As soon as Rey’s character was introduced in The Force Awakens, discussions began about who she was. Could she be a Skywalker? Or maybe a Kenobi? The theories dominated the discussion around The Force Awakens and continued throughout the sequel trilogy. It was clear her history was painted as mysterious for a reason, and even she wanted to get to the bottom of it. Now, The Rise of Skywalker gives us the answer. The scavenger from Jakku, left to fend for herself, is Rey Palpatine; the granddaughter of the evilest man in the galaxy.
It wouldn’t be Star Wars without a divide between its fans, this reveal surely cracked open an even deeper gap within the fandom. The division is a byproduct of various aspects and is certainly not new to the fandom, but it is clearly linked to the separation of fandom that occurred with The Last Jedi. The Last Jedi seemingly put to rest the discussion around Rey’s parentage; she was no one. It was a shocking reveal that resulted in hundreds of think-pieces and even more Twitter threads. Either you hated it, or you loved it.
The Palpatine reveal landed in the same way, but this time the reaction was reversed. Those who loved Rey as a nobody hated the idea that she descended from Palpatine. Those who hated the idea that Rey was a nobody, loved her connection with Palpatine. An argument can be made that this revelation goes against what was set up in The Last Jedi. One could argue that the reveal echoes some of Star Wars’ most prominent themes.
Who’s The Girl?
The Force Awakens is responsible for the idea that Rey has a mysterious past. As soon as she is introduced, both audience and in-universe characters clamor to know who she is, despite her explaining that she is ‘just Rey.’ The more obvious hints that she is something more come in verbal form. For example, when Kylo gets angry at a First Order officer and demands to know “what girl” escaped with BB-8. Or the not-so-subtle cutaway when Maz asks Han, “Who is the girl”? There are also deeper hints that can be seen in the way Han looks at her with a sense of familiarity. Her Force vision and her ability to force-grab the Skywalker legacy saber from the snow point to something greater. Even Rey’s fighting style can be compared to Palpatine’s.
The original trilogy set up the precedent that Luke and Leia were strong in the force because of their father. The idea that your lineage is directly related to your power dictated much of the conversation around Star Wars. So when Rey is able to Jedi mind-trick a Stormtrooper and best Kylo Ren who is a trained Force user, questions arise about how a person from nowhere could pull it off.
Rey From Nowhere
The question of Rey’s lineage hovered over The Last Jedi. Luke immediately asks Rey who she is and what’s so special about her when she arrives on Ahch-To. The dark side coerces her with the reveal of who they may be, only to show her she is alone. Finally, we see the alleged reveal that Rey is nothing more than the product of “filthy junk traders,” as told by Kylo Ren. The decision Rian Johnson made to reveal that Rey had no lineage was bold and upsetting to many fans.
The Last Jedi acknowledged the precedent set up by the power of lineage and sought to completely change the way we talked about the force. One of the main themes set up in The Last Jedi is the force belongs to everyone. This is hinted at in Luke’s conversations with Rey:
“This is the lesson…That Force does not belong to the Jedi. To say that if the Jedi die, the light dies, is vanity. Can you feel that?”Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi (2017)
The opening up of the Force to everyone is reiterated by Rey’s parentage reveal and finally hammered home by the final shot of the film: a poor, slave child using the Force to grab a broom and holding it up like a lightsaber. It is seemingly a definitive answer, but JJ’s return to the franchise immediately opened the parentage discussion back up.
Rey Palpatine Is Revealed
JJ Abrams made it clear once he began doing press for The Rise of Skywalker that Rey’s lineage was not put to bed. Thus began more speculation going into the movie, was Kylo Ren lying? Is Abrams going to go against everything Rian Johnson set up in The Last Jedi? The answer is a bit complicated, and the movie doesn’t do a great job of fleshing it out. The Rise of Skywalker almost immediately begins with Palpatine telling Kylo that Rey isn’t “who you think she is.” As Rey, Finn, and Poe venture on a quest to stop Palpatine from taking back the rule of the galaxy, Rey is plagued with visions about the darkness within her, as well as more vivid memories of her parents.
Kylo learns the truth about why she was left alone on Jakku and ultimately, who she is. Rey’s father is the son of Palpatine, making her the granddaughter of the evil Emperor. Her parents sold her to Unkar Plutt on Jakku to protect her from Palpatine, who sensed her power and desperately wanted her to join him. Her parents were subsequently murdered by a Jedi hunter for protecting her. Rey was then left alone to grow up as a lonely scavenger.
A Battle Between Two Directors
There is no question that the execution of Rey Palpatine could’ve been handled with more grace. The execution severely suffers from the disconnect between Abrams and Johnson. Both seemed to have different ideas about where the trilogy should go. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy have stated that Palpatine’s return has been planned from the beginning, but the events of The Last Jedi tell otherwise. The Last Jedi, actively working to go against the lineage, is a powerful precedent. Rey being the granddaughter of Palpatine directly opposes that.
It makes sense why those who are strongly related to Rey being a nobody would be upset by the reveal. This means Rey’s power comes from who she descends from, not from herself. But within this reveal comes another powerful theme that has been at the heart of Star Wars from the beginning: the active choice to be good in the face of evil.
Rey Palpatine By Blood, Rey Skywalker By Choice
When evaluating the climaxes of both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, one can see that both come out of a choice. The prequels were made with Anakin’s fall to the dark side in mind, it clouds every triumphant moment Anakin has throughout the movies. This is why Anakin’s choice to save Palpatine, instead of assisting Mace Windu in killing Palpatine, is the most pivotal moment in the trilogy. Everything Anakin had gone through, the pain, the loss, and the fear, led up to that moment, and he chose to save Palpatine, thus thrusting him further into darkness.
The Return of the Jedi, on the other hand, shows the opposite. Luke faces his father for the second time while the Emperor looks on. The Emperor urges him to give in to his anger, to take his father’s life. The climax comes when Luke throws his lightsaber aside and chooses to not follow his father’s choice, he chooses to be a Jedi.
The Rise Of A New Skywalker
The ability to choose to be good, despite what darkness is within you, is what makes a hero. Rey was born with unspeakable darkness within her. She grew up as a nobody, alone, and desperate to find her place. And when she finally faces where she came from, she chooses, just like Luke, to be good. Rey’s relationship to Palpatine may explain why she is strong in the Force but in the end, her greatest strength does not come from her Force power, it comes from her heart.
This is why Leia chose to train her, despite knowing her background. It is why she chose to help BB-8 deliver the message to the Resistance in The Force Awakens, leading her to this grand adventure. Finally, it is why she defeats Palpatine in the end.
Luke and Rey’s stories are very similar, except for the fact that Luke was great because of where he came from, Rey was great, in spite of where she came from. Luke was always destined to be a Skywalker, Rey made the choice to be one on her own. In the end, she isn’t Rey Palpatine. She’s a Skywalker, through and through. Rey’s journey from a scavenger to a rebel hero isn’t cheapened by the fact that she descended from darkness, in fact, it makes her triumph that more satisfying.