WARNING: The following contains major spoilers from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The latest and final installment of the Skywalker saga of Star Wars is now out in theaters. In The Rise of Skywalker, the Resistance must face the First Order once more, in the midst of the mysterious return of Emperor Palpatine.
Since its release, the film has been getting mixed reviews, its score currently at 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Many arguments have been going around about it, one of them being that the film retcons what Rian Johnson established in The Last Jedi about Rey being no one, when this installment reveals that she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. What people may not realize is that this new revelation actually complements the message from the previous film.
Rey is a nobody in the beginning; not because her parents chose to be or because she grew up on Jakku. She is a nobody because she is not her grandfather. Everyone is born a blank slate. The underlying message addressed in The Rise of Skywalker, The Last Jedi, and the entirety of the Skywalker saga is that it doesn’t matter who your ancestors are or where you come from. It’s all about who you choose to be.
As we’ve seen over the last 42 years of Star Wars, that message has been presented time and time again, for better or for worse. Anakin Skywalker, whose mother sees him off to train to be a Jedi rather than spending a lifetime as a slave, winds up turning to the Dark Side eventually. For Rey, whose grandfather is the most evil Force user to ever live, her allegiance is to the Light Side of the Force.
This message doesn’t mean that you can’t be inspired by or learn from those who came before you. Luke Skywalker is motivated to become a Jedi like his father before him, and that drive remains even in Return of the Jedi, when he already knows that his father has become Darth Vader. As for Rey, by learning the truth about who her grandfather is, she can use it as knowledge to grow and be a far better person than he ever was.
The idea of being your own person regardless of your starting point may contradict cultures where family and blood is key in understanding who you are. However, the message ultimately presents the truest asset of human nature: We know our own self better than anyone else and our origins shouldn’t be the sole dictator of that.
Another debated plot point from The Rise of Skywalker is in the end where Rey introduces herself to an elder Tatooine woman as Rey Skywalker. This is another example of forging her path, by way of denouncing her blood lineage and paying respects to the family she made her own while on her journey. In another way, one can also see it similar to a person being knighted (appropriate, given her status as a Jedi and all).
The revelation of Rey’s lineage makes her all the more relatable as a character for me personally. Growing up in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area, a constant occurrence was when adults would learn my last name and ask if I’m related to my grandfather. He was one of the first Filipinos to practice medicine in the United States. While that might sound impressive, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he actually wasn’t a good person. The only difference between my backstory and Rey’s is that not a lot of people know that.
While Rey chooses to forfeit her surname, I’m keeping my own, and am working towards making a name for myself not as a descendant of Dr. Lola, but as a writer.
Everyone is born an empty slate, regardless of who you are or aren’t related to. Ultimately, as every single Star Wars film of the Skywalker saga shows is that it’s on you on who you choose to be. As Luke says to Rey, “Some things are stronger than blood.”