Everyone has an opinion on Star Wars these days. It’s the best thing ever or it’s been ruined. Why did that character do that? Why didn’t they do the thing they did before? How come they acted that way? Where does Vice-Admiral Holdo get her hair done because omfg amirite?
It’s easy to get bogged down in the ridiculous minutiae of this universe. Lucasfilm has always encouraged it. When I was a kid, one of my most cherished toys was a Star Wars action figure. It’s wasn’t Luke or Han or even Boba Fett. No sir, I had my very own Rancor Keeper. The pudgy grimy bloke who walks into a room and starts crying. That’s it, that’s all he does. They made an action figure out of him and I loved it. My dad had taken me to see Return Of The Jedi (yes, I’m that old) and for some reason I ended up with this minor character as a toy. I was fascinated because I could never understand why the toy existed in the first place and somehow, made it way more interesting. He even had a removable doo-rag. How cool is that?
That’s what it was like back then. The frenzy for this franchise was global and unrelenting. Every character or ship or planet was studied within an inch of its life. Then after the prequels, nobody wanted to talk about Star Wars again. Any expanded universe stories or comics or games based on the prequels were thinly veiled apologies that went out of their way to reveal hidden, cooler aspects of characters everyone despised in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the car crash that it had become. Star Wars at that time was about as compelling as a weak cup of tea that you left in another room and forgot to drink. Oh right, that thing.
So with that in mind, it’s a positively bewildering event that not only are there new Star Wars movies in the modern era but also that they’re good. They’re so good that the frenzy from the original trilogy has returned. Nobody wanted to break down the characteristics or machinations of the prequels (because who cares what Anakin was moaning about all day long) but everyone is more than willing to throw their 2 cents in for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
Let’s take The Last Jedi as the latest example. It’s a divisive film, no doubt. People have an opinion on almost every scene. The Canto Bight sequence. Luke’s behaviour. Snoke & Kylo. Even Benicio Del Toro’s minor character and his reasons for doing what he did. But within all this arguing and search for logic, something crucial has been overlooked. Hidden in plain sight.
Rey is the heart and soul of this new era of Star Wars and much like Jeffrey Lebowski’s rug, she really ties the room together. In fact, none of it would work without her. Especially in a billion dollar franchise born from the ashes of a mid-2000s filmmaking disaster. Not only was this franchise dead and buried, but it was jam-packed with the most generic, forgettable or downright tedious characters in science fiction or fantasy.
Rey’s growth and journey through Star Wars has somehow faded into the background. With all the noise around Star Wars on the internet, the strongest piece of storytelling this franchise has in its arsenal is not getting nearly enough credit. When critics (i.e. dude pissbabies) questioned Rey as a character, it always came down to “Why is she so powerful without any training? How come she’s so awesome? Where’s the explanation?!? A woman couldn’t just *do* something!”.
Let’s look at this via the story of Luke Skywalker. Luke was a boy who, when he wasn’t working on the moisture farm, spent all his downtime being served home-cooked meals by his aunt and moaning that he couldn’t go to the pub with his mates or whatever. After raising him from a baby, Aunt Beru and Uncle Lars must have spent years working themselves to the bone looking after this kid that wasn’t theirs in the first place and trying to make sure he was the best person he could possibly be. Beru was probably killing herself every night in that kitchen cooking up that weird Tattooine bok-choy and all this little turd can do is sit on his fat arse and complain that the home they have built for him sucks the big one. Even after they were burned to death by the Empire, Luke says “There’s nothing for me here now”. Wow cheers mate, you didn’t want to maybe grow a soul and figure out what to do with their estate and belongings that they poured everything into for you? Nah? Okay then, off you go. You do you.
Then quick as you like, he’s off running around a swamp with a goblin on his back. For what seems like a WHOLE AFTERNOON, he is trained to lift rocks and look at a weird ghost and hey presto, instant badass. After like, one day of training.
Let’s fast forward to Rey’s life on Jakku. After being dumped on this western suburbs-esque shithole of a planet (even Luke knows it’s awful) by scumbag parents who rejected her, Rey has to grow up alone. Surrounded by people trying to rob and murder her 24/7, she figures out that if she doesn’t get her act together quick smart, she’ll be six feet under. So she spends the next decade or so risking life and limb to earn the barest of livings. Scavenging from old ruins and keeping herself physically fit in the hopes that not only will her mum and dad return, but they might find it in their hearts to love her again. If they ever did.
Just imagine that. She’s basically homeless on Jakku, having no idea where her next meal is coming from. But she’s strong enough in her heart to know that she either needs to fight or die. While Luke is jerking off in the farm toilet screaming “WHAT TIME’S DINNER?”, Rey is probably doing mad pushups and training herself how to break someone’s skull with her staff. All based on empty faith that two people who dumped her like garbage might change their minds. She is determined to survive and grow no matter what. Compared to our feckless everyday lives, Rey’s internal resolve in everything she does must be absolutely herculean. It’s shocking that she’s not MORE powerful.
Then when we get to The Last Jedi, after witnessing him murder Han Solo, Rey has enough selflessness in her heart to reach out to Kylo Ren. To help him see the error of his ways despite her own repulsion at his actions and him as a person because she has the foresight to see how beneficial it will be in the long run. Who among us would even think about doing such a thing, much less risk their lives to make it happen? Not me, not you. We just ignore and move on because “Pfft whatever man, I got my own problems”.
And in thanks, Kylo Ren turns around and belittles Rey’s parents to her face. Her emotions start to tear her apart. This monster who just betrayed her trust is destroying the hope that she held onto every night sleeping rough on Jakku. Wondering who she is, who her parents were, whether she can ever be more than a junk-trader, living a brutal lonely existence drowning in cruelty and bereft of love.
But this murderer who she just tried to help is tearing it all down. They’re never coming back and they never loved you. And she knows that he might be right. But instead of having a nervous breakdown and disappearing into the sea like a hermit, she pushes her own fear and sadness and heartache aside and just saves everyone. She clears them a path in the mountains with her new found force powers and sacrifices her potential safety yet again for other people. Even total strangers.
Rey is an astounding achievement in character-building and refreshing spearhead to breathe life into this franchise that was almost beyond repair. She is the blood that pumps through the veins of this new era of Star Wars, an inspiration to people of all ages and I can’t wait to see what she does in Episode 9. In the meantime, I’m gonna go buy her action figure.