"They were nobody," Rey admits of her parents in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
"They were filthy junk traders," Kylo Ren confirms. "[They] sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert."
This is, perhaps, the biggest "I am your father" style revelation in the new Star Wars film. And it hasn’t been sitting well with some Star Wars fans. Some argue that it somehow undoes what was established in The Force Awakens, but I’m here to show you exactly why that isn’t the case and why, in my view, this was the best possible way to handle Rey moving forward.
Re-watching The Force Awakens with The Last Jedi in mind, it’s apparent that Rey knows exactly who her parents are, but she has tried to forget that truth. She doesn’t want to believe that they’re never coming back, and she certainly doesn’t want to admit they don’t care for her. There’s a reason she’s kept her hair and wardrobe the same since she was a small girl: so they’d recognize her when they came back. And let’s be honest: Anyone who would leave Rey at 5 years old with Unkar Plutt is probably not a great parent. Filthy junk traders? That certainly fits the bill.
On Jakku, Rey even tells BB-8 she's waiting for her family, who will come back someday. There’s no reason for her to lie to the droid in such a quiet, earnest moment: We can take her at face value when she says she’s waiting for her family. When she’s offered 60 portions for the droid, the hesitation on her face can now be read as knowing acknowledgment of what happened to her as a child. And she can’t bear to do it to the droid as it had been done to her. When she talks about them being a "big secret," it’s quite plain in the new context to understand she was speaking in jest.
"Dear child," Maz Kanata says to her on Takodana after her vision in the Force, "I see your eyes — you already know the truth. Whomever you are waiting for on Jakku, they're never coming back ... but there's someone who still could."
Rey responds, "Luke ..."
In my view, this is a clear explanation that her parents are permanently out of the picture. Maz had asked Han who the girl was, and this is the understanding Maz came to when she spoke to Rey. Luke, the central driving mystery of the film, is who could come back with Rey’s help if she admits to herself the truth of her family.
"The belonging you seek is not behind you," Maz continues, "it is ahead. I am no Jedi, but I know the Force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes, feel it. The light. It's always been there. It will guide you. The saber — take it."
This quote is exactly the plot of The Last Jedi. If Rey turned out to be anyone else, nothing of this exchange would make sense.
Rey seeks the belonging Maz suggests from her lost family, but she needs to let it go. Then she seeks it in the light with Luke, but that doesn’t work out either. She lets the Force guide her when she confronts Luke about his absence. After her baptism in the cave, she is finally able to leave the need for that family behind. She tries one last time to offer Luke the saber, but realizes Maz was right. She had to take it herself. So she takes it with her to the Supremacy, fulfilling the destiny she tried refusing so much in The Force Awakens.
But that final belonging she sought? She finds it on Crait in her final test to finally surrender to the light by "lifting rocks …"
We see Finn and Poe, shrouded in shadow, at their darkest moment. The First Order could burst through the door at any time, and they’re at what they believe is a literal dead end. But then Rey brings the light to them. The light she provides bathes their faces as the rocks clear. The belonging comes when she sees Finn again. She's elated. And their embrace is so pure and platonic.
It’s a powerful, beautiful moment. Rey’s greatest fear was that she was a nobody, not worthy of any admiration. And when she introduces herself to Poe and he responds, "I know," she allows herself that smile.
She is a somebody. Surrounded by friends and allies. Ready to lead.
This is a powerful message for everyone watching who thinks they have a hero inside of them but are told they’re nothing. And the DNA of this moment is predicated on every powerful hint offered to us by The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson didn’t undo anything from The Force Awakens; on the contrary, he emphasized and enhanced it, forcing me to reevaluate everything that had come before with fresh eyes. That’s why The Last Jedi is fast becoming one of my favorite Star Wars films.
As Maz said, "Close your eyes, feel it. The light. It's always been there. It will guide you."