This article contains massive Star Wars: The Last Jedi spoilers.
It’s a strange feeling for most moviegoers who were not alive when the Original Star Wars Trilogy came out. Standing side by side, and back to back, the girl simply known as Rey and the mercurial villain who calls himself Kylo Ren (but will ever be Ben Solo) fiercely fight off a small legion of Praetorian Guards. The First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke is dead, and with his brutal passing, a sudden narrative vacuum has been left in his wake: Where does the story go from here? Most viewers were left thrillingly unsure.
Until that moment, much of the dynamic between Rey, Ren, and Snoke played as an echo of events that unfolded in Return of the Jedi, where a father redeemed himself by dying for his son. But the only people dying here are damnable henchmen and an emperor’s stand-in. As they fall, the main hero and villain of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are united by a shared purpose and mind, and their franchise could seemingly go anywhere at that point. Kylo could accept it when Rey calls him “Ben” and join her as a living anti-hero returned to the light side of the Force. Or Rey could just as easily be tempted by Kylo. He offers her the chance to join him as a ruler of the galaxy—and perhaps something more—and there is hesitation on her part.
He claims she is a no one to everybody, except him, and for the faintest of passing seconds, she considers his sinister proposal. Maybe his side is a home (and family) for a girl who’s known neither. Blessedly, she quickly rejects the temptation and even shuts a literal door on Kylo by the end of the film. Yet it remains unclear if Rey has a connection with any of the film’s other heroes that’s as strong as the one with Kylo. Theirs is an unusual and acutely ambiguous dynamic for a franchise that often deals in blacks and whites, light and dark. And it has fascinating implications for Rey, Ben Solo, and the whole galaxy they struggle for…
A Mirror in the Dark
With an intentionally wicked sense of subversion, director Rian Johnson uses the big moment of The Last Jedi where Rey and Ren are joined at the hip to also reveal a secret: She’s not a Skywalker—at least not in the technical meaning of it. Unlike the operatic twist in the Original Star Wars Trilogy’s middle chapter, where Luke Skywalker learned that he is the son of evil, Rey is forced to swallow the bitter truth that she is not the child of some grand conspiracy of intergalactic importance.
As per Ben, her parents abandoned her because they were Jakku drunks and lost causes, dying in the proverbial gutter of a wasteland. “They have no role in this story.” While it is possible that a man aiming to become the greatest power in the galaxy is lying through his treacherous teeth, if you search your feelings, you know it to at least be partially true. The actual names of Rey’s parents are irrelevant. She is an orphan whose qualities come not from lineage but from within.
So the real question is then why is she so strong with the Force, and why is she drawn to Kylo like a Porg to Millennium Falcon gear? Hints of the real answer to Rey’s mystery are found in Supreme Leader Snoke’s monlogue. Before his delicious demise, Snoke muses that she is the Force’s answer to Kylo Ren: a being who embodies all the qualities of the light, just as Kylo is meant to be heir apparent of all the qualities of the dark, which were his birthright as the grandson of Anakin Skywalker.
In this vein, Snoke isn’t just whistling “The Imperial March.” Rey is gifted (or cursed) with an unusually high amount of Force sensitivity. The lightsaber belonging to Anakin and Luke Skywalker from generations past called out to her hand in The Force Awakens, and then was used with precision to fight Kylo Ren to a standstill within the frosted woods of Starkiller Base. And despite having never stepped foot off Jakku until she was an adult, this desert child dreamed of water. Previously, we thought it was because of the sea that surrounded Luke, however it appears now what she was really drawn to was the island upon which Luke sat. For there were the ancient Jedi texts of the first Jedi Temple. “Page-turners” of the light.
The island epitomizes a land of light and grace in the Star Wars universe, a place of balance. And it is also the closest Rey has come to finding a home. The reason for this is simple: She is what Snoke says, the Force’s answer to Kylo Ren, or at least the legacy he’s inherited. While no fan likes to speak the names of the Prequel Trilogy aloud, those three films introduced a fatalistic concept about the Skywalker clan. Anakin was conceived by the Force. As a fatherless child, he was willed into existence by energy meant to bring balance to the Force. And in a way he did. He killed off the Jedi and the Sith, but only after introducing chaos and mass death into a long peaceful galaxy. By aiding Darth Sidious in the slaughter of the Jedi and the corruption of the Republic, all the wars and suffering that have followed are at least partially his fault.
This includes the actions of his grandson too. Ben Solo has proven to be every bit as weak and wrathful upon the galaxy as his grandfather. Perhaps more so now that he will rule the First Order in a way that Vader never stood atop the Empire. Ben is a continuation of the Skywalker’s bleak legacy. He is their destiny reclaimed; and Rey is the Force’s answer to that.
Whether of immaculate conception or not, Rey was conceived by the Force’s light side. She’s a retort to Anakin Skywalker’s progeny and will bring the final balance to the chaos which he and his offspring spread. It’s also why there’s…
An Irresistible Attraction
When Rey is drawn to the heart of the island of Ahch-To, it is not due to a beacon of light from the Jedi Temple—it is from the lure of an inviting darkness. In search of answers, a waterlogged Rey finds herself inside the belly of Ahch-To. It’s a cold and secluded place reserved for the dark side, yet it remains unthreatened by Rey’s presence. She has come looking for her origins, but finds only a mirror.
