“Who are you?”
Three years ago, it was Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata who originally quizzed Rey about her mysterious origins, before the great Luke Skywalker echoed that same line in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, leading many to assume that Rian Johnson would reveal the answer fans so crave.
Well, it turns out Johnson did deliver – the answer was just not what we had expected. Though she may be destined for greatness, Rey is a “nobody” in the eyes of Kylo Ren – a scavenger whose parents amounted to Jakku scrap dealers…and nothing else. They’ve been left to rot under the planet’s mighty sand dunes, and though there has been chatter of a possible retcon in Episode IX, Rian Johnson stands by his decision, as the director has stated time and time again.
In fact, while appearing on Empire’s Spoiler Special, the filmmaker confirmed that he originally dreamed up some alternatives for Rey’s parents, before whittling down that list to two abstract nobodies on the belief that “anybody can be president.”
I went through all the possibilities of who her parents could be. I made a list, with the upsides and downsides. There were two things about this option that made it feel right to me.
Firstly. I like the idea that we’re breaking out from the notion that the force is this genetic thing that you have to be tied to somebody to have. It’s the ‘anybody can be president’ idea. Which I liked introducing. The foremost thing was just dramatically, storytelling-wise.
Johnson then likened his sucker punch to Empire Strikes Back – arguably The Last Jedi‘s closest relative within the Star Wars franchise – which delivered one of the greatest twists in cinematic history with the famous “I am your father” line.
The way I like to put it is, in The Empire Strikes Back, the big revelation is ‘I am your father.’ It’s a big surprise, but I think the reason it lands is not because of that, but because it’s the hardest possible thing that Luke, and hence the audience, could hear at that moment. You’ve had a bad guy that you can hate, that you can project your shadow on to cleanly, he’s evil. It’s simple. With that one line, suddenly that easy answer gets taken away from you, and he’s something our protagonist has a relationship to and has to think in more complex terms, in terms of layers of redemption.
Not only that, but Rian Johnson wanted to ensure that Rey wasn’t defined by her heritage; instead, she’s the spark that can help bring hope back to the galaxy and, ultimately, topple the First Order once and for all.
For me, if Rey had gotten the answer that she’s related to so-and-so, had learned her place in the story, that would be the easiest thing she can here. The hardest thing to hear is, ‘nope, this not going to define you.’ And in fact, Kylo is going to use this to try and undercut your confidence so you’ll feel you have to lean on him for your identity. And you’re going to have to make the choice to find your own identity in this story.
Barring some unforeseen retcon in Episode IX, Star Wars: The Last Jedi identified Rey’s parents and, in one fell swoop, brought an end to all that speculation. But are you satisfied with Johnson’s decision? Do let us know.