Like it or not, J.J. Abrams is going to do something with Rey’s parents in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The director and screenwriter who helped create Rey in The Force Awakens has said there will be “more” to her backstory in the final installment of the Skywalker saga. But, regardless of any zany Dark Rey theories or possible twists about her parentage, Rey’s origins have been in flux since the very beginning.
In fact, in a recently re-discovered 2015 interview, it’s very clear that Rey’s identity was something that may have been altered not in the writing of The Force Awakens, but instead, in the post-production process of editing the final cut of the film. The TL;DR version of this is simply that an early cut of The Force Awakens may have indicated Leia 100 percent knew who Rey was. But will it matter in The Rise of Skywalker?
Speculative spoilers for Star Wars: Episode IX ahead.
On Wednesday, a fan-run site called The Star Wars Shadow Council published an in-depth article focused on an interview from 2015 with Maryann Brandon, one of the film editors on The Force Awakens. Brandon’s job was to help piece together a coherent story from all the footage shot, which meant, often, changing huge aspects of the story.
In 2015, Speaking at UCSB as part of an academic program called “From Script to Screen,” Brandon revealed all sorts of amazing details about her collaboration with J.J. Abrams in crafting the final cut of The Force Awakens. The lecture (minus a very telling Q&A) is about an hour-long, but certainly worth a watch if you’re interested in learning just how slippery what we call “canon” might be during the filmmaking process.
From learning about how Harrison Ford’s famous on-set injury resulted in a re-staging of Han and Chewie’s dramatic entrance, to the revelation that Kylo Ren’s mask was put back on his face with CGI for some early scenes, there’s a lot to unpack here. But, the most scintillating details easily have to do with the arc of Rey and how it basically changed in the editing room.
“We change it all the time,” Brandon says in reference to character arcs. “Sometimes we start with one idea and then say … scrap that. Let’s change who everyone is.”
Rey’s Parents Were Always Up In the Air; Even After Filming Stopped
When asked directly who Rey’s parents are, Brandon outright said she didn’t know and also “I don’t think they know,” in reference to J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm. Overall, you can tell Brandon also doesn’t really care, as she clearly was interested in telling a story that was less about solving a mystery and more about making an audience feel a certain way. Which brings us to a very interesting question she asked during the Q&A portion of this event. This question is not part of the official video released by UCSB, but there is a version of the video that was tracked-down by the Shadow Council. Here’s what happened.
One inquisitive person wondered why Leia hugged Rey instead of Chewbacca, and also commented on how the moment between Rey and Leia was very “powerful” despite the fact that they didn’t know each other at all until that exact moment. So, as we’ve all been asking for four years running, what’s up with that? Here’s what Brandon said about that moment, relative to the editing process.
“The whole idea there I think is that they have a special connection that they don’t even know about. There was an earlier idea at one point that Leia knows who [Rey] is. And we sort of took that out because it didn’t make any sense.”
Unused Leia Footage Might Contain a Rey Revelation
As Shadow Council points out, this all leads some very interesting conclusions about the unused footage of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens. Now, we all know said unused Carrie Fisher footage is being re-purposed for The Rise of Skywalker, but now there’s a clue as to what is in that footage that might be relevant. Specifically, that it’s possible that additional scenes between Rey and Leia were shot for The Force Awakens and those scenes “reveal” certain mysteries about Rey’s past and maybe her parents.
At this point, it’s also fairly common knowledge that some of the unused footage also included Leia meeting Maz Kanata at the Resistance Base and giving Leia the Skywalker lightsaber. Without getting too in the weeds on that point, the biggest takeaway here is that on some level, there was basically not only a different cut of the film with some deleted scenes, but also a different version of the story itself.
It’s also rumored that all some of these deleted scenes mention the idea that the Resistance has developed its own superweapon and that Leia intends to use it on the First Order. As many have pointed out, the giant super-weapon blasts in the D23 Rise of Skywalker trailer might be some kind of Death Star-esque weapon being used by … the Rebels.
Why the Superweapon Thing Could Connect to Rey
The superweapon business might not have much to do with Rey’s background, but since we already know that a wrecked Death Star is probably in the movie and that Rey, Finn, and Poe are going to visit it, it’s possible that The Rise of Skywalker will feature a conversation between Rey and Leia in which Leia instructs Rey to track down a crucial superweapon component from an old Death Star, and also, in passing says, “Oh, by the way, I know about your parents.”
If that sounds a little glib, or overly-simple, the biggest takeaway from the Maryann Brandon interview is the fact that the process of making the new Star Wars films is one of simplification. In describing how Rey’s famous “Force-back” vision was edited, Brandon reveals that originally Abrams, Lawerence Kasdan and maybe writer Michael Arndt had thought of it as “a ride through the history of Star Wars.” Brandon considered this concept to be overstuffed and confusing, and so, the idea was simplified.
Why does this matter? Well, for years, we’ve all been trying to glean clues from Rey’s vision and snatches of dialogue in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in order to solve the various riddles about Rey’s past and future. But, in reality, various versions of her character’s arc were in play at the same time. It was only through efficient and clear editing decisions that we got the scenes that we got. In other words, Rey’s future was never set in stone, even after the script was written, which means, even as I write this, as The Rise of Skywalker is still being prepped for release in December, multiple versions of Rey’s future could still be in flux. But only one of those futures will make it out of the editing room.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will hit theaters on December 20, 2019.