Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
After two years’ of speculation about which famous family Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ young heroine Rey might belong to, Star Wars: The Last Jedi delivers the answer, by way of Kylo Ren. It turns out that Rey’s parents weren’t Skywalkers, Kenobis, Solos or Jedi knights at all – they were a pair of junk traders who sold Rey for drinking money. Assuming this is true, it’s quite the harsh truth.
The question of Rey’s origins (specifically, why a powerful Force-sensitive young person was left abandoned on a outlier desert planet and who her unknown parents might be) was one of the biggest supposed mysteries of The Force Awakens. Despite the backlash to the arguably anticlimactic reveal, it’s one of the best and most important plot turns the franchise has ever staged – not only in terms of what it means for the characters, the film and Star Wars as a whole, but also because of what it means for the broader state of blockbuster movie storytelling.
From the moment she’s introduced, Rey is shown to be highly skilled in combat and piloting different spaceships, and has the luck to be adjacent to important characters and events. That led some fans to criticize her as an example of a “Mary Sue” figure and/or an overly-aggressive attempt to create a powerful female hero for the New Trilogy. Eventually, it’s revealed that she’s also a Force-sensitive being with powers at least comparable to those of Kylo-Ren – who himself appears to be significantly more powerful (however undisciplined) than even Darth Vader was. As the film ended, she was on an island in the middle of a vast oceanic planet for a face-to-face with the self-exiled Luke Skywalker. Many fans expected that her subsequent adventures would reveal her abilities as the result of being a Skywalker herself – or perhaps a Kenobi, a Solo or some other noteworthy Star Wars lineage. But of course, that’s not how The Last Jedi plays things out.
THE GIRL FROM NOWHERE
This unexpected “non-reveal” reveal has delighted some fans with its audacity, but also outraged many others for not following one of the many theories that had become favorites of this or that slice of the Star Wars fandom. How it will reverberate through the remainder of her story and the franchise as a whole remains to be seen, but it’s already made at least one major impact on the Star Wars iniverse simply by existing. It has blown up the saga’s longstanding obsession with the concepts of legacy and inheritance, and invited a welcome weakening of the implicit classism and elitism that had become entrenched along with them. Whether you’re “disappointed” that she isn’t the lovechild of Darth Maul and this or that obscure fixture of the Old Republic video games (or whatever the most prominent theory was on your end) or not, that’s an extremely positive development.
When the original Star Wars first set up Luke Skywalker’s missing father as having been a Jedi Knight, there wasn’t much codification of what that actually meant – up to and including how they made use of the Force. In that film, it’s shown to be something that one needs to learn, and it isn’t explicitly confirmed that Luke is any more capable of doing so because he happened to have been fathered by a Jedi. In fact, it’s not fully established that either Luke’s legacy or destiny have a genetic component (as opposed to a merely symbolic one) until Leia turns out to be his also Force-sensitive twin sister in Return of The Jedi – and even then, it would be well over a decade until the prequel trilogy revealed that Jedi Force-sensitivity was tied to the presence of microorganisms called Midichlorians in their bloodstream – making power-inheritance literally genetic.
There’s definitely a logic to that, especially to a storyteller as fixated on the interlocking mechanisms of their fiction worlds as George Lucas tended to be. But intentionally or not, it had the side effect of adding a less-than-welcoming element of classist division into a universe that, for all it’s underdog posturing, had long included a somewhat off-putting vein of birthright heirarchy: After all, this is a Saga where even “upstart rebellions” are led by literal aristocrats and victory tends to hinge on which side has summoned the more powerful members of an elite religious sect whose station was (now directly) contingent on having the “right” genetic lineage. While not necessarily contradicting any of those mechanisms, what Rey’s reveal does is nothing less than re-introduce (for the first time since the original film, no less!) a refreshing sense that anyone – even an “ordinary” homeless orphan from Jakku (or a farm boy on Tattooine…) can be one the “special people” …and that’s a very big deal.
In terms of immediate continuity issues, what Rey being a natural-born Jedi despite not hailing from any known/acknowledged “important” bloodline does is offer a new context for what the “Awakening” of The Force in Episode VII’s subtitle could refer to: With the Jedi and Sith all but wiped out, it now seems possible that whatever “movement” of The Force itself lead to the emergence of those who could wield it in the first place (remember: The Jedi were supposed to give up marriage and family, so the plurality of them didn’t have Famous Jedi Dads) may have started back up out of some yet-unknown need. The Last Jedi certainly seems to imply that this is the case, with a soon-to-be-iconic final shot in which a common stable boy appears to casually (unconsciously?) Force-pull a broom into his hand and then slowly turn the handle around in the manner of a lightsaber as he gazes up at the night sky – the implications, of course, being obvious: There’s more of them out there than anyone thought.
But that shot isn’t just about worldbuilding: It’s also about theme. Specifically, a theme of class disparity, inequality and the injustice of both that unfolds as the central moral foundation of The Last Jedi’s main narrative. The stable boy in question first appears as one of several children being abused as servants (possibly even slaves) in a glamorous alien casino that Finn and new ally Rose Tico infiltrate looking for an elusive codebreaker. Finn (the turncoat ex-Stormtrooper) is at first taken by the glitz and wealth of the place, but Rose has experience being pushed around by the aristocracy and advises him to “look closer” and see the ugly underbelly of cruelty and exploitation that makes The Machine run, from the oppressed servants and abused racing animals to the fact that the wealthy patrons almost certainly made their money by staying on friendly terms with the First Order, and likely also the Empire before them.
For a series that talks a good symbolic game about “the little guy” overcoming Big Evil (nobody-from-Tattooine Luke blows up the Death Star, the Ewoks defeat the Empire, Gungans take down the Trade Federation), addressing class and oppression in more reality-adjacent terms is new territory for Star Wars. Even the reveal of Anakin Skywalker’s tragic backstory as a slave in The Phantom Menace, at least in terms of how it plays out in that film, seems to frame the injustice as being more specifically about a boy who deserved to have been part of the Jedi religious-aristocracy being denied a birthright than a broader sense that such a class-system is exceptionally “wrong.” Likewise, the sojourn on Casino Planet is pretty much the first indication we’ve gotten that maybe the bad guys keeping getting over in Star Wars because the upper-class does pretty well for itself under Imperial rule.
Last Jedi’s shift in focus, then, represents a course-correction on such themes – not just Rey’s Nu-Jedi super-powers existing in the absence of lineage or Rose and Finn declaring war and oppression’s wealthy beneficiaries just as worthy of a good smashing astThe First Order proper, but also Luke and Yoda’s literal torching of the very foundations of The Jedi as an elite priestly caste and Kylo-Ren deciding he doesn’t need Snoke and can run the First Order just fine on his own. Luke himself may put lie to the definitive sound of the title when he declares that “I will not be the last Jedi” during his climactic showdown, but it’s clear that he will be the last of the Jedi as they’ve been known prior to this, with the deliberate granting of the “last word” on the subject to the stable boy driving the point home. This isn’t just Resistance – it’s revolution. And if the Force isn’t going to belong only to the “right” people anymore, maybe Star Wars is finally ready to be finished dwelling on the exploits of Princesses, Knights, Lords and Masters.
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