Needless to say…
There is a lot of anger in the fandom now because of the killing of Snoke and the revelation of Rey’s parents.
I can’t speak too much to the idea that Snoke was killed, because I never really cared too much about who Snoke was. When I first saw The Force Awakens, I was very confused, not so much about who Snoke was but about the whole state of the galaxy. What is the First Order? Is the New Republic destroyed, because they mention it later in the film. Is the First Order just another pocket of the galaxy? I know I could have read Bloodlines to find out more information but I decided I didn’t care enough.
I mean, think about the Original Trilogy. Imagine, for a second, that the prequels never existed. (Nice, right?) We would know virtually nothing about the Empire or the Emperor. Except that they were evil. That’s all the original films ever offered and that’s all we needed to know. These films were throwbacks to the Flash Gordon films of the 1930’s. It’s not War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. (I heard a podcast recently describe Star Wars as a nuanced film. Nuance is not a word that should be used with Star Wars.) In other words, to quote Mystery Science Theater 3000, “Just repeat to yourself, ‘It’s just a show. I should really just relax.'” So I decided to just relax and accept the fact that The First Order had arisen and it was bad.
My point is, I never felt that there was a tremendous mystery about who Snoke was. He was Snoke. Why did people think that he had another identity besides that? I don’t get it. My only question about him when I watched The Force Awakens was whether or not he truly was a giant.
However, I don’t really want to talk about Snoke. What I really want to talk about was Rey’s parents. People are really upset that Rey’s parents are nobody because they feel that The Force Awakens teased that Rey’s parents were really important.
But is that true?
When we begin, Rey is living in an incredibly harsh existence. Living is not a good word; surviving is far better. We see her talk to no one during her day and when she goes home, she etches another day on the wall. We clearly see that she is marking time, and has been marking time for years, but we do not know why she is marking time. Our answer is given later when BB-8 comes on the scene. She tells them that she is waiting for her family.
Now think about this for a second. There is no indication in this preliminary information that she does not know who her parents are. She is not searching for their identity. She is not searching at all. She is simply waiting. The realization is also painful because we know that Rey’s parents are never coming back for her. Rey is in denial, and it is clearly holding her back. I mean, think about this logically. Rey is a pilot. If she had accepted the fact that her parents were never coming back, she could have stolen the Millennium Falcon and gone anywhere she wanted. Instead, she is trapped, a prisoner to a past.
In the Lessons of the Screenplay channel on Youtube, he breaks down this issue very clearly.
He quotes a screenwriting guru, K.M. Weiland, who calls this “The lie your character believes.” She writes in her book Creating Character Arcs,
In order for your character to evolve in a positive way, he has to start out with something lacking in his life, some reason that makes the change necessary…
He is harboring some deeply held misconception about either himself, the world, or probably both.
That’s what Rey’s preoccupation is in the story. It is a deeply held misconception. She still believes, even after all this time, that her parents are coming back for her. This is her character’s weakness, and it is what is inhibiting her. We see this repeatedly. She refuses to go with Finn to the rebel base. She declines a job offer from Han Solo. Her reason for avoiding these new adventures and embracing a horrific existence is because she wrongly believes that she will be reunited with her family on Jakku.
When she touches the light saber and experiences her force vision, she sees a flashback of her being abandoned on the planet. She is not a baby, but a young child. She would certainly be old enough to have a clear memory of her parents. We also get a hint of that in the fact that she has been counting the days since her family left her. She was old enough to remember the day and old enough to know how to count. Either way, there is nothing in the story that indicates that she does not know who her parents are.
Then we get to Maz. This is a pivotal moment of the film. Rey has just seen a vision after touching Luke’s and Anakin’s light saber and immediately decides to run away and go back to Jakku. Maz takes her hand and tells her the painful truth that Rey already knows.
Dear child, I see your eyes. You already know the truth. Whomever you’re waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back. But there’s someone who still could. The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.
The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.
The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.
The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.
