided as unhealthy and abusive. Others blame writer/director Rian Johnson’s focus on the pair for paltry screen time afforded characters like Finn and Poe. A recent article on The Mary Sue, for example, is titled "As a The Last Jedi Apologist, I Deeply Resent the Deleted Finn Scens and Blame Reylo."

Johnson has faced vociferous fanwank about his choices for Rey and Ren. At first, he stopped short of defining the two as romantic. However, seemingly emboldened by fan fervor both for and against Reylo, Johnson has recently given up the pretense of subtlety. For example, upon meeting a Reylo fan, Johnson delightedly exclaimed: "Well, it’s all in the movie." At SXSW 2018, he described the pair’s brief touching of hands as "the closest thing we’ll get to a sex scene" in Star Wars.

Similarly emboldened, Reylos have appropriated Johnson’s responses to the "antis" and made them and the attitudes they represent part of their own fannish identity and practice. During a co-interview with actor Mark Hamill, for example, Hamill noted that the hand touch was "pretty hot for a Star Wars movie." Johnson’s reaction-taking a nonchalant sip of coffee-was transformed by Reylos into their version of the Kermit "That’s None of My Business" meme. Similarly, a photo of Johnson staring into his cellphone was reframed as a reflection of fan practice. As one Tumblr user tagged it: "literally me reading some fluffy smut angst enemies to lovers reylo fics."

By claiming Johnson as one of their own, Reylos underscore the rhetorical bleed—the brief fingertip touch—between the once-carefully delineated camps of creator and fan. While such a bleed is not unusual in cult media—between Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller and his Fannibals, for example—it’s a rarity around a cultural behemoth like Star Wars. Whether that bleed and Reylo will continue when director JJ Abrams returns for the series’ ninth film remains to be seen.

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