The Force dyad, critiqued and explained in "Rise of Skywalker"

The new "Star Wars" movie uses a Force dyad as a pivotal plot point, but never really set the groundwork for it

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 23, 2019 6:30PM (EST)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Walt Disney Studios)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Walt Disney Studios)

The Force and spoilers are strong in the story below. For a non-spoilery discussion of "Rise of Skywalker," read Salon's review.

"'Force Dyad' is just midi-chlorians [sic] all over again, convince me otherwise."

This was the challenge posed by Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson in her article "Star Wars: Why That Big Rise of Skywalker Twist Feels Like Such a Betrayal" that touched upon one of the major criticisms I've heard of that plot device. In the film, the Force dyad is introduced as a pair of characters whose uniquel bond with both the Force and each other makes them extremely strong. (For more on the Force, read my explainer here.) In the dyad, two Force-sensitive people from the Light and Dark – Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in this latest trilogy – have a connection that allows them to team up and become far more powerful together than either one would have been separately, although each is usually established as already wielding immense power on their own.

It's a relatively new – and divisive – element to introduce as a twist of sorts in the films,  yet it supposedly has always existed. Indeed, that retconning concern was reflected in conversations that I had with "Star Wars" fans in the lobby of my local movie theater as I prepared to watch the movie for the second time: Even those who liked this installment were not that thrilled with the Force dyad subplot.

Below, I examine the way that Rey and Kylo Ren interact with each other throughout the series that has hinted at their Force Dyad relationship from the beginning, how this revelation plays out in "Rise of Skywalker," and how the concept has been previously discussed in the Star Wars universe.

When Kylo Ren met Rey

As a friend of mine observed after seeing "The Rise of Skywalker," the relationship between fascistic First Order leader Kylo Ren (also known as, Ben Solo) and the Force-sensitive scavenger Rey over the course of the sequel trilogy is the inverse of that between the franchise's central farmboy-turned-Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his twin sister, the caustic princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the original trilogy. With Luke and Leia, we started out thinking they might become love interests before learning that they are in fact siblings. With Kylo Ren and Rey, audiences speculated that they would wind up being related to each other before learning in the end that, nope, their connection was actually supposed to be romantic.

Yet even before the exact nature of their emotional and biological relationship was made clear, there were hints that they had a bond beyond that of mere hero and villain. In "The Force Awakens," each one is able to read the other's mind in ways that either merely seem violating  – such as when Rey tells Kylo Ren that he's afraid he'll never be as strong as Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), or Kylo Ren tells Rey that she views his own father Han Solo (Harrison Ford) as a father figure and would have been disappointed – or explicitly are violating (such as when Kylo Ren tells Rey that he can "take whatever I want"). By "The Last Jedi," the two characters are able to have intimate conversations with each other from vast distances away, a mental link that at one point is revealed to have been facilitated by Supreme Leader Snoke but nevertheless appears to be fueled by an authentic connection between the two of them. The story of "The Last Jedi" reaches it climax when Kylo Ren offers his hand to Rey and says that they should rebel against both the Jedi and the Sith in order to form their own unique legacy . . . and, though tempted, she turns him down.

The Force dyad in action

From the first moment that the two characters talk with each other from afar in "Rise of Skywalker," there is a different chemistry to their relationship than the one we saw in the previous two films. What was once only potentially romantic — most likely because the screenwriters had not yet decided if they were going to be related or not — is now explicitly so. In their first conversation, Kylo Ren asks Rey why he did not take her hand and promises to turn her to the dark side. The next time they talk, he is both reassuring and controlling: He says that he'd never lie to her (about her origins) and that she can't get rid of him (which, given the romantic subtext of their relationship, is quite sinister).

Notably, it is when Kylo Ren informs Rey that she's the evil Emperor Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) granddaughter that the concept of the Force dyad is first introduced in the film series. Kylo Ren discusses how the fact that they form a Force dyad means that they have more power than either the dark side or the Skywalker legacy. It is, in other words, a vehicle for legitimizing their bond and any potential romance that comes with it. Even after Leia's deathbed intercession from afar causes him to revert from being the evil Kylo Ren to the good Ben Solo during the big lightsaber duel on the ruins of the second Death Star, he does not abandon his belief in the power of their Force dyad. He simply transfers it from being one that would serve the dark side to one that would serve the Light.

