TLJ Character Studies #3: Rey

I came out of The Force Awakens with Rey having solidly become one of my favourite STar Wars characters ever. She was up there with Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme and Ahsoka for me. So I begged my family to let me write this post because I had so much to say about Rey’s development during The Last Jedi after the first viewing. Upon the second and third viewing I saw even more details that I was simply bursting to write about. Hence I can’t quite promise that this post will be utterly streamlined and organised, but it will, hopefully, be full of interesting analysis and insights! If you want to see the previous character studies we wrote about Luke and Finn, please follow those links. We also have a non-spoiler and spoiler review, and it should actually go without saying that THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Now, before we start looking at The Last Jedi, let’s quickly refresh ourselves on the basics of what The Force Awakens taught us about Rey:

  • She is smart and resourceful. She can survive on one of the most desolate planets in the Galaxy by constantly adapting to her environment. She makes an AT-At husk her home, she speaks various languages and can work through hardship. When she discovers a new Force power within her, she learns how to adapt to it and use it alongside the skills she already has.
  • She is kind, inquistive and joyful. She cares for a droid she only just met and she doesn’t brag about saving Finn from Rathtars. She is enthusiastic about the things she sees, like the greenness of Takodana or fixing the Falcon, and clearly wants to see and experience more.
  • She is determined and loyal. Although only knowing Finn and Han Solo for a short time, she wants to help and protect them. Despite not knowing much about the Resistance and it never having seemingly done anything for her, she dedicates herself to their cause.

Although there is much more to her character of course, these three characteristics stood out to me and made her such a role model for myself and girls and women across the globe. So how does Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi build on that?

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Rey’s journey starts right where she ended in The Last Jedi, meeting Luke and wanting him to help her and the Resistance. She has arrived there with full faith in Luke training her and coming with her to save the Galaxy. (Very similar to much of the audience, probably.) And yet what she finds is not what she expects. Luke is not what she wants him to be. While following him around, she feels the Force guiding her to a hollowed out tree that contains the ancient Force texts. It takes her a long time to tell Luke why she exactly is there. I wanted to share her whole speech with you because it’s definitely worth of further assessment but I can’t find it online and don’t want to just paraphrase it. Hence that will have to wait for a later post and we’ll just look at the quote below.

‘Something inside me has always been there, but now it’s awake and I need help.’

Rey is scared, as anyone in her position would be. She took a step into this enormous world and discovered she has enormous powers she doesn’t know that much about. She wants help, she wants guidance, someone to guide her. In a sense, she is indeed still looking for a parent. She doesn’t get what she wants from Luke, rather she learns a number of important lessons from him in the time that she’s on Ahch-To. Namely that the heroes you look up to may not be who you thought they were, that the Force is balance, that death coexists with life, and that abandoning what you believe in also means abandoning who you are. She sees Luke, who has cut himself off from the Force, from his family and friends, the whole Galaxy and from the Resistance, and he is indeed an empty shell of who he was. What I loved about this is that 1) I think it’s an understandable development for Luke, and 2) it shows Rey to not let go of the things that make her Rey. Throughout her stay with Luke she continues to be adaptable, kind, determined and inquisitive. She wants him to come back to the Resistance, she switches her lightsaber for her staff to see what she can do with it, she explores both the Light and the Dark side, and she shows a kindness and understanding to Kylo that is fascinating (More on the latter below and in a later post.)

