**This article contains spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker – read on at your own risk**
When heading into Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, I had my concerns. Following a huge backlash to 2017’s The Last Jedi and some specific plot developments therein, would Disney and LucasFilm stick to their guns, or bow to the pressure from certain angry fans? Would JJ Abrams continue the themes laid out by Rian Johnson, or just awkwardly retcon them?
In other words, would Daisy Ridley’s Rey be given a backstory, after the last film made such a good point as to why she didn’t need one? As the lights dimmed, I held my breath – and it turned out all my worst fears had been realised.
Not only had Episode IX walked back one of my favourite revelations in Episode VIII – that Rey was not the scion of some great dynasty, but just a nobody, proving just how democratic heroism and the Force truly are – but they’d done it in an unspeakably lame way, shoehorning in a new twist which had about as much depth as an early 2016 Reddit fan theory. And not even one of the good ones!
Almost offhand, she’s told by Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren that actually, she’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, the cackling, pure-evil villain of the original trilogy. Later, Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker appears to tell her “Oh yeah, we all knew that the whole time. Total Palpatine.”
Honestly, it was the most disappointing part of the whole film for me. It was almost like a parody of the sort of theorising that cropped up after 2015’s The Force Awakens – “Oh, maybe she’s Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter,” “No, she’s definitely Kylo Ren’s cousin,” “Did Wedge Antilles have any nieces?” – and even the film seemed largely unconcerned with explaining it.
When did Palpatine have kids, and why have we never heard about any of them? If this powerful force ability is passed down by blood, why didn’t anyone else have it? And why is this information suddenly available to everyone who needs it after never being hinted at once before now?
But even if there had been a cast-iron bit of reasoning behind this twist, I still would have found it underwhelming – because frankly, I don’t think Star Wars needed any more surprise parentage twists. Back in 1981, Star Wars pulled off something amazing with the reveal that, far from being the murderer of Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader (Dave Prowse) was Anakin Skywalker, much to the shock of his son Luke (Mark Hamill).
It’s an iconic pop cultural moment, a piece of dialogue – “Luke, I am your father” – that echoes through the ages (even if that’s actually a misquote). So why would you try and do a terrible cover version today?
After revealing that the protagonist of your series is secretly related to the villain once, why on Earth (or in a galaxy far, far away) would you just… do it again but with a less popular, less current villain? How is that interesting, or new?
It was a shock to discover Vader was Luke’s father – but after that, the shocking thing to do? To reveal that Rey actually wasn’t related to one of the main cast, as Johnson did in The Last Jedi.
We had come to expect these sort of soapy twists from Star Wars, and so the only way to come close to pulling the rug out from under people in the same way as Empire is to go against the new expectations, the new status quo. The Last Jedi did that. The Rise of Skywalker did not.
Or, as Johnson himself put it in 2017: “In The Empire Strikes Back, the big revelation is ‘I am your father.’ It’s a big surprise, but I think the reason it lands is not because of that, but because it’s the hardest possible thing that Luke, and hence the audience, could hear at that moment.
“For me, if Rey had gotten the answer that she’s related to so-and-so, had learned her place in the story, that would be the easiest thing she can hear. The hardest thing to hear is, ‘Nope, this not going to define you.’”
Even The Rise of Skywalker’s script doesn’t seem particularly enthused by the Palpatine revelation, with the truth just sort of…blurted out early on and zero pathos between Rey and Sheev (the Emperor’s first name) of the kind Return of the Jedi found between Luke and Vader.
But that’s because the Emperor is a cartoon, a stereotypical cackling villain (arguably, Ian Mcdiarmid invented some of the stereotypes) – he’s not a real character with understandable thoughts and desires, so Rey’s dilemma between siding with him and her nice, normal friends never seems that realistic.
Of course, not everyone will agree with me. It’s possible some people will wade in here and say that Abrams and screenwriter Chris Terrio were doing their best with what Rian Johnson left them, and that Rey had to have some explanation for her powerful abilities in her lineage.
My reply to that would be twofold. First off, why does that need to be the case considering that almost all Jedi, by definition, didn’t inherit from other powerful Jedi? They had no wives or children. If we had to rely on breeding, no Jedi would ever exist beyond one generation, and some of the most powerful force-users we’ve ever met come from humble beginnings. The Emperor himself didn’t have powerful Jedi for parents, so why does Rey need that background to have similar abilities?
In fact, the only Jedi family we’ve even heard of in the main series (please don’t email in with Expanded Universe answers) are the Skywalkers, and that’s because Anakin broke the code to have a relationship. For some reason, fans have been obsessed with the idea that force abilities have to be passed down through families, but we’ve actually only seen it once. Why would it be so wrong for Rey’s abilities to just occur, when that’s how it works for almost all other Jedi?
And secondly, even if you do think Rey being a nobody is a bad move, you’d at least hope LucasFilm would show some gumption by sticking with it and trying to make something out of it. Instead, The Rise of Skywalker ties itself in knots trying to explain how actually Kylo had meant her family were mean drunks in a noble way, in dialogue so forced it makes Alec Guinness’ “from a certain point of view” reasoning in Return of the Jedi look perfectly reasonable.
Look – maybe, in a different trilogy, one maintained by more consistent creative decisions, this revelation might have worked. It would still have just been a watered-down version of what happens in Empire Strikes Back, sure, and less interesting thematically than what Johnson tried to do in The Last Jedi, but at least it might have made more sense and been seeded earlier.
But this is the trilogy we’re dealing with, and I don’t see why Abrams and Terrio just couldn’t let go of giving Rey a notable lineage. It makes a massive galaxy full of characters feel like an inbred small town where everyone’s connected by blood, it adds very little to the story and it’s not even pulled off particularly well in the script, which has to work incredibly hard to make it all fit.
I didn’t hate The Rise of Skywalker, but I really hated this one part of it, and it genuinely just feels so unnecessary when the Emperor, Rey and Kylo could have faced off anyway, without the backstory.
Fingers crossed that this particular plot point is even more awkwardly walked back again, if they ever make another one.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is in UK cinemas now