The Secret History of Rey in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Brandon Rhea
Movies Star Wars
Movies Star Wars

Star Wars is nothing without its characters, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens is no exception. My favorite character from the new film is none other than Rey, the newest central character of the Star Wars Saga. We learned a lot about her in The Force Awakens, but even a movie can only cover so much. That’s why Star Wars has always had books and more to fill in some of the blanks that we otherwise wouldn’t have known. For Rey, we learned more about her in books like Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary by Pablo Hidalgo, Rey’s Survival Guide by Jason Fry, and many more.

Using these books and the knowledge of Wookieepedia, the largest Star Wars fan site in the world, I took a deeper dive into some of Rey’s story that you may not have heard before. For example, did you know that…

Rey Was Originally Called Kira

Rey, originally written as "Kira," was envisioned early on as a scavenger who longed for a better life.
Rey, originally written as "Kira," was envisioned early on as a scavenger who longed for a better life.

There was never any doubt that the sequel trilogy, beginning with The Force Awakens, was going to center on a young heroine. Who that heroine would be, of course, was a story that had to be developed from the ground up. The creative team knew from the beginning of development that the continuity of the Star Wars Expanded Universe would not be followed for the new films, so there were no preexisting characters like Jaina Solo who could be adapted to the big screen. A new generation of heroes had to be created.

Rey’s character started to come together early in pre-production, and basic character traits were always a constant. One big thing that was different, however, was her name: During development, she was known as Kira. Original screenwriter Michael Ardnt described Kira as a loner hothead, a gear-head, and, of course, a badass. J.J. Abrams, who became intrigued by the idea of directing The Force Awakens with the notion of exploring who Luke Skywalker was so many years after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, really enjoyed the idea that this new character would not even know who Luke was—and that she could, in fact, regard him as a myth. After all, while we saw the events of the original trilogy from the perspective of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, that didn’t mean  the galaxy saw them that same way. Would the galaxy even believe that Luke, let alone the Jedi, were real? Kira gave the writers the opportunity to explore that.

Luke, in fact, was originally going to be involved throughout the movie, but Arndt ended up feeling like his presence detracted from Kira. With an audience so enamored by Luke and his legacy, would viewers care as much about Kira when Luke showed up on screen, or would they instead want to know what he was up to? By making the discovery of Luke the fulfillment of the heroic quest, the writers realized they could spend the movie building up the heroine who ultimately became Rey and allow the audience to fall in love with her before they ever saw Luke again.

Even when she was still Kira, the writers knew that they wanted Rey to be some sort of scavenger. At one point in production, she even worked in a used junk yard, one that was a lot like a used car lot. Finn, her companion throughout the film, was originally named Sam, and together they went off on their adventure. The character who became Poe Dameron was also once one of her companions. Originally named John Doe, he was at different times conceived as a Jedi, a bounty hunter, and a Republic pilot before becoming Poe Dameron of the Resistance.

Rey’s Rebel Flight Helmet Belonged to An Ace Pilot

The flight helmet that Rey owned once belonged to Captain Dosmit Ræh of the Tierfon Yellow Aces.

Like any great Star Wars hero, Rey began her story as someone who dreamed of adventure. But unlike Anakin Skywalker and Luke before her, both of whom wanted to escape their lot in life, Rey was content to toil away and wait for her family to return to Jakku — even though, deep down, she knew that would never happen. To highlight how miserable her existence was, the production team chose to build her makeshift AT-AT home in the most barren place they could find in Abu Dhabi. If Rey’s life was miserable, Abrams wanted her home to seem miserable too.

Inside the AT-AT, though, was another story. There were certain things throughout the downed walker, known as Hellhound Two during its old Imperial days, that looked downright charming. She had her own Rebel pilot doll that she made using a flight uniform she found in a Republic cargo container, and she played with that doll throughout her youth on Jakku. In that way, Rey is a lot like us; just as we’re fans of Star Wars and love making up stories about it, Rey also enjoyed making up stories and going on imaginary Star Wars adventures.

