Now that millions have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the most hotly debated characters is that of the titular main character, known only as Rey. Due to the breakneck pace of the film and the film’s tendency to break action without a word of explanation, we actually don’t know much more about this character now than we did before the film’s release. But due to her own seeming awakening, and various important spoilery events within the film, this character is the center of the most speculation within fan communities.
Due to the inherent spoilery nature of this article, you shouldn’t read this until AFTER you see the film. In addition, there are spoilers for the novelization included in these series of discussions, since I feel it’s important to reference both representations of the story. For that reason, I’m including the all-important spoiler warning.
***MASSIVE EARTH SHATTERING SPOILERS BELOW – ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK***
***OKAY – MASSIVE SPOILERS STARTING NOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED MEAT BAGS***
Every time I’ve seen the movie, I’ve gone with a group of people who had never seen the movie before. The question that emerged every single time we exited the theatre was, “Okay, now who’s Rey?” To which I always responded with a shrug and a “I dunno.”
I’m nowhere closer to knowing her origin and her notable lineage, if any, after four viewings and a read of the novelization that I was after first seeing the movie. Sure, I’ve picked up a few more things with each viewing, hints towards certain theories, admonitions against others. But despite all of the TFA information I’ve received, there are two theories that both sound perfectly valid to me
Lineage Theory – She’s a Skywalker
Copyright ©Lucasfilm 1980
The dominant theory rolling around on the internet today is that she’s the daughter of Luke Skywalker. Funny enough, there is very little factual evidence to support this theory. This theory feels right to us, it sounds good, yet it’s held together with almost literally nothing but hopes, feelings, and metaphor.
But it feels so right, doesn’t it? The main line trilogies have always been about the Skywalkers. First Anakin, then Luke, now Rey, right? Kathleen Kennedy even confirmed that these movies continue the Skywalker saga. It makes no damn sense if Rey, the titular main character so it would seem, is not a Skywalker.
Plus, there’s the fact that her character echoes the journey of Anakin and Luke perfectly. All three of them grow up on a sand planet, stuck because of various reasons working menial labor jobs, yet all of them looking to the sky and dreaming of something better. All three of them are good pilots, reasonably good with machines (Luke is sort of an exception to this, only because Han/Chewie fill the mechanic roll), and are described as being very strong in the Force. All three have a strong attachment to their family, and experience some semblance of loss in their family. Luke and Rey also both initially reject the mentor’s call to action, but are forced into the fray due to the big bad hunting after them. Finally, Luke and Rey are both told to let the Force in by a mentor, and they fail at first when they don’t follow instruction, but inevitably claim victory once the mentor’s advice is taken.
But looking at the above, all we’re essentially saying is that Rey fits a character archetype that was initially created by Joseph Campbell and adapted into the Star Wars setting. I would be tempted to say that it would be bad storytelling if they weren’t to reward that recognition with a real connection, but we also don’t know if there’s something way better going on behind the scenes.
There is actually some evidence for this, however. Not much, but these are rather important events within the story, so this lends more credence to the theory than otherwise.
- Rey has a vision when she touches Luke’s lightsaber. It calls to her, Maz says. That implies a strong connection, that should be more than just being strong in the force.
During said vision, she experiences several memories of Luke’s:
- Luke screaming “NO!” after Vader reveals he’s his father
- Moving through the Cloud City corridors
- A quick line from Yoda saying something like “The force surrounds you”
- Rey is able to out-Force Pull Luke’s Lightsaber from Kylo Ren, despite clearly having more practice and presumably training. This is a standard Sword in the Stone metaphor, implying that Rey is “more worthy” of the lightsaber than Ren.
- When Kylo Ren reaches into her mind, he reveals that she has been dreaming of the Luke Skywalker’s refuge (a vast ocean, and an island).
- In the novelization, when Rey steals the lightsaber from Ren, Kylo Ren says “It is you.”
- She takes on the quest to bring Luke’s lightsaber to him.
None of these are particularly good smoking guns. Many of them can be explained away by Luke being a legend, a powerful anomaly in the Force, and given Snoke’s seeming desperation to keep the Resistance from getting to him, is possibly the most powerful known Force-user in the galaxy. It makes sense his lightsaber would be a powerful artifact that a force-sensitive being like Rey could tap into.
There’s also a lot in the vision that Luke never saw, like Rey getting dropped off with Unkar Plutt on Jakku, or a young Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) stating that she’s taken her first steps, or an older Obi-Wan calling her name. Not to mention, we really don’t know from who’s perspective that Knights of Ren scene is. Is it Luke or Rey that Ren is coming after? Finally, in the novelization, Rey recognizes “that voice,” which is represented at female in the audiobook, and this voice tells her “I’ll come back for you.” This is presumably her mother, implying that it was not Luke who dropped her off.
Let’s also remember that this isn’t necessarily Luke’s lightsaber, it’s Anakin’s. The visions she sees of Luke’s are from when he loses it. There are voices from Anakin’s mentors in there as much as Luke’s. Once again, this could imply a familial connection, but I have a feeling a lightsaber with this much legacy on it is a powerful Force artifact that any force-sensitive could tap into, not just a Skywalker.
Her pulling Luke’s lightsaber could also be explained by the fact that she is clearly more powerful than Kylo Ren. This is implied by her blocking his mental invasion. That said, I have another theory about this that supports the Skywalker lineage, but I’m keeping that for my theory about her being an Academy youngling below. This theory also explains why Ren would recognize her.
Finally, Rey brings the lightsaber to Luke because she’s the only force-sensitive one among them that isn’t old and running a resistance movement. Plus, she ends up with the lightsaber at the end, and Finn may or may not have a spine at the end of the movie. It makes no sense that this would be used as evidence, but I’ve seen it everywhere.
That said, I’m discounting this theory. It’s still probably the most likely theory we have, given that Kasdan would have to pull some crazy creative gymnastics to make anything else work satisfactorily. It’s also interesting to note that Luke’s expression at the end is fairly hard to decipher. But I see that he’s unsettled, maybe even afraid, and yet sad. It could be described as being the expression of a tormented father who thought he lost everything and has now reunited with his daughter, but it’s a stretch.
The Counter-Arguments – She’s Literally Anything Else
There’s no contract saying that the new characters have to all be related to someone else we already know. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence against this. Finn, Poe Dameron, Hux, even possibly Snoke, are all brand new characters with no evidence for past lineage. Furthermore, there’s a ton of evidence for this within the movie itself.
- Despite waiting for her family to return, and a few additional TFA texts (Before the Awakening) stating definitively that she is waiting for her parents, she has the impression that Luke Skywalker is a myth before Finn tells her about the map.
- When Han says Luke was heading for the 1st Jedi temple, she says, “The Jedi were real.” If she was Luke’s daughter, wouldn’t it make sense for her to know that the Jedi existed?
- Leia’s force sensitivity appears to surround her connection to family, yet she demonstrates no interest in Rey throughout the movie. The hug they share at the end is more about Han’s death than anything
- Maz Kanada says that the people she’s waiting for aren’t coming back, but there’s still “someone” who can, and Rey mouths Luke. Then, Maz says that the connection she’s looking for is not behind her, but in front of her. These lines imply that Luke is neither part of her past nor part of the original group of “family” she was waiting for.
These counter-arguments are technically much stronger, at least in my mind, than the arguments for the theory of her Skywalker lineage. Not to mention, Skywalker lineage is just too easy, too force fed. And we all know J.J. Abrams likes to obfuscate things.
Alternates / Counter Counter Arguments
So who is she? Well, if we discard the Skywalker theory, that question becomes more difficult to answer, and maybe that should be further evidence for its legitimacy. There are a couple of options.
Copyright ©Lucasfilm 2005
- Rey was created by The Force, much like Anakin was.
This is a bizarre theory that would conflict with Occam’s Razor, but it points to a couple of interesting possibilities. Firstly, either Snoke, maybe as Darth Plageuis, could have created her just as it’s speculated that he created Anakin. Or maybe Luke dived a bit into the Dark side (reminiscent of his Grey robe) and became powerful enough to create life.
However, I know that Lucas originally wanted the last three movies to talk about a Grey-side of the Force, as well as talking about The Force having its own will, exercising its will, and imbuing people with power to create balance. At this point, the Dark side is more powerful than the Light, so it’s possible that The Force created Rey in an attempt to bring balance back to The Force.
That said, this theory is bizarre and I find it a bit too strange for Kasdan and J.J. to want to delve into.
- Rey does have a family, but they don’t matter anymore / don’t give a damn about Rey
I’m including this theory just to shoot it down. I think it would be really dumb of J.J. / Kasdan to make such a big deal of Rey’s “classified” origin and the fact that she’s waiting for her family to just dismiss them as some sort of awful parents.
While it’s not clear how much of the novelization will continue to be canon, given that it’s based on an old version of the script, there is an additional moment in the lightsaber vision scene in which a female voice calls to Rey and says, “I’ll come back for you.” It’s even more intriguing that this voice is recognized by Rey as “that voice” as if it’s been haunting her for a long time. It’s unclear whether this is her mother, a friend, a step-mother, or whatever, but clearly it’s an important figure in Rey’s life that she is waiting to return.
That doesn’t spell “Don’t give a shit” to me.
- The “family” she’s waiting for is not her actual biological family
This is the theory I’m most interested in, because it actually lends credence to the Skywalker theory at the same time that it explains a lot of the problems with the theory.
My Theory – The Failure of Luke’s Academy
First of all, let’s consider a brief timeline of the Galaxy post-Return of the Jedi. According to Wookiepedia, Han and Leia got busy right after the Death Star 2 got blowed up, because Ben/Kylo Ren was supposedly born 0-1 years after ROTJ.
Mere months later, the Battle of Jakku happened, a massive space and land battle which resulted in a New Republic rout of the Galactic Empire. The Empire lost their last Super Star Destroyer and a large portion of their fleet due to the mistakes of hubris and mis-leadership.
Most of the galaxy would now find themselves switching governments, hearing stories about the Rebellion generals, and specifically about that crazy wizard who murdered Darth Vader and the Emperor. A Force user more powerful than Darth Vader. Just imagine how that might be received.
Meanwhile, Luke presumably would start his Academy soon after the Battle of Jakku. It would take years to get recruits, to set up the infrastructure, training materials, desks and chairs, that sorta thing. Meanwhile, young Ben was growing up, finding out about these stories, getting teased by other kids about how he would never be as cool as his dad or his grand daddy. And most of all, getting seduced by the likes of Snoke.
We don’t know when Kylo Ren was inducted into Luke’s Academy. Seeing as how Han and Leia thought he was falling down a dark path, recognizing that there was too much Vader in him, it would have to be older. At least 8 or 9, maybe in his teenage years. It would be around this time, 17 years before the events of The Force Awakens, that Rey was born.
There are multiple reasons why Luke would hide himself from his daughter, multiple reasons why Rey would be sent away. However, I think the truth lies in the complicated situation that Luke found himself in. There are two reasons happening side-by-side, that would force Luke to stay away from his own child, despite all his wishes otherwise.
The Example of Ben Solo
The novelization explains in more depth than the movie that Leia knew that Snoke was seducing Ben. This was hidden from Han, primarily because Leia feared his reaction to the news. Instead of telling him, she convinced Han that they needed to send Ben to Luke for help. Presumably, if Leia knew about Snoke, so did Luke.
If you consider that Luke saw the example of Ben, the first son of a Skywalker who was known to the world, and then got targeted and immediately and successfully seduced to the Dark Side, he would be leery about any child of his being seduced and turned against him. By the time of Rey’s birth, he’d already seen Ben grow up, get seduced, and turn. Despite Leia’s efforts, despite Luke’s efforts, it might have been made clear to Luke that Snoke’s influence was already too strong.
He wouldn’t have seen Ben turn against him and destroy the Academy yet, but he wouldn’t have to. It’s also possible that Luke would have seen the vision that Rey sees of the Knights of Ren destroying the academy.
Regardless, it’s quite clear how important it would be that nobody, not even Rey, be able to learn that this child was his, at least until Snoke could be dealt with.
The Figurehead of the New Jedi Order
As the Master of the New Jedi Academy, Luke would have a lot riding on his reputation. The Old Republic was not long ago that people wouldn’t remember how the Jedi used to be. Heck, we even have two characters, Lor San Tekka and Snoke, who lived through the fall of the Republic, the Rise of the Empire, the Fall of the Empire, The Rise of the New Republic, and the Rise of the First Order. It goes to reason that others did as well, had passed stories along, etc.
A sexual relationship with one of his students is not the way to establish legitimacy around his Academy. While we like to think of Luke as the bastion of good in the galaxy, the film doesn’t seem to do so, as our first glimpse of him in the flesh, his theme is darkened by the minor chords of Darth Vader’s theme. Not to mention, it’s not that Luke ever really learned to avoid attachments. He was only encouraged by multiple successful efforts at putting logic aside and murdering dozens of people to save his friends. There’s nothing saying that this guy couldn’t father a bastard child.
The rest of the galaxy also presumably looked at him with fear and skepticism, as the powerful wizard who took down an Emperor and Darth Vader. Luke needs to establish himself as a bastion of morality for his academy to be taken seriously. A bastard child that would cause political problems for his Academy and the New Republic.
Before She Was Dropped Off
So, we’ve got about 4-5 years of missing time between when she was birthed and when she got dumped on Jakku, since she’s a child who can stand reasonably on her own and shout at the sky as her family flies away. So, what’s up with Rey during these few years?
To be honest, this is the hardest part to speculate about. We don’t know anything about this time period, and it’s really fuzzy even trying to speculate based on what little we can guess. What we do know is that a mother-like figure tells Rey that she’ll come back for her the vision scene of the Novelization. We know that Rey isn’t sure that the Jedi were real by the beginning of The Force Awakens. Everything she seems to know about the Jedi and Luke is based on legends, probably holovids scavenged from wreckage or the simulations she used to learn how to fly.
Yet, Kylo Ren shows some recognition in the novelization when Rey takes Luke’s lightsaber from him. The only one who the lightsaber would be more connected to than Ren would be the child of Luke Skywalker himself. He says, “It is you,” as if he suspected that Luke had a child. Furthermore, he shows great interest in there being a girl that helps Finn and BB-8 escape.
What follows is pure speculation, based on absolutely no evidence other than what I’ve seen of Star Wars storytelling. It’s possible that none of this is true. Forgive the somewhat soap opera-ey nature of the following, but Star Wars is at its heart, a space opera. Drama is part of the plan. That said, if this is true backstory, there’s a good reason Kasdan and J.J. would want to keep it backstory and start after all of this happens:
*SPECULATIVE BACKSTORY BELOW*
Perhaps Rey was kept at the academy with her mother. Luke and the mother’s relationship would be strained, as the mother truly loves Luke, as Luke loves her, but his paranoia and concern about Snoke drives them apart. The mother understands his concern, but it frustrated by it. She wants them to be able to love publically, without restraint, without concern, but it is paranoia about loss that keeps them apart. Sound familiar? Yup, Luke falls to the same emotions and paranoia as Anakin did so many years ago.
Rey would become a child of the academy. The family that Rey knows would include her mother, but also include her mother’s support system that helps her as Luke’s support is lacking. It’s doubtful the rest of the academy would know, but perhaps with a knowing glare pointed at Luke, she would tell them that the father shirked his duty and ran like a coward. Perhaps another instructor would come around as a surrogate father, supporting her when she had none otherwise.
Of course this scenario would drive Luke insane with jealousy, just as Anakin suspected Obi-Wan of cavorting with Padme. As their relationship became more and more strained, the mother would begin to fear for her life, and for her child’s life, especially once she learns, perhaps even the hard way, that Ben can read minds.
Rey Goes to Jakku
Knowing that Ben was a channel towards Snoke, and with Ben suspecting that Luke’s child was at the academy, the mother would flee from both the academy and from Luke with Rey.
Jakku was the location of the final battle between the New Republic and the Empire. There would be plenty of allies and friends for the Republic there. Maybe some old war buddies who turned a profit after the war. Lor San Tekka would be too obvious a target. Unkar Plutt, on the other hand, while he is a despicable creature in the movie and the book, could have been considered a friend during the war. A trusted ally who was also not immediately connected to the Republic or the Resistance. He could be trusted to keep her secret and safe.
Why she left her there is unknown, but as a force user, she would suspect that Luke could track her. Seeing as how Snoke might know that she was the mother, but might not know who the child was, it might make sense for the mother to distance herself, at least until the dust settled.
Rey’s Mother Returns to the Academy
After giving up on the monster that Luke was becoming, the mother would return to Luke, telling him that the child was dead, and that she’d killed him because of what he’d become. She’d tell him that he’d fallen too far, that Ben was a liability, and that Snoke was manipulating them all. Ben would hear this moment, and as she left Luke’s chambers to run far from the academy, he’d strike her down for her blasphemy against his family.
A grief-stricken Luke, rushing with emotion, would fight hard to maintain his balance, keeping her words against his character, against his fallen path, close to his mind. He would follow the advice of his mentors for once, force himself to let her go, and forgive Ben in an attempt to show him a role model.
But the damage had already been done long ago. Ben would tell this blasphemy to the rest of the academy, tell them of Luke’s awful character, of his actions, of the lover and daughter he abandoned, and the tragic death of his own cousin. This revelation would rock the academy, and although Luke would attempt damage control by reporting his distance from the academy, it would never be the same. Ben, fueled by his own hatred, would slowly gain followers in an attempt to turn the academy against Luke. He knew he wasn’t strong enough alone, but as he gained more followers, he gained more confidence.
Eventually, Ben would take up the name Kylo Ren, dubbing his followers as the Knights of Ren. They would lash out at the academy, purging it of those who would not follow him. Murdering hundreds of force sensitives.
Luke would be too late to prevent the massacre. The Knights hunted for him, and Luke would consider dying in a final battle, but decide that since he caused all of this, there was no sense in causing more death and pain. He would flee the academy after losing everything, his lover, his child, his students. He would leave in shame, in sorrow, in anguish, and abject failure.
*SPECULATIVE BACKSTORY ENDS*
So, that’s my theory. I’m probably horribly wrong, but that’s okay. It’s always fun to throw speculation to the wind and see what happens. I feel like this theory explains a lot of what’s missing. Being at the academy for a few years might also explain why she picks up on some abilities so quickly. Not that she was trained, but that she might have been shown some things and the Force is like riding a bicycle. Or something like that.
And as to why she was unsure of whether the Jedi were real, let me ask you how much you truly remember from when you were 4 years old. I doubt she had any idea of where she was, what it meant, and who the people she was with truly were, other than some names and friendly faces. Although clearly, she knows that she’s not supposed to tell anyone where she came from or who her parents were. Classified. Me too, big secret. Lol, thanks for that J.J.
Of course, it could also be trumped by a “she’s some random person who her family sold off to slavery because they couldn’t pay their bills” sorta thing. But man, that’d be dumb and boring. Kasdan, if that’s your plan, read the above. It’s way better Star Wars storytelling, even if it is highly reminiscent of Lucas storytelling. But damn it, isn’t that what got us here in the first place?
Anyway, sorry this was so long, hopefully you enjoyed. I’ll be doing more speculative looks on other characters in the future, but they won’t be nearly this long. I mean come on, this is Rey, of course it was going to be long.