This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We have a spoiler free review here if you prefer.
“This will begin to make things right,” Max van Sydow’s character, Lor San Tekka, says in the opening line of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a piece of dialogue that I think is as much about the events of the film as it is about the first Star Wars movie in 10 years. Director J.J. Abrams and the rest of the talented people who worked on the seventh installment of Star Warswere on a mission to zap the bitter memory of the prequels out of the galaxy far, far away. And they largely succeeded by giving us an installment that felt a lot more like the Star Wars we loved, full of adventure, humor, paralyzing revelations, fun characters, and epic lightsaber action.
Most importantly, the film answered our questions about what the future of Star Wars would look like.
Still, some things went unanswered by the time the credits rolled on The Force Awakens, which should be expected from the first part of a new trilogy. There are many big questions fans had by the end of the film that will undoubtedly be explored in its sequels. We need to talk about that ending, what it means for Rey’s quest, and how this will all continue to play out in Episode VIII. But first, let me just reiterate that BIG SPOILERS are ahead. After the picture of Luke Skywalker, you’re on your own, kid:
The Quest for Luke Skywalker
The Force Awakens sets up Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII quite nicely, leaving us with enough big questions to obsess over until May 26, 2017. Chief among them is the question that convinced Abrams to make the film in the first place, but that he didn’t actually answer: “Who is Luke Skywalker?”
By the end of TFA, we have some clues. To Rey and Finn, he is a myth, someone they’re not sure ever existed in the first place, a story made up to bring hope to an oppressed and a wartorn galaxy. And to Poe and Leia, Luke is the galaxy’s only hope, messiah-like as evidenced by their desperate search.
But the quest for Luke Skywalker in TFA is like the Death Star plans in the original Star Wars. It’s the element of the story that sets the heroes on their destined paths, not necessarily the solution to all of their problems. But in searching for the MacGuffin, the characters discover their true potential and become the real saviors.
Still, finding Luke in the end is significant due in big part to where he’s been hiding. We know that he vanished from the known galaxy prior to the events of the film and that General Leia has been trying to bring him back to the Resistance ever since. Many of the people closest to Luke have heard stories about his whereabouts, myths themselves, but Leia offers a bit of solid intel: the last Jedi went searching for the first Jedi Temple, the place where we can assume the Jedi Order began. The implications of this are massive. His reason for going on this crusade isn’t quite clear because we’re not sure what he expects to find there, but we can assume Kylo Ren, his nephew and former student, has something to do with it.
Luke has failed to establish a new Jedi Order, thwarted by Ben Solo’s fall to the Dark Side. Instead, the Knights of Ren have risen to take the Sith’s place as oppressors and murderers, while the Jedi continue to be a moot point 30 years after Return of the Jedi. This a major failing on Luke’s part, and like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda before him, he goes into self-imposed exiled at the first temple of the Jedi. But could he be searching for something more?
The first Jedi Temple could be some kind of Force nexus, a place unusually strong in its energy where a Jedi (or Ren) could channel its raw power and become stronger. Not to get too fanboy speculative here, but given what we know about the new Star Wars universe, it stands to reason that this Jedi Temple would in the very least hold some sort of imprint of the Force. After all, we’ve seen what simply touching a historic lightsaber can do to someone who is Force-sensitive.
The concept of a Force nexus, of course, belongs to Legends continuity, where places like the Valley of the Jedi served as the universe’s stand-ins for El Dorado… or Camelot (we’ll get there in a moment). Places of infinite riches—or Force energy. While this concept hasn’t been formally introduced to the new canon, it does provide an intriguing explanation for what Luke might be searching for.
Rey joining Luke in this mythical place at the end of the movie is of great importance. We know that she could very well be the heir to the Jedi, like Luke before her, and that Luke will undoubtedly play the role of teacher. The Force has awoken within Rey, and it could be up to the older Jedi to fully unlock her abilities. Episode VIII could show her become Luke’s new apprentice. And it might all come to pass exactly to Luke’s design…
Rey’s Origin, or The Lightsaber in the Stone
It’s quite interesting, if pieced together correctly, how many things actually seem orchestrated by Luke in The Force Awakens and how so much of the film is inspired by the Arthurian legend. Luke’s role in the Sequel Trilogy could be reminiscent of a Merlin-like character, working his way backwards in order to inspire a new youth to become the greatest hero of her time.
In T.H. White’s modern retelling of King Arthur’s origins, The Sword and the Stone, Merlin is a wizard who experiences time backwards. It’s no accident when he chooses young Arthur as his apprentice, the boy he knows will one day become Britain’s greatest hero. When Arthur is ready to fulfill his destiny, he pulls the legendary sword Excalibur from an anvil, which grants him the throne of England. Arthur eventually creates the Knights of the Round Table, who accompany him on many adventures.
If Luke is the Merlin, then Rey is the young Arthur of this story. It’s certainly no accident that Rey’s powers manifest for the first time when she finds Anakin’s lightsaber. Before the scene in Maz Kanata’s castle, she never displays any kind of Force sensitivity. The simple explanation is that, since Rey doesn’t know where she comes from (and neither do we, technically) and believes Luke and the Force are myths, she can’t possibly know of her true powers.
As the film’s title suggests, it stands to reason that the lightsaber, hidden (or planted) in the depths of Maz’s castle, awakens the Force within Rey. From that point on, we see her use the Force regularly, whether to fight back against Kylo Ren’s memory-probing powers, Jedi mind trick Daniel Craig into letting her escape the interrogation room, or beating Kylo to Anakin’s lightsaber. (Actually, she Force pulls the lightsaber out of the snow before Kylo can do the same. Again, the Arthurian imagery cannot be ignored.)
