In The Last Jedi, Rey stands in a cave on Ahch-To expecting to find some great truth about her family. She believes that she’ll find answers but finds only herself. The message of the scene and her arc in the movie itself is that it doesn’t matter who her parents are. What matters is who she is.
For those of us who were massive fans of the film, myself included, this message was a big deal. It’s not only poignant, but it also feels very in line with the idea that the Force connects all life. Plus, the rules of the Jedi canonically prohibit the kind of attachment that comes from marriage and children. Thus, the most powerful Jedi in history likely weren’t from long legacy bloodlines. The concept of this legacy of powerful Force-sensitives has been almost exclusively Skywalker baggage.
<— The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker —>
Kylo Ren stands in the docking bay of his ship in The Rise of Skywalker. He’s just revealed to Rey and the audience that she is, in fact, a Palpatine. She’s the granddaughter of Emperor Sheev Palpatine; the Dark Side is in their bloodline. It is her destiny to join Kylo and rule the galaxy together.
Like all of Kylo’s attempts to turn Rey, this one fails. And though Rey struggles with the darkness she feels inside of her, and fears the source of her power, she ultimately doesn’t turn. Rey instead defeats her grandfather, theoretically ridding the universe of Palpatine once and for all.
Many saw this revelation of Rey’s past as a retcon that immediately undid the important character work of the previous film. And to some degree, this is true. Rey as a descendant of a powerful figure is a different story than Rey as a “nobody.” But while the retcon is understandably disappointing for some, for me, it made things much more personal and meaningful.
I am not the granddaughter of a totalitarian Sith Lord. But I am someone for whom the very essence of my identity forever set me apart from the course of life that my family expected for me. I am also someone that, for several very important and formative years of my life, found myself cut off from a large portion of my blood relatives. This estrangement was largely due to very toxic divisions.
Like Rey, I found a direct conflict with the person that I knew myself to be in my heart and the things that were expected of me because of where I came from. One of the largest critiques of the Rey Palpatine reveal is that it suggests that her story is valid because she is the granddaughter of the former ruler of the galaxy. But the importance of this connection is that this same man is also the total embodiment of everything that Rey finds abhorrent.
Rey learns that her legacy is directly linked to the pain and suffering of the people she most cares about. As someone who has blood relatives make decisions that have made life harder for me, and for people I care about, I felt closer to Rey than I have in any of the previous two films. Since I’ve been stanning her from the jump, that’s saying a lot.
For me, it only heightens that moment in The Last Jedi. The message is still that it doesn’t matter where Rey comes from; she has the power to forge and shape her destiny. And while choosing her path may mean forsaking her blood family, it only means giving her the space to forge stronger bonds with her found family. This a profoundly meaningful experience for anyone who has ever had to do it. For much of my recent life, found family became my lifeline.
Kylo holding his hand out yet again at the edge of his ship is the perfect depiction of their dynamic up until this point. To Kylo at his most broken, his place in the Dark Side is an absolute. The film’s narrative leaves it unclear in if he knows that his revered Sith grandfather was turned back to the light by Luke. But while he speaks of their family legacies as an inevitability, he seems to be oblivious to the fact that both his mother and uncle were able to shed that same fate.
As Kylo begs Rey to stand at his side, he’s already allowed himself to be defeated by the assumed weight of his bloodline. Rey is given that same choice and instead chooses to run, to keep searching for answers, and to keep fighting alongside her friends. Rey chooses her found family, and in doing so, chooses herself.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm