For the most part this is a book blog, but I do occasionally review movies and those of you who have read my posts with any regularity will know that I’m a pretty big Star Wars fan. Episode IX is on the horizon, the intended finale in the soon to be nine-film Skywalker saga, and I am really dang excited for it.
As a matter of personal preference, I decided to stop reviewing the films a couple of years ago. I get too swept away by hype and the experience. I’d rather just reflect at my leisure without having to worry about putting my thoughts together for wider consumption.
That being said, I do have some very specific thoughts and feelings about this new trilogy, as well as some predictions about the final installment, that I decided I’ll throw out into the aether instead of juggling around in my head. If you’re gracious enough to check this out it’s longer than what I normally post, even as part one of two, and I’m operating on the assumption that you know what Star Wars is and what’s going on in the new films. Spoilers are ahead as well.
The Force Awakens reignited my love for Star Wars in a way I really hadn’t been expecting. I grew up loving the original trilogy—especially obsessed with the starfighters—and my pre-adolescent leniency allowed me to enjoy the prequels for what they were, glaring flaws notwithstanding. Following Revenge of the Sith in 2005 my interest in the franchise waned considerably. These days I frequently read the books and comics, but back then I paid them no mind.
While I was drawn in by the story continuing on from the end of the original trilogy, what really won me over when Episode VII first came out were the new characters. I was most especially captivated by Rey and Kylo Ren, both of whom I would like to focus on in these posts. As characters they both had unenviable positions to be in. Though he was not especially the focus of hero worship for me, Luke Skywalker is an undeniable icon of heroism. At his inverse is the menacing Darth Vader (who is my favourite character), who has become emblematic of the entire franchise and beloved as both villain and figure of redemption.
Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are a tough act to follow. As far as the prequels are concerned, for me, those films always had the benefit of being, well, prequels. Expectations were high, and infamously dashed, but fans already had a decent idea of the key players and where things inevitably had to lead: the formation of the Empire, Anakin’s fall to the dark side, and the near-eradication of the Jedi.
The prequels also seemed to somewhat skirt around providing a following act for Luke and Vader anyway. Anakin does echo Luke in many ways, but doesn’t really become a protagonist until Episode II. Also, since we know the story is ultimately about his fall, we have predetermined expectations of where his arc will take him. For his part, Vader doesn’t really have a proxy in the prequels because Maul, Dooku, and Grievous are relatively undeveloped and barely survive more than one film appearance.
As most people know (as it wasn’t really a secret) The Force Awakens is a soft remake of A New Hope. Along with this, the film begins with both Rey and Kylo Ren filling similar roles to their narrative predecessors: the former as a plucky young adult living a meagre life on a desert planet and the latter the ruthless enforcer of an authoritarian military force. For a franchise that does bank a lot on nostalgia this was a good, albeit safe, choice. What I especially love, though, is how they built these two up from there to stand on their own.
Rey’s Emotional Journey
When I first saw The Force Awakens, what I initially found most compelling about Rey as a protagonist was how well Daisy Ridley performed her. While guarded, she exuded courage, compassion, and energy in a way that just made her easy for me to like. At the same time her characterization was well balanced by moments of vulnerability, overconfidence, apprehension, and the occasional temptation towards more selfish impulses.
On the surface there are a lot of similarities between where she begins and where Luke begins. A distinct difference between the two, however, is in what they want as characters. Luke’s initial desire to leave home and become a pilot is realized by the end of A New Hope, but his greater arc concerns becoming a Jedi like his father, whom he worships in the abstract, and the obstacles he faces in learning the truth of his heritage.
Central to Rey’s characterization are abandonment issues. From the start she has the adamant belief that she must wait on Jakku for her parents to return, even at the risk of wasting her life there. While I’m sure a return would prompt her to confront why she’d been life behind, it’s easy to infer in The Force Awakens that she believes they had a good reason for leaving; that they’re worth waiting for. Her deep-seated desire for her parents, or a worthy substitute to guide her and give her a sense of belonging in their place, informs the ways she interacts with many of the other characters and holds her back from pursuing other desires fully.
In the video essay “The Last Jedi and the 7 Basic Questions of Narrative Drama” on the YouTube channel Just Write this was put most succinctly: Rey desires external validation. I’m honestly kicking myself to not having thought of such a concise way of putting it on my own, but nonetheless I will be describing it in these terms going forward, having given due credit here.
It’s clear to me in The Force Awakens that she is trying to impress Han and seems to win him over fairly early on. Had her arc been about her finding belonging as a crew member of the Millennium Falcon I’d say she achieved this too easily, but what’s narratively important here is that shortly after the opportunity is presented to her it is lost forever. Han is appropriately more concerned for the fate of his son, a path that leads to his death, so a relationship where Rey might gain validation from someone she admires is lost as well. She becomes more emotionally involved in the conflict with the First Order as a result, but her personal issues are exacerbated.
I find this so compelling because this search for validation rarely goes her way and is ultimately not what she truly needs to grow as a character. She’s already fairly capable and self-sufficient in terms of physical needs, but what she needs is to become self-reliant emotionally; to not depend on external validation from others. She cannot become the Jedi she is capable of being if she cannot let go of this. On the other hand, it’s a rather sympathetic desire to seek out family so she can heal from being abandoned all her life, which gives her arc a more poignant edge for me.
It’s a desire so ingrained in her that even with the opportunities presented to her she is still compelled to return to Jakku. When Anakin’s lightsaber calls to her and she has her first spiritual experience with the Force it terrifies her and she runs away. If she had embraced the destiny that is awakening to her she would be on the path to self-actualization sooner, but she can’t yet. Her abandonment issues and need for validation run too deep, stopping her from reaching her true potential.
When she travels to the planet Ach-To in The Last Jedi to seek guidance from Luke (and convince him to leave his exile) yet another opportunity for validation from a mentor falls apart. Luke has become disillusioned with the Jedi way, thanks in part to his own personal failures with his own legacy, and cannot be the guiding light she needs. Her gravitation toward the dark side when it tempts her with knowledge of her parents plays a role in dissuading him as well. She makes a valiant effort regardless, manages to eke some Force guidance from him, but ultimately cannot sway him.
She eventually ventures into the cave that is the dark side’s focal point on the planet anyway, only to be let down by nebulous answers that satisfy nothing. This brings her emotional state even lower. Following this further frustration is Rey’s attempt to save Kylo Ren from the dark side, where her arc reaches a pivotal moment.
While on Ach-To with Luke, Rey and Kylo’s minds are periodically linked by Supreme Leader Snoke (unbeknownst to them). This allows a dialogue to take place between the two enemies, where eventually a bond starts to form. She comes to believe she can reform Kylo, that he’s not too far gone. If she can do this, Kylo’s choosing to return to the light through her faith in him would be validating for her. While she shows great initiative and spirit, she is again ultimately depending on the actions of another to determine her worth.
At a crucial moment Kylo opts to save her instead of execute her as Snoke commands. He kills his master, and the two fight off the praetorian guards, sharing in a triumphant moment together. With Snoke out of the way, Rey wants Kylo to stop the First Order’s attack on the Resistance, but he has other ideas. He instead resolves to “let old things die,” including the Resistance fleet, and wants to establish a new order of his own with Rey at his side.
Here we have a “join me” moment not unlike that between Vader and Luke, though the dynamic is much different. Luke knowingly walks into Vader’s trap because he wants to save his friends. Rey is only there because she wants to save Kylo; she wants to strengthen the bond growing between them. This is shattered when he has no intention of straying much from his path.
She is dejected by the turn of events, and from this point the scene takes its more crucial turn: the matter of Rey’s parents, whom Kylo rightfully insists she must let go of. He claims he knows exactly who they are, asking if she wants to know or if, in fact, she’s always known (some credit again to Ridley’s performance here; I find it heartbreaking how absolutely gutted Rey during this whole sequence).
The mistake people have made here, myself included, is treating this scene as a grand reveal. To a degree it’s not our fault. Since the previous film we too had been wondering who her parents are and the mystery wasn’t formed by accident. For myself, however, I was satisfied with the idea that in a universe with uncannily small degrees of separation between key characters, Rey wasn’t related to anybody. She made her way into the story by a chance encounter and that was fine. The thing is, regardless of how you felt about it, this scene simply isn’t a revelation.
No evidence is actually presented supporting any of Kylo’s confident claims. As a matter of fact, he pushes Rey into admitting “they were nobody” herself. This scene is not a reveal, it’s an admission. Not an admission of the truth, but an admission of her greatest insecurity. This is the woman who was still ready to go back to the junk desert to wait for these parents after Han offered her a job. Kylo is manipulating her here, breaking her down, and nothing supports this more for me than when he says the following:
“You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me.”
He has pushed her into admitting her greatest insecurity about her parents, breaking her down to her most vulnerable state, and then explicitly offers himself as a substitute in their place. Where all other opportunities have been disappointing or crumbled, he blatantly extends to her exactly what she’s wanted, building it upon the bond that has already been forming between them. This manipulation honestly works so well that much of the audience, myself included, bought into the idea as it was happening.
But as it goes, she cannot accept it.
I have no doubt that she was severely tempted. When Kylo makes his final, more vulnerable plea I believe he means it too. Accepting it, however, is her choosing a path that is blatantly malicious. It’s a path where she sits idly by and people she cares for, who need her, die. She would be made to help establish a new authoritarian power. She refuses because she has to, not necessarily because she wants to. She could no more join him than Luke could Vader, despite the fact that all Luke had ever really wanted was to know his father.
It is from this refusal that Rey begins her true journey to self-actualization and emotional independence. She has admitted the likely truth that her parents aren’t worth holding on to, but has also chosen to forgo satisfying her abandonment issues through someone else. She doesn’t need someone else to determine her worth. If her parents don’t matter, and Kylo himself is choosing such a dark path, why should his feelings toward her matter either? Her journey is not complete, but she is on her way to becoming who she is meant to be.
The way her arc has gone thus far is why I’ve believed for a while that one or both of her parents will be in Episode IX. To let go of them in the abstract is one thing, but having to directly confront them is another matter entirely. There have already been articles coming out recently saying the matter will be addressed with finality, which hasn’t surprised me at all. I can only imagine what the plot of The Rise of Skywalker as a whole will entail, but I am fairly confident that for Rey’s arc to complete she must directly confront her parents in some form in order to finally let go for good.
As to who they are, I do not believe they will be characters we’ve seen before. I’d prefer things not go that way as well, but I am open-minded. I do believe, however, that they will not be “nobody.” My prediction is that one or both of them will be among the Knights of Ren, the briefly mentioned and conspicuously absent group of Force-users whom Kylo Ren leads. This would help justify to me their lack of involvement in the plot thus far. Furthermore, I believe the pilot of the ship barreling toward Rey in the teaser trailer is not Kylo, but one of them, which is why we are not shown their face.
Like everyone else, however, I will have to wait and see. Whether I’m right or way off the mark about where Rey’s journey might be heading, I’m excited to see it through to the end.
Although I have every intention of posting a Part Two, I wanted to get this section off my chest ASAP. As such, there will likely be a month or so before Part Two is finished being written and posted. Like I said in the beginning I’d rather not expound too much about the films, so I’m opting to take my time. Just a heads up.
Thank you very much for reading.