As Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters, something else has risen: Controversy. Certain revelations seem to walk back the work of Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi. A deeper look may show that a certain characters arc as been consistent all along, and comes to fruition in the new film.
Warning! From this point on there will be spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker!
I have seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker twice now, and though I enjoyed it the first time, I had a hard time with one particular revelation.
In the course of the film, we find out that there has been misdirection in regards to the origins of the central hero, Rey. The Force Awakens teased that she might have deeper roots, while The Last Jedi told us she was no one. Now, seemingly in direct contradiction to TLJ, TROS reveals Rey’s father was the biological son of Sheev Palpatine.
This felt off to me my first viewing. As a dutiful Star Wars fan though, I know to never base my opinion on a film on a single viewing. In particular, J.J. Abrams’ film style—both in Star Wars and Star Trek—is a breakneck pace, with small clues and blink-and-you-miss-it indicators of where a plot or story is going. So, gripes in the front of my mind, I went back in to the film I found otherwise enjoyable (if a little TOO busy in places) to really see what was being said about Rey.
As a character, Rey’s theme is not “anyone can become something,” it is rather “anyone can choose who they want to be.”
This is the challenge she faces across the Sequel Trilogy, in ever different forms. And if we look at TLJ as saying “where you come from doesn’t matter, it’s the choices you make,” the reveal in TROS falls completely in line with what happens to Rey and, in fact, just doubles down on what she learned in the previous two films.
When TFA starts, we find Rey alone on Jakku, scavenging the bones of a dead Empire to survive. We get an idea who she is in a variety of small ways. We certainly see she is resourceful and clever as she navigates the hull of a downed Destroyer.
When she returns with her “quarter portion” to her home in a gutted AT-AT, we also see she has made a doll of a Rebel pilot and wears an abandoned Rebel pilot’s helmet. She waits for parents to return, counting days, but has already identified herself with the side of right, taking even her name from the helmet she wears.
Saving BB-8 from Teedo, and her refusal to accept a fortune in food from Unkar Plutt further illustrates Rey is choosing who she wants to be. It would be completely in line with the other scavengers to have left the droid with Teedo, or even claim it for herself in order to sell the thing like so much scrap, feed herself for months. She has chosen however to be more.
When the real adventure begins, and with Finn she flees the First Order on the Millennium Falcon, she will make her may to Maz Kanata’s and find a certain lightsaber.
In the sense of a character arc, this is really her first challenge to her identity. This saber calls to her, and she resists that call at first (right out of George Lucas’ “Joseph Campbell Playbook”!), and decides she will continue to be “just” a scavenger.
This is where she has to learn that she HAS been defining herself all along, and may continue to do so. In the confrontation where she seizes the sword (again we see J.J. Abrams has Lucas’ copy of “The Hero’s Journey”) and allows The Force to guide her, she is making a choice who she will be.
Not letting her abandonment, her humble scavenger background, nor not knowing who she is define her, she ends this movie on her way to find Master Luke Skywalker and become a Jedi. Her character is firmly established now in our theme that origin is irrelevant, the choices you make NOW are what defines you.
That completes her arc for this film, but this is a trilogy, and the second act of the larger arc is going to have to challenge her more.
There is an old quote attributed to author Richard Bach (spiritualist and seagull aficionado) that, “We best teach that which we most need to learn.”
As TLJ plays out, we find that very true of Rey.
Arriving on Ahch-To and finding that Luke, due to a split-second lapse in judgement years before, has made himself a hermit both on this planet and in The Force, Rey tries to convince him to make a choice NOW to define himself. At the same time, as the “Force-Skype” asserts with Kylo Ren, she tries to convince him to choose who he wants to be as well.
The affect this has on Luke, as a hero having his own arc in this film is to realize his exile and plan to destroy the Jedi is wrong, and do exactly what he said he wouldn’t: Walk out and face the First Order with a laser sword. The arc plays out well for him, but with Kylo Ren, we get a snag.
While Rey is encouraging Kylo to choose who he wants to be out of love and selflessness, he instead chooses to be WORSE. In an effort to drag her down with him, he tells her the truth she has been running away from: Her parents were nothing, nobodies, and that makes her nothing.
