As fans, we’re not used to seeing Star Wars attempt anything near racy when it comes to their portrayal of romance. From Anakin/ Padme’s puppy-love interactions, Han/Leia’s steamy approach, to Finn/Rose’s relationship which could be called lukewarm at best. Nothing was outlandish or risque and it definitely did not have the level of sexual undertones that this film has attempted.
The Last Jedi (TLJ).. had its share of problems with the story which I could elaborate on another time. If there is one saving grace in this film, it’s definitely the subtle portrayal of romance and lust that has the tonality and approach of an arthouse indie film. It works well for some reason. Yes – it is the character interactions between Rey and Kylo Ren. An odd match at a glance sure, and despite some doubts from longtime fans, Reylo, as the pairing is called around the fandom, is here to stay.
The Colour Scarlet – Of Sexuality and Passion
When the promotional images and posters for this movie first released, I felt it different. It feels very different. Right off, bright scarlet red stands dominant, enveloping the main cast. Only minor hints of blue and off-reds peek through, a deliberate decision we can tell. Before watching the trailer, I assumed this had to do with the theory that perhaps Luke Skywalker, the one who redeemed the cruelest man in the galaxy through the act of kindness and compassion, was about to turn to the Darkside. After I watched the trailer, I assumed that it was an aesthetic choice; one inspired by the battle on salt encrusted Crait.
It was neither. The colour Scarlet here is used to highlight something far more poetic and subtle than anything I’ve seen from recent memory in Star Wars movies – Sexuality and Passion.
You may be wondering if we watched the same movie. I can assure you that the signs are there. Sexuality in this sense displays itself as something to be subconsciously read and digested. Passion on the other hand, does not only mean one of romantic attachment, but of a swirling bout of emotions, sometimes even of lust and regret. Scarlet Red symbolizes many things but often it represents power, sexuality, lust, anger, fire and even destruction. This colour is all over the movie and compliment the thematic narratives home, hovering warm red light over a character’s face when they feel conflicted, showing redness in their eyes, and even through the movie’s beautiful backdrops.
As if to mirror the conflict Kylo Ren has from The Force Awakens (TFA) about killing his father, the camera pans over his face, showered with a warm glow. He sees Luke in front of him, a man he swore to kill and “let the past die”. To him in anger, he was the last thing standing in his way. His former teacher was the embodiment of a bloodline he resented, a would be murderer, a beacon for the old religions and in a meta narrative, a symbol of the “old” Star Wars fanbase that would never let the Skywalker saga truly die and move on. He is conflicted.
This colouring is repeated during the hut scene with Rey. Whether it may be convenient lighting or the motif of the fire and sun always looming nearby, it works effectively. You feel the intensity and swirling emotions that the characters are feeling; loneliness, comfort, intimacy, anger, happiness. I will elaborate on this more and it’s importance for emphasizing Kylo Ren’s openness to vulnerability and ultimately the releasing of the “true self”.
As if to heighten the drama, Luke laments his failure towards Kylo Ren in a scene overcast by the sunset. Here, he is dejected, at conflict because in a moment of hesitation he gave in to the unthinkable. The sunset, or rather the binary sunsets, are a key important motif to Luke’s story and character arc. He begins his journey on Tatooine with it and sees his ascension to The Force towards the end of it. I can’t think of a better way for that to be shot and the emotional height it represents. I shed a tear in that theater.
Red is just about everywhere on the battle of Crait. It makes for stunning shots sure, but combined with several bits of female symbolism (which I will too elaborate on further), something about it seems oddly sensual. Kylo Ren’s lightsaber has always been red, flickering and unstable; obviously to illustrate the conflict he feels inside himself. When he orders every laser gun to be aimed at Luke standing in the middle of the field, the land erupts, bleeding. The geysers of red salt visually look as if to be rushing out of a hole in the ground. You can feel the intensity; not the shots fired, but of Kylo Ren’s anger. In his one-on-one duel with Luke, he rubs his feet onto the ground, allowing slithers of red salt to peek out from beneath him. What makes action scenes like this stand out, is how much more debased the land looks. Destruction is normal for open field combat, though the purity of the white salt looks tainted in this manner.
Let’s not forget about the reddest room of them all. So red, it overpowers the scene and stands for the immense control Snoke has over Kylo. This is also the same throne room we lay witness to the tag team fight later on. Praetorian guards are covered head to toe in full red leather armor and cloth – they have no identity, no sense of self. To be frank, they look a little like BDSM latex-ish gimp knights.
Remember the geyser-ish symbolism I was referencing to earlier? Here it is again at the end of the fight, white smoke this time, coming out from a hole in the guard’s head. The parallels are curious, but speak volumes to the weight and subtext that director Rian Johnson was going for.
Intimacy and Physical Barriers
Physicality to exploring sexuality. You could tell that both JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson made conscious efforts to ensure that Rey and Kylo always had a physical barrier between them. In TFA, it was his mask, and subsequently his gloves in TLJ. In Kylo’s first scene with Rey, he chases her down and successfully captures her, carrying her bridal style of all ways, onto his ship. He is fully cloaked in this get up; being called something of a ‘monster’ by Rey, a term which he never denies. More than just an armor or an iconic parallel to Darth Vader’s suit, Kylo Ren’s mask and clothing functions as a metaphor for denying the “self” or in this case, the good that is still left in him.
Only when he chooses to destroy his own mask (being told that he even failed at being in the dark side by Snoke), that he is stirred up again in conflict between the light and the dark. Which brings me to the finger touching scene and why it was so significant, more than just for romantic tension purposes.
In TLJ’s hut scene, the camera takes a slow zoom at Rey’s hands as she lifts them in open gesture, light of a fire nearby, illuminating the heat beneath her skin, an inviting flush. Ben Solo reciprocates, removing his own gloves in turn and reaches out. In this moment, you could tell that this is Ben Solo, not Kylo Ren, the man who relinquished his family name and father because people valued him more for his bloodline and potential than for what he is. The camera slows down, zooms in as eyes lock into one another. It finishes off with an extreme closeup of their fingertips. So close, you could see the grain and texture of their skin.
We’ve suggested that we could interpret the gloves and mask as a denial of the self and the light within him. His willingness to reveal that to Rey shows another layer of this character’s vulnerability and as a turning point for the final resolve needed to kill his former master. Through the innate power of the Force, they saw a vision of each other. This could be interpreted as seeing into the culmination of one’s soul/ future. It’s a powerful moment that drives home a message to the audience on the power of intimacy, revealing your vulnerability and the true self.
“The ultimate expression of that is focusing [the shot] even tighter when there’s contact. To me, one of my favorite shots of the movie is those two fingers touching – It’s the closest thing we’ll get to a sex scene in a ‘Star Wars’ movie.”
Female Energy – Authority and Sexuality
The Last Jedi sees a line up of strong female supporting cast – from General Leia Organa, Admiral Holdo and Rose Tico. These women take authoritarian roles in the movie, often seen putting their male counterparts in check; Leia and Admiral Holdo for calling out “fly-boy” Poe Dameron and Rose for literally tazering Finn as he tries to leave through the ship’s escape pod – by extension she takes the more domineering role through their adventures together.
Even Rey, when denied training by Luke, is both persistent and sets herself up as a literal Force (pun intended) to be reckoned with – an enigma in his eyes, one who comes from no where but with deep attunement to The Force. Rey’s credibility as a Force user may not be the only reason Luke decides to train her, as his love for sister Leia is the eventual catalyst that pushes him on ( R2-D2 made sure to remind him on that).
Female Energy and presence takes on a central theme in the movie. It first took me by surprise with a scene that I think dumbfounded a lot of viewers in the theater I was in. It’s shocking, and weird, but in a good way I suppose. You’re confronted with something, or an act that is always regarded as inherently female and ‘taboo’. At least in the eyes of the general public and the way conservation ideas always position breast milking as something to shy away from. The way Luke milks this creature’s breast “in front of audiences” and proceeds to casually drink it fresh from the bottle tells us very clearly that this movie is not afraid to touch on the feminine and feminine sexuality.
As for further exploration into the representation of female sexuality and energy, the caves of Ahch-To are littered with them. Always as something to enter upon.The Jedi Tree perfectly frames the entrance in the shape of a vulva, perhaps alluding to mother nature and how organic the earth around them seems to be. Though this is likely more so because the tree houses the ancient text of the Jedi Order, a place for higher learning and by extension, higher attunement with The Force. It provides a clear separation from one place of meaning to another – a place of learning and self discovery.
When Rey dove into the hole and “her darkenss” within, she found questions about who she is, her parentage and origins only to discover a reliance on her “self”. She is self nuturing in this sense, one who confronted the darkness within her, confusion about who she is or was before being able to move forward into the future. It’s quite poetic that right after this scene, we cut to the hut with Ben Solo and the Force Connection. While we’ve discussed Ben’s vulnerability at this stage through physical bareness, Rey is equally vulnerable as well. At this point, she does not truly acknowledge her origins, being sold by her own parents despite knowing all along (this is revealed after the fight in the Throne Room). Only when she admitted it, not just to Kylo, but to herself, does she find resolution the closure she needs.
After the battle, their Force Connections are closed off again, mostly in part from Rey. Both refusing to turn to the other side. They don’t look happy in these scenes, Kylo kneeling in defeat, Rey looking mournfully at Luke’s broken lightsaber – if that can be linked to heartache remains to be concluded in the third installment; Episode IX.
Whether it be by colour, by intimacy or by a feminine narrative, this is the first movie in the Star Wars saga to truly embrace feminine themes, symbolism and narratives. A bold attempt at sexual undertones that play off one another in what I believe to be a story for finding balance in The Force. You could call it cheesy, but a bond between them calls for something greater. If the parallels were not a huge clue, I’d even say that they are they are two equal halves.
“Darkness rises… and the light to meet it”
-Snoke, The Last Jedi
I for one, am keen to see how this ends, and I have my own theories – though it would be best to leave that for another time.
*The Last Jedi is showing in cinemas worldwide, December 2017