I have been pretty vocal about my dislike of key plot points in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, particularly the decision to make Rey, Palpatine’s granddaughter. It’s not just the fact that it totally undermines the powerful reveal in Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Rey is a nobody, whose parents sold her off for drinking money — but it’s also so poorly executed.
Well, JJ Abrams finally explained his decision at the Academy screening of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker last week and frankly, I’m even less convinced of the decisions than I ever have been.
I think one of the themes of the movie is that anyone can be anything regardless of where you’re from, and I don’t know if it resonates for everyone but I think there are quite a few people who appreciate that idea of not coming from a place that you’re not particularly excited about following or proud of.
And though I completely understand ‘you’re nobody’ is a devastating thing, to me the more painful, the more shocking thing was the idea that you’re from the worst possible place. And is that thing that you feel that you know is part of you somehow, that you’re haunted by, is that your destiny? And the idea that there are things more powerful than blood, as Luke says, that thing was a really important thing to convey for us.
So, essentially it’s pretty much the same core idea as the one introduced in The Last Jedi, only Rian Johnson did it better? Rey spent her entire childhood wondering if her parents were special. She spent years waiting for them to return. When she started becoming more Force-sensitive, that idea probably only ballooned in her head. It builds and builds and builds only for her to find out that she’s nobody. She doesn’t have a great history or lineage. She’s a nobody, whose parents were horrible. Perhaps the only person who understands her is Kylo Ren. Despite that, she chooses the path of good. Despite not having mighty blood, she proved to be a mighty good person and an exceptional Force-wielder.
Rey discovering who she is/isn’t had already reached an emotional crescendo in The Last Jedi. JJ Abrams had to take the story forward, not rewind.
What co-writer of The Rise of Skywalker Chris Terrio said at the same Academy screening only hit home the fact that they just wanted to undo what Rian Johnson did or worse yet, simply had no intriguing ideas that could take the story forward organically.
We had a post-it in our room that said, ‘You don’t discover who you are, you create it,’ and if Act 2, the middle act from Rian [Johnson], was discovering who you are, we felt like we really needed to take on the idea of recreating who she is. And of course to find out she’s a Palpatine is a present-tense dramatic problem. Y
ou can find out you come from nothing and that’s not necessarily [a present-tense dramatic problem]… I come from a family of teamsters, I come from a great illustrious royal family, that’s not a present-tense problem for me on this stage. If I found out I come from a family of the greatest enemies of J.J. Abrams and he has hired me and is my boss, and that’s my deep dark secret, that’s a present-tense dramatic problem. It’s more interesting for Daisy to play and for us it was a more interesting story.
All of that sounds like nonsense. In The Last Jedi, Rey also discovered who she is and chose her path. Remember, Luke says, “I will not be the last of the Jedi” while the scene cuts to Rey lifting rocks like a boss. So, why did the first half of The Rise of Skywalker need to centre around Rey discovering who she is again and choosing her path again? It makes no sense.
JJ Abrams also talked about the thematic importance of a Skywalker (referring to Ben Solo) and a Palpatine working hand in hand.
This whole trilogy, 7, 8, and 9, is really sort of about the generation that follows the Great Generation, and the idea of bringing balance to the force—which is the whole point of the Chosen One, Anakin, and the original trilogy. What I loved was the idea that balance brought to the force doesn’t mean that it’s forever. It’s not immediately everlasting, and I think the idea that if we’re not careful, the ultimate evil will rise again. We have to be proactive in doing what we can to maintain the balance, and how does the generation that follows the Great Generation do that?
The idea that these two main characters, both the grandchildren of these crucially important characters, Palpatine and Skywalker, the idea of these two houses coming together in this next generation felt like there was an inevitability to it. And if one were to watch I through IX 50 or 100 years from now, hopefully you’d feel like these stories were inevitable.
Admittedly, this is a great idea, but it all boils down to execution and whether or not the story makes sense. Instead of picking up where The Last Jedi left off, JJ Abrams decided to backtrack and retcon before moving forward. Which is why when Kylo Ren informs Rey that she’s Palpatine’s granddaughter, the moment falls flat with a loud thud. There was no emotional build-up, no mystery, just an obvious attempt to forcefully change the narrative.