A lot of this was inspired by Captain Dosmit Ræh of the Tierfon Yellow Aces. It was her flight helmet that Rey was wearing while eating her meal outside of the AT-AT. Rey loved to make up stories about the kinds of adventures Ræh must have gone on during the Galactic Civil War, and she wore the helmet and played with the doll to pretend she was going on adventures right along with the Rebel pilot. Though Rey stopped playing with the doll when she got older, she did still sometimes enjoy wearing the helmet to remind her of how much her life had changed on Jakku—as evidenced in The Force Awakens.

Rey Spoke Many Languages

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie unless at least one of the main heroes could understand alien and droid languages. After all, it would really slow down the action if the characters had to stop and ask for a translation every time they spoke to a Wookiee or a droid. Rey, like Han Solo and Sabine Wren before her, had that knack for understanding non-human characters. She could speak to Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, Teedo on Jakku, and BB-8 throughout their adventures in the film.

With very little to do on Jakku other than scavenging, Rey would spend her downtime using a computer she retrieved from an old Y-wing starfighter. Not only did the flight simulations within it help her hone her piloting skills, but she also used the databanks to learn alien languages. Doing so helped her understand alien traders who would often come through Niima Outpost on Jakku; it gave her an advantage over other scavengers who might not have known how to interact with those outside of their species. This studying even helped her learn about the exploits of Chewbacca long before she met him; she knew all about him and Han Solo, though the Wookiees who told her about their adventures probably made Chewie the central character of their retellings.

Rey Had A Reputation as a Badass

Other scavengers knew not to mess with Rey, unless they wanted to get a quarterstaff in the face.

It’s pretty clear to most people who watch The Force Awakens that Rey is awesome. She has great fighting skills, she triumphed over Kylo Ren, and she can stand side by side with some of the greatest heroes in galactic history. No small feat for a scavenger from Jakku. But did you know that the other scavengers on Jakku also knew that Rey wasn’t someone to be messed with?

Rey’s quarterstaff was a weapon that she fashioned herself from wreckage in the Starship Graveyard, and she honed her skills with it throughout her life. Those skills were well-known in Niima Outpost. Knowing how good at combat she was kept most people away from her—as did threats from Unkar Plutt, who didn’t want anyone harming his best scavenger. Of course, he did eventually send his thugs after her to try and recover BB-8, but she took them down pretty handily. Other than that, it was generally only new scavengers who tried to mess with her, but they learned pretty quickly that they were making a mistake.

So for those who say it was unrealistic that she beat Kylo Ren, a trained warrior, in their lightsaber duel, just remember that Rey was also a trained fighter. She may not have been given any formal training, but she spent her life learning how to survive in a wasteland. Not to mention the fact that…

The Duel Was a Metaphor For Rey’s Journey

In fairness, you’re not going to find this in any of the books, but I think it’s a pretty important point that a lot of people don’t understand about Rey. The fact that she beat Kylo Ren was the culmination of her entire arc in The Force Awakens, and the duel itself served as a metaphor for that arc.

For most of the film, Rey spends her time running away from the truth — the truth that her family is never coming back, the truth about her destiny, and the truth about the power that was always inside of her. Even when confronted with the fact that her family will never return for her on Jakku, she still runs away from the Skywalker lightsaber and the call to adventure that it represents. Even when she finally picks up the lightsaber and fights Kylo, she is doing it in a way that doesn’t fully embrace her destiny. She spends the first half of the duel on the defensive, running away from her assailant, until he reminds Rey that the Force is strong with her.

It’s in that moment that she finally stops running. Having accepted her destiny, she embraces the light that Maz Kanata said was inside of her and kicks Kylo’s ass. Good triumphs over evil, as it always will, and Rey takes her place amongst the pantheon of great Star Wars heroes. Then, she goes to find Luke Skywalker and make him stop running away from his past as well, an adventure that will continue in Star Wars: Episode VIII.

What was your favorite Rey moment, either from the books or from The Force Awakens? I want to hear from you, so tweet at me and let me know!

Brandon Rhea is Sr. Manager of Content Production at FANDOM. He's a huge fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Marvel. He's a Gryffindor whose Patronus is a cat.
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