Reylo and the Myth of Persephone and Hades

As many people know, Star Wars was initially inspired by Joseph Campbell’s work “The Hero’s Journey” and to a lesser extent, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”; there is a great deal of mythological allusion present in the Star Wars Universe.  This allusion isn’t as strong in the sequels due to the writers coming at the material from their own angles — mainly, genre construction from J.J. Abrams and genre deconstruction from Rian Johnson.  Still, the core structure was based loosely on Lucas’s existing outline, wherein a teen Jedi apprentice named Kira restored Luke’s faith after one of his students fell to the dark side.  These two characters became Rey and Kylo.

I believe J.J. Abrams adhered to the spirit of the outline more closely than did Rian Johnson, who went out of his way to secure creative control and ensure he wasn’t beholden to any previously decided plot points.  Lucas’s main concern with Abrams’ Force Awakens was that it was filmed to be a retro movie, suggesting the plot changes were to create more alignment with the plot structure of the original Star Wars.  Also, J.J. Abrams seems like a team player and Rian Johnson seems more like a guy who wants to add his creative spin into the whole thing.

Given Lucas’s history as a student of mythology, I believe he would have been fully aware of this story and, if the parallels are no coincidence, would have originated from his outline.  Even with Abrams and Johnson adding their own spin to the films, Rey and Kylo still follow the essential archetypal beats of the story of Persephone and Hades.  In fact, had Rey joined up with Kylo at the end of The Last Jedi, the plots would have lined up almost perfectly, and with the profound romantic tension between these two characters, I think it could still happen.  Even with the events of The Last Jedi, the union lays relatively cleanly over the myth until the very end.

So what is the myth? It comes from the old Greek myths: Hades, the misunderstood god of the underworld, falls in love with Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of nature, at first sight. Hades consults with Zeus, the ruler of the gods and Persephone’s father, and asks his permission to marry her.  Zeus agrees, but Demeter forbids the union — and so, Hades plots to kidnap her.

Persephone was kept in isolation by her mother, making her naive to the ways of the world.  One day, while Persephone is left alone by her mother as she supervises the harvest, Persephone wanders off and becomes enthralled by the flower narcissus.  As she goes to pluck it, Hades appears and takes her.  Following her kidnapping, Persephone saw Hades, reputation preceding him, as a monster, but as she got to know him better, she began to understand him and his turmoil, his loneliness and the genuineness of his affection for her — attracted to her purity and tenderness. From the moment she arrived, he showed his vulnerability, showering her with gifts, and offering her a throne and to rule the underworld alongside him.

Persephone softened to Hades, appreciating him as the only person who treated her like an individual and an adult — her mother treated her like a child and her father like an object.  Eventually the two tempered one another.  Hades polished away Persephone’s narcissism and naivete, and Persephone softened Hades’s hard disposition and black and white thinking.  At Persephone’s behest, Hades created Elysium, the Greek version of heaven, a paradise for the most noble souls to reside in.  Still, Persephone was full of sorrow, because she was isolated from her family — because she had eaten the pomegranate, the fruit of the Underworld, she was unable to leave.

Seeing the sadness in her, Hades struck a bargain with Demeter, who had cursed the Earth’s harvest land with perpetual winter.  He would allow Persephone to return to Earth for six months out of the year.  In Greek mythology, this is how the seasons were created — when Persephone joined her mother in summer and spring, the Earth warmed and vegetation flourished.  In fall and winter, when she left, Demeter mourned and vegetation died.

The story of Persephone and Hades became an archetypal story device common in romance, for example 50 Shades of Grey.

So how does the story of Rey and Kylo line up?

Rey, optimistic and naive, lives in isolation, like Persephone.  Kylo, a tormented, misunderstood, lonely prince, becomes obsessed with her upon spotting her.  With the blessing of Snoke, his king, he decides to kidnap her.  When Rey arrives on the planet Takodana, she wanders off from Finn, her de facto guardian, and finds Luke’s lightsaber.  Much like the flower narcissus called to Persephone, it calls to her,  and the revelations of the lightsaber pull her into the wilderness where Kylo can snatch her away.  Taken to Kylo’s lair, she forms a bond with him, which later evolves into the bond in The Last Jedi where Rey forms a more sympathetic view of him.

Kylo is kind to her and treats her as an adult, an individual who matters beyond her lineage or the desires of those around her, saying, “You come from nothing.  You’re nothing.  But not to me.”  At the end of The Last Jedi, as he becomes ‘king’ of the First Order (the Underworld), he offers her a throne.  Now, knowing this myth, I thought she would accept and build Elysium, as that’s how the myth goes, eventually becoming sad and becoming the catalyst for a compromise that allows Kylo (Hades) to return her to the rebellion (Earth) to bring back the harvest, on the promise that she would return — that would have been interesting.  Instead, however, she returns to the rebellion, bringing new hope — similar to Persephone’s return bringing back the harvest.

As you can see, Rey and Kylo’s journey has an enormous amount of parallels to the myth of Persephone and Hades.  It’s possible in Episode 9, when Kylo and Rey’s arc concludes, we’ll see them joining forces and building Elysium.  If not, well, it’s still a pretty interesting thought exercise, isn’t it? It’s fun to see how the archetypal ancient myths still inform our popular culture today.

Ryan is a writer from Los Angeles, California. Follow him on Twitter here, and be sure to buy his new book, Gods of the American Wild.