One of the most-anticipated questions put forward in J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens revolved around the mystery of Rey’s background: Alone in the harsh outpost of Jakku, scavenging for sustenance until the day her family would make their long-awaited return, Rey gave us little insight into her personal history — other than to tease us with some oblique and elusive banter with robot sidekick BB-8.
Spoiler warning: This article discusses spoilers for The Last Jedi. If you want the film to deliver all the surprises first, turn back now!
So, now that The Last Jedi is out and the answer to the riddle of Rey's parents appears to have been definitely answered, director Rian Johnson is opening up a bit more about how he came to the decision to give Rey’s backstory a purposefully pedestrian color.
Speaking with /Film, Johnson said Abrams didn’t dictate Rey’s history to him as part of any overarching plot point for Episode VIII, and that he arrived on his own at the decision to portray Rey as a common-born woman of low social standing — by “breaking the story and figuring it out.”
Sifting through Johnson's remarks, it seems that resetting the lore expectations for future franchise installments played a big role in shaping the “everywoman” character of Rey’s lineage.
“I think I enjoy the notion of disconnecting the idea of tapping into this power in yourself and having it,” Johnson told /Film. “I like the idea of disconnecting that from lineage. I think that feels ‘anyone can be President.’ I think that’s kind of nice.”
In one of The Last Jedi’s most compelling moments, Kylo Ren tells Rey to suck it up and admit to herself something she’s been suppressing: Despite her amazingly intuitive connection to the Force, she’s the very opposite of someone special.
“You know the truth. Say it,” Ren says, turning the knife where he knows it’ll hurt Rey the most. “…They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead, in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert.”
Revealing Rey as a blank canvas and then tasking her with the burden of defining who she’ll become takes on an entirely different meaning, for Johnson, than what we see with characters like Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren — Force-fated people who constantly wrestle with the determinism of their bloodlines.
“[I]f someone had told [Rey] yes, here’s the answer. You are so and so’s daughter,” said Johnson, it would have made her grasp of her role in the universe far simpler — both for audiences, and for Rey herself, Johnson argued.
“That would be the easiest thing she and the audience could hear,” he said. “It would hand her on a silver platter her place in all this. The hardest thing for all of us to hear and the thing that she doesn’t wanna hear and maybe we don’t either is that no, this is not going to be something where it’s gonna define you…This is gonna be hard. And you’re gonna have to stand on your own two feet and define yourself in this story.”
The way The Last Jedi handles Rey’s identity makes for one of the most important indicators of how Disney will reshape expectations of what’s allowed in new Star Wars lore going forward. It’s a treatment that could have gone in a lot of different directions, and it’s bound to divide Star Wars fans.
That’s what makes being a Star Wars fan so much fun. If you’d been handed creative power over The Last Jedi, would you have taken Johnson’s approach, or would you have made Rey into another hereditary heir to the Force...or maybe something else altogether?