The reveal of Rey’s heritage as a Palpatine in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has proven to be divisive with some fans. Ironically, it may be that reveal and her reaction to it that truly solidifies her as a Skywalker.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker reveals that the central character of the Sequel Trilogy, the Jakku scavenger known only as “Rey,” is in fact the granddaughter of the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious, Emperor Palpatine himself.
Last seen in Return of the Jedi being thrown down the Death Star II tower, which housed his throne room, Palpatine returned due to all the machinations he had already set in place, and is ready to instill his dark essence and being into Rey as his progeny. With the help of Darth Vader’s reformed grandson, who has found redemption like his grandfather, Rey is able to resist and defeats the Sith for good (or at least until Episode X). Also like his grandfather, Ben’s redemption makes him shuffle off this mortal coil, leaving Rey to take on the legacy and name Skywalker.
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Earlier, I argued this ending works very much in line with what has been Rey’s arc across Star Wars. Rey is who she chooses to be, exercising her agency regardless of not knowing her heritage, thinking she was nothing, and now finding out she is descended from a Sith line. She defeats each expectation placed upon her by others due to their perceptions of what she should be and chooses to actively personify the Light.
Indeed, upon a closer look at the rest of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga, this is almost exactly the arcs that both Luke and Anakin Skywalker live through, though admittedly it take six films for Anakin to complete his cycle, while Luke does it in three.
In 1977, we first met young farm boy Luke Skywalker. He is just another Tatooine teenager eager to get out into the galaxy, even if it means flying TIE fighters for the Empire. A mentor appears, telling him that he has come from a heritage of the Jedi, and that he should seek that future. In the process he goes up against the Sith Lord Darth Vader, and with the help of his friend Han narrowly defeats Vader and destroys the formidable Death Star.
Then, he discovers the worst: Darth Vader is in fact his father, and the legacy that seems to lie before Luke could be as dark as that of the Sith Lord. On Dagobah, the cave shows him how he and Vader are the same. Vader nearly kills him with a recruitment speech, leaving Luke with a machine hand like his own. When Luke finally meets Palpatine face to face, he is pushed toward the legacy of his dark father, and so very nearly fulfills it. Before he can fall though, he realizes what path he is truly on, and he chooses his identity. “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
Despite the temptation of dark power, Luke knows he can choose who he is, and he is not snared by his origin. He tosses away the lightsaber, and in that moment becomes a Jedi, ending the first Star Wars trilogy.
Anakin has a longer road. He starts as the slave boy on Tatooine, and never knows a father. (I am curious as to whether Shmi ever told him he didn’t have one as she told Qui-Gon.)
Offered the identity of Jedi, he takes it, but always carries the burden of not knowing where the anger in him comes from.
Then, in Star Wars Episode III, he is offered an explanation. The tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise allows Anakin to infer that he is created from the dark alchemy of the Sith, an unnatural being forced into existence by the unholy manipulation of the midichlorians.
Sadly, Anakin follows this identity for years. For decades he will sublimate Anakin and choose to be Darth Vader. Finally shown the light by his son—when as discussed earlier Luke chooses his own identity—Anakin chooses to be a Skywalker and casts Palpatine into the archetypical pit, dying the hero he has chosen to be.
This is the legacy of the Skywalkers in Star Wars. They are presented with a set of expectations based on their circumstances of origin, and have to make a choice. This theme is one of many which form the foundation of the Original and Prequel Trilogies, and we see in TROS that theme plays out in the Sequel Trilogy as well. Luke chooses to come back to the fight after tragedy; Ben chooses to cast off the mantle of Kylo Ren; and perhaps more than the smiling Force Ghosts of Luke and Leia nodding in acceptance, Rey choosing her identity as a Skywalker solidifies her destiny. Her choice, her agency, her active decision to be the hero in her world, and to all of us.
The Sequel Trilogy, like the films that have gone before, give us the hero’s journey. Rey faces the inner self, the Palpatine within, and chooses the Skywalker. The story “rhymes” with Luke, with Anakin; it is a perfect place to end the saga.
Remember though: Nothing ever truly ends.
Will Rey Skywalker return? What other similarities with the existing saga does the Sequel Trilogy provide? Sound off in comments below, but please seek the light.