This is because she is the shiny reflection of the dark, and for there to be balance, light and dark must co-exist without fear. There cannot be one without the other, and Rey could not exist without Kylo Ren or the Skywalker legacy. This difficult to grapple concept is why she finds Luke’s stalling tactics so frustrating, and Ben’s ear so therapeutic. He too knows what it is like to struggle with a heritage he doesn’t fully comprehend. This similarity is what binds them so well… and scares Luke half to death.
When Luke first attempts to teach Rey a lesson about the Force, she is instinctively dragged into the dark side’s pit. “You didn’t even it fight it,” Luke shivers. That is because both she and Kylo are naturally drawn to the other’s allure, and their fates are entwined. This is not to say there is a romantic connection between the two… but the attraction of it exists for both parties.
The strongest portions of The Last Jedi are when Kylo and Rey are connected by the Force. Intriguingly, Rey is stronger than her shadowy counterpart, able to see his surroundings while she is but a face that calls to him. We learn later that Snoke enabled this psychic link. Still, it was only possible because Kylo is naturally tempted by her light, as she is just as easily beckoned to his dark. They are the two halves of the Force and a détente between them is when they are at peace.
Beyond the sympathy Rey has for Ben, and past Kylo showing off a marine’s physique while they are mentally connected, there is a symbiotic need for the communion… but an impossibility to reconcile it. All is right with the Force when Kylo and Rey work together to bring down one of the ugliest consequences of Anakin Skywalker’s actions: Snoke and his meager imitation of the Imperial throne Vader helped build. Unified, they take a major step toward ending Anakin’s legacy and are most at peace in this bloody harmony.
However, it is short lived because neither party can consummate the pull of their attraction to the other. Kylo is lost to the dark side, just as Luke and Leia have accepted. It is against his very nature to become the Ben Solo she sees. But in contrast, it is impossible for his counterbalance of the light to give into his proposal to join him. Part of her might want to, but that is not balance; it is submission. Thus they are at an eternal impasse: the rock and the hard place. Their actual destiny lies in…
The Fall of the House of Skywalker
At this point, it’s safe to say that the overall arc of the nine-episode Star Wars saga more resembles a tragedy than a simple adventure. Luke and Leia’s heroism was derived out of the literal need to atone for the sins of their father. With the Star Wars prequels, we were meant to see how the rosiness of the original films were a direct result of Anakin Skywalker losing his soul and taking the galaxy with him. Now in the Sequel Trilogy, we still bear witness to his haunting legacy as Leia’s son, and Luke’s protégé, takes over the galaxy.
Hence in many respects, it would appear that whatever prophecy brought about Anakin and Luke, its natural conclusion can only be reached once the bleeding inflicted by the Skywalker family stops. That is Rey’s destiny, and it will be what brings her back again to face Kylo.
In many respects, there is a sense of classical antiquity to the latest Star Wars chapters. As our editor-in-chief Mike Cecchini suggested, this narrative journey increasingly (and knowingly) reflects the Oresteia cycle. The Oresteia is also a trilogy from 3500 years ago. This saga of Greek tragedies by Aeschylus is about a son named Orestes and daughter named Electra who must end the bloody legacy of their family. Years before the tale began, their father Agamemnon contributed to setting a world ablaze by leading the armies of Greece against Troy, wreaking havoc on the ancient world for a generation. To do this, Agamemnon even sacrificed a daughter to the gods. As a consequence, he was eventually murdered by his wife Clytemnestra. In turn, Orestes and Electra avenged their lost dark father by slaying their mother. And yet, Orestes pays dearly for this and is cursed by the ghost of his mother to be hunted by the Furies, apparitions who haunt Orestes’ every waking and sleeping moment.
Despite how bizarre this might appear, it’s very much mirrored in The Last Jedi. Instead of avenging the loss of his father, Ben Solo acts as a spirit of retribution for his grandfather, Darth Vader—the literal Dark Father. He kills Han and helps drive Luke to the grave. The relative who “destroyed” Vader. Kylo is closing the circle of his family in blood. Luke also warns, even though he apparently knows he’s close to death, that he’ll be back to haunt Ben in the future. “See you around, kid,” the uncle sneers to his former student. Instead of communing with his new heir in Rey, Luke appears destined to torment Kylo’s dreams and days – possibly alongside an also furious Han.
The circle of the Skywalker House must be closed, and even if Rey is not a Skywalker in name, she is like the original Anakin in that she was picked by the Force for her destiny. To do this, there is only one ending awaiting either party: death.
If we could speculate about the fates laid out for Star Wars: Episode IX, the film will involve the mutual pull Rey and Ren feel in the other’s direction being consummated by a lightsaber’s blade. The carnage inflicted by the House of Skywalker, along with their lives, will end. Indeed, Luke might’ve been right early in The Last Jedi when he suggested the Jedi had it wrong. Balance is not the absence of darkness, nor is it purely light.
If Rey is to end Ren, it is just as probable he’ll end her too. Again, we’re taken back to that ending for The Last Jedi. Rey watches Finn and Rose, and for the first time swallows her own bit of envy for Stormtrooper FN-2187. She also meets Poe Dameron and speaks with General Leia Organa, and yet they are all looking to the future for the Resistance and for themselves. Rey is thus isolated, even from the shut out Kylo Ren. For now. She may not be raging with conflict, but she is also devoid of the harmony she felt next to Kylo bringing about an end of the previous generation’s sins with Snoke’s death.
Eventually all that will be left from that bloody past is Rey and Ren themselves, and that too will have to die for a true balance to be attained.