Here, within the film’s arc is her Campbellian “Innermost Cave” and “Ordeal.” Yet again, Rey overcomes. Her being from nothing does not define her, but rather what she does now. She again literally seizes the sword (as Kylo tries to as well), and chooses to be Rey of the Resistance.
She arrives to save the day on Crait, and meeting Poe Dameron for the first time, is rewarded with a “I know who you are.” Her film arc is complete. Despite the challenge of knowing her background, and knowing it is a completely unworthy origin, she has still chosen to be the hero now. This sets us up for the challenge she will face in the third act.
We find Rey in TROS finding there is still something holding her back as she trains with Leia. Something is keeping her from reaching out to the Jedi of the past. The sudden reappearance of Emperor Palpatine sets the story in motion as she and her friends seek the way to find Palpatine and end him for good.
Her nemesis Kylo Ren however has already seen the Emperor, and has news for Rey. Her parents are in fact dead, and though they died in squalor, it was because they were protecting her from her ancestry: She is the granddaughter of Palpatine himself. “Your power is his,” he tells her.
Even as she struggles with this revelation, she chooses to continue to show Kylo Ren the error of his ways, and with help from Leia’s last act and the surprise cameo I still don’t want to spoil for anyone, gets Ben Solo to cast off Kylo Ren, as Anakin Skywalker once cast off Darth Vader.
(I’m sure there’s a whole essay to be written about Ben’s arc as well and how it reflects Anakin/Vader in previous Star Wars films.)
She decides to exile herself as she hits the “ordeal” in this film, but Luke appears to her, and in an echo of his own story where in Return of the Jedi he went to face his father, she goes to face her grandfather. It is here we see the lie in Kylo’s statement “your power is his,” just as we saw the lie in TLJ that “You’re nothing.”
Rey’s power is HER power, and despite any possible connection to Palpatine she CHOOSES who she will be, she chooses to confront him, to not give in to his desires to force his power into her. She chooses resistance and The Resistance.
Here, she does not choose the path of anger to take vengeance and strike him down (so reminiscent of what he tired to do with Luke in Return of the Jedi), but instead she simply stands against him. This allows her to connect with Jedi of the past. When Palpatine attempts to destroy her with his dark energy, she does not attack, she instead simply reflects, allowing Palpatine’s own power to destroy him. She has not taken vengeance and fallen, she has chosen only to resist. In that she finds victory and ends the threat of the Sith once and for all.
In the very end, she lays Luke and Leia—in the form of their lightsabers—to rest on Tatooine, and we get the culmination of not only the arc of the film, but of her arc in the entire Sequel Trilogy: She chooses to become Rey Skywalker. Once again, it has not mattered what her origin was, even if she may have come from evil; she chooses who she is.
(For a great look at this examining TROS specifically, please take a look at Meg Dowell’s take on Rey’s heritage!)
The Sequel Trilogy is Rey’s story. Indeed, even the titles of each film refer to her by the end of their respective stories. At first, the Force has awakened her. She is then left as The Last Jedi. Finally, we see how she Rises as a Skywalker.
Her arc has consistently been one of her choosing to define herself. Even when she had no idea who she was, she chose the light, defying what others would say she must be. Even when she thought she was from nothing at all, she chose the light, defying anyone who would say you must have famous origins. . And finally when she thought she was from evil incarnate, she chose the light, defying those who would say her past must define her.
Each film has upped the ante for Rey, but consistently shown us through her character that nothing and no one is responsible for our choices but us. We can’t choose where we came from. We can’t choose what the people around us do. We can choose who we want to be in response to those things. Rey is face with that challenge three times in three ways, and continues to choose the light.
TROS is not a perfect film (what Star Wars movie is?). There are places it takes missteps //cough// Rose Tico //cough//. Rey’s arc however does not walk back the wonderful TLJ.
Anyone can be a hero, broom boy or a scavenger. Here anyone can be a hero, even someone whose origins are murky, or a former Stormtrooper.
Oh yes, I think TROS absolutely tells us Finn is Force Sensitive.
See the film and judge for yourself; but the end of the Skywalker saga tells us that the Skywalker family will never be gone.
Anyone can be a Skywalker. Your choice.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now. Please comment and discuss below, but be a Skywalker, and choose the light in how you treat others!