Star Wars Spoilers: Rey's Parents And Why Rian Johnson Said What He Said

9.5
  • Science Fiction
2017-12-15
star wars the last jedi rey
Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (c) Lucasfilm

After years of hearing people complain about how Rey is a magical Mary Sue , whose strength in the Force is impossible and offputting, we are now faced with hearing people complain that Rey isn’t Mary Sue enough. She’s not Han and Leia’s hidden lovechild, Kylo Ren’s secret twin, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s second cousin’s former roommate’s niece or some other type of Skywalker by-blow, as if Skywalkers are the only family to have drama or Force sensitivity in the entire universe.

Rey is nobody’s baby, and that’s canon. Director Rian Johnson stands by it: he said what he said.

In an interview with EW at a Q&A after a screening, Johnson said he was able to do as he wished with regards to Rey’s parentage. While he will not speak for what Lens Flare God, J.J. Abrams, and Argo writer, Chris Terrio, might do with his decisions in the next film, Johnson’s take is straightforward:

“[I]n that moment, Kylo believes it’s the truth. I don’t think he’s purely playing chess. I think that’s what he saw when they touched fingers and that’s what he believes. And when he tells her that in that moment, she believes it.”

In terms of storytelling, Johnson explained how this blunt conclusion would be the hardest thing for Rey to accept. The parents she longed for, the parents she waited for, the parents she idolized and loved in absentia: they were no one, they died no one, and she will never get closure or an explanation from them. She must forge an identity for herself outside of the context of her blood family.

“I was thinking, what’s the most powerful answer to that question? Powerful meaning: what’s the hardest thing that Rey could hear? That’s what you’re after with challenging your characters,” said Johnson. “The easiest thing for Rey and the audience to hear is, ‘Oh yeah, you’re so-and-so’s daughter.’ That would be wish fulfillment and instantly hand her a place in this story on a silver platter. The hardest thing for her is to hear she’s not going to get that easy answer… You’re going to have to find the strength to stand on your own two feet and define yourself in this story.”

The best part about Rey’s parentage, aside from how it neatly cuts fan theories in half about the same way Kylo cut Snoke in half, is that Johnson is right. On a writing level, handing Rey a place in the sanctified, legendary Skywalker bloodline is an easy choice that doesn’t evolve her character at all. Rey Skywalker would be born into heroism like folks are born into money or fame, so of course she’s a legend—she’s a Skywalker, isn’t she?

Instead of this hackneyed, trite, trope-ridden path, Rey is truly no one from nowhere. She rises based on her own decisions and the merits of her own character: headstrong, stubborn, decisive and courageous. Her missing family is the raw wound that torments her the same way the shadow of Kylo Ren’s famous family torments him. She is principled and strong, rather than just blue-blooded, a reflection of the Resistance’s ragtag, scrappy survivors and not a tedious retread of Skywalker generational tragedy.

“I can understand why that answer doesn’t feel good. It’s not supposed to feel good. It’s supposed to be the hardest thing she could possibly hear in that moment,” said Johnson. He compared it to Vader telling Luke the truth about Luke’s own parentage: “I think it was effective because that’s the hardest thing both Luke and the audience could hear in that moment… [i]t takes away the easy answer. It takes it from, ‘yes, Vader is just a bad guy we hate and we want to die,’ into, ‘wait a minute, Vader is actually a part of our protagonist, he has a connection to him, and we have to think about him in a more complicated way,’ in a way that may involve redemption. That doesn’t feel great.”

So if you’re upset about the revelation regarding Rey’s parentage, you’re not alone: that’s how Rey feels, and that’s how you’re supposed to feel. It’s not great. It’s hard and it sucks. But phoenixes rise from ashes, not from the glory of climbing flames. Johnson made the right choice when it comes to Rey’s parents, and it’d be a shame for the next film to do anything but go with it.

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