The film is trying to tell us something! Rey’s past doesn’t hold any answers. She cannot look for belonging in the past, and neither should we.
Looking at the film, I think it is pretty clear that the film is trying to tell us
1 Rey knows who her parents are. She is not searching for their identity; she is just waiting for them to come back.
2 Rey’s belief that her parents will come back for her is the fundamental misconception that is holding Rey back. It is a misconception she needs to reject in order to grow as a person.
3 Rey must let go of her parents in order to fulfill the will of the Force.
I also think that Rey is, in some way, a stand in for the fans. Rey is holding onto the past to such an extent that she rejects the possibility of new adventures. The fans are doing that as well. (See this post.) Maz is talking to the audience as well, letting them know that they can let go of the past and embrace new adventures.
J.J. Abrams also had another motivation for this decision. J.J. Abrams has made it clear in interviews 2 years ago(!) that he doesn’t like the idea of midichloreans. (For good reason. They are stupid.)
I’m not someone who quite understands the science of the Force. To me Star Wars was never about science fiction — it was a spiritual story. And it was more of a fairytale in that regard. For me when I heard Obi-Wan say that the Force surrounds us and binds us all together, there was no judgement about who you were. This was something that we could all access. Being strong with the force didn’t mean something scientific, it meant something spiritual. It meant someone who could believe, someone who could reach down to the depths of your feelings and follow this primal energy that was flowing through all of us. I mean, thats what was said in that first film!
And there I am sitting in the theater at almost 11 years old and that was a powerful notion. And I think this is what your point was, we would like to believe that when shit gets serious, that you could harness that Force I was told surrounds not just some of us but every living thing. And so, I really feel like the assumption that any character needs to have inherited a certain number of midi-chlorians or needs to be part of a bloodline, it’s not that I don’t believe that as part of the canon, I’m just saying that at 11 years old, that wasn’t where my heart was. And so I respect and adhere to the canon but I also say that the Force has always seemed to me to be more inclusive and stronger than that.
J.J. Abrams wants to expand the notion of who can use the Force, away from the idea of midichloreans or bloodlines. The idea that Rey, a nobody, can access the Force is not contrary to J.J’s idea of the Force but very much in concert with it. It is the fulfillment of this idea.
So, given the fact that the film actually makes it clear that Rey knows who her parents are but that her devotion to them is holding her back, and J.J. doesn’t like the idea of bloodlines being important to the Force, why did fans decide that her lineage is super important?
1 Fans had been trained by prior works to see all of the characters as related to one another. Vader was Luke’s father. Leia was Luke’s sister. We meet Padme at the beginning of the Phantom Menace and then she doesn’t age for 10 years so that she can marry Anakin. It’s amazing we never found out that Yoda was Chewie’s father! We add to this the godawful plot device of the midichloreans. We were led to believe that the power to use the Force is genetic, passed down from parent to child. Within this framework, the idea that Rey has a noble lineage is logical. Third, we meet Anakin and Luke Skywalker in the first films of their respective trilogies on Tatooine, the desert planet. When fans saw Rey on a desert planet, they were led to associate her with Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and because everyone in the prior Star Wars movies is related to each other, fans believed that Rey must be Luke’s daughter and Anakin’s granddaughter.
2 Ben Solo, the only Skywalker of his generation, has fallen to the Dark Side. Fans have been told repeatedly that Star Wars is the saga of the Skywalkers. When fans see that the only Skywalker is the antagonist, they assume that he is going to die at the end of the trilogy. Kylo Ren is the last of the Skywalkers. When he dies, the Skywalker line is over. Fans instinctively reject the idea that the Skywalker line will come to an end in darkness, so they wanted Rey to be a Skywalker in order to continue the Skywalker saga.
Now that many fans have accepted the idea that Ben Solo is the only Skywalker in the film, they are bummed that the Skywalker line is coming to an end. Jeremy Jahns on Youtube stated that he no longer cares about the last movie because of that fact, to the point that he is willing to consider recasting Leia so that there can be one other Skywalker in the last film.
