With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney not only introduced us to the plucky heroine Rey, but also to the tantalizing mystery of who she might be. Abandoned on the junkyard planet of Jakku when she was just a doll-faced ankle-biter, Rey was forced into child labor, and learned about spaceships and combat so she could survive in a merciless scavenger lifestyle. But when BB-8 crossed her path, Star Wars fans began to wonder if this meant she was fated for greatness, like a certain farm boy was long ago.
As Rey sought to discover who her parents were, fans began to spin excited theories, many of which suggested Rey was a child of Luke or Leia or Han. It was assumed her parents HAD to be pre-established characters of the original trilogy, which would re-enforce the idea that the Star Wars saga is all about the Skywalkers’ family dramas forever. But The Last Jedi threw some fans into a fit of rage by revealing that Rey’s parents were “nobody.”
In an emotional scene between a fiery Kylo Ren and tearful Rey, he challenges her to stop obsessing her past and face its truth.
Kylo Ren: Do you know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You’ve just hidden it away. Say it.
Rey: They were nobody.
Kylo Ren: 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. You’re nothing. But not to me.
Now, Kylo’s negging aside, this decimated the fan theory that Rey was a Skywalker hidden away by the Resistance. It demolished the idea that she was fated to follow in Luke’s footsteps because of their shared blood or heritage. Instead, she’s just a scrappy survivor whose bravery pulled her into an epic saga in which she is now the hero. And while I can understand how disappointing it must be to watch your pet theory go up in smoke, isn’t this new path for Star Wars thrilling!?
It celebrates the individual over some big, unmovable destiny. It means anyone can be a hero, but it’s up to them to choose it. And that’s reaffirmed—not established—in The Last Jedi. After all, Han Solo was once a cocky smuggler. Finn was once a cowardly Stormtrooper. Rose was an overlooked maintenance worker. Rey was the abandoned daughter of “filthy junk traders.” But each of them chose bravery, defiance, and The Resistance. It’s an inspiring message that calls Star Wars audiences to choose to be a part of the good fight. And when The Last Jedi ends on that silhouette of a little stable boy holding a broom as if it’s a lightsaber, he is all of us. He is inspired by the heroes he saw play out their bold battles before them. He imagines himself in their shoes. The reveal of Rey’s parentage in The Last Jedi tells us he can be a great hero too.
I marvel fans are outraged by this, because it opens up the world of Star Wars movies to limitless possibilities. Disney backed the meticulous and sprawling build of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they could do the same for Star Wars with many movies. And with the theme of heroes being able to grow from even the humblest background, the stories that can be told in this world are now endless. The sky is not even a limit. And yet, some fans are hoping this Rey reveal will be undone, and the storytelling world of Star Wars made smaller.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the petition to kick The Last Jedi out of canon. But despite a vocal group of detractors, the film has already banked over a billion worldwide. So that won’t happen. Still, Last Jedi’s haters hold onto hope that some of director Rian Johnson’s moves will be unmade in Episode IX, which will be helmed by J.J. Abrams and written by Chris Terrio. And a recent interview seems to have given them a new hope.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Johnson said of Rey’s parentage reveal, “Anything’s still open, and I’m not writing the next film. [J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio] are doing it.” Which some are taking as a sign that Disney might back down on that element, as they did when some fans reacted badly to The Mandarin reveal in Iron Man 3. Others are insisting this is a hint that Kylo lied. Personally, it sounds like Johnson doesn’t want to spend the next two years answering this question, and so he’s passing it off. The Last Jedi gave us the answer, not just in the dialogue between Rey and Kylo, but also in the cave scene that preceded it.
In a trippy sequence that seemed heavily inspired by the inky eeriness of Under The Skin, Rey travels into the dark cave where she hoped to uncover the truth about her parents. There a figure appears on the other side of a dark glass mirror. But as it comes closer it is not her parents, just Rey’s reflection. And then the screen is filled with Rey’s mirroring each other, on and on. Rey looked for her parents, for her identity, for her purpose, and found herself. Kylo warns her “let the past die.” And while he pushes this to a place of signature dramatics and overkill, he makes a solid point: who her parents are does not matter. Rey is by herself and built herself and is responsible for her own destiny. Kylo needs the past to die because of his regrets. But Rey seeking answers in her own past just holds her back from realizing her own power.
In the same interview, Johnson expressed something similar. He explained that Luke learning Darth Vader was his father was “the hardest thing the character could possibly hear in that moment.” Then he said:
“And same thing with Rey and her parentage. The easy thing would be, ‘Yes, your parents are so and so and here’s your place in the world. There you go.’ The hardest thing she could hear would be […] ‘No, you’re not going to get the answer. This is not going to define you. You’re going to have to find your own place in this world. Kylo is going to use that even as leverage to try and make you feel insecure, and you’re going to have to stand on your own two feet.’”
This right here makes Rey the hero we need right now. She was discarded, forgotten, underestimated. Nevertheless, she persisted. She not only survived. She thrived. And she didn’t do it because her parents changed the universe or were mighty heroes or notorious villains. She did it because the determination and courage were inside her, she only needed to embrace them and trust herself. Rey reminds us any of us can be a hero. And isn’t that a better, more powerful and exciting message that some of us are born to be heroes, and the others to—what?—live and die in obscurity? How is that the theme we root for?
I won’t pretend to have some great insight into Disney’s future plans for Star Wars. Maybe the outcry over this reveal will urge Abrams and Terrio to undo this plot point, calling Kylo a liar and poshing up Rey’s heritage. But I hope not. I hope Rey gets to remain an ordinary girl who chose to be extraordinary.