In the Star Wars Universe, Love Is Dead

The Rise of Skywalker gives it the kiss of death.

John Boyega screams in pain in this still.
John Boyega in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Lucasfilm Ltd./Walt Disney Pictures

This post contains spoilers for pretty much every Star Wars movie and the TV shows, too.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens not with a love triangle or a love quadrangle but a love pentagon. When last we left our heroes, Rose had kissed Finn, who many fans were actually hoping would get together with Poe, but who had expressed interest instead in Rey, who had her own twisted long-distance relationship with Kylo Ren. To complicate things even further, The Rise of Skywalker adds two more players to the equation: Poe’s old flame Zorii and an ex-Stormtrooper named Jannah.

For a while, it seemed like the movie had an ingeniously simple solution to this tangled web of hormones. On the desert planet Pasaana, they attend the Star Wars equivalent of Burning Man, and like so many Burning Man attendees, they soon feel their true feelings bubbling to the surface: Finn starts to confess something to Rey, but he only gets as far as “Rey, I never told you—” before being swallowed up by quicksand.

One might reasonably assume—as a significant portion of The Rise of Skywalker’s audience did—that Finn was going to tell Rey he loves her. It makes sense: He’s had a crush on her since the beginning, even asking her relationship status shortly after they met in The Force Awakens, and their connection has only grown since then. Though they spend much of The Last Jedi apart, the very first thing Finn does after waking up from a coma is ask where Rey is.

But The Rise of Skywalker ends with no such confession of love ever taking place. In fact, we never learn what Finn was going to say to Rey in that moment. J. J. Abrams reportedly told a fan that Finn was trying to tell Rey that he’s Force-sensitive. The Rise of Skywalker makes it very clear that Finn is Force-sensitive, but why would he use what he believes are his last words to say that? Why would it be important for Rey to know that in the seconds before she and her friends die? And why wouldn’t Finn just say it, then, once they survived? How come it’s a big secret from Poe?

Whatever the confession was supposed to be, actor John Boyega has seconded that, at the very least, Finn was not going to make a declaration of his feelings, clearing the path for what has turned out to be the central couple of this trilogy: Rey and Kylo Ren. But despite having a throng of other admirers waiting in the wings, Finn doesn’t end up with any of them, either. Rose is sidelined for most of the movie, and her big post-battle reunion is a platonic hug with Chewbacca, not a smooch with Finn.

Despite Oscar Isaac’s express wish that Finn and Poe would become an item, that doesn’t happen either, nor does Poe get together with Zorii, who turns him down with a slight shake of the helmet. Though Finn spends a lot of time bonding with Jannah, the new character played by Naomi Ackie, there’s nothing overtly romantic about their connection in the movie, despite what Ackie has said in interviews. Are there shared sparks, or are they just bonding over their shared pasts in the imperial forces? In the end, all our heroes are single.

They should count themselves lucky. With The Rise of Skywalker, it’s official: Love is dead in the Star Wars universe. Despite the occasional gesture at a triangle or quadrangle or an even more many-sided polygon, the Star Wars movies have historically averaged one core romance per trilogy, and with the conclusion of the ninth installment, not one of them has ended in anything other than tragedy. Anakin and Padme’s love is tortured from the start because the Jedi Order forbid its members from forming romantic attachments, and ultimately Anakin’s fear of Padme dying drives him to the dark side and leaves her to die giving birth to their children.

Meanwhile, Han and Leia both end up dead as a result of their love. The Force Awakens torpedoes the brief happy ending that they got at the end of Return of the Jedi, revealing that they’ve since separated, and it’s all downhill from there. Han is literally murdered by the result of their love, their son Kylo Ren, and two movies later, Leia spends her own dying breath trying to save him.

The Rise of Skywalker marks the shortest-lived romance of all. After years of closely analyzing the most sexual tension the Star Wars franchise has to offer—which is still pretty PG—Reylo shippers were finally vindicated at the very end of the movie, after a newly reformed Kylo Ren saves Rey’s life with Force healing power. They share one passionate kiss—and then he immediately keels over, dead. Forget graphic images of STIs or abstinence-only instructional films, the most effective videos for preventing teen pregnancy may be the Star Wars movies. See what happens when you give in to your desires, kids?

This bleak view of romantic love extends even to the franchise’s spinoffs. In Solo, Woody Harrelson’s Beckett loses his wife, Val, and Han is betrayed by his first love, Qi’ra, who chooses a life of crime over their being together. On Star Wars Rebels, Kanan Jarrus sacrifices himself to save his (pregnant, it turns out) lover, dying in a fiery explosion. And don’t think never consummating the relationship will save you. At the end of Rogue One, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor die clinging to each other in—yes, again—a fiery explosion, without ever sharing an on-screen kiss. (Though if you think those two were just friends, I suggest you rewatch the elevator scene.) On Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi chooses his duty and the Jedi way over the love of his life, Satine Kryze, but she still dies in his arms.

The difference between romance, the concept, and romance, the genre, has long been the Happily Ever After. I’m not saying that Abrams should’ve let Kylo Ren and Rey ride off together into the sunsets—he still murdered, like, a bunch of people, so how would that relationship even work? (The click-clack of keyboards being used to write fanfiction at this very moment will surely explain to me exactly how it would’ve worked, and more power to those shippers.)

But it’s not healthy for the franchise that romance automatically equals tragedy, and pairing off Finn and Rey would’ve been a nice corrective to that trend—not to mention a wholesome example of a romance staple: the transformation of friends into lovers. Whereas Han and Leia bickered, and Anakin and Padme exchanged agonizing dialogue about sand, Finn and Rey’s relationship has been built on kinship and compassion and tender hugs. The confession that never was is a major missed opportunity.

Then again, maybe the Jedi were onto something about forbidding romance, considering what happens to just about every other couple in the saga. Those two lady pilots who kiss at the end of The Rise of Skywalker better watch out—as soon as the camera cuts away, something terrible is bound to happen.

Update, Nov. 13, 2020: Maybe not?????

Read more in Slate about The Rise of Skywalker.