Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Alien: Covenant
Could Michael Fassbender’s David actually be the Space Jockey from the original Alien? With Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott finally answers a question fans have been asking since 1979: what is the xenomorph? It turns out that the perfect organism with a painful reproductive system is, as long suspected, a biological weapon, but specifically one bred from Engineer technology by rogue synthetic David, partially as a means of killing his creators (us).
That’s not the only mysterious piece of backstory that’s been dangling for decades and is due a solution in Scott’s prequel series, though. There’s also the matter of “the Pilot”; in the original Alien, when the crew of the Nostromo investigates the crashed derelict spacecraft they find a long-dead pilot – a big, elephant-trunked being in a command module who’s had an alien burst out of his chest and left a beacon warning all who pass by to stay away.
Known by fans as the Space Jockey, the creature wasn’t seen in any of the later sequels (a skull of the species did pop up as an Easter egg in Alien vs. Predator: Requiem) but did get expanded upon in comics and books. Most appearances just skirted on what was previously established, but Aliens (a comic, with no relation to the movie) offered up a living Jockey is seen, revealing pink skin, yellow eyes, a tail and telekinetic abilities, and the novel Aliens: Original Sin suggested they wanted to wipe out humanity.
Prometheus provided a major retcon of all that, revealing that what was presumed as an extra-terrestrial skeleton was in fact a suit belonging to the Engineers (although the notion of wanting to destroy humanity, their creation, remained). The original draft for the 2012 film explicitly spelled out the Jockey’s death – he was impregnated by an alien and died during the chestburst, crashing the ship – but redrafts created more distance, putting the action on a different planet, and in doing so made the mystery even stronger. After two prequels, the specifics of the derelict on LV-426 and its pilot are more ambiguous than they were before.
But, make no mistake, it will be explained. During the press tour for Covenant, Ridley Scott has talked multiple times about the genesis of the prequels, repeatedly citing the Space Jockey intrigue. Talking to EW about the future of the series, the director said “We’ll then come back in to the rear end of Alien 1. You know full well who the affectionately termed Space Jockey is – the guy sitting in the seat.”
What’s interesting is the word choice there; the way Scott presents it, the Space Jockey isn’t a mystery of how, but of who. If it was just an Engineer, then he would surely not need to be so coy. There’s a hidden identity, a twist to occur. And when you look at it, there’s really only one candidate: David. Yes, based on all the available information, we’ve reached the conclusion that Michael Fassbender has been playing the Space Jockey all along.
Covenant ends with the synthetic android escaping the Engineer homeworld he’d been stranded on for the past decade with two facehugger embryos. Once the surviving crew have been put to sleep, he surveys the 2000 colonists at his disposal, ready to enact his terrifying machinations on them. Somehow this is leading towards Alien, and why not tie it up directly?
The basic idea would be that David uses his salvaged creations on the thousands of cryosleep subjects, transforming them into the eggs seen in the derelict’s cavern in Alien. During that experimentation, he finds another Engineer planet with their crescent craft and flies off. However, one of the facehuggers gets free and attacks him, implanting an alien that bursts out and crashes the ship. Realizing the horror of what he’s created, David sets up a warning beacon – either out of genuine compassion or as a posthumous bid for dominance – and we’re in Alien. It’s that simple. And when you break it down, it’s very likely.