Who are Rey’s parents? Throughout The Force Awakens, we were led to believe this would be a question of planet-shaking importance. Among the numerous parallels between Rey and Luke Skywalker—natural flying ability, an easygoing manner with droids—was their lonely upbringing after having been abandoned by their parents. Of course, we know who Luke’s ended up being. Rey, meanwhile, was so convinced hers would come back that she turned down a billet on the Millennium Falcon with the intention of returning to Jakku to wait for parents she hadn’t seen in at least 15 years and could scarcely remember. Clearly, they must be important.
After the release of The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans took these tidbits and ran with them. Was she Luke’s daughter, sent into anonymous exile for her own protection? But what about the vision she experienced when holding Luke’s lightsaber, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi called her by name despite the two never having met before? Surely that held some meaning.
The Last Jedi purported to answer this question: Rey’s parents were nobodies. Or in Kylo Ren’s words: “They were filthy junk traders. Sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert.” On some level, we were told, Rey had known this all along.
This revelation was in keeping with the wonderfully nihilistic theme of The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson’s crack at the Star Wars universe presented a thesis of rejuvenation by destruction, that loyalty to the past can stifle the growth of the future. Thus in Johnson’s hands, Luke Skywalker—one of the most relentlessly earnest heroes in the American cultural canon—is reintroduced as a jaded old man racked by pain, regret, and self-doubt, with dead eyes and a beard full of raw milk. Luke only rediscovers his immense powers and capacity for heroism by learning to let go of the mythology he’d been using as a crutch. And after 40 years of Star Wars placing great stock in lineage, the Gen Z version of Luke Skywalker was revealed to be a self-made woman, born with the same gifts as the son of Darth Vader. It was an interesting storytelling decision, but beyond that, making Rey’s parents into nobodies sent a solid message to kids experiencing Star Wars for the first time: You can be the hero, no matter who your parents are.
For all the stunning visuals and adorable creature work of The Last Jedi, it did a huge service to the series by pruning much of the bloated and redundant branches from the story line. J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens traded effectively on nostalgia—my most indelible memory from any Star Wars movie was hearing the raucous audience cheer when Rey and Finn boarded the Falcon for the first time. But it was most comfortable retracing old story beats, or when beset by a barrage of familiar-sounding but ultimately meaningless proper nouns. (And if you disagree with that appraisal, you can tell that to Kanjiklub.) The Last Jedi, on the other hand, ended the mystery of Rey’s parentage, dispensed with Supreme Leader Snoke, and reduced the Resistance to a plucky cadre of, well, rebels. What emerged was a leaner, more coherent story with room for its characters to experience complex emotional growth.
Now Abrams is back in the big chair for The Rise of Skywalker, and he’s probably going to walk all that back. “The parents thing is not satisfied—for her and for the audience,” Daisy Ridley ominously said herself in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “That’s something she’s still trying to figure out.” Abrams built his reputation on telling clever and innovative sci-fi stories on television, but in the past 10 years he’s shed that skin like a molting lobster and emerged as the custodian of multibillion-dollar legacy sci-fi IP, first Star Trek and now Star Wars.
While Episode VIII ended the Skywalker bloodline by killing Luke and cutting Rey off from the family, Episode IX is titled The Rise of Skywalker. Emperor Palpatine is back, for reasons passing understanding, and the previous movie’s promise to find new narrative ground has seemingly been cast aside for a return to the wreckage of the Death Star. No doubt, for the fifth time in nine movies, the climactic battle will hinge on a fighter pilot’s well-placed torpedo shot.
The path back from The Last Jedi’s audacious nonreveal is all too clear. Some familiar face appears as a Force ghost and tells Rey that Kylo Ren lied to her, somehow manipulated her into believing that she wasn’t Luke’s daughter (or Obi-Wan’s, or Han and Leia’s, or whoever’s) in a vain attempt to get her to join him on his evil conquest of the galaxy. Maybe Force Ghost Luke will just come out and tell Rey “I am your father” in a direct homage to The Empire Strikes Back. Or perhaps, a much better outcome: The potential negation of The Last Jedi’s biggest plot twist—which has been telegraphed so clearly—is merely just a bit of pre-release bluffing.
If The Rise of Skywalker does scurry away from its predecessor’s bolder choices, however, the disappointment of lost opportunity might be at least offset by its contrast to the original trilogy. Though the first Star Wars movies were themselves the product of George Lucas’s own influences, their novelty and sense of wonder will shine all the brighter if Abrams and Disney prove unwilling or unable to leave an original stamp on the series.