The Definitive “The Last Jedi” Case for Rey Skywalker – Creator Commentary

Written by: robotical712, Josey, Needs_More_Sprinkles, HypersonicHarpist

“[Rey’s parentage] is integral. It is important. It’s something that, interestingly enough, even as we were sitting and coming up with The Force Awakens, it was one of the central questions we were all asking ourselves.”

Kathleen Kennedy, April 2017

There’s been a lot of discussion within the fan community about how much of the Sequel Trilogy’s backstory and future plot is planned out, and how much is being composed as the writers go along. Rian Johnson is on record as stating he had complete creative freedom in writing The Last Jedi, and that, particularly in regards to Rey’s parentage, he was never told by anyone how to resolve any unanswered questions. But the record on that is confusing to say the least. In many cases, Rian’s statements are in direct contradiction with what other members of the Sequel Trilogy’s production team have said, and yet, nobody from Lucasfilm has stepped forward to set the record straight. What’s to make of this?

Part of our analysis of The Last Jedi.

Below is a compilation of quotes from Johnson and everyone else involved, illustrating the stark divide between both sides’ statements and, as a result, the likelihood that Lucasfilm is not flying quite as blind as they might want us to think.

Extent of Creative Freedom:

Rian Johnson:

“I wasn’t given any directive as to what [Rey’s parentage] had to be,” he says. “I was never given the information that she is this or she is that.”

November 2017

Daisy Ridley:

“Yes [I know who Rey’s parents are]. Yeah [I do.]” “[I found out] when we were filming [Episode] VII.”

Interview

Germain Lussier (Journalist), speaking on the Last Jedi production process:

“Late in the design process, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said that the design of Canto Bight didn’t feel “Star Wars” enough to her. So the team scrapped everything and ultimately drew inspiration from early Ralph McQuarrie drawing’s of Jabba’s Palace.”

December 2017


Extent of Collaboration:

Rian:

Well, I don’t know.  [JJ] might have had thoughts in his head who it was going to be, but he didn’t dictate them to me.  He left it open, you know.”

December 2017

JJ Abrams:

“Larry and I had a bunch of thoughts of where certain things could go and we shared those things with Rian Johnson, who’s directing VIII. He had things that he came up with where he asked if it was possible if we could make some adjustments with what we were doing at the end, most of which we did — there were just a couple that didn’t feel right, so he made adjustments — but it was just collaboration.”

January 2016

and:

The script for VIII is written. I’m sure rewrites are going to be endless, like they always are. But what Larry and I did was set up certain key relationships, certain key questions, conflicts. And we knew where certain things were going. We had meetings with Rian and Ram Bergman, the producer of VIII. They were watching dailies when we were shooting our movie. We wanted them to be part of the process, to make the transition to their film as seamless as possible. I showed Rian an early cut of the movie, because I knew he was doing his rewrite and prepping. And as executive producer of VIII, I need that movie to be really good. Withholding serves no one and certainly not the fans. So we’ve been as transparent as possible.

Rian has asked for a couple of things here and there that he needs for his story. He is an incredibly accomplished filmmaker and an incredibly strong writer. So the story he told took what we were doing and went in the direction that he felt was best but that is very much in line with what we were thinking as well. But you’re right—that will be his movie; he’s going to do it in the way he sees fit. He’s neither asking for nor does he need me to oversee the process.

November 2015

Extent of Planning:

Rian:

“That’s what’s been really cool about the storytelling process. There is definitely the idea that we know it is a three-movie arc. We know the first film is an introduction, then the middle act is training, meaning challenging the characters. The third is where they all come together and you have to resolve everything. But I was truly able to write this script without bases to tag, and without a big outline on the wall. That meant I could react to what I felt from The Force Awakens, and what I wanted to see. I could make this movie personal. I could also just take these characters where it felt right and most interesting to take them. I think part of the reason the movie feels like it goes to some unexpected places with the characters is that we had that freedom. If it had all just been planned out and written down beforehand, it might have felt a little more calculated, I suppose.”

