J.J. Abrams on Why He Made Rey’s Parents [SPOILER ALERT] in The Rise of Skywalker

There are big spoilers ahead folks. If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker yet, stop reading. If that’s the case, you can read this primer on what you need to remember about the major plot points in Star Wars before seeing Rise. 

So arguably one of the biggest questions that has been around since J.J. Abrams kicked off the new trilogy with The Force Awakens in 2015 is who Rey (Daisy Ridley)’s parents are. When we met her in Force, she was an orphan, a scavenger eeking out a hardscrabble life on Jakku. We soon came to realize that Rey is special, with major powers we’d usually only seen in Jedis (or Sith Lords). So the identity of her missing parents was a big deal. Is she a Skywalker? Is she a Kenobi?

Then in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, Rey’s main antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)—another very powerful Force user/abuser, and the son of Leia and Han Solo—told her that her parents were nobodies, a couple of drunks who sold her into slavery for drinking money and were dead in a pauper’s grave on Jakku. He was trying to manipulate her into coming over to the Dark Side, but he was also telling us that Rey’s immense powers had nothing to do with any special lineage. It was a major reveal because Johnson was saying that Rey wasn’t special because she hailed from some potent lineage of Jedis, but was special because of who she was, period. Johnson’s entire film was about more or less regular people (save a Leia here and a Chewie there) being heroes. J.J. Abrams completely changed this in The Rise of Skywalker.

In Rise, we learn that Rey does, in fact, come from seriously powerful stock. In fact, she’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine himself, the homicidal Sith Lord who came back from the dead in The Rise of Skywalker. Palpatine survived Darth Vader throwing him down a shaft in Return of the Jedi and was now at the head of a vast fleet of powerful new ships, prepared, once more, to take over the galaxy. Palpatine’s grand plan was to coax his granddaughter Rey into murdering him, then pouring his life force into her and turning her into the Empress of a Sith army. This is about as significant a departure from Johnson’s take on Rey’s origins as you could get.

Here’s what Abrams said at a recent Academy screening:

“I think one of the themes of the movie is that anyone can be anything regardless of where you’re from, and I don’t know if it resonates for everyone but I think there are quite a few people who appreciate that idea of not coming from a place that you’re not particularly excited about following or proud of. And though I completely understand ‘you’re nobody’ is a devastating thing, to me the more painful, the more shocking thing was the idea that you’re from the worst possible place. And is that thing that you feel that you know is part of you somehow, that you’re haunted by, is that your destiny? And the idea that there are things more powerful than blood, as Luke says, that thing was a really important thing to convey for us.”

You can see Abrams’ reasoning and appreciate it. Finding out you’re related to a monster is rough, and wondering if you’re also monstrous and if it’s your destiny to become the thing you hate is plenty potent. But you could also argue that Rey coming from a couple of no good drunks who sold her into slavery was already hard enough for her to deal with. Abrams and his co-writer Chris Terrio connected Rey directly to the most powerful and awful of all Star Wars characters. He explained his reasoning further:

“This whole trilogy, 7, 8, and 9, is really sort of about the generation that follows the Great Generation, and the idea of bringing balance to the force—which is the whole point of the Chosen One, Anakin, and the original trilogy. What I loved was the idea that balance brought to the force doesn’t mean that it’s forever. It’s not immediately everlasting, and I think the idea that if we’re not careful, the ultimate evil will rise again. We have to be proactive in doing what we can to maintain the balance, and how does the generation that follows the Great Generation do that? The idea that these two main characters, both the grandchildren of these crucially important characters, Palpatine and Skywalker, the idea of these two houses coming together in this next generation felt like there was an inevitability to it. And if one were to watch I through IX 50 or 100 years from now, hopefully, you’d feel like these stories were inevitable.” 

While the internet is currently rife with takes and critiques and reviews of The Rise of Skywalker, you can at least understand why Abrams and Terrio made the decisions they made. And he might be right—perhaps, with a little critical distance, one might be able to watch the entire, epic 9-film cycle and find the ending to The Rise of Skywalker utterly satisfying.

Needless to say, the film is in theaters everywhere.

If you’ve got a hankering for more Star Wars, well, we’ve got a lot. Check out these three new behind-the-scene images. If you don’t mind potential spoilers, check out this new clip featuring Kylo Ren and a certain legendary character of yore. Behold some epic lightsaber action. These 8 new photos include the mysterious Knights of Ren. Check out Rey rocking the double-edged lightsaber, glimpse these four new photos (including the flying Stormtrooper), watch this clip of Leia holding a lightsaber (and more), or this clip of flying Stormtroopers, read about Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and writer/director J.J. Abrams meeting with George Lucas, watch the Knights of Ren and a Sith Trooper in action, behold the new character posters, read this helpful Star Wars timeline, watch the latest TV spot, read our breakdown of the final trailer, watch the final trailer itself, read our break down of a bunch of new images, and a have look at Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)’s complicated relationship.

Featured image: Daisy Ridley is Rey in STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Courtesy Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.

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