On Rey
5 min read

On Rey

Rey has really only been a proper character in one pretty bad film. But would any film featuring her necessarily be a bad film? Or is there something to Rey that just hasn't been delivered on yet?

This coming December will mark 5 years since the last release of a Star Wars film. In the intervening time we've seen a lot of small screen Star Wars, but nothing in theaters, despite several announcements of film projects, most of which were later dropped from development. Most recently, there were rumors that an upcoming film centered on Rey rebuilding the Jedi Order had been scrapped. These rumors seemed dubious, and, going by a recent interview with Daisy Ridley, now seem debunked, but when it seemed that the movie might have been cancelled, I noticed a lot of people happy that another movie with Rey wasn't coming. I get why, certainly. Rey has already had three movies, movies that diminished in quality as they went. A fourth Rey movie, it stands to reason, could be the worst yet. Or it could be better, but, again, Rey's already had three movies. Hasn't she?

She's been in three movies, sure, but The Force Awakens wasn't really her movie, it was Finn's. He was the hero whose actions drove the plot; Rey was just introduced as there, established as a mysterious figure whose real story would have to come later. The Last Jedi wasn't really her movie either; there, she was a bit of a blank slate caught between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker, whose whole arc involves picking which of them to follow, figuring out what her motivations really are. Only by The Rise of Skywalker is she finally a developed character. The movie is a mess, and Rey gets a bit crowded out, and her scenes aren't written great, but she's a character. She has motivations and struggles beyond simply trying to figure out who she is. She has an identity, and finding out she's a Palpatine actually challenges that identity, rather than providing one. So, Rey is only a real character in one pretty bad film. But is she a bad character? Would any film featuring her necessarily be a bad film? Or is there something to Rey that just hasn't been delivered on yet?

For a franchise not made by many devout Christians, there are a lot of Biblical parallels in Star Wars, at least most of which seem deliberate. I think there's one to be found in contrasting Luke Skywalker with Rey, and in comparing the restoration of the Jedi Temple to the building of the first Hebrew temple: In the 17th chapter of the first book of Chronicles, we see David, the Israelite king who had, by then, gained renown as a warrior, having killed an enemy champion, Goliath of Gath, with a well-placed shot in his first battle, when he was still a teenager fresh from his family's farm. David looks at the splendid palace that he lives in, then at the old cloth tent which houses the Ark of the Covenant, the seat of God, and resolves to build a grand temple, so that God has a finer house than the king. Before he can begin, though, a prophet delivers a message from God, saying David was not to build the temple; that task would be left to his son. Later, in Chapter 22, we're given the reasoning:

"You shall not build a house in my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth." – from I Chronicles 22:8

David's son, Solomon, was a wise judge and a diplomat, not a warrior. He was the one chosen to build a temple in Jerusalem.

The spirit of Luke Skywalker communes with Rey | Image from StarWars.com

There are some obvious parallels between David and Luke Skywalker. Luke is also a farm-boy who gains fame as a warrior with a well-placed shot that destroys his enemy's terrifying symbol of military might, and who goes on to become a victorious general. Now Luke does try to build a temple, but it is destroyed when his warrior instincts lead him to draw his lightsaber on his nephew. While Luke shouldn't take all or most of the blame for Ben's fall, that moment still showed a disconnect between Luke and the Jedi ideal. Luke is a warrior, and while he is a noble warrior, he isn't quite fit to restore the Order that was destroyed, in large part, because they became an order of warriors.

Rey is not a warrior. She can fight, and she's shown doing so, but she isn't a fighter by nature. Unlike Luke, who had a relatively quiet childhood (except for that one time an inquisitor showed up, but we'll leave that aside) Rey grew up having to fight for what little she had; where Luke dreamed of joining the military and seeing the galaxy, Rey is enthralled by the idea of travelling to a place with as much green and life as Takodana, where she wouldn't have to fight anymore. Her particular gifts in the Force are as a healer. This is something we're shown in Ep. IX, but it's also something she gets from her Palpatine lineage. Darth Sidious had the same gifts, albeit perverted into life-sapping Force lightning and arcane immortality methods. He's also not one to rush into a fight; he prefers to orchestrate his will through careful planning rather than impose it through overwhelming might; in this he is the dark reflection of the peacemaking Jedi diplomat. Rey combines a lot of Sidious's nature with Luke's determination to restore the Jedi and follow the path of the Light Side.

So, yes, I'm actually very interested in seeing a continuation of Rey's story, which has thus far been delayed by poor creative decisions. That said, I'm not sure how deliberate it was to make Rey less of a warrior than Luke; the Sequels have somewhat conflicting visions, especially in regard to Rey, which makes her a difficult character to really analyze. It could be, indeed it probably is the case, that I'm just overthinking Star Wars with all this Luke/David vs Rey/Solomon stuff. But I do think there's potential to finally tell a story about a Jedi who isn't fighting in a war in telling of Rey building a New Jedi Order.

I mentioned in my review of Ahsoka Season 1 that, for all the Star Wars stories can say things like "wars do not make one great" and "Jedi are keepers of the peace, not soldiers", Jedi are called to fight within the narrative; the franchise is "Star Wars", after all; it's interpersonal violent conflict in space. I don't think a Star Wars film entirely without fighting would be particularly successful, so I'm not expecting that from the Rey movie. But I am hoping to see the loose threads of good ideas in Ep. IX picked up and woven into something. Show Rey growing into a wise sage, maybe, resolving a conflict without having to destroy one side. There's a good Rey story to be told. Let's see if anyone tells it.