December 2017

Kathleen Kennedy:

“[Lucasfilm Story Group head] Kiri [Hart] has been very good about creating a narrative timeline, and having everybody involved in a certain narrative understand where it might fit. That’s become important to the way we talk about these stories.”

December 2016

and:

“No [J. J. Abrams didn’t do a treatment for future Star Wars episodes], because at that point we were sitting down and talking about where this might go, even as early on as with Michael Arndt. We were sort of plotting out, because obviously if you know up front that you’re building the pacing inside a trilogy structure, we needed to have some sense of where this saga was going without locking in on things and leaving room for creative development. But we had to have some sense of where we were going.”

December 2015


In order for Rian to actually mean, in earnest, that Rey’s parentage was something entirely up to him to decide, the following things would have to be true:

  • Rey’s parentage was a “central question” that the production team discussed at length from the beginning of the process, but ultimately none of them came to a decision on it and decided to wait for one of their three directors to come up with a solution instead.
  • JJ was “as transparent as possible” with Rian, as well as having a strong enough idea of who Rey’s parents were that he told the answer to Daisy as fact, yet in their (numerous) conversations about Rey’s parentage, he never told Rian what his ideas were for who her parents were, nor if he even had an idea at all.
  • JJ and Kathleen were deliberately misleading about Disney and Lucasfilm having any sort of agreed-upon backstory or vague plot outline, but didn’t feel a need to “correct” Rian when he revealed this ostensible secret in multiple interviews.

Far more likely is that the truth is somewhere between Rian’s claims of complete creative freedom and others’ statements about an overarching plan for the trilogy. Rian was given an incredible amount of freedom to tell the story that he wanted to tell and to challenge the characters as he saw fit, because that’s what Lucasfilm wanted the second movie of their trilogy to be about. 

July 3, 2018 Update:

Somehow missed this gem from Leland Chee in November of last year:

“So with the Story Group overseeing all of the content in film and television and elsewhere, we don’t have to retroactively make those changes. We can anticipate those changes. We can seed things in one medium [and see them grow] in another. So we might be seeding things in books or TV that you might not realize is substantial until years down the road. And if people knew what the roadmap looked like, they would just be floored.”


Conclusion

Rian chose to use Rey’s greatest weakness, her desire for her family and identity, to challenge her. Rian is on record saying that is precisely why he chose to have Kylo Ren tell her what he did in a recent Empire Podcast interview:

“For me, if Rey had gotten the answer that she’s related to so-and-so, had learned her place in the story, that would be the easiest thing she can hear,” […] “The hardest thing to hear is, ‘Nope, this not going to define you’ […] And you’re going to have to make the choice to find your own identity in this story.”

But Rian is being less than definitive about whether or not Kylo is telling Rey the literal truth. In an interview with Collider, Rian explained that although Kylo wasn’t knowingly lying when he told Rey what he saw, and that “she seems to believe him” when she hears it, he is “not writing the next film, we’ll see how they handle it going forward, and as we all know in these movies, there’s always a certain point of view that’s involved.”

In true Star Wars fashion, that “certain point of view” solves the paradox of how both Rian and others can be telling the truth about the choice of Rey’s parentage (ironically [or is it?], a book with that very title was released just a few months before). Rian was being truthful when he said he was allowed to answer the question of who Rey’s parents are however he pleased, and other representatives from Lucasfilm were being truthful about Rey’s parentage being integral and part of an overarching plan.

Rian, in other words, may have been given the choice to give Rey her real answer in The Last Jedi, or to come up with whatever objectively false answer he pleased to delay the true reveal for the saga’s finale.  Rian chose to do the latter in order to challenge Rey as a character, to allow her to find her own place in the story rather than being handed one by virtue of her family. She must demonstrate her identity as a true Skywalker, without knowing that’s who she is, to show that Kylo Ren is wrong about the family’s legacy.

We believe the associated PR sleight-of-hand isn’t simply a lie or misdirection, it’s carefully crafted preservation of a secret that the audience must find out along with their heroine in the saga’s final act.


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