Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s major revelation about Rey’s parentage ties back to one of The Force Awakens’ more confusing moments: when the young scavenger refused to sell BB-8 to Unkar Plutt for food portions. Long before Rey represented a chance for the Jedi Order to rebuild, she was surviving on Jakku, living in isolation as she sought out any scraps she could find to exchange for food. She stayed on the wasteland in the hopes her family (who left her there) would one day return, until her life changed forever. In a classic case of Star Wars coincidence, Rey stumbled across BB-8, who was carrying a map that led straight to Luke Skywalker.
Initially, the two weren’t going to stay together very long, but Rey found it difficult to say goodbye to her new friend. When Unkar offers her 60 portions in exchange for BB-8, Rey is briefly tempted before telling him the droid’s not for sale. Shortly after, Rey meets Finn and gets swept away on a galaxy-spanning journey. Within the context of The Force Awakens, this key scene is meant to display Rey’s positive qualities (loyalty and kind-heartedness), but The Last Jedi paints it in a different way by turning it into an instance of long-buried trauma surfacing from the subconscious.
Episode VII hinted at, but never revealed, the truth of Rey’s heritage. That question was set to be resolved in Rian Johnson’s film, and after two years of theorizing, fans learned that Rey, quite frankly, came from nowhere. While Kylo Ren is trying to coax her into joining him, he says Rey’s parents were junk traders who sold her for drinking money and are currently dead in a paupers’ grave. It was a jarring realization for the heroine, which is why Johnson went down that route. There has been some debate over whether or not Kylo Ren is lying, but it’s Rey who first says her parents were nobodies, and Kylo just elaborates on it – repeating what was in his vision. Rey, understandably, had buried this horrible reality deep in her mind, preferring to live under the illusion her parents would be back one day as a coping mechanism. The twist adds a new layer to the aforementioned sequence in The Force Awakens.
The knowledge that Rey was sold off for drinks makes it all the more understandable she would be reluctant to quickly give up BB-8. In that moment, she saw the droid in the same position she was as a child – helpless and at the mercy of someone else. Rey didn’t want to resign BB-8 to a similar fate. Nobody knows for sure, but odds are Unkar Plutt wouldn’t have been so cordial towards the ball-shaped droid. Rey ultimately decided to do what was “right” and keep BB-8 with her, even if it meant having to settle for just half of a single portion. As stated earlier, the scene works on its own as a way of endearing Rey to the audience by making her a likable protagonist, but the extra information in The Last Jedi retcons it in a way there’s a powerful emotional undercurrent.
This is a cool connection between the two films and an illustration of what a good sequel can do: build on what was in the predecessor and enhance it in a meaningful way. When The Force Awakens first came out, it may have seemed odd for Rey to be so attached to someone she just met, but Johnson took that breadcrumb and ran with it. Upon rewatch, Rey’s refusal to sell BB-8 is a much more impactful scene due to what’s been revealed about Rey’s origins. Several moments of Rey on Jakku now seem more tragic, including Daisy Ridley’s hopeful reading of the line, “They’ll be back… one day.” Johnson landed himself in hot water by subverting some expectations, but this was a clever instance that helped improve what came before.
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