Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may officially canonize the concept of Grey Jedi, calling them Skywalkers. At long last, Lucasfilm began to peel back the curtain on Episode IX, sending fans into a frenzy with a trailer and title reveal during Celebration Chicago. Once the initial shock of Emperor Palpatine's return wore off, viewers attempted to decode the meaning behind the movie's name. Director J.J. Abrams admitted it's intentionally provocative, and the title's been a lightning rod for rampant theorizing and speculating in the days since it was unveiled.
In the films, Skywalker has always been a family name, but this doesn't mean any massive Last Jedi retcons are in order and Rey is actually part of that bloodline herself. Abrams has gone on record to clarify that Episode IX honors what came before it, including those infamously divisive creative choices Rian Johnson made for Last Jedi. If that's the case, then it's possible Abrams has something else entirely up his sleeve that could change the very essence of the term "Skywalker." Instead of simply referring to one family, it might become the name of a whole new order.
How The Last Jedi Set Up Grey Jedi (In All But Name)
It should be noted that Star Wars canon has approached this subject before via Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker's apprentice who left the Jedi Order during the Clone Wars. Though she was no longer affiliated with the Jedi (and didn't have to stick to their strict code), she did use her knowledge and abilities to help fight against the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. However, the first time most viewers became familiar with the concept of Grey Jedi was probably The Last Jedi, which looked to deconstruct 40 years of established mythology in an attempt to shake things up and move the franchise forward.
In that film, of course, Luke Skywalker is a jaded old man, tortured by the errors of his past. After failing with Ben Solo and watching his nephew turn to the dark side, Luke felt the galaxy would be a better place if he (and the Jedi religion) stayed on the sidelines and didn't interfere with any more galactic affairs. Though this proved to be quite controversial amongst viewers, it made sense when one stepped back and analyzed the entire saga. As Luke said, the Jedi's enduring legacy is failure. Decades before Kylo Ren's emergence, the Jedi allowed Darth Sidious to assume control of the Galactic Republic and turn their most powerful student against them. The Jedi's methodology was heavily flawed, too dogmatic and unwilling to innovate. This is why Luke felt it was necessary for the Jedi to end. Despite being built up as heroes, they weren't deserving of that status.
So, when Luke taught Rey on Ahch-To, the lessons were all about highlighting those flaws. During the first one in particular, while Rey is meditating on the rock, she essentially learns a balance between light and dark is necessary. Between everything from life to death, peace to violence, is the Force that binds it all together. The Force does not belong to the Jedi (or the Sith, for that matter) and just because they no longer exist doesn't mean the light has completely vanished. It's natural to take bits and pieces from both sides; one of the Jedi's shortcomings was their complete suppression of emotions, but it was Luke's love for his father that brought Anakin back to the light. Redemption never occurred to Yoda or Obi-Wan, who withheld the truth from Luke as they trained him in the Jedi ways.
What never crossed Luke's mind, however, is that it would be possible for Force users to evolve. He too was stuck in the past and ashamed what he did. Leave it to Yoda to explain to Luke why that mentality is wrong. As the wise master tells his prized pupil, "The greatest teacher failure is," meaning it's vital to learn from one's mistakes and use those gaffes as important teaching tools for the next generation. That's the only way Rey (and other young Force users like her) will grow beyond the old guard and move forward. While it's true Rey took the sacred Jedi texts with her (presumably so she could study them), she also has her experiences with Luke to draw from. Instead of sticking adherently to the established Jedi ways, she can figure out what works and what doesn't. And the end result might be something that shakes up the status quo in a big way.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019