[This article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens]
Now that fans chomping at the bit to see what story J.J. Abrams and the new Lucasfilm have in mind for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the biggest surprise has been let out of the bag: it’s Rey (Daisy Ridley) who holds the key to victory over the darkness. But the metheod through which she came to realize it (or was forced to) wasn’t exactly clear for every viewer.
In a movie filled with subtle references to previous Star Wars stories, the jumble of images and narration may have seemed intentionally confusing. But dissecting Rey’s Force Vision/flashback – or ‘Force-back,’ as it’s being called by producers – actually makes several subplots and story threads clear. At least, as clear as they can be so early in the next chapter of the saga. But there’s more than enough to break down for hardcore fans and casual moviegoers alike.
So for those who couldn’t keep up with the images, scenes, or lines of dialogue being spoken as Rey took her “first steps into a larger world,” allow us to explain.
The Skywalker Legacy
To be clear, the vision is triggered when Rey first places her hands on the lightsaber which “belonged to Luke Skywalker.” It’s this (blue) saber which Obi-Wan first delivers to Luke on Tatooine, having been used by Anakin Skywalker up until the moment he was de-limbed and left for dead by Obi-Wan. Luke wielded the saber in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, until it was sliced from his hand (along with his hand from his arm) and sent tumbling into the depths of Cloud City.
That fight sequence should be at the forefront of fan memory, since the first hint we get that Rey has stumbled into a vision is her location. Suddenly kneeling in the middle of a dark hallway, as the sound of a lightsaber – Darth Vader’s – ignites, and the hallway is lit one light at a time. The hallway is the one seen above, acting as a backdrop to Luke and Vader’s saber battle in Empire, leading up to the latter’s reveal that he is a Skywalker himself.
Right off the bat, it’s made perfectly clear that Luke’s lightsaber (and Anakin’s before it) enjoys a unique link to the past of both men. Specifically, the last time it was wielded by any Jedi (as far as we know). But the Cloud City corridor is just the first hint we get that the saber forged by Anakin still possesses a link to his line.
The next image of Luke would be difficult to make out, if not for the all-too-familiar droid alongside him. That’s Luke’s robotic hand clutching R2-D2’s ‘skull’ while he speaks some indiscernible lines of dialogue. Given the gravity of the scene, most have assumed that this scene is set just before Luke’s self-imposed exile, sending R2 back into Resistance hands and hiding from those around him (with a map to find him).
We say “assumed” because there’s no actual evidence in The Force Awakens that this scene is set in the past, prior to Luke’s exile. R2-D2 appears just as burnt, banged up and rusted as he does when BB-8 discovers him at the Resistance’s base – but was nearly spotless at the end of Return of The Jedi. Which leaves two conclusions: either Luke let his beloved droid fall completely into disrepair following the fall of the Empire, or the damage is a result of sitting in storage – which would suggest this scene may not yet have happened.
How would the saber carry this memory anyway? If it hasn’t been wielded by Luke since Empire, then the flashback of his time with the weapons should have ended there. The alternative is that the lightsaber can grant its wielder visions of its own past and future, once again implying that the scene above will happen. We’ll be coming back to this point later.
That’s just speculation and fuel for discussion, but the biggest point to take away from the scene is that, whether it’s a product of the Force or just the Skywalker saber, the weapon carries important moments of the wielder’s past and future. Should a Force user like Rey touch it, the Force delivers a crash course in the weapon’s history. A nifty trick.
The Knights of Ren
In the entire list of unanswered questions surrounding The Force Awakens, the most important may turn out to be the mysterious Knights of Ren, of whom Kylo Ren (a.k.a. Ben Solo) is leader. The group is mentioned by Supreme Leader Snoke in a holo-conversation with Kylo Ren, but they are never brought up again. The only other sign of their existence is offered in Rey’s vision of Force-significant memories, with Kylo surrounded by a group of masked individuals – seven in total – standing menacingly as rain strikes them and the bodies of slain people around them.
Since the name would suggest that these masked warriors are servants of Kylo Ren – either that, or they all serve another unknown ‘Ren’ – it’s most likely that an explanation for their masks and exploits will be coming soon. As soon as the new custodians of the Star Wars universe are ready to reveal just how Kylo was corrupted to the Dark Side of the Force. But going by the movie itself, the masks seem to be a way of likening these Darth Vader acolytes to their hero.
There are two questions that rise above the rest though, considering this image is set among other lightsaber-related moments in Rey’s Force-back. The first is the most obvious: why is Kylo Ren the only member of this group with a lightsaber? And secondly, what scene are we looking at?
Like the scene of Luke placing his robotic hand on R2, most have assumed that this is an event alluded to by both Han Solo and Maz Kanata. As Luke Skywalker’s story unravels, a rough outline becomes clear: Luke set out to train a new generation of Jedi, including Ben Solo, who turned against him. Following that roadmap and using some pre-existing Star Wars imagery, the slain bodies surrounding the Knights of Ren (if that is what we’re looking at) are Luke’s other pupils, perhaps those clad in black are the only ones to have survived (and now serve Ren).
It’s far from an ironclad theory, but it’s the commonly accepted one for now.
