One of the most exciting, if controversial, choices Rian Johnson made in The Last Jedi is the way he chose to resolve the “mystery box” surrounding Rey and who her parents are. Johnson made a brave, smart choice that potentially bursts open the Star Wars universe and what it means to be a Jedi or a hero.
Though we’re eight saga and one standalone films in to the Star Wars franchise, to date it has revolved almost exclusively around the Skywalker clan, and the singular importance of that family to the totality of the galaxy. As much as I love Luke Skywalker, and found myself grinning ear to ear at Mark Hamill’s brilliant return to his iconic role in The Last Jedi, even I can admit that it’s to the series detriment that the films have focused almost only on this family. It makes a world that should feel boundless too self contained and restricted.
Despite the near universal appeal of Star Wars, it has always felt like Lucas, followed by Abrams, put too much emphasis on destiny, and that to be a hero meant somehow, some way being connected to some sort of unexplainable, ephemeral greatness that created a sort of caste hierarchy. This got taken to some annoying extremes in the prequel trilogy, where Lucas started to connect too many unnecessary dots to the original films, shrinking the saga even more. It had to be a young Anakin Skywalker who built C3PO. Chewbacca wound up fighting side by side with Yoda against the separatist movement. These unneeded reveals further constricted the series by making it feel too “connect the dots.”
It seemed like Rey would be no different. For two years fans openly speculated about the importance of her parentage. Would it be revealed that she’s the granddaughter of Obi-Wan? Was she Luke’s child, abandoned after the destruction of the Jedi temple? Was she Kylo Ren’s younger sibling, sent into hiding by a scared and torn apart Han and Leia? It had to be something along those lines. Anything else just wouldn’t be the Star Wars we had come to know and love.
Johnson took a wrecking ball to Destiny with his eventual reveal. It turns out that Rey’s parents weren’t important at all. In fact, as Kylo points out in a deliciously evil moment of villainy, Rey’s folks were nothing more than booze hound garbage collectors willing to trade their daughter for a few credits towards an extra round at the local Janku dive bar. They were slothful, lazy, no good bums that discarded their kid like a candy wrapper. Nothing about Rey’s family made her special.
As difficult as the truth was for Rey (and apparently millions of “super-fan” giant man-babies) to hear, it was the best possible choice for Star Wars to move in. It allows her to stand on her own merit, rather than have greatness bestowed on her by the coincidence of family lineage. It democratizes Star Wars in a way that none of the movies have to date. If you weren’t sold on Rey’s potential as a character before, then you damn well should be by now.
The idea of leaving the past behind trailblazing new paths forward runs throughout the entirety of The Last Jedi. Kylo talks about wanting to burn it all down: his family, his mentor, the Jedi, the Sith. All of it should be left to the ash heap of time. While it’s easy to write off his ramblings due to the whole him being the main antagonist and all, the same can’t be said when both Luke and Yoda echo the same sentiments. Johnson slyly dismisses the whole prequel trilogy when he has Luke castigate the previous Jedi Order for allowing Palpatine to seize power due to their own ineffectiveness. Thirty years removed from taking his first tentative steps towards the Force, he comes to understand that it’s something that doesn’t belong to the Jedi or Sith to play tug of war with alone. He has come to accept that if the Force binds all things in the galaxy, then in belongs to all things in the galaxy as well. We’ve seen the Force almost exclusively from the point of view of the Skywalker clan and those most bound to them for over forty years. The Last Jedi relinquishes their hold on the Force.
There’s a terrific moment at the end of The Last Jedi where, despite being two of the three new primary characters in the new trilogy, Poe and Rey meet for the first time. “I’m Rey” she tells him by way of introduction. “I know” Poe responds. It’s more that a fun callback to Empire. Ridley sells the moment with a look of joy. It’s when she realizes her own tales of heroism are beginning to spread. After convincing herself that she’s a nothing, a nobody, for the first time Rey gets a glimpse at just how special she is.