That collective gasp you heard this week following Disney’s D23 Expo was the result of Star Wars fandom getting a look at the latest footage from Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker — and it was a well-deserved reaction, given the contents of that preview.
After offering fans some nostalgia-stoking footage of returning characters and some new additions to the Star Wars universe interspersed with shots of Star Destroyers and alien planets, the teaser concluded with a brief scene featuring the last Jedi herself, Rey (Daisy Ridley), clad in a dark cloak and unfurling a red, double-bladed lightsaber.
It’s a look associated with the evil Sith Lords, and it’s causing no small amount of speculation and hand-wringing as fans ponder what it could mean for Ridley’s beloved character.
It also tracks pretty well with a theory I’ve had about Rey since her debut in Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
In fact, I feel so confident in this theory that discussion of it might merit a spoiler warning for anyone who wants to enter The Rise of Skywalker without any suspicions about what the film contains. (I don’t have any insider knowledge beyond what the Star Wars movies and a few canonical novels have offered, but nevertheless, I’m erring on the side of caution.)
With that out of the way, the theory is actually pretty simple: Rey is part of Sheev Palpatine’s bloodline.
Yes, she’s related to The Emperor (or Darth Sidious, depending on where you came into the franchise).
“But wait,” you’re saying, “didn’t they establish in Episode VIII – The Last Jedi that her parents were ‘nobodies’ and nothing more than junk traders who sold her off for drinking money? That was a major plot point!”
This is where it’s worth pointing out that Kylo Ren, actor Adam Driver’s whiney, petulant, wannabe-Sith, is the character that revealed this information to Rey. Kylo Ren is a lot of things — angsty, surprisingly buff, and full of daddy issues, to name a few — but a reliable narrator is probably not high on that list.
Sure, it was nice to think that the modern trilogy was diverging from what’s expected when it comes to its new Jedi hero, and instead of attaching her to the legacy of Skywalkers and the Sith who manipulated them, it was going to give us a hero without generations of baggage. It’s becoming increasingly likely that this isn’t the case, though, and the series is instead finding a fresh way to stick to the dichotomy at the heart of the Star Wars saga.
What dichotomy? Well, if Rey does indeed share ancestry with one of the franchise’s most infamous Sith Lords, she’s a character born into a villain’s bloodline who is trying to be a hero.
On the flip side, Kylo Ren — the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, a Skywalker — is a character born into a hero’s bloodline, striving (or perhaps destined) to become a villain.
Think back on the saga up to this point, and the pieces begin to fall into an all-too-familiar pattern.
In the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker struggles with the revelation that he’s the son of the galaxy’s greatest villain, and works to become the galaxy’s greatest hero. In order to do so, however, he pushes his father — the aforementioned villain — to redeem himself with one final, triumphant act of heroism.
Cut back (or perhaps forward, depending on your preferred Star Wars viewing order) to the prequel trilogy, and you’re following the story of Anakin, an innocent boy filled with love and the potential to be the Jedi Order’s greatest member, only to become the instrument of hate that leads to its destruction.
“Okay, so it’s a thematically appropriate theory,” you say, “but what about the logistics of it all? When did Palpatine have a child, and why was Rey on Jakku? The timeline doesn’t make sense!”
So here’s the thing: The timeline is absolutely, positively problematic … but only if Rey was a naturally born child.
We already know that cloning is a science that not only exists in the Star Wars universe, but was also perfected to the point that it yielded enough hearty soldiers to wage a galaxy-spanning war. It was so widespread, in fact, that they named an entire chapter of the franchise after it.
It’s inconceivable that a tyrant as brilliantly diabolical as Sheev Palpatine, who managed to turn one of the Jedi Order’s greatest assets against them, bring down the entire Galactic Republic, and exert absolute control over thousands of worlds from his throne, wouldn’t have a contingency plan in place if someone, say, tossed him down a reactor shaft.
That’s why it’s not much of a narrative (or logical) leap to suggest that Palpatine used the science available to him to ensure the continuation of his own bloodline in the event of his death. Furthermore, with Rey born slightly more than a decade after the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi (according to Star Wars canon), there’s a fiendishly appropriate time delay in place for her to come of age without the specter of Palpatine lingering over the galaxy and making everyone suspicious.
Taking it a step further, having her grow up on a desert planet in the Outer Rim of the galaxy with a hard-luck family history only makes it more unlikely that her true lineage would be discovered.
If we’ve learned anything about The Force, though, it’s that it has a way of putting people on a collision course with destiny.
Cue Poe Dameron and BB-8 arriving on Jakku along with Finn in The Force Awakens, and the remarkable coincidence that a famous hunk of junk known as the Millennium Falcon also happens to be on the planet, and the power of The Force becomes even more impressive.
If that’s not enough evidence to support the Rey-Palpatine theory, consider novelist Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, published between 2015-2017 and set in the time period between the events of Episode VI – Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
The book trilogy is recognized as part of the official canon of the Star Wars timeline established after Disney acquired the franchise, and it does a remarkable job of blending elements of the original trilogy with concepts introduced in the modern films and prequels, while simultaneously introducing a new cast of colorful, compelling characters. The novels follow a group of characters hunting Imperial war criminals to bring them to justice, and the grand finale of the overarching story is set on … wait for it … the desert planet Jakku.
Without giving away too much of what transpires in the story, it’s enough to say that the novels offer evidence that Palpatine’s plans extended well beyond his own death, and Jakku was an important part of those plans. That someone who shares some of his bloodline and is strong in The Force should turn up there years later is, well … not all that surprising, given the events that transpire in the books.
And that is, frankly, just the tip of the Midichlorian-laced iceberg when it comes to evidence suggesting that Rey could indeed be related to Palpatine.
The Sith traditionally live by the Rule of Two — in which only a Sith Lord and apprentice can exist at any point, as explained by Yoda in Episode I — the Phantom Menace — so the murder of Supreme Leader Snoke by Kylo in The Last Jedi shortly after the Kylo establishes a connection with Rey starts to make a bit more sense.
Similarly, the news that actor Ian McDiarmid will be reprising the role of Palpatine for The Rise of Skywalker obviously suggests that the Sith Lord’s story isn’t over — and could indeed intertwine with that of Rey’s.
And it goes on from there, if you’re willing to look for the clues.
Of course, my theory could be totally off base in the end, and the “Dark Rey” seen in the Rise of Skywalker footage could be some manifestation of her fears or — even worse — an inconsequential nightmare sequence. It won’t be disappointing if that’s the case, though, because we all want Star Wars to delight and surprise us with what happens on the screen, and for the most part, that’s what the franchise has done.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to go down that Star Wars rabbit hole and speculate on what the future could hold — because that’s part of the magic of Star Wars, too. Until the film is in theaters, though, I’m on #TeamReyPalpatine.
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