3 The Force Awakens does not fully develop the idea that Rey’s belief that her parents are holding her back does not truly have meaningful consequences. Lessons of the Screenplay discusses this in his review. Other than telling people she need to leave and go back to Jakku, Rey doesn’t really face any consequences for her belief. The only time this misconception has any consequences is when she runs away from Maz, only to be captured by Kylo Ren. However, there is no sense in the movie that she has given up on the idea of her parents. The film could have used a scene between Leia and Rey at the end of the film. In this scene, Leia could give Rey a choice to either go back to Jakku or to go find Luke Skywalker. Rey could have made it clear that she was accepting the fact that her parents abandoned her and she is now moving forward with her life. That scene would have helped the audience.
4 Death of the Author. One comment I see repeatedly from people discussing their opinions of The Last Jedi is, “Did we see the same movie?” The answer to that question is, no, we didn’t. In the 1960’s, French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an incredibly influential essay called, “Death of the Author.” In it, he rejects a mode of criticism where person reads a text and looks to the life and ideas of the author and uses those to explain the author’s intent. Instead, Barthes argues that the intent of the author is unknowable. It is not the Author who speaks in a text. Rather the language itself speaks, independently of the author. Barthes writes
We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single “theological” meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash.
In other words, the text (or in this case film) does not have one divinely inspired meaning but a whole host of meanings which complement and compete with each other. The removal of the author’s intent also means that the reader has real power to construct the meaning of the text.
Thus is revealed the total existence of writing: a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.
Barthes would argue that The Force Awakens does not have only one meaning which was infused when J.J. Abrams created the film. Instead, there are many conflicting movies and meanings within the film, and it is the viewer, not Abrams, that constructs the meaning of the film. This is why it feels as though other people saw a different film than us. They did. Now, as I stated before, I do think that the author’s intent does matter if they know what they are trying to convey and know how to use the medium to convey ideas. But even so, every writer or artist has experienced the limitations of their intent. I have had people grossly distort what I have written, despite my best effort.
Barthes would also argue that Rey’s parents are important to the film insofar as the viewers decide that the are central to the meaning of the text. If the fans felt that Rey’s parents were important, then they were important.
5 J.J Abrams’ stupid mystery boxes and Disney fucked up. People know that J.J. Abrams likes ambiguity and mysteries in his films, so they expected that if he didn’t give information in this film, it implied that there was some sort of mystery to be revealed later. A perfect example of that was Maz having Anakin’s light saber. When Han asked Maz how she got that, she said, “A good question for another time.” Many people assumed that they would get answers in a later movie. I assumed that was a cop out on the part of the writers.
However, if their original plan was to have Rey’s parents be unimportant, I think they should have stepped in to modify the expectations of people in the film. They played with fire by the way they baited fans in interviews. For example, J.J Abrams stated that Rey’s parents are not in The Force Awakens and then he backtracked and said, “Well, she doesn’t discover them.” Interviewers asked Daisy Ridley unknown numbers of times about her parents. If her parents were not central to the plot, they should have authorized her to flat out state that they weren’t important. Rian Johnson tried to state this when he said that Rey’s parents were important to Rey, but Disney could have been far more forceful a long time ago to try to shape the way the fans were interpreting the film. They definitely messed up in their marketing.
Now, of course, there is some argument that Rey’s parents could still be significant. Many people argue that Kylo Ren is an unreliable narrator, which is true. I still think that Disney wants to go into the realm of Rey nobody so that they can have other, non-Skywalker (or Kenobi or Palpatine) force users arise. Think about the little boy at the end of the film. He is clearly a Force user. They don’t want to have to argue that he is Qui Gon Jinn’s love child or something. Eventually they will run out of Force users. We know that they are making another trilogy that does not center around the Skywalkers. In order to do that, they need to make it clear that there are other Force users who are not related to previous characters.
I think it would be a good idea for fans to revisit The Force Awakens anew and wonder if Rey’s parents were really as important as we made them out to be.