“The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead.”
Maz Kanata’s words to Rey in The Force Awakens were a powerful emblem of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. A lonely scavenger girl from the desert planet Jakku, Rey grew up in isolation, without a family, rooted to a place she hated, hopeful they’d return. In her introduction sequence, we see the consequence of that loneliness. Selling parts to scrape by, eating meals in the sand with a whimsical eye to the horizon, not unlike Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. But Rey always felt different. Untethered from familial burden. A hero made from the inside, forced to survive–and surviving on the Force.
But Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final film in the sequel trilogy and the Skywalker saga, completely obliterates Rey’s arc in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. An arc that, until this point, was about forging her own identity. In the mirror cave on Ahch-To, as Rey wonders about her lineage, the Force shows her only herself. She’s what matters most. Her parents were nobodies. “You have no place in this story,” Kylo Ren tells her. And that’s the whole point.
Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker below.
Except it isn’t. The Rise of Skywalker walks back Rey’s entire journey by making her a legacy character, after all. She’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, back from the grave to enact some final, ill-defined plan. Rey’s parents were nobodies… from a certain point of view. Because they chose to be. The movie also tells us that Rey has long suspected this and that Luke and Leia knew it as well.
It feels like a joke. And it plays out like one, too. For the second time in a row, this vital bit of information about Rey is told to her by Kylo Ren, as he attempts to manipulate her. This time it’s clear how he knows all of this, because Palpatine told him. But it doesn’t make the reveal any less clunky or cruel. After two films about letting go of the past and forging your own destiny, The Rise of Skywalker makes Rey the bearer of two different legacies: Palpatine and Skywalker.
The implications here reek of character assassination and cowardice. Writer/director J.J. Abrams, who began Rey’s story in The Force Awakens and closes it out in The Rise of Skywalker, once said of the Force:
“I really feel like the assumption that any character needs to have inherited a certain number of midi-chlorians or needs to be part of a bloodline, it’s not that I don’t believe that as part of the canon, I’m just saying that at 11 years old, that wasn’t where my heart was. And so I respect and adhere to the canon but I also say that the Force has always seemed to me to be more inclusive and stronger than that.”
The Rey reveal is also the most glaring example of a trilogy with no cohesion whatsoever. If this was Abrams’ plan from the onset, why not embed it into the story straight away? What’s the point of dragging out the mystery of who this person is over the course of three films? It’s frustrating and insulting, and it seemed done after The Last Jedi. Many fans nitpicked Kylo’s speech to Rey, poking holes in his wording, assuming there was a “gotcha” lurking around the corner. Making Rey a Palpatine is more in service to the plot hole crowd than to the character herself.
And let’s go back and examine what Kylo says for a moment: “They were filthy junk traders. Sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You come from nothing.” In the text of the film, we realize that he’s reading her mind, saying aloud what she fears and assumes. But in The Rise of Skywalker, he tells her he never lied to her and that everything he said was true. So what about the drinking money thing? That part was objectively a lie, and one the film never references or contends with.
What an absolute dishonor it is to the story to present something that profound and neglect it right away. There’s a beautiful message to make of something like that. That children from broken homes and troubled families who never felt loved can still have strength and be heroes. That you can come from nowhere and still be important. That the Force chooses the most worthy, not the person with the most genetic relevancy.
But J.J. Abrams clearly doesn’t understand the foundation of what he created or the possibility of imagination. Instead, Rey had to suffer through an identity crisis for three movies only to land exactly where she began in the first place: rejecting the past and looking fondly to the future. In the closing moments of the film, Rey wanders through the Lars homestead on Tatooine, another desert planet. Kylo Ren, transformed back to Ben Solo, is dead. She has her Resistance family, but symbolically, the movie ends with her alone, taking the name “Rey Skywalker,” for reasons that are mostly unclear. She has to rebuild the next era of Jedi by herself.
Rey didn’t need to be a Palpatine to be strong. She doesn’t need to wear the Skywalker name like a mask. She could have truly been Rey from nowhere, with no last name. Who struggles with her inner darkness not because it’s a clue, but because she’s a human. It would have made her story better. It would have made Star Wars better. Instead, the galaxy far away and the Jedi order is limited, elitist, and destined to fail again. May the Force be with us.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm