On the Origins of Rey

Perhaps I wasn’t in tune with the other releases, but it seems clear to me that the novelization of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was a more significant expanded edition than those that came before. I love reading the new Star Wars books, but I don’t normally go for novelizations of the films. I made an exception in this case.

Though very flawed, I rather like The Rise of Skywalker for what it is, but what stuck out very sorely was just how often new ideas introduced in the film were not fully explained or clarified for the viewer. I needed to know the fine details and the novelization held the answers. Now that I’ve actually read through this expanded novelization, there is something it revealed that has grown in my estimation the more I’ve thought about it, and I want to share.

I won’t get too into the weeds on everything, but one particular detail revealed in the film was that Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious. Long thought dead, he was in fact clinging to life, his spirit inhabiting a cadaverous clone body of himself (as the book divulges), hooked up to eldritch machinery keeping him alive enough on a hidden world to pull the strings behind all sorts of malevolent developments in the galaxy.

A burning question after the film was who exactly Rey’s father was, the apparent son of Palpatine. Why hadn’t we ever seen him before? Initially, I was content with the assumption that man who was once Emperor, ghoulish and elderly though he was, did in fact partake in coitus when it struck his fancy. It’s a straightforward explanation, if a little basic, convenient, and gross, that I could just accept. As the novel reveals, however, it’s a lot more contrived than that.

With this spirit housed imperfectly in a clone body that was slowly wasting away, he needed a new bodily vessel . His loyalists toiled away, using his genetic material to create a more suitable body for the decrepit Palpatine; one that could contain his vast power. None prevailed toward that last end, but one did thrive. Untalented in the Force, but otherwise viable, this nonidentical clone “son” was released into the galaxy. If all else failed, the bloodline might yet live on, indeed bearing fruit one day in the form of Rey.

I first heard about this a couple of months before I picked up the book, and can honestly say that I didn’t like it. I couldn’t help but laugh at how gonzo it all sounded. This is a territory Star Wars often occupies—lest we forget that it was revealed to us that the Clone Wars were fought with an army of Boba Fetts—so it was hardly unforgivable, but really? The more I thought about it, however, the more I wish it had actually been incorporated into the story in some way.

When I wrote a post last year detailing Rey’s journey as a character in the first two sequel films, I noted how I felt that the third film in her tale ought to have her confronting a dark heritage. My reasoning was that central to her character is a sense of abandonment and a yearning for knowledge of who she is and where she comes from; her place in the galaxy and how her burgeoning Force power affects it. Having this connected to something dark and terrible was a good way to compromise her journey toward the light. She had undergone some growth already, but hadn’t fully moved past those issues, and that darkness would be a great thing for her to come to terms with and overcome.

The truth of where Rey’s father came from made one thing compellingly clear to me: if not for Palpatine’s schemes to cling unnaturally to a semblance of life, Rey wouldn’t exist at all. She was eventually born thanks to the labors of mad science and esoteric abilities. That is where she comes from. Considering he eventually wants to use her body as a suitable vessel as well, this could have doubly compromised her sense of self, had it been explored. He could have used such knowledge against her to try and crush her spirit, suggesting this is all she was ever meant for.

While I am a little disappointed these details were not used more explicitly, the general knowledge does enrich the story and Rey’s character for me. Even with origins so artificial and evil, the light chose her and she managed to thrive in it despite her own self-doubts and dark inclinations. There is something especially poetic about this role she comes to play in the story at its conclusion too. Palpatine tried so desperately to cling to life after Anakin first killed him on that fateful day, and those unnatural efforts were what sowed the seed to his ultimate destruction, preventing his full return from truly coming to pass.

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