Onto every generation, a new internet boyfriend is bestowed. You know the kind: the handsome yet not necessarily conventional figure of celebrity whose appeal extends beyond mere hotness. He’s not just an actor or singer; he’s an artist, someone to be taken seriously and praised as widely for their craft as their appearance. Gen X-ers had River Phoenix and Leonardo DiCaprio. Gen Z-ers love Harry Styles and Timothee Chalamet. And then there’s Adam Driver, the two-time Oscar-nominated A-Lister who became an online obsession in part thanks to his starring role in the new Star Wars trilogy. He’s everywhere, whether he’s headlining acclaimed films, becoming a centaur in Burberry ads, or being one of the better Saturday Night Live guest hosts in recent memory. His influence has also spread to an unexpected medium: the world of romance novels.
If you know where to look, it seems like Driver is suddenly the hero of a lot of major romances. It’s not uncommon for writers to take direct influence from celebrities for their protagonists, although it is fascinating just how prevalent Driver has become in the genre. In The Seat Filler by Sariah Wilson, a down-on-her-luck dog groomer finds herself acting as a seat filler at a major awards event that’s totally not the Oscars. She is sat next to Noah Douglas, the tall heartthrob star of her all-time favorite series, Duel of the Fae (get it?!). He’s described as unconventionally handsome, sturdy, and magnetic. He loves his dog, used to be in the army, and has no interest in the world of Hollywood or celebrity. Even if you hadn’t read Driver’s Wikipedia page, it’s impossible to read The Seat Filler and not know who Noah Douglas is based on. Many reviews on Goodreads have noted the “cringe” of this creative choice, with the top review on its page joking that the author should be served with a restraining order.
While Wilson is more direct in her use of Driver as romantic inspiration, others have taken the side route and latched onto Kylo Ren. We can’t talk about Driver’s romance novel appeal without discussing Kylo, the conflicted antagonist of the latest Star Wars trilogy, a tortured young man torn between his legacy and hunger for the powers of the dark side. Fewer characters in blockbuster cinema had the level of “I can fix him” energy of young Ben Solo. Making him all the more alluring was his forbidden romance with Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the characters’ indelible connection offered some of the most exciting sexual chemistry the series had seen since the heyday of Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.
Reylo fics (the pairing of Ren and Rey) seem to be as major a feature in current romance novels as Bella and Edward were post-Twilight. One of the biggest books of the past couple of years thanks to TikTok, The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, even started out life as Reylo fanfiction. An AU (alternate universe) fic wherein the drama is moved to a lab at Stanford University, Rey and Kylo become Olive and Adam (yes, really), two students who agree to a fake romance that leads to many shenanigans. The cover art doesn’t even try to hide the fact that the central couple is, at the very least, inspired by Driver and Daisy Ridley.
Hazelwood isn’t alone in her Reylo yarns. Books like Go Hex Yourself by Jessica Clare, We’d Know By Then by Kirsten Bohling, and For Love and Bylines by Merrin Taylor are all either Reylo fics turned original romance or heavily lifting from tropes and expectations associated with this ship. It feels like a mini-revival of the 50 Shades of Grey era of publishing, where one Twilight fanfic became a true phenomenon and editors scrambled to find works where the serial numbers could be filed away to avoid messy copyright disputes. It barely made headlines when Anna Todd’s Wattpad fic of Harry Styles became a multi-book and film series, After.
Once upon a time, it was seen as unspeakable for the streams of fanfic and legitimate publishing to cross. Now, it’s merely an extension of the big five publishing houses’ business model. You don’t even need to conceal the origins, not when that’s part of the marketing plan. With her upcoming debut romance, Forget Me Not, Reylo writer Julie Soto openly cited the ship as an inspiration for her original novel. The cover happily evokes this.
