What is STAR WARS to you? Who is Rey to you? To me, it is a desert planet. A setting sun. A hero in search of fulfillment. STAR WARS is the dream of a very specific brand of Americana. It’s about wondering if there isn’t something more out there for you to find. It’s the feeling that there’s a whole world, a whole galaxy, out there waiting for you if you can just get off the rock you’ve called home for your whole life.

STAR WARS is about the youthful yearning for adventure and the overwhelming consequences that come from seeking it. Rey has become the new avatar of this feeling. Following Anakin and Luke before her, she is the newest incarnation of the hero who must find their place beyond their home.

STAR WARS could mean something different to you, but that’s what it means to me. Sure, there’s a lot more cultural baggage to unpack beyond that. There’s epic, mythic tales of good and evil. There’s a buffet of philosophy from a wide swath of cultures. But ultimately, STAR WARS is about that feeling when you realize that your home is just one small corner of an unfathomably huge universe.

For Rey, finding that place means not only escaping her home but finding an understanding of her own identity and her place in the universe.

Rey From Nowhere

Rey walks between the divergent paths of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Like both men, she lived in a harsh, impoverished environment. Unlike the Skywalkers, she stayed there by choice. Anakin’s enslavement kept him on Tatooine. Luke had his obstinate uncle who refused to allow him to leave. Her choice to stay on Jakku is her own, but it comes from a place of fear.

Rey

As we learned in THE LAST JEDI, Rey’s family, according to Kylo Ren, “sold [her] off for drinking money.” The specifics of Rey’s apparent “selling off” are unknown. However, she likely worked off her indentured servitude. Rey could leave whenever she wants, but she is so certain her parents will return, she refuses to go, thus creating her Refusal of the Call.

She does not want to leave her planet, the one place she might see her parents again. Her Call to Adventure is less of a “call” and more of a “Retreat to Adventure.” After locating BB-8 and meeting Finn, she is immediately beset upon by the First Order. Her only option is to leave Jakku in the Millenium Falcon until she can safely return back home.

Adopt a Dad

Anakin and Luke were both trapped on their home planets. However, they both had loving support systems that nurtured and cared for them. For Rey, isolation is a key part of her character and why she behaves the way she does.

We see her scavenging skills, helping us understand why she knows the ins-and-outs of starships. Rey then gathers her junk haul for the day. After being paid, she briefly stares at an old woman scrubbing junk. She seems shaken for a moment. She seems to question if this woman is a glimpse into her own future.

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Rey then returns to her home in the hollowed-out carcass of an AT-AT. She sits quietly with her food and silently puts a banged up Rebel pilot helmet on her head. She is utterly and entirely alone. Who we are raised by and around defines who we are. She has no one and therefore clings to parental figures wherever they may appear. When she meets Han Solo, she remembers all the stories she has heard of him. For the first time in her life, she sees something for herself beyond the junk piles of Jakku. And then he is taken from her.

Rey from No One

 

Rey does not believe in her own importance within the world of the story. In fact, her abandonment is so traumatic that she chooses to repress it. In THE FORCE AWAKENS, she seems to genuinely believe her family will return for her. This is why she wants to see her parents in the cave scene of THE LAST JEDI. If she can see them again, and see that perhaps they are better people than she remembered, she can finally find peace for herself.

Rey

What she doesn’t realize is that she does not need her parents to define her. Rey has found meaning in herself. In THE LAST JEDI, Luke refers to Rey as “Rey from nowhere” and in a sense, he’s right. Without her parents, Rey had to develop her strength and her sense of self from within rather than from external sources. The mirror from the cave scene shows Rey an infinite number of herself, leading to one final reflection staring back at her.

It’s like a self-empowering immaculate conception. Just as Anakin appeared not to have a father, Rey did not have parents. Biologically, yes, but emotionally, in every way that truly mattered, she did not. Rey’s parents do not matter. Rey matters. She created herself.

