Although Lucasfilm more or less admitted that there was no coherent story guiding the new Star Wars trilogy, a dominant theme has formed in its aftermath: Identity. Through Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a nobody scavenger turned Jedi, the films explore what it means to define oneself in spite of not knowing, or actually knowing, who you really are.
Which is what makes the ending of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a peculiar thing. Chris Terrio, the film’s screenwriter, recently explained the thematic reasoning behind why Rey did what she did in the end.
Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
In the end of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey has fully evolved into a Jedi knight, including turning her scavenger staff into her very own lightsaber.
But Rey did more than just kitbash a Kyber crystal into her quarterstaff. While hanging out on the old Skywalker farm, where both Luke and Leia’s lightsabers are buried, a stranger asks Rey who she is. Rey responds: “Rey Skywalker.”
As the trilogy explored, Rey had no clue who her parents were. She was abandoned as a child on Jakku, where she grew up learning to survive. While 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens presented the question, 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson, challenged that question, its importance and whether it even matters. As that film revealed, Rey was a “nobody,” left behind by junk traders that, so says Kylo Ren, sold her for drinking money.
Then comes Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker going “No, yeah, Rey’s identity totally matters” and confirmed that Rey is actually the grandchild of Emperor Palpatine.
Rey’s discovery that she is directly related to one of the galaxy’s most notorious baddies inspires her to remake her own identity. Which is why, on Tatooine, she calls herself Skywalker, based on the memory of her teachers Luke and Leia. (Never mind that Darth Vader was also a Skywalker and killed hundreds of people, including children, but you know. the Force, and all.)
At a post-screening Q&A of The Rise of Skywalker with J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio, Terrio explained exactly why Rey took on the name “Skywalker” (lending the reason for the film’s title).
“We had a post-it in our [writer’s] room: ‘You don’t discover who you are, you create it,’” Terrio said. “If act two – the middle act – was Rian [Johnson] discovering who you are [in The Last Jedi], we felt we needed to take on the idea of Rey recreating who she is.”
Abrams himself added that while finding out Rey was a nobody was “devastating,” he wanted to twist the knife further and put Rey in direct connection to the saga’s ultimate villain.
“I completely understand that you’re ‘nobody’ is a devastating thing [but] to me, the more painful, the more shocking thing was the idea that you’re from the worst possible place.”
I don’t know, man. As I’ve written before, Rey’s “twist” in The Last Jedi was one of the best in saga history, a mighty subversion of expectations established long ago with the original trilogy. Abrams retconning it to make Rey actually “matter” in the crusty old Star Wars definition by making her related to a villain just feels like tired overcompensation for something that was already powerful, poignant, and unburdened by any kind of history.
With Rey as a “nobody,” we could take the new trilogy purely on its own terms. We could take Rey purely on her terms and not keep thinking about Palpatine. Now all we can do is just think about Rey as a Palpatine, and wonder how the Emperor spawned a daughter. Which also means we have to think about Palpatine having sex, and look, that’s just gross. It makes a lot of sense Terrio also wrote the screenplay for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now.