Reylo is a wildly popular pairing, one whose influence can be felt in many unrelated fandoms. Much of its appeal lies in well-established romantic and narrative ideas. We have a Byronic anti-hero who struggles with his moral center and the weight of his family legacy. There’s an underdog heroine who has been underestimated by everyone, except for her mortal enemy who looks great with his shirt off. They come together in remarkable harmony but are torn apart by their opposing viewpoints. Then, when they finally find their brief moment of unity, it ends in tragedy. Take away the lightsabers and you have a classic gothic romance.
As with all popular ships, the appeal lies in not just those attractive tropes but in their flexibility for writers to experiment with. There are enough moments of humor between Rey and Kylo in The Last Jedi for fans to add a more screwball spin to their stories without straying too far from the source. Of course, abandoning those foundations is half the fun of fic. That’s how we get stories where vampires become billionaire CEOs or sexy cannibals are coffee shop owners. The more a fic deviates from its established rules, the more room there is for a writer to inject the actors into the characters.
Driver’s appeal is evident, even if he does not aesthetically fit the narrow confines of the traditional Hollywood leading man: he’s tall, charismatic, talented, stoic but not humorless, and has a body that will not quit (John Oliver famously referred to him as a “meaty oak” of a man.) Moreover, he’s extremely private, choosing to keep his personal life and family out of the press. You won’t see Driver showing off his wife and child in a Vanity Fair spread or posing in a sensible sweater for People’s Sexiest Man Alive. He may be one of the most recognizable actors working today, a literal Star Wars icon, but he remains uninterested in the typical confines of celebrity and the act of self-promotion.
This is the man who walked out on an NPR radio interview rather than listen to a clip of his own acting. He, or at least the image we have of him, seems ideal for romantic speculation. Just think of him as an old-school romantic figure without the dickishness, someone who seems like he’d be as comfortable in a cravat as a hoodie. There’s a malleability to him that makes him perfect as a stand-in for your romance hero of choice. He can be dark or goofy, alpha or beta, classic or modern, and every take feels like it makes sense to Driver as a whole. You can’t really do that with, say, Chris Evans.
Driver commands a loyal and often zealous fanbase, not unlike many a megastar before him. And with that attention comes, perhaps inevitably, some extreme toxicity. Driver may not be the typical leading man but he’s been subjected to all of the usual conspiratorial ramblings and parasocial panic that are now the hallmarks of extreme fandom viciousness. His wife, Joanne Tucker, has been the focus of much cruelty, as has their young child, whom Driver has kept out of the limelight for obvious reasons. Tucker has faced the ire of Driver fans, including those who ship him with Daisy Ridley (not her characters) and think his actual wife is in the way of their fantasies. There have been death threats towards her and her child, as well as ridiculous conspiracies that she’s a controlling wife with ties to a sex cult. Like many a celebrity spouse before her, she’s suffered for the crime of ruining the delusion that their beloved is a blank slate to project romantic ideals onto.
Many Reylo fans sent death threats and harassment to the cast and crew from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker after Kylo was killed off. Teen Vogue reporter Stitch, who covers fandom culture for the publication, spent a long time offering a critical eye towards the Reylo ship and the harassment and racism within the fandom. For her efforts, many Reylo fans tried to get her fired from the site. A lot of harm has been done in the name of the Adam Driver romantic fantasy, none of which I imagine he’d endorse. This is not to tar all Reylo or Driver fans with the same brush, but to note how the creative space of fandom, and all of its positivity, can quickly turn to something far more toxic.
Driver will continue to inspire many. How could he not? Have you seen that Burberry advert? His reign as a peak internet boyfriend will have a few more years of power until the next hunk comes along with the right mixture of looks, personality, and blank-slate potential. Until then, we have a few happy-ever-afters to get through.
Kayleigh Donaldson is a critic and pop culture writer for Pajiba.com. Her work can also be found on IGN, Slashfilm, Uproxx, Little White Lies, Vulture, Roger Ebert, and other publications. She lives in Dundee.