• Daniel Kephart

Why Rey is the Perfect Hero

Evil crops up again and again, and it's usually the same evil in a different mask. The only thing that changes is who is brave enough to respond to it.

Alright, before you start throwing full-sized replica lightsabers at the computer screen, let me explain. I am not suggesting The Rise of Skywalker was a good movie. It wasn't. I am not advocating that Rey's character arc was perfectly written. It wasn't. I am not suggesting Rey is a more charismatic hero than, say, Leia Organa or Obi-Wan Kenobi. She isn't.

But Rey is the perfect hero by the standards of the nine Star Wars films in what is rather clunkily called "The Skywalker Saga."


A name dreamed up by a public relations team, right there.


But as I was saying...


If we can view Rey's character in terms of the wider mythology of Star Wars, we can see what makes Rey Skywalker (that's right, Rey Skywalker) the ideal hero to bring the story of the Chosen One to a close.


WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.


The central dilemma of Star Wars has always been the battle between choice and destiny. Throughout both the original trilogy and the prequels, Anakin is the embodiment of destiny. He is the Chosen One, destined from before birth to bring balance to the Force. Anakin feels trapped by this, smothered by not living up to the vision held by the Jedi of a serene, emotionless savior.


Nowhere is this better seen than in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin wakes from a nightmarish vision of Padme dying in childbirth. Devoting himself to preventing this fate from coming to pass, Anakin unwittingly brings it to fruition. The lesson seems to shape Anakin's transformation into Vader, setting up the Dark Lord for one of his most iconic quotes:


"Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has forseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together we can rule the Galaxy as father and son!"


But Vader ultimately fails to convert Luke to the Dark Side. As does the Emperor. And in case we find ourselves wondering just why this is, Luke helpfully explains the reason to the Emperor in The Return of the Jedi:


"I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You've failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."


At the heart of Luke's character is not destiny, but choice. Luke is the hero of the Rebel Alliance for a good reason, he embodies a refusal to bow to external forces demanding conformity. Like Anakin, Luke steps forward and defies destiny - a defiance Anakin never chose because he was gripped by a fear of what he could not control.


But what about Rey?


Now, undoubtedly, there are a lot of real-world reasons to love/hate Rey's role in the sequel trilogy. Perhaps the most frustrating moment in Rey's arc for many of us, however, was watching The Rise of Skywalker undo what seemed to be the one good plot twist in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren promised us, after all, that Rey was a nobody - someone born to inconsequential parents on a backwater world. Rey, Kylo said, was not either a Skywalker or a Kenobi at all. She was just some punk.


While devastating for Rey, this message resonated with many fans. For the first time in quite a while, Star Wars again seemed a story of defying all the odds and fighting the system.


But then it turned out Rey was a descendant of Palpatine. And the rage began to boil. Like some kind of otherwordly Bush versus Clinton showdown, the Skywalkers and the Palpatines seemed destined to battle things out for all time. Please clap.


And Rey won, which is nice, but...well, it just felt like a family of powerful elites battling it out while everyone else was made irrelevant. Hardly satisfying cinema.


Even more baffling was Rey's decision to bury Luke and Leia's lightsabers in the sand of Tatooine - a planet Luke hated and Leia never set foot on - and actually claim to be a Skywalker rather than a Palpatine.


Except...It kind of makes sense. Actually, it makes a lot of sense.


Because the dichotomy between destiny and choice in Star Wars isn't actually a dichotomy at all. It's a promise: Evil is always the same. The Dark Lord is always the same, whether Chancellor, Emperor, or Puppetmaster: Evil is that which plots to control things it has no business controlling - like life, death, and the rotation of the Galaxy. And if one chooses to throw in one's lot with evil, then the only destiny is destruction. So in each trilogy, our heroes grapple with whether or not to trust this promise.


Vader chooses evil and carves a path of destruction across the Galaxy.


Luke chooses to see the good in his father and redeems him from the Dark Side.


And Rey...Rey chooses to confront the evil of her family's past, and in doing so transforms into something quite unlike her ancestor, the Emperor.


Now, was it hard to accept? Absolutely. Part of what makes the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga so unsatisfying is how poorly The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker fit together. Yet part of what makes the saga's end so difficult to accept is that by nature the story of the Skywalkers is never ending. There will always be dark empires tightening their grip on the individual's will...and there will always be farm-boys and scavenger-girls refusing to bow.


And every time such a hero rises up, the spirits of all the Jedi who have come before do dwell within them. And from the ashes of Luke Skywalker bursts forth a phoenix-like hero both familiar and unlike all those who have gone before. A hero who chooses to reject the temptation of controlling the world in favor of the freedom to love and explore it.


And that choice is the rise of a Skywalker.


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