It cannot be argued that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was one of the most, if not the most, anticipated film of 2015. Today, it has been seen countless times by countless fans, and has probably generated more fan debates than any other Star Wars movie before it. In large part, this could be due to the fact that The Force Awakens is the first film of a new Saga trilogy, and the first of them not to be self-contained. A New Hope and The Phantom Menace (despite many reservations about the latter) could stand on their own. This is not the case for this film, and it barely answered our questions from the long wait leading up to December 2015.
But The Force Awakens has given us much to talk about, and the one thing that fans have most argued about is probably the Saga’s new main character: Rey. As interesting as she is mysterious, we still have very little to go when it comes to her backstory and only speculation will help us hold up until Episode VIII comes out in December 2017. The strongest theory on Rey’s origins is without question that she is Luke Skywalker’s daughter and, if she isn’t, that her parents have to be connected to characters we already know. These fans and others see Rey’s journey in the sequel trilogy as being already set: Rey will become a Luke’s apprentice, becoming one of the first Jedi of the new Order, and most likely defeat Kylo Ren and the First Order as Luke did with Vader and the Emperor.
I honestly hope that things won’t be that easy, because it will allow the Saga to develop a storyline that it has never before explored: does Rey actually want to be a Jedi?
Where we stand in The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens is the first “first film” of a Star Wars trilogy to end on a cliffhanger. While previous films had some loose threads (Darth Vader escaping the destruction of the Death Star, or the mystery of the surviving Sith Lord in The Phantom Menace), this film didn’t try to act as a potential standalone. In fact, J. J. Abrams’s audacious gamble at framing the story around the same format as A New Hope’s could only work with a larger story in mind. And one of the greatest strengths of the film is the possible directions the story can now take. One of those directions is Rey’s storyline.
At the beginning of the film, Rey only knows the Jedi as a myth, having never left Jakku and never even having heard of the Force. As the story progresses, she not only discovers that the Jedi were real long ago, but that she also possesses the power that they once mastered. Rey’s position as the main character is in fact underlined in the title: the Force awakens in a new generation, in this case Rey when she embraces it to defeat Kylo Ren after initial reluctance. After what must have been a confusing discovery for her, she is almost immediately sent on a mission to find Luke, the last surviving Jedi and the only one who can help the Resistance and the remnants of the New Republic defeat the First Order. The film comes to a close as Rey finds Luke and offers him his father’s lightsaber.
The symbolism of that scene is extreme and, in my opinion, often misinterpreted. Many fans assume that Rey handing Luke his father’s lightsaber is a twofold move: asking him to return to the growing war, and offering herself as an apprentice along the way. But we must not forget that it has only been a few days that Rey has been made aware of the full scope of what she can do. She went from being a lonely scavenger on Jakku, to a friend to both BB-8 and Finn, to an ally of the Resistance in their struggle, before discovering that she can use a mystical power she only ever heard of in legends. And even that last part is debatable because, from what I’ve learnt reading the new Expanded Universe (specifically in the novel Lost Stars by Claudia Gray), not only did the Jedi slide back into myth during the Empire’s reign and the early days of the New Republic, but the knowledge of their connection to the Force was, at best, fleeting. So Rey must only have the knowledge she gleamed from legends (if any), and what Maz and Kylo Ren helped her realize about the Force. And she must also get used to her new life, the forced admission that the people she was waiting for on Jakku are not coming back, her new friendships and her new burden while also admitting that the galaxy she thought she knew is much larger than she imagined. If I were her, I wouldn’t know what to do either.
With all this in mind, can we honestly say that she wants to become a Jedi? The final scene of The Force Awakens could underline an entirely different symbolism: Rey isn’t offering herself to Luke as an apprentice; she is passing the mantle of responsibility that is being a Jedi back to him. This could imply that she doesn’t want anything to do with this life, as she told Maz after she experienced her Force vision on Takodana. It fits into many predictions made about Episode VIII, the idea that Luke won’t want to teach Rey even if she asks him to. Wouldn’t it be even more interesting if neither are interested, yet bound together by the will of the Force? And the fact that the Resistance still needs Luke’s help to stop the First Order.
Even more interestingly, this theory would pose a question that the Saga has never yet asked: why would someone want to become a Jedi? The closest it ever came to answering that question is when Qui-Gen tells Anakin a sentence that a little boy hoping to escape an unbearable life didn’t fully understand: “Training to become a Jedi is not an easy route. And even if you succeed, it’s a hard life”. Indeed, neither Anakin in the prequels nor Luke in the Original Trilogy refused to become a Jedi. Despite a momentary refusal on Luke’s part because of the life he still had on Tatooine (namely his aunt and uncle), he never once looked back. The same can be said for Anakin (although the superb Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin miniseries, written by Charles Soule, is providing insight into his doubts over his choice to join the Jedi). I also don’t believe that there is a single fan in the world who didn’t ever wonder what it would be like to be a Jedi. For my part, I would never have said no if a Jedi had come to me and asked me if I wanted to join them. I like to think that I’m a little wiser now.