Their status as a Force dyad is brought to the fore when they encounter Palpatine on the hidden planet of Exegol. He points out that a Force dyad has not been seen in countless generations, and that their rare connection is what will make him strong enough to be reborn. What the emperor fails to take into account, of course, is that their connection would also be enough to stop him: It is the fuel that Rey draws from Kylo Ren, as well as her connection to all of the previous Jedi, that allows her to defeat her grandfather once and for all in the epic last battle. This is all the more remarkable because she does so after he performs a Force drain on her and Kylo. That is a technique in which, according to Chuck Wendig's canonical Aftermath trilogy (which also involved the Palpatine character), a Sith lord siphons life from someone and using it to strengthen their connection to the dark side. While this revives Palpatine enough to make him independent of the machines that have been keeping him alive, it is not enough to enable him to win the day. Ultimately he is defeated by Rey, who in turn is able to share a passionate kiss with Ben Solo before he succumbs to his injuries and dies.

The established history of Force dyads 

While the Force dyads may be a new concept to "Star Wars" fans who are only familiar with the films, they are well-established to anyone who has seen the TV series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (which ended in 2014 but will be revived for one last season on Disney+). That series introduced Mortis, a mysterious region in which three immortal Force users known as the Father, the Son, and the Daughter engage in an endless battle with one another. Rian Johnson, who directed and wrote "The Last Jedi," has admitted to being familiar with Mortis and to having included a reference to it in Rey's cave vision from that film. Sith lords who wish to achieve immortality can try to replicate the trinity battle in Mortis within the real world, as Palpatine did between Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin/Darth Vader in the climax of "Return of the Jedi" and did again when he realized he was in the presence of the Force dyad, Ben Solo and Rey.

To be clear: This wasn't Palpatine's original plan. As he directly says in "The Rise of Skywalker," his original plan was for Rey to be brought to him alive so that he could be reborn through her (this is why her parents abandoned her on Jakku). Yet he is thrilled to learn that he is in the presence of a Force dyad because it means that he has the power to be resurrected with even more strength than would have been the case had he simply gone through Rey.

Palpatine's loose ends

To be fair, I would not say that the Force dyad concept is as out-of-nowhere as that of "midi-chlorians," which undermined the spiritual nature of the Force itself. "Dyad" is itself a pre-existing term in fiction, one that refers to any two individuals who form a significant relationship with each other. A Force dyad, by extension, is simply two characters whose relationship with the Force creates a unique bond between each of them — in the case of Kylo Ren and Rey, one fueled by latent romantic chemistry.

At the same time, there is a lot to be desired in how this concept is brought to the fore in "The Rise of Skywalker." Although Palpatine alludes to other Force dyads, he never explicitly states who or what he is referring to, an ambiguity that seems more like an unanswered question than a point meant to be intentionally vague. Similarly, the way that the Force dyad concept was introduced in this movie — much like the introduction of other plot points, such as the fact that Palpatine was the main villain all along — is too rushed. It would be inaccurate to claim that it's a deus ex machina, since the "Star Wars" mythology did include previous references to it, but if one views the Skywalker Saga as a continuous story, its emergence 17/18ths of the way through the story feels arbitrary. Like so many other things in "The Rise of Skywalker," this concept should have been introduced in "The Last Jedi" and then further fleshed out in the final chapter.

The Force dyad's major failing

One of the great flaws of the recent "Star Wars" sequel trilogy is that, unlike the prequel trilogy, it clearly did not have a set plan from beginning to end. Instead it is a supposedly coherent story in which the opening and closing acts were written by a number of people and the second act was written by one person with a drastically different vision from his counterparts.

This is relevant here because, whatever the Force dyad concept may have meant in terms of the larger "Star Wars" universe, in "The Rise of Skywalker" its main narrative purpose is to be the glue that holds together the idea that Kylo Ren and Rey were in love with each other (unless one chooses to believe director J.J Abrams' sibling-centric take on that kiss). IF their romantic chemistry had existed in the previous movies, the fact that they formed a Force dyad could have lent greater meaning to a relationship that was already solidified in the minds of audiences. Instead it is meant almost as a substitute for actually developing their chemistry in the previous films, a shortcut around doing so that takes the fact that we already knew the two characters had a bond and quickly fills in the details without any of it feeling earned.

It's a shame, too, because if the Force dyad concept and Mortis had been firmly introduced in the previous movies, it would have been a great way to end the sequel trilogy and the Skywalker Saga as a whole. Instead the Force dyad concept reminds me of my observation about "Alita: Battle Angel": "Attending the movies should not come with homework assignments, and if a film only works if you study its backstory in advance, there is something terribly wrong."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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