Rey's Lineage Reveal Is the Most Disappointing 'Star Wars' Twist
This story contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker spends about 90 minutes of its runtime retconning everything set up in the divisive The Last Jedi, to the point where I genuinely wondered if the script had been written by a think tank composed of Rian Johnson's meanest reply guys. A baffling array of sloppy plot-circumventing, it doesn't get truly wild until Rey and Kylo Ren have another of their telepathic Force conversations, wherein he tells her -- and, seriously, I'm about to spoil the whole thing right here -- that she is Emperor Palpatine's granddaughter.
It's certainly a far cry from their confrontation in Snoke's red throne room one movie ago, when Kylo Ren confirmed Rey's worst fear that she was no one, descended from no one, who was simply Force-sensitive by chance. Was it all lies? As it turns out, yes, which sucks, not least because a villain manipulating a hero with the truth is so much more powerful than a bad guy telling lies just because he can. When Rey brings that up to him, Kylo Ren counters by saying, uhh yeah, I told you your parents were no one because they chose to be, so that they could run away and protect themselves and you. OK… sure.
Rey spends the rest of the movie worrying about her Sith ancestry, having visions of herself in a black cloak wielding a sick red lightsaber, and telling Palpatine (who is, sigh, back, just like every other Star Wars character who isn't Jar Jar Binks) that she'll never join him, no way. And, basically, that's her arc for the rest of the thing: an entire movie trying to fit in the kind of character development that normally would take a trilogy to nail down. You can blame The Last Jedi for backing the series into a corner -- you can do that, but that would be stupid, because the only things that turned this movie into the disaster it is are lack of imagination and fear of the franchise's own worst fans.
Let's get this out of the way: I really like The Last Jedi. I like that it took a bunch of weird risks and tried something new with the series, but what I liked most about it was how it handled Rey's lifelong search for a family to call her own. Her whole thing in The Force Awakens was all this baggage about being abandoned on a terrible desert planet, forced to scavenge the wreckage of a long-ago war to survive, left only with memories of the abandonment she suffered as a child. In The Last Jedi, she trains as a warrior before dueling her number one enemy, beats him even after he gave her the devastating news she always feared about her past, and then shows up on the battlefield at the last second to rescue the family she, quite literally, found along the way. Rey's doing great!
Then we get all this Palpatine stuff, which reads as nothing less than a capitulation to the loudest, meanest "fans" who were mad that a movie subverted their expectations and put something new into the galaxy. The argument that I've heard most frequently from the people who will talk to me without calling me names on the Internet is that the Star Wars movies are about the Skywalker family, a generational saga that tells the story of one single lineage and its connection to the Force. Which, sure. I get that. You have your original trilogy, which focuses on Luke Skywalker coming into his Force powers, and you have the prequels, which tell the backstory of Luke's father Darth Vader. It wouldn't be nutso to think that a new trilogy would stick to a similar tune.
Except it is! Why cling to the name Skywalker when there's the potential to open the series up to new ideas? Absolutely anyone can be Force-sensitive -- that's what the midichlorians are for! Having a connection to the Force is, by and large, random: It doesn't necessarily follow a family line, although we've seen six movies in which it did. That means that a Jedi knight can come from absolutely nothing -- Anakin Skywalker was born into slavery and didn't even have a father. Rey was a desert-dweller who traded metal and bolts for quarter portions. She doesn't need a whole lineage to explain why she's special.
When Rey is asked for her family name at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, despite everything I'd just seen, for a half a second I hoped she would say, "Just Rey." That's what The Last Jedi had so powerfully set up, and that's exactly what The Rise of Skywalker so self-consciously made its business to tear down. It never tried to be a movie about someone with nothing, who found a family of loving friends, and who's able to beat a fascist interstellar government through nothing but her own power. Instead, it's a gloppy playground-style mess of Easter eggs and references, determined to throw its predecessor under the bus simply because it wasn't what its loudest critics wanted. It does its characters and story a disservice, and just ends up being embarrassing to watch. Ironic.
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