The release of Episode IX confirmed that the three Star Wars trilogies sit safely under the banner of The Skywalker Saga. It’s a sprawling sequence that tracked three generations of the famous family, although not in the way we expected, nor the way George Lucas imagined when he started writing Star Wars in the mid-1970s.
The importance of the Skywalker name has changed over time, but the concept of family has been central to the saga since it started. That truth was never more apparent than the legendary twist at the climax of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back that revealed Darth Vader as Luke Skywalker’s father.
The Rise of Skywalker confirmed that the arching saga was about one family in particular. But it took a few more twists and familial revelations to understand what it meant to carry that name. It all linked to the true origins of Rey, the hero of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and a character who curiously lacked a surname until the trilogy’s close.
The Last Jedi
Star Wars Episode IX: The Last Jedi was a controversial film determined to confound expectations and play against the Star Wars rulebook. As the middle film in the sequel trilogy, it had the freedom to do so, particularly after Episode VII: The Force Awakens had followed the rules closely.
One of The Last Jedi’s significant misdirections was denying its central hero the path Anakin and Luke Skywalker had previously walked. But writer and director Rian Johnson’s attempt to break from the Star Wars mold was also evident in the difference in the relationship between Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren compared to the Emperor and Darth Vader.
In Snoke’s throne room, only Kylo Ren’s origins were clear. The Force Awakens had put the fallen Ben Solo front and center as he grappled with his legacy as Darth Vader’s grandson. Snoke and Rey remained a mystery until the Supreme Leader delighted in telling Rey that her parents were “nobodies” just before Kylo Ren unceremoniously killed him. It was quite the anticlimax, but there’s no denying it was a fresh approach for a Star Wars film.
George Lucas devised Star Wars as an overarching storyline, deliberately starting in the middle of the sequence. However, inadvertent inconsistencies that came with writing the original trilogy one film at a time were part of Star Wars‘ original charm — even Leia and Luke’s odd relationship before the revelations of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The sequel trilogy took that approach to a nostalgic extreme, aiming for one narrative that could run through three films developed under separate creative control.
When JJ Abrams returned for the sequel closer — after original director Colin Trevorrow stepped aside over creative differences — he faced several challenges completing the narrative, including the untimely death of Carrie Fisher and the plot strands Rian Johnson had cut off. That’s not to say there’s necessarily a contradiction when The Rise Skywalker revealed that Snoke had lied.
The Rise of Skywalker
The final episode of the sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, opened with the news that “the dead speak!” This led Kylo Ren and Rey to another inevitable meeting, this time with the resurrected Emperor on the legendary hidden world of the Sith. On Exegol, the twists of the previous film, Snoke’s death, and Rey’s heritage turn again.
Snoke is revealed to be the Emperor’s clone puppet, the dark lord of the Sith manipulating events from behind the scenes throughout the trilogy. And this time, it’s the Emperor who delights in informing Rey that she is his granddaughter, Rey Palpatine.
The innate untrustworthiness of the Sith means The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t u-turn on the revelations of The Last Jedi. Fan theories have retconned the trilogy’s events, finding evidence in Luke’s response to Rey’s raw power and her apparent closeness to both sides of the force.
The Fall of Palpatine
After his reveal in The Force Awakens, fans speculated that Supreme Leader Snoke was Darth Plagueis, the legendary Sith who unlocked the secrets to immortality. Plagueis was heavily implied to be Palpatine’s master during the unsettling chat between then-Chancellor Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In hindsight, the rumor was a nice piece of misdirection.
Snoke may have been a puppet of the Emperor rather than his Master, but his creation reflected the Sith’s physical response to the Force and the truth about Rey’s origins. While their dark powers allowed incredible physical manipulation of the Force, the Sith were convinced that it was impossible to become one with the cosmic energy. While Jedi teachings enabled them to become immortal as Force Ghosts, the Sith pursued physical means to manipulate the Force and secure eternal life.
Following the Battle of Endor and the fall of the Empire, the secret cult Sith Eternal had worked to resurrect the Emperor through cloning. The dark Sith power of Transfer Essence meant the deposed Emperor could transfer his will between bodies. However, cloning’s unpredictability presented a catch. While genetic makeup could be duplicated, Force sensitivity wasn’t guaranteed.
The Emperor’s unnamed son, and Rey’s father, was a Strand-cast clone of Palpatine who lacked Force sensitivity. In a flashback, we see the rejected son fall for an unidentified woman, and the moment the couple were forced to leave their newborn daughter on Jakku for her safety. While his son carried no connection to the Force, his daughter was immensely powerful, something that the Emperor’s master plan appeared to anticipate. The cloning meant that Rey was more accurately the Emperor’s daughter than his granddaughter. It also puts Snoke’s dismissive description of Rey’s parents as “nobodies” in a different light. That said, it’s best not to think about how Rey and Snoke were genetically related.
It was all the same to the Emperor’s pursuit of total and immortal galactic power supremacy. While his son and countless other clones weren’t suitable vessels for his continued existence, his granddaughter and the powers that had skipped a generation were.
When Rey stopped the most significant threat the galaxy had ever faced, she also threw off her heritage. She was then free to adopt the famous name Skywalker, which would have otherwise died out, to define her true path. Whether that was destiny or not, it wouldn’t have meant the same without the revelation of her true identity.