Note: This article reveals major plot points of The Last Jedi.
The most radical moment in Rian Johnson’s sprawling, exhilarating, frequently frustrating The Last Jedi doesn’t involve lightsabers, porgs, or Laura Dern kicking so much ass that she briefly transforms a First Order battleship into a glorious piece of brightly shining abstract art. No, the real game-changer here is a simple conversation between Ben “Kylo Ren” Solo and Rey, the Odd Couple light side-dark side duo whose long-distance connection forms the film’s improbable emotional heart. Reunited at last—and standing in the bloody wake of a gorgeously choreographed fight scene that saw each of them desperately battling to save the other’s life—Ben confronts Rey with the question she’s been fixated on ever since she was introduced, a movie earlier, as an improbably competent orphan scavenger on the desolate desert backwater of Jakku: Who the hell are her parents?
The obsession is understandable. Rey is, after all, a character living in George Lucas’ coincidence-powered Star Wars universe, a place where every random Wookiee smuggler used to pal around with Yoda, and where you’re not shit, Jedi-wise, unless you’ve got some of that Skywalker blood flowing through your veins. Beyond that, she’s a personal creation of mystery-peddling huckster J.J. Abrams, who made sure to fill The Force Awakens with a whole loaf’s worth of the enigmatic breadcrumbs—many of them focused on Rey herself—that he’s always used to lure the curious into theaters or keep them hooked on his various TV projects. (Storytelling is fine, after all, but “Who the hell is this Snoke guy?!” is an easy way to get butts back in seats.)
And yet, the truth that Johnson teases out of Rey and Ren’s heart-to-heart carries neither Lucas nor Abrams’ fingerprints; is, in fact, a pretty glaring “Fuck you” to the storytelling styles of both of Rey’s off-screen daddies. As Ben says—and, as a dazzling bit of mirrored surrealism earlier in the film hints, Rey has always, on some level, known—she’s really just a nobody, parentally speaking. No secret lineage, none of Lucas’ love of monomythic, Harry Potter-style “unknown king growing up in the wilderness” tropes. No deeper Abrams-esque mystery. Just Occam’s Lightsaber, chopping through the bullshit, and leaving a powerful young woman with no lingering, grasping connections to the wider Star Wars universe.
That, in turn, is a big part of why she’s so appealing to Ben, a character who spends The Last Jedi waging war not on the Jedi or the Sith, but on Star Wars itself. In Rey, he sees not just a new generation, acting out the same old mistakes and playing “Who’s got the Jedi?” with Luke Skywalker—who (and this is meant with no disrespect to Mark Hamill’s wonderful performance as the grizzled, broken-down old hermit) has somehow become the “Whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking “Where’s Poochie”? of the Star Wars universe. To put it bluntly, Rey is the fresh IP this franchise so desperately needs, and Kylo Ren wants in on the ground floor.
On a less facetious note, Rey’s non-mysterious heritage also helps make The Last Jedi the most political (and populist) Star Wars film ever committed to the screen. There’s always been something a little hinky and monarchical about the way Lucas ultimately transformed his sprawling space epic into a family squabble between a handful of all-important people. (Something the old Expanded Universe, with its thousands of pages about what Han, Luke, and Leia’s kids are up to, only made infinitely worse.) By placing Rey—and Finn, and Poe, and Rose, and all the rest of this new batch of heroes—outside the Skywalker family structure, Johnson is making a powerful point that things like “destiny” are a lot less important than picking up a blaster and throwing yourself into the fight.
Of course, this could all be bullshit; the dark side’s deceptive like that. Ren might have simply been manipulating Rey, and when Abrams comes back for Episode IX, he might waste little time re-dropping hints that she was the secret second Solo sibling all along. (It’s not like a little lightly incestuous chemistry with a close relative doesn’t run in this particular family.) For now, though, Johnson’s word on the matter stands, and the woman at the center of Star Wars isn’t a politically powerful princess or the mysterious scion of a lost family; she’s not an enigmatic mystery, waiting for future writers to untangle. She’s just a badass with a cause, a Force unto herself.