STAR WARS and Legacy

However, this understanding does not come easily to Rey. She has grown up in a world where the universe has been defined by the legacy and bloodline of one man: Anakin Skywalker. Consider the world of STAR WARS for a moment: the last half a century’s worth of major political and societal shifts have been primarily due to the actions of the Skywalker family.  

From Vader causing a paradigm shift in Emperor Palpatine’s favor to Leia and Luke leading the Rebels to victory to Leia and her son becoming opposing figures in the battle between the First Order and the Resistance, Skywalkers have driven every major event in galactic politics. The average person in this world would, of course, think that legacy and bloodline define a person.

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However, Rey’s entire existence rejects the divine heroic provinces of many Hero’s journey narratives. Because Rey’s parents were anonymous space rednecks, her rise to power means the idea of legacies and bloodlines is meaningless.

At the same time, her counterpoint, Ben Solo, is a subversion of those same Hero’s Journey narratives. Ben is the character of divine birth. His weapon recalls European weaponry and its associations with divine bloodlines. However, he chooses to embrace the worst aspects of that legacy in THE FORCE AWAKENS. The strain of his destiny is too much for him, and he realizes the best way forward is to let it all burn.

Hero Worship

After losing Han Solo, she again seeks a father figure in Luke Skywalker. Again, she ends up disappointed. This is not the same Luke she has heard so many legends about, but rather a bitter old man who, like his nephew, began to crack under the expectations of his destiny. Living so long with the strict dogma of the Jedi is shown to be actively harmful to the psychology of both Luke and Ben.

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Rey’s isolation from the destiny-driven dichotomies of the Sith and the Jedi is what allows her to see the balance of the Force with fresh eyes. It was, after all, the rigid binaries of dark and light that shattered the relationship between Luke and Ben. She believes, perhaps naively, that good can be found in Ben. She can see the complexities of the real world where the men, so focused on esoteric ancient texts and laws, have forgotten what it means to be… normal.

As film critic Mikey Neumann said in his video essay on THE LAST JEDI:

“[Rey] starts believing in a world not run on fairy tales. No idol is beyond reproach because of who they are and what they’ve done.”

The Outstretched Hand

 

Rey’s abandonment defines her. She desires parental love, familial love, so much that she becomes too attached and too trusting too quickly. Without her parents, Rey cannot understand herself.

The image that perhaps best represents this is the final image of THE FORCE AWAKENS. Rey, her hand outstretched, carrying a weapon full of history, pain, and loss, reaches out to a man she doesn’t know but hopes will guide her in a way no one else has.

Rey

In THE LAST JEDI, Luke responds by chucking the thing over his shoulder. It’s a funny moment that also symbolizes how Rey has been treated her whole life. She is always at the mercy of people who see her as an object, a thing to be traded and disposed of, rather than nurtured.

It’s not a coincidence that the first moment of genuine connection between Ben and Rey is through an outstretched hand. Both Ben and Rey find a connection with each other because they are the first people to treat one another with the familial love that they have sought. When Rey says she is going to confront Ben, she again reaches out to Luke who again refuses.

Ben reaches out his hand to Rey, but after he reveals the influence of Vader’s legacy. She cannot accept it. Rey’s attempts to reach out always lead to disappointment… with one exception.

The Junker and the Soldier

The outstretched hand first appears following Finn and Rey’s first meeting. Finn looks up and, from off-screen, Rey’s hand moves into the frame to offer help. This defines who Rey is: always willing to trust and help, even when it may cost her everything.

Rey’s outstretched hand is the very thing that lifts the rocks on Crait and frees the Resistance. It’s that outstretched hand that reunites her with Finn. It’s that same outstretched hand that reminds Luke Skywalker of who he is: a hero.

Ultimately, Rey is a character defined by her ability to give everyone around her the things that she never had: support, empathy, and belief. This is equal parts her greatest flaw and her greatest strength. While the end of Rey’s story has yet to be written, she fits neatly in the pantheon of STAR WARS heroes while rewriting just what a hero in this universe can be. Rey is a new hope, not because of her power, but because of her weaknesses.

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