I’ve written about fandom a lot, and I’m sure I write at least one blog post a year where I explain just how much an impact falling in love with books, films, TV shows and plays has had on my writing life, but since it’s happened again after I saw The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi over Christmas, I thought it was as good a time as any to explore this again.
Fanfiction, to those not in the know, is where you take established characters from an established text, say, for argument’s sake, Star Wars, and you write your own stories with them. Essentially, what JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson got to do when they pitched for the new prequel stories, only fans don’t make a profit from their writing. Ultimately they do it to scratch a creative itch, to explore facets of characters and situations that might not be explicit in the original texts, or to see what happens when you place familiar characters in new settings and situations. I’ve been doing it since I was about eight years old and I saw the first episode of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. And for thirty two years, I haven’t really stopped. The fandoms might have changed, but the desire to write remains.
There’s something intoxicating about falling in love with a new text; your heart beats faster, you pay attention to every nuance, every second, find yourself thinking about it when you’re not watching/reading it, want to know everything about it, and want to know if there are others, like you, who feel the same way about it. In short, it’s a lot like falling in love with a person, only there’s less sex involved. Probably. Well, actually, it kind of depends what you’re writing (see Rule 34).
For me, this happened when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens a few weeks ago. It was the first SW film I’d seen since the original trilogy, and I was blown away by it. I felt like the kid I was when I first met Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia (and Han Solo, of course!), and I was hooked. It wasn’t a question of if I was going to drag my husband to see The Last Jedi, but when. I was smitten by the beauty of it, by the characters, the emotion, the feeling that yes, this is what a Star Wars film should be. It worked for me on so many levels.
One of those levels was the intriguing relationship between scavenger Rey and fallen prince Kylo Ren. From the moment those two met onscreen, I just knew I’d found my new Star Wars OTP (one true pairing, in case you didn’t know). They burned the screen together, and when they encountered one another in the forest at Takodana, I was lost. To be fair, I’ll see the romance in anything, and my ‘ships’ have been many and varied over the years, but by the time Kylo Ren/Ben Solo took off his mask in the interrogation room, I was basically walking them up the aisle. I mean, let’s face it, he’s already carried her over the threshold…
So when we see him kneeling at her feet in the chamber, waiting for her to wake up (contrasted obviously with his interrogation of Poe Dameron, who ends up much bloodier in the same situation), we know this is an emotional game changer. Rey is unafraid of Ren, and very, very angry when she wakes up. She looks straight at him and utters the immortal ‘that tends to happen when you’re being hunted by a creature in a mask,’ line, which makes the hitherto cloaked Ren do something surprising; meekly, he does as she says and takes the mask off.
And then we see. This is no archetypal snarling villain with a twirly moustache, or perhaps someone who, like Darth Vader, was more machine than man under the mask; this is Disney’s version of the dark prince; wide eyed, chiselled and with a head of hair to die for.
The rest of this scene is controversial; some see it as a violation of Rey, whereas others see it as her exercising her power over Ren, even when she’s the one in manacles. Whatever the interpretation, there’s no mistaking the connection here. On some level, these characters are dancing, and Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver show this so beautifully.
But I’m getting off track here. This was where I first saw the possibilities for Reylo, as it’s called, (after the fannish tradition of smashing names together of characters you want to put into a relationship, or ‘ship’), and I realised, after a few clicks, that I wasn’t the only one. I’m a sucker for a complex villain, one who can be redeemed (and I also have a weakness for tall, dark haired brooding boys with issues), and with Rey, whose irresistible combination of vulnerability and strength, her desire to find out who she is, I found the perfect combination for a pairing.
So, I started writing. And I haven’t written SW fanfiction in twenty six years, so this was a bit of a landmark. I wrote my first fic, Sanctuary before going to see The Last Jedi, but I wanted to see the film before I posted the fic online, to make sure I’d got some of the details right. I had a total blast writing it (I deal mainly in oneshots, usually between 1000-2000 words) and I was able to explore all of the angst that had been nagging at my brain about Reylo. It’s a fic about the aftermath of Leia’s death (as I imagine will happen, inevitably, in Episode IX), and its effect on Ben.
Sanctuary was my love song to the dark angst that is Ben Solo’s mother issues. It was my point of release for all of those emotions that Adam Driver managed to convey in The Last Jedi about where he came from, and where he is now, and the gulf between those two states. And I am rather partial to that.
Two more fics have followed; the first one is the slightly fluffy Peace. This one plays with a popular trope in the Reylo fandom, the idea of the Force Bond kicking in while either Rey or Ben is sleeping, and what the other one might do when faced with their unconscious other half. Plenty of scope there for angst, humour, smut and violence, I’m sure you’ll agree. I chose fluff….
This was my attempt at reader-through-Rey’s-eyes fiction, an observational piece that is all about denial. About making a reader wait for the payoff (but not too long!).
The most recent fic is the shortest. It’s basically 500-odd words of me unleashing my inner romance writer about ‘that’ scene in the hut from TLJ, called Starved. Oh, goodness, did I go to town on that one! I wanted it to be short, but packed full of emotion.
Because that’s what fanfiction is all about, really, on one level; taking a moment, or a character, and simply exploring. As a writer, it’s what keeps me writing, whether that’s my own original work or fanfic. It’s the ability to say ‘if this person was in this situation, what would they really think/say/do?’ And the sheer beauty of it, is that it’s all down to interpretation. Your version of Rey may be wildly different from mine, but we will both have the same starting point. Your version of what went on in the ‘smut hut’ might be far more explicit, or, if possible, even fluffier, than mine, but that’s OK. Fanfic writers can play.
I doubt I’m finished with Star Wars; after all, there’s a third film in this current trilogy to look forward to, and the Reylo pairing is so tragically romantic that there’s plenty of ground to cover (don’t believe me? There are currently 4379 works tagged ‘Reylo’ on Archive of Our Own to date). And all writing is good writing, in terms of practice. I credit writing fanfiction with teaching me so many rules about how to write; from establishing voice, to keeping point of view consistent, to writing decent dialogue. Long may it continue to inspire me! And as far as Star Wars is concerned, I think you could quite honestly say that I’ve been there, done that, and literally bought the t-shirt…
Links to the fics referenced here: