Holding Vader’s Leash: An Interview with Reylo Author Koderenn

Senior Editor Barbara interviews fanfiction author Koderenn on her Reylo writings. This is the first in a series of interviews planned exploring fanfiction and creative writing in the Star Wars fandom. If you would like to nominate other authors, including yourself, for this series, please Contact Us.

Koderenn is the pen name of a writer of fanfiction I discovered after typing Star Wars in the search bar of my favorite repository of fanfiction Archive of Our Own.

As an admirer of her work, I reached out to her and asked her for an interview on behalf of Project Stardust, in which she graciously said yes. 

Over the course of our correspondence she mentioned to me that English was not her first language, so after the obligatory joke in which I made fun of my own ability to speak it, I discovered a delightful person who was just as passionate about Star Wars as I am, and a new friend.

Q: So Koderenn, tell us about yourself.

A: I live in a small town by the sea in Greece with my husband and three kids. I have a very demanding profession which leaves me little time to appreciate the special moments in life. I enjoy good food, sunny days and a hearty laugh with family and friends. And I believe that true balance comes from a healthy mind living inside a healthy body. It’s not easy to accomplish these days, but it’s a simple motto for strenuous times.

Q: I understand you want to keep your anonymity, can I ask why?

A: Due to my profession. If I mention my name I can easily be tracked down in my country.

Q: That’s quite understandable. So how old were you when you discovered Star Wars

A: I watched the Return of the Jedi as a kid in the movie theater and I was blown away by the music, strange aliens and unique laser swords that buzzed right through me as I sat on that seat wide-eyed so long ago. It brandished me like no other movie has done since then. I won’t pretend to have followed every single project along the years, but I did spend time occasionally catching up with what was happening in that galaxy far, far away. I was ecstatic when The Force Awakens came out and we got to see our beloved original characters next to the ones who were meant to continue the saga.

Q: How old were you when you discovered fanfiction? 

A: I was a late bloomer – around the age of 35 – mainly because I live in a country where fanfiction is not well known. The first ones I came across were about the Vampire Diaries and they opened up a new world to me, one where we can explore infinite possibilities about the characters we love. 

Q: “Archive of our Own,” a popular fanfiction website, won a Hugo Award in 2019 for Best Related Work. How do you respond to critics who dismiss fanfiction?

A: The only real difference is that the characters are not original, simply borrowed from books and movies and series that we all love. But the effort that the writers put in the making of a story is as big as any other published authors. After almost eight years of reading fanfiction and decades of reading literature and published works, I believe I can safely say there are some gems in fanfiction, some of which I have enjoyed even more than the original work. It is all a matter of perspective and breaking biased perceptions. 

Q: You use trigger warnings in a number of your stories. I think that is highly commendable, do you have help deciding which trigger warnings to include? Have you ever been surprised by a reaction to a story component and realized after the fact that the chapter needed a warning?

A: I was completely inexperienced when I began writing, and apart from a few major triggers I had noticed in other works, I did not know much about warnings. I did get some lash out for not tagging properly one of my popular works, and I tried to correct it as much as possible without giving away the plot. I always take into consideration serious triggers and warn the readers about them, but I don’t label topics which are only a discomforting part of life.

Q: Full disclosure, I discovered you because I am a Reylo [the ship name of Rey and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren], but it is no secret that this particular ship is quite divisive in the fandom community and yet widely popular. A quick glance at the numbers on AO3 in mid July 2020 had more stories written about them then all of the other Star Wars ships combined. Why do you think that is?

A: There are a multitude of reasons. For one, it was a romance that was meant to take place between the villain and the hero of the trilogy. It turned out to have very intriguing dynamics which till this day leaves infinite ways to explore it through our writing. I am aware it is also a very controversial romance in the fandom, mainly because this villain committed a horrendous crime that dates as far back as ancient mythology: patricide. And especially since it concerned Han Solo, a very beloved character. In the early days of the Reylo fandom, when I was only a reader, I came across some interesting opinions about the potential romance between Rey and Kylo, that spoke about racism, incest, fascism, abuse and toxic relationships. But I don’t believe there was any real foundation for those accusations. I believe they reflect the overall tendency and superficial need of today’s society to quickly label and distinguish right from wrong, light from dark and not have to deal with the complexity and depth of characters in movies and books.

Q: Is that what prompted you to write fanfiction?

A: I had never written a word of fiction since high school until the day Kathleen Kennedy announced three years ago that there would be more adventures coming up for the characters of the sequel trilogy after the end of the saga. She mentioned Rey, she mentioned Finn and Poe, but she did not mention the one person who was the sole bearer of the Skywalker name and its legacy, and the character I had already become greatly invested in: Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. The implications behind that statement were so ominous and so unexpectedly painful, that I sat and wrote a one shot of him dying in Rey’s arms in the middle of battle, crying my eyes out. I have not stopped writing since that day. Needless to say how heartbroken I was to watch that scene play out in the last movie.

Q: What compelled you to write about Reylo in particular?

A: It is a relationship that is powerful and forbidden, an enemy to lovers dynamic with an undercurrent of sulking and pining that I so love. And all that in the Star Wars universe. Watching Kylo Ren fight his intrigue for a simple scavenger in TFA and seeing Rey impulsively ship herself to her enemy because she believed in the man behind the mask in The Last Jedi was all I needed to get hooked in the potential of a romance between them. There was no going back. I believe Rey felt understood by him and saw a side to him that she related to, despite his horrible crimes. She saw the man inside the monster and believed in him even when he couldn’t see it himself. His dilemma and subsequent regret at killing his father was enough for me to feel that this is no ordinary villain. That he is complex and human and that there was still hope for this fallen/prodigal son to return to the Light. I believed his relationship with Rey, his opposite in the Force, would be complicated but would also be his salvation. Perhaps for both of them. 

Q: A lot of Ben Solo’s backstory in the canon universe was never expanded on in film, turning a number of Reylo fans into apologists. Have you received any negative feedback for writing Reylo stories?

A: Personally I have not received negative feedback on stories. But I did feel the prejudice and dislike toward Kylo/Ben and the romance between Rey and him on social media, especially after his death/ sacrifice at the end of TROS. It was as if there was a rejoice at seeing him die, thus paying for his crimes. It made me wonder if death is still the only form of punishment or way to redemption in our modern society. We saw Vader make peace with the Force at the end of ROTJ. Was it really necessary to repeat the cycle with his grandson? Can this kind of cycle ever be broken? Can a character atone for his crimes in some other way besides death? The power of love was enough to bring him to a more balanced path. It’s a shame we will never discover the man he could have been next to Rey.

Q: May I ask about the responses to your stories. How does the attention you receive from readers both positive and negative affect you?

A: A positive review is like wind under my wings. It makes me feel like I can conquer the world and it spurs me on to write more. I also enjoy constructive criticism in reviews if there is good intent behind it, because it can help me mature as a writer. But flat out harassment is horrible. It makes me wonder what is so wrong with our society that makes people need to reach out and rip at someone’s work (that is out there for free and with no strings attached) instead of simply choosing to stop reading. 

Q: Do you write fanfiction for other fandoms?

A:  No. I have not been interested in any other fandoms since Reylo.

Q: When you write from Rey’s perspective, what do you want your readers to understand about her?

A: I enjoy seeing Rey embrace female traits such as compassion and understanding, regardless of her rough upbringing. I believe that women do not need to mimic men in order to be strong and influential. And that the strength we have inside us is not based on muscle or the need to dominate.

Q: May I ask the same question about Kylo Ren/Ben Solo?

A: He is one of the most complex heroes of modern cinema. It’s not always easy balancing his arrogance, rage and spiteful behavior with the tenderness and profound ability to love deeply. This is the characterization I usually aim for when I write Kylo/Ben and I am always surprised by the new layers I discover. 

Q: While the Star Wars universe is predominantly filled with men, Leia’s character is the one person, I feel, everyone loves. Why do you think that is?

A: She is a unique mix of traits we as women aspire to and men admire, whether that is her fierce personality and strong leadership, or how good she looks in a bikini. But there was still a vulnerability about her that we could all relate to no matter the decade. It came out real beautifully in Empire Strikes Back when Han was about to be set in carbonite and also when she connected with her son in the Force right before the Raddus got hit in The Last Jedi. She is our Princess of Alderaan, our Rebel, our Senator, our General and a wife and mother. The title of Jedi at the end was really not even needed.