The Jedi Are Calling
It’s important to point out that just as the Force has both a Dark Side and a Light (perhaps not as clear-cut as the Jedi would claim), Rey’s vision isn’t populated with the cold hard facts about Luke and Anakin Skywalker. Cackles from Emperor Palpatine can be heard (again, something that would not have taken place directly tied to this lightsaber, only to the men who wielded it), but he’s outnumbered when it comes to messages sent ‘from the other side.’
A word or two from Yoda can be heard in the closing montage of sounds, finally ending with Rey facing off against Kylo Ren in the forest of Starkiller Base. The first word heard as she runs through the trees is Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) calling out her name – a paradoxical cameo arrived at when the audio team managed to snag the word “Rey” out of the late actor’s original lines (“afraid”). Finally, he hands it off to the younger version of the hero – Ewan McGregor – telling Rey that these are her “first steps” as she returns to the real world around her.
In a movie series where the dead can return as ‘Force Ghosts’ – an act pulled off by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and apparently even Qui Gon Jinn – hearing voices of the dead are nothing new. But it’s a side to the Force that hasn’t been shown yet: dispatched Jedi calling out for a potential savior of the galaxy.
Of course, they’re not alone. If the presence of Palpatine’s cackle is anything more than a throwaway nod to fans, then it may be a sign that Sith, just like Jedi, can continue to influence those around them, guiding them often through explicit orders or conversations. Could Palpatine be grooming or guiding a character as Kenobi did Luke in the original trilogy? It’s too early to say.
But before fans start crossing their fingers that Yoda, Obi-Wan or any other Jedi will return in a translucent state, it’s possible that their collected voices may simply have been calling to Rey to take the lightsaber for herself. And considering the end of the film, she seems to be well on her way to the next steps in her journey.
Rey’s Missing Family
Those who see The Force Awakens only once may not realize that the Force vision doesn’t just conjure up Rey’s memories of being abandoned on Jakku, but begins with them. To be more specific, it’s the sound of her own childhood screams that draw her to the lightsaber in the first place. A fact that, again, seems to question exactly what is triggering or informing the Force’s slideshow in the sequence that ensues.
But let’s begin with the facts: the vision shows Rey as a little girl, left in the hands of Unkar Platt (the junkyard merchant) and watching as the spaceship that delivered her flies back into space. Rey’s own memories of her family are nothing strange in an of themselves, but the fact that they’re not just triggered by an heirloom of Luke Skywalker, but actually used to draw her to it could be telling.
Especially if Rey is, as many immediately theorized, the daughter of Luke Skywalker.
Sure, she may possess the same knack for combat, desert life, engineering, electrical and robotic work, and piloting, and she may even possess a Rebel pilot helmet and a Rebel pilot doll. But the fact that memories of her own childhood are placed alongside visions of only Skywalker family members may be the strongest piece of evidence that Rey really is Luke’s daughter.
So what does that mean in the short term? Well, it cements The Force Awakens as the first chapter of a potential re-telling/reversal/homage to the original Star Wars trilogy. Rey is plucked from the middle of nowhere, realizes her skills, encounters the same spaceship, smuggler, rebellion movement and droids as Luke did before, and eventually winds up at his doorstep in need of training. It’s a nice idea, since Luke hides himself from the galaxy only to see that the Force has a mind (and plan) of its own.
On the larger scale, it opens the door for Rey to be the kind of chosen hero prophesied to bring balance to the Force once and for all. And who knows? Maybe Luke’s decision to distance himself from her to prevent the corruption he feels he brought to Kylo Ren really was the right move. But the vision shows the Force is with her – and if it’s to be taken literally, it’s been with her from the moment her boots touched Jakku.
The Future As Well As The Past
A question that will be teasing fans and fueling debate for months to come is just what this vision says about the nature and agency of the Force. To this point, the idea of an energy force that binds every living thing hasn’t been hard to grasp. It’s been used to guide anyone sensitive to its power, just as intuition or precognition might, or offer a vision of things to come (for those highly trained Force users seeking them out). But the Force vision experienced by Rey is something else entirely, revealing moments that have yet to happen – without her inviting them, succumbing to visions in meditation or sleep, or even knowing what to make of them at the time.
Seeing her fight with Kylo Ren before it ever takes place implies that the Force can not just he wielded through time as much as space, but that such power can be delivered without the user actually looking for it. So are fans witnessing another fundamental ‘update’ of the Star Wars mythology courtesy of the new story group? Or is this agency of The Force an ability only accessible to Rey – a true indication of just how powerful she really is – or a gift from Luke directly?
It’s a hard question to answer, since those who disagree with the time aspects could say that Jedi have always seen possible futures, taken as signs from the Force more than actual premonitions (more than a few Jedi have claimed to “see” such things). This may be the first time that the visions are being seen by the audience, but it still leaves it unclear if the shots of Luke or the Knights of Ren are explicitly from the past.
Whether or not the Force can cross space, time, or both, fans have a bullet-point list of pivotal moments in the Skywalker clan’s new history: from Anakin, to Luke, to Kylo and Rey… potentially.
Those are just our interpretations of the vision, but there are sure to be plenty more readings and nagging questions. Let us know which aspects of the scene you think are going to be the most important, or are being misread by fans with only a little information to go on.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.