Some pretty major Last Jedi spoilers follow. I’m giving you a buffer, but seriously, turn back now, folks.
In 2015, shortly after the release of The Force Awakens, I offered a lengthy explanation of why I believed the series’ newest protagonist, Rey (Daisy Ridley), would be shown to be the forgotten daughter of Leia Organa and Han Solo, the long-lost sister of antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). I explained it all via mind wipes and Luke Skywalker’s crumbled Jedi dreams and all manner of things.
Anyway, if what Rey learns about her parentage in The Last Jedi is correct — and that’s a pretty big if, admittedly — then I was so, so wrong. And I couldn’t be happier.
In a moment of heated conflict, Kylo Ren tells Rey that her parents were nobodies, not part of a great, mystical, generations-spanning soap opera. They were junk traders, who sold their child(!) and abandoned her, then later died ignoble deaths. He even pulls what amounts to his spin on Darth Vader’s old “search your feelings, you know it to be true” line. Luke Skywalker’s greatest nightmare was being Darth Vader’s son; Rey’s greatest nightmare is being no one.
Now, to be sure, Kylo Ren has every reason to be lying here. He’s trying to get Rey to let the past — Jedi, Sith, Rebellion, Empire, First Order, etc., etc., etc. — crumble to dust. He wants the two of them to form a new alliance, a new balance, by letting the old one fall (and take a bunch of innocent lives with it). Thus, his story could be a way for him to get Rey to turn her back on her friends and the path of light.
In a weird way, it’s a kind of meta-commentary on a franchise that is seeking a new future, while still being indebted enough to its past that it continually recycles itself. (I think the third act of Last Jedi is pretty much perfect, but it still concludes by cross-cutting among a big battle, a sword fight, and a desperate race against time, as basically every Star Wars movie has.)
But it’s also a key scene in a movie that’s all about realizing nobody’s perfect, not even your heroes. The Light Side of the Force needs the Dark Side to exist, and vice versa. When Rey goes into a cave to see the face of her parents, the Dark Side shows her herself instead. We are all, in the end, our own masters.
Again: This is great. I’m so happy that Rey is the child of nobody of particular importance to the story so far.
And I’m going to be so disappointed when the next film in the franchise inevitably reveals that, okay, she’s a Skywalker or a Kenobi after all.
Last Jedi restores the idea that anybody could be the galaxy-saving hero to the center of Star Wars
The thing I most dislike about the Star Wars prequels isn’t Jar-Jar Binks or Midichlorians or George Lucas’s seeming inability to direct actors. It’s the way that it curdles the “anybody can be a hero” optimism of the 1977 Star Wars by turning Luke Skywalker into just the latest participant in a story spanning at least two generations. He’s no longer a young boy thrust into adventure; he’s the culmination of somebody else’s story.
Put more succinctly, the original Star Wars trilogy suggests that the chosen one can come from anywhere. Yes, Luke is revealed to be Darth Vader’s son, and Leia Luke’s sister. But there’s plenty of room to still consider Luke an otherwise unremarkable sort who discovers he had the stuff of greatness within him all along.
The prequels complicate this, in a way that’s more thematically interesting than it is actually involving. Now, we know that Luke is going to appear somewhere as a tiny baby, and as we watch his father fall from grace, it’s harder to view Luke as unremarkable. He, instead, becomes a hidden hero, like Superman or Harry Potter. The boy who lived and, thus, got to change the course of the galaxy.
Assuming Kylo Ren’s information about Rey’s parentage is correct, The Last Jedi restores the idea that the balance of the Force might still depend on those who think themselves ordinary. The chosen one could be anyone.
Rey doesn’t have to be part of a larger story to be special. She just has to be herself. She has value even though she was abandoned, and she has a solid sense of her moral duty even though she has every reason not to. It’s rarely convincing that Rey is going to tip over to the Dark Side, but where that might be a flaw in some movies, it’s not here. Rey’s self-made heroism is what keeps her on the straight and narrow.
Indeed, Last Jedi is ultimately about Luke accepting his insignificance. When he communes with Yoda in a scene around the film’s midpoint, he realizes that he, like anybody, is aging past the wisdom he can impart. He can train Rey, sure, but she has to take things the rest of the way. We learn, Yoda says, not just from success, but from weakness and failure. Luke isn’t just a great man because he helped redeem his father; he’s also a great man because he, in a moment of weakness, tried to kill his nephew, then spend a lifetime trying to atone for it.
It’s the kind of goofy pop philosophy that Star Wars has always traded in, sure, but damned if it doesn’t work. Luke lives just long enough to let Rey surpass him. And then he moves on, as Obi-Wan did for him. And Rey isn’t insignificant because of her parentage. No, she’s more important because of it. We’ve been told anybody could be a Jedi, but here we are, with the single most important Jedi alive (at the end of the film) having come from humble origins. What’s more, the film’s final scene — which features a young stable boy displaying incipient Force powers — underlines this idea as well.
Except, okay, Rey is totally going to end up having important parents, isn’t she?
Much as I like this whole thematic duology from screenwriter/director Rian Johnson, I have absolutely no faith that the series will leave it as-is. The Force Awakens made way too much out of Rey’s parentage to leave it at this ambiguous of a point, especially with Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams returning to make the final film in this new trilogy (slated for release in 2019).
Here are the three most plausible theories for Rey’s parentage, should the films make the wholly incorrect decision to go back on the information revealed in Last Jedi:
Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter: No, hear me out. This might be complicated by the death of Carrie Fisher — reportedly, the next film was to feature Leia heavily — but essentially all of the points I made in 2015 about Rey possibly being the younger sister of Kylo Ren more or less still stand, except I think it’s far more likely Kylo Ren or Snoke wiped her memory than Luke. It would explain Han’s connection to her in Force Awakens but also the connection between Kylo Ren and Rey that Snoke is able to manipulate in Last Jedi.
Rey is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter or granddaughter somehow: This would be a bit of a curveball, admittedly, but it’s weird that there hasn’t been a Kenobi in this series just yet. And when you consider the previous two trilogies featured prominent battles between a Kenobi and a Skywalker, and when you consider Kylo Ren is a Skywalker, well...
Rey is the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker: After all, Anakin came from humble origins, too. And he was supposed to bring balance to the Force before, something that Rey seems like she’s doing all over again in these films. But where Anakin brought balance by tearing down the Light Side of the Force, Rey will do so by empowering it. This answer would be a little too mystical and goofy to be pulled off without saying the dreaded “Midichlorians” word, but Abrams is also a fan of mystical and goofy reincarnation plots. Here, let me get out some of my flowcharts from the run of Alias...