When Rey touches the lightsaber for the first time, she has visions of the past and possibly the future. She sees the many trials of Luke Skywalker as well as her very own memories of being abandoned on Jakku. And most importantly, she hears the voices of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Whether she hears them as part of the vision or some kind of communication from the Beyond is unclear. Obi-Wan says to her, “Rey, these are your first steps,” words that mirror what the Jedi Master told Luke in Star Wars while learning to use the Force. And indeed finding the lightsaber is her first step.
Maz tells Rey that the lightsaber calls to her and that she must take the weapon. But Rey is too afraid to wield such power, even if it has already changed her life forever, much in the same way it did for Luke. Later, when Han asks Maz how she got the weapon, which was thought lost after Luke’s duel with Darth Vader on Cloud City, she says it’s an interesting question but one for another time. Again, I have to point a finger at Luke, who must have found it at some point after Return of the Jedi and hidden (or planted) it there for Rey to find years later, as a contingency plan if things went sour with his new Jedi Order.
This also brings up an interesting question about how Kylo recognized the weapon when Finn wielded it on Starkiller Base. Surely, Kylo knew of its existence. Might have Luke thought at one point that Ben Solo was the Jedi destined to continue his work?
It’s established in the film and the expanded universe of books and comics preceding it that Luke planned to rebuild the Jedi Order all the way back in the days right after Return of the Jedi. In Marvel’s Star Wars: Shattered Empire, the final issue follows Luke (and Poe Dameron’s mom, Shara Bey) on a mission to recover the Force-sensitive tree that stood at the heart of the old Jedi Temple on Coruscant (and fanatics of the Dark Side are doing the same with Sith relics. In Star Wars: Aftermath, we learn that a faction called the Acolytes of the Beyond have tracked down Darth Vader’s lightsaber—not the same as Anakin’s). Among the things Luke probably acquired in the thirty years between VI and VII was his father’s Jedi lightsaber.
Since it must also be imprinted with Anakin’s energy, both light and dark, one could logically reason that the lightsaber, along with Snoke’s influence, was conducive to Ben’s fall to the Dark Side. We know Luke has foresight and is prone to visions of the future. All the way back in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke can see his friends suffering on Cloud City. And even before that, Anakin has visions of Padme dying in childbirth and his mother suffering on Tatooine. Foresight runs in the family, so when Ben took hold of the lightsaber for the first time, he must have seen something, just like Rey did. Of course, his visions must have been more corrupting.
Rey and Kylo Ren could be two possible manifestations of the same prophecy, the Skywalker legacy headed in two completely opposing directions. It would explain their rivalry, Rey’s sudden Force powers, and how our young hero so conveniently found the lightsaber she was destined to wield and the path she was destined to walk.
Episode VIII, or The Once and Future Jedi
“Luke Skywalker has vanished,” reads the first line of The Force Awakens‘ opening crawl. Thus begins a 135-minute search for Luke, who has very purposefully made his exit from the galactic stage to make way for the next hero. Because it’s so obvious that there must be a successor. Luke even leaves behind a map to his hideout for when the time comes!
Words spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi keep echoing in my head. In one of their first scenes together in A New Hope, Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber and tells him, “Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough…” Indeed, by the time we meet Rey, abandoned by her family on Jakku years prior, she is a brave, strong, kind, and intelligent young woman, all among a Jedi’s best characteristics. It stands to reason that after Ben’s fall, Luke wanted her to grow up without any interference from the Jedi, perhaps afraid that exposing her to the Force too early would leave her open to too much temptation.
If it turns out that Rey is indeed Luke’s daughter, then The Force Awakens is all about Luke leaving behind the breadcrumbs for Rey. In order to find him in the one place where they might push back the darkness. Where she can the pick up the pieces of the Jedi Order. You could call Rey’s arc in the film a series of trials and lessons that help her understand what it means to be a hero and wield the Force. Metaphorically, Merlin does the same with Arthur in The Sword and the Stone, turning the boy into different animals in order to teach him what it means to be a good king.
Once Rey completes her trials, defeats (for now) Kylo Ren, and helps destroy Starkiller Base, she very symbolically ascends the steps of the first Jedi Temple to find what she hadn’t really been searching for at the beginning of the movie: her destiny. Of course, we won’t know how any of this will play out until Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII, which begins shooting in January.
The sequel will have to establish how Rey’s quest directly connects to Luke’s exile. Either revealed to her by Luke at the beginning of the movie, which I don’t think will begin too long after the end of The Force Awakens, or some other way, Rey will discover how her destiny is tied to the Skywalker legacy and the Jedi. She’s set to be the first in a new generation of Jedi, and we’ll see her embrace that. I have no doubt that Rey’s parentage will be revealed, as well, raising the stakes of her story, either because she’ll have more to lose or it’s as tragic as Vader and Luke’s relationship.
And if Luke is indeed her father, there are plenty of questions to be answered there. Did Luke choose to hide her until the time was right or did he mean for her to live a more simple life, away from the Force and its temptations? It will be up to Rey to make the choice—an option she was not given in The Force Awakens. By the end of Episode VIII, we’ll see her take up Luke’s quest to restore the Jedi. Until then, like Arthur and his father before him, Rey will continue to fight the only fight there ever was, as Maz Kanata says, the fight against the darkness.