Image used courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
According to Daisy Ridley, in a little over a year, we will see those familiar ten words once again projected on a movie screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” With it, Rey and Luke will resume their adventure after having the galaxy’s longest staring contest, and over the course of the film, the audience will finally learn the truth about who Rey’s parents are. After such a long build-up, it will be interesting to see whether or not the answer to this much-anticipated question will satisfy. Some fans really want a Rey Skywalker who continues the tradition of following that particular family’s path. A few really want to see a Rey Kenobi follow in the footsteps of Obi-Wan and watch her and Kylo continue the battle between Skywalker and Kenobi. There are also those who hope for the darker truth of a Rey Palpatine to be revealed in Episode VIII. While each of these theories have the potential to be interesting, they also steal some of Rey’s importance. She is no longer special solely because of who she is, but becomes special because she is related to a lineage of characters we already love. In contrast to these theories, a more mundane theory also exists. Rey’s parents could be unrelated to anyone we’ve seen before. They could be nobodies, just normal galactic citizens. The importance then is not that Rey is the descendent of the equivalent of galactic royalty. The focus then centers on Rey, and the audience is left asking the same questions she asks throughout The Force Awakens: “Where is my family, and why didn’t they come back?”
The problem with many fan theories about Rey’s parentage is that in her Force vision in The Force Awakens, we see that young Rey is left in the bulbous grip of Unkar Plutt, an alien whose actions are in many ways similar to that of a slave owner. He controls the primary source of food on Jakku, and he demands harsh, back-breaking labor for even the smallest amounts. If Rey were a Skywalker, either by Luke or by Leia, why would they leave her with this creature? They have seen evil like this before, though in a greater form, holed up in a palace on Tatooine, so why would they leave their child there? The answer is that they wouldn’t. We see the love Leia has for Ben when she asks Han to bring back their son. We have seen Luke’s love for family in his belief in the goodness of Anakin Skywalker. Neither of them would leave a child in such a vile place, and even if someone kidnapped their child (Aah! So many flashbacks to countless Legends stories!), Luke and Leia would not give up searching for their lost loved one. They cannot be the family that never comes back because they would scour the galaxy to reunite with their child. We saw this devotion in Return of the Jedi when Luke and Leia planned for a year in order to rescue Han from his fate as Jabba’s carbonite poster boy.
If the heroes cannot be Rey’s parents, then perhaps at least one of her parents is a well-known villain. Aside from the sickening thought of Palpaltine getting it on with, well, anyone, this theory seems too similar to what has come before. One of the chief complaints against The Force Awakens was that it was just a re-hash of A New Hope. While I don’t neccesarily agree with this critique, I can certainly recognize that the basic plot is very similar. It’s an homage. Having re-introduced Star Wars to theaters, I think we can count on Rian Johnson to deliver some fresh new ideas with Episode VIII. If Rey’s father were Palpaltine, they may as well just re-label the sequel trilogy a reboot. The revelation would be too similar to the one shown in The Empire Strikes Back. It also causes the galaxy to seem smaller if Palpatine was Rey’s parent. Out of all the zillions of beings in the galaxy, Rey’s father is one of the ten most influential characters we know from the previous films? Of course, he is. This is like all the rumors that Finn must be related to Lando because he’s African-American. As a brand, Star Wars needs to expand their universe and introduce new characters and ideas, not re-hash and re-package old ones.
“Whomever you are waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back.” This one line from Maz Kanata brings Rey to tears with its frankness. For years, Rey has lived on Jakku. She has scraped and scrounged and had nothing more to mark the success of each day than a quarter-portion of food and another hash mark on the wall to record her survival. For most of her life, Rey waited for her family to return, and based on Maz’s line, it was all a worthless. She waited for nothing, for a family that never came back and never will come back. It must feel like she wasted her whole life. It’s enough to fill anyone with resentment and anger. Despite all this disappointment, Rey could still believe in the idealized dream many children do: that their absent parents love them deeply and will one day escape those who have detained them and reunite their family. Imagine if she were to find out that this was not the case. Her family could have reclaimed and reunited with her at any time, but they just chose not to. They didn’t want her, so they left her, abandoned on Jakku.
It’s a horrifying concept: a parent willingly leaving their child because the child is just not important to them. They don’t want her. Forget Rey’s anger, I’m angry, and that’s why this concept works. It’s a deed as dark as any Sith’s, but it’s also a very human one. People give up their children all the time. Some give up a child because they feel like the child deserves a better life than they can give it, and that’s noble, but some give up the child because they don’t want to be saddled with the responsibility. Imagine how that would make Rey feel. All the years on Jakku waiting for a family she believed loved her; when in reality, they considered her a burden to be shrugged off. It would cause a turmoil within Rey that she would need to learn to control. (The perfect excuse to learn some Jedi mediation!) That roiling anger and disappointment could even crescendo if she were to meet her parents because there is a good chance that she would be more powerful than them. While they may be Force-sensitive, she has (with little Force-training) bested Kylo Ren. She is clearly strong in the Force, and if she chose, she could take her revenge. She could easily strike them down, and many of us (because of how real it would be for a person to have those feelings) would sympathize with her. This theory eschews the fantasy of another miraculous family connection in favor of a devastatingly, normal one.
When Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi speak of the Force, it is always something that is all-expansive. It connects all people with each other and with nature and with the galaxy itself. If Rey is a Skywalker, a Kenobi, or a Palpatine, it limits the nature of the Force to something that is passed down along family lines. It becomes something more like a birthright passed down a royal line, and while that could jive with the near-incestuous relationship Luke and Leia narrowly avoided, it negates some of the impact of the Force on the audience. It excludes us. We watch these movies as a form of escape but also to relive that child-like joy of playing pretend. We want to believe that we can be a hot-shot pilot like Poe, a crafty smuggler like Han, or a fledgling Jedi like Rey. If the ability to use the Force is primarily a hereditary privilege, the audience is left out in the cold. Rey’s parents need to be from a family we haven’t seen before because then the idea that anyone can feel the Force and become a Jedi or Sith is preserved. Rey can become a Jedi. I can, and you can. We all are connected by the Force because it touches all people, not just a select few.
Who are Rey’s parents? This is the impossible question to answer because no matter what, you will not please all of your audience. Inevitably someone will be unhappy that their theory was not used. When the answer is finally revealed to us, I hope that we can remember the journey we’ve taken between Episodes VII and VIII. As a community, we have been able to present our evidence and debate and have fun working together to try to solve this riddle. That’s the important thing. It’s what we will have to remember when the answer is presented: Skywalker, Kenobi, Palpatine, or somebody new; we have sure had a fun time trying to discover the truth. Whatever revelation Rian Johnson has for us, I know that the journey has been fun, and I hope that whatever family Rey is a part of helps build her up as her own character. She is too special to too many of us to be just another branch on a family tree just because it’s a really cool theory. Her lineage should be a piece of her story, but it shouldn’t overshadow the greatness that is already there or hinder all that she could become.
Is it important to you that Rey is from an established family or not? Why? Share your opinion with me on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 !