Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson compares Rey’s parents reveal in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi to the big twist in Irvin Kershner’s 1980 film, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker that he’s his father in Empire is arguably the most famous twist in cinema history. “I am your father” is one of the most quoted lines in film history as well. People who’ve never seen a Star Wars movie in their life may still know that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke’s father.
Considering that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is as powerful as Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, people believed that she must come from a powerful family. She was believed to be either a Skywalker or a Kenobi, but neither was true. Rather than going down the same route as Empire, Johnson chose to turn the tables on the franchise and make Rey an ordinary person – a nobody with no connection to the Skywalkers – yet with extraordinary abilities. And that populist concept is at the core of what makes Star Wars, Star Wars, but it also differs in many ways from the overarching narrative, which is why Kylo Ren tells her she has no place in this story… except that she does. In Luke’s eyes, she’s the last Jedi who can possibly, one day, bring about a new generation of Jedi Knights.
Rian Johnson explained his reasons for making Rey an ordinary person in The Last Jedi in an interview with CinemaBlend, saying it was about giving her the toughest answer to a question she’s been asking herself throughout her entire adult life.
“For me, it was a dramatic choice. It was just that her hearing – and also for the audience hearing that… if the answer had been, that’s presented in this movie at least, in this context. If the answer presented to her was, ‘Your parents are so-and-so, here you go, here’s your place in this story.’ That would be the easiest thing for her to hear. And easiest thing for us to hear! Wish fulfillment. It’s like, ‘Oh, great! That’s who I am. That’s that.’ The hardest thing she could hear is, ‘No, you’re not going to get that answer, that definition.’ In fact, the fact that you don’t have that is going to be used against you by Kylo, to try and make you lean on him. You’re going to have to find the strength to define yourself and stand on your own two feet.”
Johnson elaborated on his comments in another interview with EW, in which he compared his decision to make Rey’s parents nobodies to the iconic Darth Vader twist in The Empire Strikes Back.
“I was thinking, what’s the most powerful answer to that question? Powerful meaning: what’s the hardest thing that Rey could hear? That’s what you’re after with challenging your characters. I think back to the ‘I am your father’ moment with Vader and Luke, and the reason I think that lands is not because it’s a surprise or a twist but because it’s the hardest thing Luke and thus the audience could hear at that moment. It turns someone into a bad guy that you just hate and want to kill into suddenly, Oh my God, this is a part of our protagonist. We have to start thinking of this person in more complex terms. We need to start thinking in terms of a redemption arc.”
While many people may be disappointed to find out that Rey isn’t a Skywalker or a Kenobi, and that she doesn’t come from a family of any particular importance, Johnson’s point about her discovering that she is, in fact, nobody makes her character arc all the more important. And the fundamental notion that anyone, not just the Skywalkers, can snuff out evil in the galaxy and fight the First Order is further teased at the end of the film in which a young stable boy is shown using the Force and holding his broomstick like a lightsaber.
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