The main scene I want to look at when it comes to Rey’s development and her time on Ahch-To is her time in the Mirror Cave. When Luke first encourages her to reach out to the Force she feels the balance and the energy, but she also feels the darkness and how it wants to show her something. Luke is outraged that she didn’t even hesitate to follow it, but I think it shows Rey’s braveness. After a Force-bond conversation with Kylo about truth, she decides to go down there, to the Mirror Cave, and learn what it has to tell her. What I mean with braveness is that it takes an incredible amount of bravery to face what you fear, to expose yourself to your own darkest secrets and fears. It is what Luke does in The Empire Strikes Back when he goes into the cave and faces “Darth Vader” who turns out to have his face. He confronts his fear that there is evil within him. This is a big topic in literature and cinema, think of Harry Potter being afraid that he should truly be in Slytherin and is just like Lord Voldemort. Rey goes down to the Mirror Cave and goes “into” it, actively stepping into her worst nightmare. There she finds an endless repetition of herself, seemingly copying her every movement. But as she tells Kylo, she isn’t afraid, she knows it has to lead somewhere. The Last Jedi consistently drops these kinds of hints about Rey’s strong believe in meaning and in purpose. She knows this is all leading to something, that eventually she will get the answers she needs, as long as she believes. And so she perseveres until she reaches the front of the line with another mirror. She begs this mirror to show her her parents, yet all the mirror reveals to her is herself. And in a sense it crushes her. In a previous post I talked about the power it would have to make Rey a “no one”. Rey hungers for more, wants to be recognised and loved, wants to contribute and make a difference, and in a sense she has always felt that her parents should show her her place in this world, that they would be able to show her what to do and how. And now she finds out her parents are no one, have no role to play in her life, that it is all up to her. And this is heartbreaking. As she says, she has never felt so alone. There is nowhere for her to automatically call home, no one whose job it is to look after her. It’s all on her. And the beautiful thing is that Rey works through that. Kylo tries to use it later on to convince her to join him (again, more on that later), but he is unsuccessful because throughout her whole life Rey has built up who she is. Despite having no one to help her, Rey knows who she is and what she believes. Yes, she was left, she was abandoned, all she has is herself. And yet she is working on building herself a life. Her kindness, her smarts, her joy have helped her to escape her life on Jakku, have helped her to make friends ofpeople like Finn and Han, and have allowed her to try and find her own place, in her own right, in this Galaxy. Just because no one put her there through birth, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a place (and this is where Kylo was wrong and manipulative). Even the smallest person can change the course of the future. (Yes, I just paraphrased Gandalf, deal with it!) This has always been the message of Star Wars and Rey’s realisation throughout The Last Jedi that she, who comes from nowhere, wields a power and can use it how she sees fit, is incredibly important! In a sense it is this awareness that it’s just her that allows her to open up to Kylo, to judge Luke for his failings and take a course of action that will impact at the very least Kylo Ren’s character development for the rest of the trilogy.

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Something that touched me incredibly was a small moment just before a Force-bond encounter, previous to the scene above, with Kylo Ren. She is standing under the Falcon, sheltered from the rain of Ahch-To. She stretches out her hand to feel the rain and smiles. It is a tiny moment, seemingly inconsequential to the plot but it tells us so much about Rey. She is still enamoured with this Galaxy she is discovering. This plenitude of rain fills this girl from a desert planet with joy. Despite everything that’s happening, she can still find joy in the small things, appreciate what others might complain about.  The same thing happens when she expresses her excitement in the Falcon shooting down Tie-fighters. It shows that Rian Johnson and the Story Group do truly understand her character and it brought me to the brink of tears as much as the quote from The Force Awakens below did;

I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole Galaxy.

Rey is naive, but not in the way you might think. According to the dictionary, naive means lacking wisdom, experience or judgement. Now, this seems a very harsh judgement on anyone but truly look at it. Naive is often used on young people, and in a sense that isn’t wrong. Many young people do lack the crucial experience and wisdom to make the right call in many situations. However, it is almost always used as a pejorative, to make young people feel bad when they do try and learn, try to experience and try to make judgements. It is used to ridicule people, cut them down when they put themselves out there. (I just need to mention Leia does excellently at letting Poe get all the experiences he needs to truly become a leader. That is how you teach young people!) Now think back to who the word ‘naive’ was used on in Star Wars. It was Padmé Amidala in The Phantom Menace.

Queen Amidala is young and naive.You will find controlling her is not difficult.

Palpatine, in the guise of Darth Sidious, says this about Padmé at the very beginning of The Phantom Menace and then finds, throughout the whole film and even Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, that the very opposite is true. Padmé is a determined young woman, who knows what she wants and knows what she believes in. This allows her to be an inspiration to those around her and to find her way through all kinds of opposition. I loved her for that and I love Rey for the same reasons. You might wonder at this digression, but I think it’s crucial to understanding some of the reasons behind what Rey does, and also at some people’s disgruntlement over those acts.

