The hiatus between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was rife with Star Wars fan speculation concerning Rey’s parents, only for director Rian Johnson to definitely (or so it seemed at the time) answer the question for all of us in The Last Jedi.
In the film, Kylo Ren (admittedly, a questionable source) tells Rey that her parents were “nobodies,” people who sold their child for drinking money. Despite the lack of privilege in her pedigree, Rey is positioned as the successor to Luke Skywalker and one of the heroes who, presumably, will save the day in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The Last Jedi ends with a “nobody” boy on a “nobody” planet demonstrating his power with the Force. The message is clear: You don’t have to be a Skywalker to be special. Anyone can use the Force. Anyone can save the galaxy. It was a refreshingly subversive message for a culture in which many popular stories center on characters of privilege or lineage.
Of course, heading into the final film in the Skywalker saga, Johnson is no longer steering the ship. J.J. Abrams, the man who first hinted at the question of Rey’s parentage being an important one in The Force Awakens, returned to the director’s chair for The Rise of Skywalker, and some have been left wondering if the writer/director will take this opportunity to address Rey’s parents further. Not least, because the title of the movie hints at the rise of a Skywalker.
Talking to EW days after release of the movie on the subject of Rey’s true parents and how Abrams might choose to change it, Johnson said: “I can’t speak to what they’re going to do. And there’s always, in these movies, a question of ‘a certain point of view. For me, in that moment, Kylo believes it’s the truth.”
Johnson’s quote, along with the title, seem to imply that the franchise may be backtracking on the identity of Rey’s parents. Abrams’ own comments to ABC News last April also tease that Rey’s origin may not be as set in stone as The Last Jedi suggested: “I will say that we knew going into this that this movie had to be a satisfying conclusion, and we’re well aware that [Rey’s parentage is] one of the things that’s sort of been out there. I don’t want to say that what happens in Episode VIII—you know, we’ve honored that. But I will say there’s more to the story than you’ve seen.”
From where we’re sitting, changing Rey’s parents would be a mistake—especially if, as Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy stated at Celebration Chicago earlier this year, the goal is to grow the franchise with its audience.
“To keep this [franchise] relevant and meaningful to the characters and the people who are experiencing the story,” Kennedy said, “it has to be of its time.” We are (hopefully) past a time when our culture-shaping stories reinforce the message that power and privilege can only be passed down along genetic and/or family lines—even if that’s still how it almost exclusively works in the real world. After all, how can we be expected to challenge the structures that reinforce wealth inequality in the real world, if we can’t challenge them in our pop culture narratives?
Fortunately, Star Wars is a franchise that seems to be actively working to make its imagined future more representative of contemporary today.
“Star Wars is so rich and it seems crazy that everyone’s, like, a white male guy,” Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards told Slate in 2016 after directing a Star Wars movie that saw lady Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso leading a crew of multicultural Rebels. “That’s due to the 1970s and the fact that it was shot in Britain, but I was very lucky: I’m British, I grew up in England, and I got to see myself represented in a film. I think it’s about time that we represented the rest of the world. We were all in agreement that not just because of the story, but because it’s 2016, it’s great to have such a diverse cast.”
The cast of The Rise of Skywalker is consciously diverse, too. At the start of the movie’s panel at Celebration Chicago, host Stephen Colbert talked about a franchise “40 years in, more expansive and diverse than any of us could have possibly imagined,” before introducing members of a cast from different races and places. A cast that includes Kelly Marie Tran, an American actress whose parents are Vietnamese and who conspicuously got the biggest cheer of the entire line up — presumably, in part, because the audience was aware of the racist treatment the actress endured on Twitter after the release of The Last Jedi. The feeling from the audience in the room, at Celebration at least, was that Star Wars fans embrace better representation and diversity.
With Marvel snapping at its heels, Star Wars is surely the biggest movie franchise we have, and The Rise of Skywalker is one of the most anticipated films of the year. It’s a franchise, as Kennedy pointed out several times, that’s been around for 40 years, which means many parents who were children when A New Hope came out can now watch the movies with their own kids. Kids who deserve better than to be told that you can’t be special unless you’re born into it.
While older Star Wars fans might feel a strong bond and connection with the Skywalker family, a bond which is understandable and has run through the series so far, this is the third part of the third part, and the end of an era. It’s time for Star Wars to open its arms and become truly inclusive. Powers don’t only come from your parents. Family doesn’t have to be related by blood. Sharing the Force doesn’t mean diluting the Force. Rey is special not because she’s related to someone special, she can just be special anyway, and so could anyone else.
Here’s hoping, then, that the title is a red herring and that “Skywalker” isn’t a person at all, but a movement. One that’s inspired by the heritage of Luke and his family but that’s grown into something beautiful and all-encompassing that he’d be proud to give his name to. I am Skywalker. You are Skywalker. We are Skywalker.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker premieres on December 20, 2019.
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