 Q: In many Reylo canon compliant stories a redemption arc for Ben is written and we ultimately get Ben’s absolution from Leia, while this forgiveness was implied we actually never got to see it on screen. In your story “Silence” you wrote an especially heartfelt scene that had readers commenting that “you had left them in tears”. Can you elaborate on writing about a parent’s love and devotion towards a child that has done something unforgivable?

A: I am a mother of three and although my kids have not yet done something more horrific than draw on the walls of our house with their markers, I can’t imagine my love ever ceasing for them. I won’t talk of forgiveness because when there is real, unconditional love like the kind a mother has for her child, there is no point in talking about it. A mother that loves her child will do anything for it. It’s a law of nature that cannot be broken.

 Q: Your story “Forbidden” takes place in the Star Wars Universe but is not canon compliant, it is in fact an Alternate Universe Story (AU), in which Ben Solo is a Politician in need of a Jedi for personal protection, a kind of reverse Padme and Anakin story. While it was an AU, you spent a lot of time on canon compliant politics. What kind of research did you do to get your facts correct?

A: Some of it was knowledge I had gathered throughout the years as a simple SW fan, but most of the information came from Wookiepedia

 Q: “Forbidden” is your most sexually explicit story so far. Is it easy to write about sex? What aspects of it, if any, do you find difficult?

A: I think the more we write about sex the easier it gets! But it depends on what our aim is. For example I can’t write a smut scene without having emotion in it. Not impressions, like “his fingertips were featherlight running down her spine,” but rather actual emotions that  become apparent from the way they talk to each other and act around each other, accentuated by the setting they are in (for example a dungeon as opposed to a sunlit bedroom) or the overall tone of the story. 

 Q: Your story “Time,” the first story in your Sand and Storm trilogy, was written in early 2018, and was canon compliant up until that point. In it you gave the Knights of Ren names and individual personalities and in fact gave us a female KoR. Were you disappointed when The Rise of Skywalker was released and we got so little of the Knights of Ren?

A: Disappointment is an  … inadequate word. TROS spent too much time developing new characters instead of working on the dynamics of the ones they already had. It would have been so interesting to see if the Knights of Ren were loyal to their Master or if they were silently trying to overpower him. If there was jealousy between them, camaraderie or if they were only watching after their own selves. Such a missed opportunity. The creators could have led the story towards a million directions. In Time” I loved using one of the Knights as an adversary for Kylo and thus dividing them in two opposite sides. Top that off with Hux wanting to get rid of Ren, and Palpatine had no reason to come back at all.

Q: Long before The Rise of Skywalker was released you gave us a Rey that had Force Lightning abilities. What were you drawing upon that prompted you to write her with this gift?

A: That is a good question and I will have to say that her heritage as a Palpatine had nothing to do with it. I used Force lightning as part of the bond she shared with Kylo, and an expression of the torment he had gone through from having Darkness speak to him since a child. It’s considered a dark trait but I toyed with the idea that it doesn’t need to be restricted to dark users.

Q: You have yet to finish the Sand and Storm trilogy, and appear to have moved onto other stories. Why is that? Do you plan on completing it?

A: I was so broken by TROS that I couldn’t go back to it especially since my plans  were those of an ambiguous ending. Now I just don’t have the heart to go in that direction anymore. As a reader I also preferred reading canon as opposed to modern AU, but sadly that changed as well. I do intend to go back and complete the series, I just don’t know when.

Q: Can I ask what you’re working on now?

A: I am working on two modern AUs.  My beta and I have a bodyguard story out called “The Death of Me,” which is based on a prompt about the two of them getting stranded at an Inn. She is the slightly spoiled daughter of Palpatine and he is her bodyguard, but his initial purpose as a protector is kind of shady because he had orders to kill her. I am also working on an actor AU where Rey is a hairdresser that’s dragged into working for Kylo/Ben because of an unexplained infatuation he has about her. It’s called “Tangle Me” and it began as a self-indulgent fic about his hair *hides face in embarrassment*. It’s not as fluffy as it seems. It deconstructs the glamorous part of Hollywood a bit.

Kylo Ren on Batuu Image: Stephenie

Q: Lastly who is your favorite Star Wars character?

A: I would have once said Leia. But Kylo Ren/Ben Solo has branded me in a way I never thought a fictional character ever could. I love his complexity and inner turmoil as Kylo Ren as much as his clear, purposeful passion as Ben Solo. For me both sides of him join to create one man.

Koderenn’s works can be found on her Archive of our Own profile.