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After connecting with Kylo Ren through the Force bond, trusting him with her experiences in the Mirror Cave and touching hands with him, seeing what she believes to be his future, she decides to go to him. She confronts Luke and finds out what really happened at his Temple, and then gets on the Falcon. She jettisons herself in a pod to the Supremacy to convince Kylo to join her. Now, there is a sense of naivety behind those actions and she has been, unjustly, judged harshly for that. She doesn’t know the extent of the control Snoke has over Kylo, she doesn’t even know how truthful Kylo was with her. But, importantly, she has dealt with disappointments and hardship her whole life and come out of it with hope and faith in herself. She has to, in a sense, believe that what she has seen is right, that good can defeat bad, that there is a chance of redemption for everyone and that she can help. She faces the potential she might be wrong and that she might be heading to defeat, but she does it in the way that Luke does when he tells Yoda he has to go to Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda and Obi-Wan don’t want him to go, but Luke feels that what he is about to do is right. Vader held Leia and Han captive to lure him and knowing that means he has to go and help them.

‘I can help them. I feel the Force. … [Obi-Wan tells them he will have to go alone and they can’t help.] I understand. I will return, I promise.’

In The Empire Strikes Back Luke learns crucial lessons through his encounter with Darth Vader and his mission to Cloud City. And the same counts for Ret. She goes to the Supremacy and to Kylo Ren with hope and with a plan. When she arrives there it seems she is all wrong and that her plan might well fail. Kylo leads her straight to Snoke, yet even in the elevator she is convinced her vision was right, that she can help him see the light. She defends herself, Luke and Kylo against Snoke, no matter the tortures he puts her through. She doesn’t give up, she reaches for her own lightsaber and for Kylo’s, dedicated to fighting the evil she sees. Again, we see Rey being convinced by her beliefs, that evil can be fought and that you have to hold on to what you believe to be right. And her faith in him as well as the revelations her presence triggers, Kylo acts. When Kylo kills Snoke instead of her, she fights with him against the Guards and then wants to take him with her to save the Resistance fleet. She believes in him and is willing to take him with her. Then came a scene that was incredibly important to me.

After The Force Awakens I was completely against a potential link or relationship between Rey and Kylo. He tortured her, got into her head and denigrated her. He feels better than her until the very end, when she proves that her skills at adapting and connecting to the Force can beat his unbound anger. (Even then he and many fanboys  were mad about it.) I thought their Force-bond was built up very well, she lets her out her anger at him, she confronts him about Han’s death but she can also see beyond his costume. She decides to trust him and reach out, echoing back to her kindness and understanding set up in The Force Awakens. When it comes to Kylo (who I will write a post about later this week), he is shown to be conflicted and confused, but his anger stays on. He is still dangerous because he is out of control. Rey gives him a chance in The Last Jedi and when that scene in Snoke’s throne room came I wondered if Johnson and the Story Group were going to “bring them together”. So what really happens there? They have defeated Snoke and his Guards and now the question is, what’s next? Rey wants to save the fleet, it is about saving the cause, saving those she loves. Kylo has just lost his mentor and now he wants to let it all go, let it all burn down and come out victorious by being the last one standing. He asks her to join him, begs her, even. His desperation and confusion is obvious to Rey and the audience. And Rey stays strong. Although she believed in him enough to go into enemy territory to try and help him, she cannot and will not sacrifice her personal beliefs. She asks him not to do this, to not go down that path. (In all honesty, this felt like a throwback to Padmé in Revenge of the Sith asking Anakin not to go down a path she can’t follow. I see you, Story Group!) So instead of accepting him and his plan, they both reach for Anakin’s lightsaber. Now, there has been outrage about Rey even potentially accepting Kylo. I agree he is quite horrendous, in the way Anakin was also utterly horrendous at times during the Prequel Saga. But the way Luke saw the light in Darth Vader, she sees the light in Kylo and she will go as far as she can to save him. And no further. And that is the most important thing!! It is so important for people, not just women, to learn you can only support someone so far. When what they ask goes against everything you believe in, you cannot continue to support them. And so Rey doesn’t. For her, the Resistance, her love for her friends, they are too important to sacrifice. And so she returns to them, she goes to help them and saves them.

