The Definitive “The Last Jedi” Case for Rey Skywalker – A Suggested Interpretation

 

Written by: robotical712, Josey, Needs_More_Sprinkles, HypersonicHarpist

Most fans who left The Force Awakens believing that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter did so under the assumption that this relationship would be revealed in The Last Jedi, most likely at the very beginning of the movie, which, we had been told, would pick up where TFA left off. However, as TLJ’s release date approached, we learned that Luke gives Rey the cold shoulder upon her arrival. Naturally, this gave many fans pause, as the general (and natural) assumption was that Luke would surely immediately recognize and welcome Rey if she was indeed his long-lost daughter.

Part of our analysis of The Last Jedi.

Those who subscribed to the Rey Skywalker (“ReySky”) theory were mostly surprised and disheartened by what the Luke/Rey relationship – which Rian Johnson had described as the “beating heart” and “essence” of TLJ – ended up being. Luke’s first actions upon accepting the legacy lightsaber from Rey were to look at it, and then her, in apparent wonder for several seconds, toss the saber over his shoulder, and stride off, much to the confusion and chagrin of the hopeful young woman, who had yet to really face rejection in her journey.

Furthermore, Luke kept his distance from Rey – both physically and emotionally – throughout their time together on Ahch-To, which ended unceremoniously with Rey going off to try to “save” Kylo after an altercation with Luke. In subsequent scenes, we saw Yoda give Luke a pep talk, and Luke, through a Force-projection, confront Kylo on Crait to give the remainder of the Resistance time to escape (with some help from Rey and the Falcon). However, Luke and Rey didn’t end up reuniting after they parted on bad terms on Ahch-To.

To most, these scenes demonstrated not only that Luke is not Rey’s father, but that they had no connection prior to Rey’s arrival. That is consistent with the surface read, which also suggests that Rey’s presence had little actual effect on Luke aside from serving to remind the Jedi Master of himself as a young man. Many considered this dynamic as disappointing as the apparent lack of familial connection between the two characters.


The Problem with Rey Unrelated

Who are you?
What’s special about you?
Where are you from?
Why are you here?

– Luke

The core problem with Rey’s story, as presented in TLJ, is her apparent lack of connection to or impact on the surrounding narrative. Rey’s role seems to simply be that of a catalyst for the stories of the other main characters,  and the movie goes out of its way to highlight Rey’s apparent lack of relationship to the primary conflicts in the story. While it is obvious why Luke is part of the story, and Leia, and – of course – Kylo, the movie does not make clear why Rey specifically is there, versus any other Force-strong youth.

Her and Luke’s relationship is highly impersonal for her entire time on the island and neither character has an obvious direct effect on the other. It’s not Rey that convinces Luke to teach her anything, it’s Artoo. Luke appears to spontaneously reconnect with the Force with nothing in the preceding scenes to precipitate it. After Rey, completely alienated from her would-be teacher, abandons Ahch-To, it’s Yoda that convinces Luke to look past his failures. And when Luke dramatically joins the heroes at the end of the movie, it’s not to finally mentor Rey, but to save the Resistance and provide the galaxy with one last legendary feat. In fact, during this scene, Luke only directly interacts (via Force projection) with Kylo and Leia. And yet, at the end, when Luke passes into the Force, the movie shows Rey sensing it even before Leia, and we learn that Rey even sensed Luke’s emotions as he died. This demonstrates a close Force connection between Rey and Luke despite their apparent failure to form any sort of meaningful personal relationship during their time together in the movie.

Many have said Rey’s story makes perfect sense, but the explanations they proffer tend to be either their own guesses or that we don’t need reasons beyond that perennial favorite “Because the Force willed it.” Why is Luke on the island? Supposedly, to end the cycle of violence between the light and dark. Except that there is no indication that the Jedi Order was responsible for Snoke, nor that Palpatine would have not gained power absent the Order’s involvement. Why is Rey (specifically) on Ahch-To (as the movie pointedly asks, but never answers)? A surface read gives no reason at all. How does Rey actually help Luke? Just by being there, apparently (and for all we’re told, “Broom Boy” could have achieved the same). How does Luke help Rey? As far as she’s concerned, he didn’t.

Earlier in the movie Luke asks Rey who she is, where she’s from, and why she (versus anyone else) is there (on Ahch-To), in the end Kylo appears to give us the answers: Rey is “nothing,” comes from “nothing,” and ”[has] no place in this story.” Indeed, if one is to believe Kylo, Rey’s parents were faceless, nameless junk traders who sold their daughter for drinking money and are now dead in unmarked graves. One, then, is left to conclude that Rey must have been randomly chosen by the Force to be caught up in the drama of the Skywalker family – whom the story is really about – and to play Kylo’s Light Side “counterpart.” Rey is, therefore, as an individual, unnecessary to the story, which would remain a Skywalker Family Story had Rey’s role been filled by any other Force-strong “nobody.”

However, if one goes beyond a superficial interpretation of Rey’s story, that does put Rey front and center to the story, even if she isn’t aware of it. The key lies in recognizing how Luke treats her differently from everyone else. In our proposed interpretation, Rey isn’t a random girl disrupting Luke’s quiet life on Ahch-To, but the daughter he long thought lost. Luke isn’t being rude because his solitude has been disrupted by a would-be student, but because he believes Rey’s only chance at life is to be free of her family’s and the Jedi’s legacy. Luke isn’t being out of character, he’s doing one of the most “Luke” things he could ever do – having found his lost daughter, he chooses to sacrifice what he’s desired for so many years to save her from the burden that destroyed the rest of the family.

Bloodline has shown that this is not an unexpected thing for Luke or anyone else in the Skywalker family to do.  Luke, Leia, and Han kept Ben Solo from the knowledge that Darth Vader was his grandfather in order to allow him to lead a life free of the burden of that legacy.  It isn’t a stretch to assume that Luke would continue along that line of reasoning and not want his daughter to live a life burdened not only by the legacy of Vader, but by Luke’s own failures.

You have no place in this story.
You come from nothing.
You’re nothing.

– Kylo Ren


Who is Luke?

When last we saw him, Luke had triumphed over Vader and the Emperor through love for his father. It was Luke’s connection to his father that allowed him to first see Anakin was still there and then reach him. Luke succeeded where everyone else failed because of that special connection. As we also saw in RotJ, it is Luke’s closest relationships that drive him. It was Vader threatening his sister that nearly pushed Luke over the edge, but realizing he was on the verge of following his father’s path pulled him back. Luke’s greatest strengths lie in his closest emotional connections, but they are also his greatest vulnerability.

So, it is a great surprise indeed to see he had apparently adopted the old Jedi’s rule on emotional connections after his emotional connections had led him to triumph. Worse, he had abandoned the lesson that evil must be confronted from a place of love and not hatred in favor of complete non-involvement and withdrawing entirely from the Force. Having inadvertently contributed to a new cycle of violence, Luke’s reaction was to decide someone else would rise to confront it while depriving that person the wisdom they would need to confront it.

It is particularly strange that Luke never seems to have developed a connection with Ben as he did with his father or Leia. Where Leia sensed the growing darkness within Ben and sent him to his uncle out of desperation, Luke seems to have largely missed it until the fateful night of the massacre, only seeing glimpses in Ben’s training. Ben wasn’t the only one Luke had failed to form a connection with, as several other students sided with Ben.

Worse, rather than sitting down with Ben and talking through his dark tendencies, Luke entered his mind to see what was going on. By Luke’s words, what he saw shocked him so much that he nearly struck down Ben to prevent it. Luke, who learned the power of compassion and the importance of discretion when it comes to the future during his OT arc. All of this goes against Luke’s character, and we think that’s intentional.

Therefore, the question becomes, what happened that led Luke to abandon everything he once believed and stood for? What would it take to break Luke to the point of abandoning emotional connections? Perhaps the loss of a child?

Luke’s greatest character trait is the duty he feels towards those around him, especially those he cares most for. The only times we see him nearly lose himself to the dark side is in the name of protecting his friends and family. We see it twice on the Death Star, once when the Emperor goads him into taking a swing at Vader by taunting him with his friends’ (and the wider Rebellion’s) predicament, and finally when Vader threatens Leia directly.

Luke’s own child is the one person he has an absolute duty to protect. Failing at this duty would be devastating for Luke and the pain of loss enough to drive him find a means of coping or burying it – including committing himself to the old Jedi doctrine and swearing off emotional connections entirely. Further, from Luke’s perspective, Ben would be the second Skywalker to fall as a result of the Jedi doctrine.

My nephew with that mighty Skywalker blood.
And in my hubris, I thought I could train him, I could pass on my strengths.

– Luke

Ben fell not only because of a lack of an emotional personal relationship with his uncle and mentor but also the dark secret of who his grandfather was. As we learned in Bloodline, Luke and Leia did not tell Ben of what happened to Anakin, opening the way for another to tell the youth and cast it in whatever light he wanted. Luke and Leia thought that not passing on their family’s greatest failure would help Ben avoid it, but instead left the path wide open. Considering, too, the immense personal cost Leia suffered – despite her own good reputation and accomplishments – after the wider galaxy learning the truth about her father, Luke would have seen the Skywalker name and strengths as more of a curse than gift. Worst of all, he was personally responsible for the fall of one of the members of his own family.

Instead of being the sole cause of Luke’s despair and exile, Ben’s fall would be the final blow in a series of tragedies. Up to that point, Luke would have dealt the knowledge of with his father’s fall, his failure to protect someone he had a duty to protect, a failure to fulfill his promise to rebuild the Jedi and the loss of yet another relative to the Dark Side. To him, his family must have seemed a curse upon the galaxy and the Jedi teachings ill equipped to deal with them or to defend the people it was sworn to. It is no wonder he concluded the galaxy would be better off without him or the Jedi.


A Terrible Sacrifice

It is with this background in mind that we must consider what Luke was thinking when Rey appeared holding the Skywalker legacy lightsaber. Any feelings of joy over seeing his daughter alive would be countered by the reminder of the crushing weight of the family’s name and legacy encapsulated by the saber. Rey’s apparent lack of recognition and knowledge would have seemed to be her only chance at happiness, and a terrible choice presented itself to Luke.

In the end it would seem that Luke believes he has only one choice – Rey must never learn who she truly is or walk the path of the Jedi. Therefore, she must leave and never look back. And that is where The Last Jedi begins.


In Part IV of our series, we’ll look at how the interpretation fits the narrative of The Last Jedi.

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