The sequel trilogy now has a chance to grapple that very question. In fact, it already has in part with Luke’s storyline. In the novelization, as Han is explaining to Rey and Finn why Luke disappeared, he adds a sentence which should have made its way into the film: “He was training a new generation of Jedi. There was no one left to do it so he took the burden on himself”. It once again shows that being a Jedi is not easy, and that it comes not just with responsibility but with danger. If we think back to it, everything Yoda told Luke in The Empire Strikes Back reflects this: being a Jedi means spending your whole life fighting, more often than not against yourself. Now, the Jedi are gone and the only one who remains is not like old Ben Kenobi: he has lost faith in himself, probably the worst thing that could happen to a Jedi. Unless he recovers his desire to rebuild the Jedi Order (which he most likely will), there won’t be anyone to make the case for Rey to become a Jedi herself.
In fact, the former Expanded Universe was filled with characters that had the potential to become Jedi and chose not to, such as Cade Skywalker and Ania Solo (the main characters of both Legacy series). Now we can see such a scenario unfolding with Rey as the character we follow. Personally, I have little doubt that she will choose to become a Jedi. But the story would be served far better if she didn’t accept it automatically as her destiny.
A new theory on Rey’s parentage
As a part of such a story, it could also be possible to integrate Rey’s parentage into her dilemma about becoming a Jedi. I am likely one of the few people who believe that the story would be better served if Rey is not a Skywalker, a Solo, or belonging to the family of any other known character (Although I would love her being a Kenobi, as I am a big, BIG fan of Obi-Wan, but I don’t see how they can pull that off convincingly). So far, Rey hasn’t needed to have a known surname to win our affections; I don’t see any reason for that to change.
This theory involves the idea that Rey is already known to Luke (which seems to be the case if you’ve read the novelization; if you haven’t, the look in his eyes seems to be one of recognition when he sees her in The Force Awakens). However, she doesn’t know him. This would mean that he has only ever seen her as a child, in the times before the young Rey we saw in the Force vision. What if Rey had been one of Luke’s apprentices when he was training his nephew Ben (who also recognized Rey during their duel in the novelization), and that she was too young to remember? What if she was taken from her family by Luke much like the old Jedi used to do? I doubt Luke would do something like that, but one of her parents could have given her to the Jedi while another didn’t want her to become one of the new Order. So he stole her from him and hid her on Jakku for her own protection. Of course, this theory is not perfect; I am the first to admit it. But I honestly believe that we have never seen Rey’s parents before in the films and that they will bring a new level of conflict to a galaxy far, far away.
In fact, I already have a theory on who Rey’s parents could be. I am not the first person to have this idea but it would fit with some of my ideas about her future story and her parentage: Rey would be the daughter of Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, the main characters of Lost Stars, one of the best additions to the new Expanded Universe. In this novel, Thane and Ciena were both Imperial officers who both became disillusioned with the Empire, though they went different ways: Thane joined the Rebellion while Ciena, who was raised to believe in honour, remained with the Empire to uphold her oath of loyalty. Ironically, Thane is a Rebel sceptic who doesn’t believe in the Force while the Imperial Ciena does. At the end of Lost Stars, Ciena is arrested by the New Republic at the Battle of Jakku and Thane promises to wait for her. If Ciena eventually became pregnant, she might have wished for a better life for her child than being the daughter of a New Republic prisoner still bound by her oath to the Empire. Discovering her Force-sensitivity, she could have given her to Luke (after some convincing) and without Thane’s knowledge. When he found out, he stole her from the Jedi and hid her on Jakku for reasons unknown.
Of course, this theory has a lot of pros and cons, and I can’t possibly elaborate on it in this article (it would need an entire article to itself so that I could make sense of it).
But the long and short of it is that, if the lucky people who currently find themselves in the Star Wars writing room and have the charge of charting the future of this series, I hope that they have thought of these things. Whether she is the daughter of a known character or someone completely original, Rey could be the first main character of a Saga trilogy to question whether being a Jedi is really worth it. Instead of being the replica of Luke or Anakin Skywalker that the most hateful critics criticize her of being, she should be her own character and ask the question that up until now has remained squarely in the domain of the Expanded Universe: does she really want to be a Jedi?