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For some people the idea she might understand Kylo goes against what they believe Rey would do. And I understand we all have our different concepts of who characters are. But throughout The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi we have seen that Rey does not deal in absolutes. When the Dark Side wants to show her something, she is willing to look at it. In a sense, she is willing to confront her darkest demons, her biggest insecurities, but she comes out of them with her principles still in tact. By the end of The Last Jedi she has grown a new understanding, and appreciation, for Kylo Ren and how he feels. Rather than this swaying her, it has made her wiser. She is no longer as naive, perhaps, as she was before. She knows what it’s like to wholeheartedly believe in something and have it disappointed. But it doesn’t destroy her belief in everything else. She leaves Kylo, but she doesn’t kill him. I think she still believes he can turn, and she closes the Falcon door on him because he has no place beside her and the Resistance right now. He does not deserve that, he is still very much in the wrong. But I don’t think she closes it with disgust or hatred. Rather, she is resigned to the fact he is not there yet. And she won’t hold his hand as he finds his way, but maybe she will be there when he himself makes the choice to turn. Meanwhile, her place is still with the Resistance, with Finn and Leia, Poe and Rose, and with their cause.

Rey ends The Last Jedi much stronger than she starts it. The movie dismantles the mysteries and hierarchies, in some ways, of the previous movies and allows its new characters to shine in their own right. And Rey, as a “nobody” learns how to continue to deal with her own powers, how to learn from her mistakes, how to believe in herself and others. She has learned a lot throughout the film, from Luke, from her encounters with Kylo, and in the end we see her with Leia. This is one of the first moments Rey allows herself to feel some despair and Leia helps her. In a sense, Leia and Rey are quite similar, in the way that Rey and Padmé and Leia and Padmé are. Just because they’re not related doesn’t mean they can’t share qualities. All of them have suffered and lost, have struggled and persevered, and Leia is able to pass some of her hope and resilience on to not just Poe, but also Rey. Throughout the Originals and Sequels, Leia has consistently stuck to her principles and fought what she has believed in.vHer resilience is an inspiration to those around her and her kindness allows people to learn from her. In that scene Leia tells Rey

We have everything we need right here.’

Although perhaps not meant that way, it also means Rey has everything she needs. Rey doesn’t need a grand parentage, she doesn’t need a legendary master. Yoda says that everything Rey needs is inside of her and The Last Jedi proves that’s true. She is kind, she is resourceful, she is smart and she is powerful. And although she may passionately and foolhardily believe in things a part of the audience feels may be naive, she trusts herself. And I don’t think I could ask for anything better in a Star Wars heroine.

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16 thoughts on “TLJ Character Studies #3: Rey

  1. I really really wish Lucasfilm would find a way for her character to receiving training on how to channel the Force. I don’t care how much “raw power” she possesses. Having potential is one thing. Learning how to use or channel that potential or power is another. She also needs to understand what the Force really means. She needs a mentor. A guru. I’m still uneasy by Luke’s unrealistic training from the Original Trilogy.

    Rey doesn’t need a grand parentage, she doesn’t need a legendary master.

    I agree that Rey does not require a grand parentage. After all, Anakin did not have one. But if Rey is not a Skywalker, why on earth did Disney and Lucasfilm allow this new trilogy to be a part of the Skywalker family saga? What is the point? Honestly, they could have just let the Skywalker family story ALONE and allow this trilogy to be regarded as one featuring a new cast of characters and perhaps the occasional cameo from the saga’s first six films . . . like “Rogue One”.

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  2. I couldn’t understand why some critics felt Rey wasn’t the focus of the movie, then i realised that those self-same critics are fanboys. Rey is very much her own person, she grew up alone, self reliant, dependent on only her own internal strength, and what strength! I felt that when she called on the Force during her fight with Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens, she scared him, hence his fascination with her. I felt that Rey really does want to connect with him, but not with the Kylo Ren that he has become, but the Ben Solo she knows is still there. Will she do it? It’s Disney, where the good guys win, but it will be a bumpy ride. As Luke Skywalker says “This is not going to go the way you think”.
    More Rey please.


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