In moments of chaos, when I feel powerless over the larger goings on in the world, I—like so many of us—resort to the comforts of fiction. It’s always there, as the imagination is an untouchable fortress; a place where we can escape by simply closing our eyes and letting the mind wander. For me, the mind wanders often to my favorite pop culture fantasy world: the galaxy far, far away.
It’s hard to put into words how profoundly Star Wars has changed my life in the last several years. I was always tangentially a fan, but the sequel trilogy hit my life at a unique time. As I wobbled through work and friend groups and relationships—hungry for a solid foundation, some safety net of stability—it arrived right when I needed it. I can still recall riding the train in Chicago when the cast announcement hit the web, and sucked me into this new era of storytelling that felt hatched from my own desires.
From the opening moments of The Force Awakens, I knew I’d found a comrade in Rey. The lonely girl from Jakku with no family, friends, sense of home—a girl who, like me, ached for destiny to intervene, but also feared change and disruption. It’s a strange state of displacement, and she exemplified it, what with her AT-AT apartment loaded with trinkets, dried flowers, dolls, bread. With her sense of yearning first seen in those silent moments where she plops an X-wing helmet on her head and looks to the horizon. I found my own personal window into this fantasy world. A girl who felt like she didn’t belong, but knew she was capable of great things… if only opportunity might present itself.
“I know all about waiting. For my family. They’ll be back, one day.”
Imagine my delight as each subsequent sequel trilogy film developed her personality. In The Last Jedi, my personal favorite Star Wars film, we watch as Rey grapples with her inner turmoil. With her sense of self-importance. It’s the hubris many young women face, and she’s confronted with it directly, as Luke Skywalker himself dismantles her vanity, and the vanity of the entire Jedi history with it. For the first time, Rey feels that she both belongs to something and cannot infiltrate it—because of birthright, her past, and how both might mingle with her present.
And even though the third film in the sequel trilogy, and ninth in the Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker tampers that self loathing with wish-fulfillment by making her a Palpatine, it doesn’t strip Rey of everything I ever loved about her. We watch in the film as she attempts to channel the Force through meditation and connection, as she gives the gift of life to help a helpless creature on Pasaana, and as, even after ultimate defeat, she quiets the world around her to look into the stars for one last surge of purpose.
The Skywalker saga may be over, and Rey’s story may be complete, but I keep thinking of her. As coronavirus panic sweeps through our nation. As anxiety spikes. As I, too, continue to question if I’m where I need to be, or if I’m still that little girl on Jakku waiting for intervention. Whenever sadness feels overwhelming, I remember Rey in the opening moments of The Rise of Skywalker: in lotus pose, floating among vegetation, the “best fighter” in the Resistance. Someone who’s found love and community. (And who has done so despite her continuous protestation; if nothing else Rey is amorously stubborn.) Someone who fights for change in the galaxy no matter the personal cost.
I should hope that others find the same comfort in her characterization. That they can channel Rey’s zen attitude. Even when faced with the terrible reality of her predicament—her relation to the ultimate evil in the galaxy, Palpatine—she doesn’t let it sway her heart. That’s something to cling to. The ferocity of goodness that fuels her no matter what.
My own life has changed significantly since the Star Wars sequel trilogy began. In those short years, I went from penniless book peddler to television company assistant to freelancer to pop culture writer. Star Wars has been with me every step of the way, informing my personal life and my career. I still care so deeply about it, even when it brings me anxiety and pain.
That’s because I still have Rey. And I think we should all think of her, and the Jedi kindness that runs through her soul, in the months to come. As we do yoga, meditate, try to connect to the universe. Even as it fails us. There’s always hope, and she makes me believe that even more steadfastly. Because she finally learns to accept love. A love we deserve to accept, too. Now more than ever.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm