The Case For Rey Palpatine
NOTE: It has now been five weeks since the new Star Wars came out, and I’m finally gonna discuss the movie. There will be spoilers here; not big spoilers, but enough to make theories as to what would be interesting to happen in the next movie. If you’re still trying to avoid incidental spoilers, well, at this point you should see the movie.
So everyone has theories as to who Rey’s parents are. They’re combing through the film, looking for evidence, deciding whether Rey is a Skywalker or a Kenobi or the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker or whatever.
And let’s be honest: there’s just not enough facts on the ground here. If she turns out to be Luke Skywalker’s kid, well, nothing in the film contradicts that narrative. And if she’s Obi-Wan’s granddaughter, well, nothing in the film would contradict that, either. “Looking for evidence” is a mug’s game, because if they gave you enough evidence to decisively determine “Who Rey’s parents” were, the crowdsourced wisdom of billions of fans would conclude.
And then Episode 8 would be predictable.
However, I am a writer. And when I write, I am notorious for Not Plotting. I never know what happens next; what I do do is find the maximum point of havoc, trigger it, and then ask, “…so how do my characters get out of this mess?” As such, I am extremely skilled at determining what the most catastrophic and interesting change would be.
(If you’d like to disagree with that statement, please buy my books first, read them in their entirety, review them on Goodreads, and then come back to argue. Thank you!)
Anyway, I’m not asking, “What evidence leads me to believe that Rey is $CHARACTER’s kid?” There’s not evidence, or at least not enough of it.
I am instead asking, “If I had to choose her father/grandfather*, what decision would create the most interesting set of character reactions?”
And the most interesting reactions comes from Rey being the granddaughter of that Big Baddie, Emperor Palpatine.
See, right now, if she’s anyone else, Luke’s default mode is “Sure, I’ll train you.” You can fling some plot in the way to create tension, probably PTSD from watching his last set of students die – but Luke’s always believed in the best in people.
If Rey is Emperor Palpatine’s kid, and she just went toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren untrained and beat him, well… Luke’s gotta wonder whether training someone so unimaginably potent in the force is a good idea. The only time he beat his father is when he turned to the Dark Side, and he had a lot more training. (And remember, Luke didn’t see the battle, so he has no reason to take Rey’s word for it that she was calm.) So does he really want to take a chance on Rey, especially after what went wrong when he trained a kid with good heritage like Ben?
“I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.” That lesson gets inverted when her father was not a good man at all, ever.
So that sets up a natural tension between Luke and Rey, and it gives a reason for Luke not to be so open with Rey. The counterbalancing reasons why he should trust Rey comes down to plot, which you can manufacture easily; here, um, “Luke gave up his saber, knowing through Mysterious Force Powers that it would land in the hands of the person who needed it most, and he’s surprised to find that worthy person is Rey Palpatine.”
There. Creating plot to justify your interesting decisions is the least of an author’s powers.
The Rey Palpatine plot-take also explains why Rey’s been dumped on the ass-end of a planet in the middle of nowhere; if the First Order knew that the Emperor’s Granddaughter existed/had survived, then they would stop at nothing to find her. And they wanted to dump her in a place with no hope, because it turns out the Force is strong in this family and they do not want her to get trained. At all.
And Rey, who has always longed for her parents, waited endlessly for them, is suddenly torn to shreds. Her father, like Luke’s, is a monster – but unlike Luke, they didn’t put her on dumb-ass Sand Planet for her benefit, they put her there specifically to neuter her. All those hours toiling away for portions can be placed at the feet of whoever made that decision. She’s got a right to be angry, they told her her family was coming back and instead she was going to rot there, turn into that old lady scrubbing parts….
We don’t know who made that decision – but oh wait, we’re plotting! We can just say who it is! And we’d choose the most interesting person to make that decision, at least in terms of “Whose relationships that person making the decision would change the most,” and thaaaaaat’d be Luke.
But wait; what’s that do to her relationship with Vader-hipster Kylo Ren?
Oh, my friends, that’s the sweet sauce.
Suddenly, Kylo – who worships the ground his grandfather walked on – sees the Emperor’s granddaughter, and they are clearly Meant To Be. The irony! Goddamned Luke swayed his father back from the Dark Side just long enough for a rebellion; wouldn’t it be so luscious if he rescued Rey from Luke’s wussy Light Side tendencies to show her true heritage?
It’s unclear what Kylo Ren would want, after acquiring this information. Maybe he’s looking for an apprentice to break out from under General Gollum’s control, which would be a bit depressingly cookie-cutter; maybe he’s looking for someone stronger than him to lead. But in either case, Rey Palpatine would push every one of that kid’s “I’ve gotta out-Vader Vader” buttons hard.
…and it also provides a deeper and darker resonance for Rey shouting “You’re afraid that you will never be as strong as Darth Vader!”
(EDIT: And Holy crap, I just realized the most catastrophic plot development in this Rey-Ren-Snoke triangle:
(Envision Kylo Ren saying, “I found the Emperor’s Granddaughter, we have to protect her.” Envision Supreme Leader Snoke thinking, This chick is way too bull-headed to convert, and she’s the only real threat to my Force domination, we need to bump her off. There’s instant conflict there.
(Now imagine what happens when Kylo Ren starts a civil war in the First Order to protect the last heritage of the Great Empire. Kylo’s not a guy who thinks ahead, so he’d only recognize what he’s done to the First Order only after Snoke’s lifeless body hits the floor – and you think he hates Rey now? Oh, God, getting her and converting her would become so personal.)
Now, you’re asking, “What evidence in that movie says that Rey is Palpatine’s daughter?” And again, you’re looking in the wrong place. After the fact is made, we will retrofit every action in the movie to fit whoever Rey’s parents turn out to be – just like we now assign so much more meaning to Obi-Wan’s hesitations and sadnesses in Episode IV. But if you must…
I mean, she’s got her grandpa’s technological skills; do you think the old man built something as complex as the Death Star without understanding machines himself? And Han Solo, the way he looks at her; note that he’s adventuring with her, but is very reticent to do anything for her, until he sees the way she loves that lush green planet. After that, he asks if she’ll come with him – and in the post-Palpatine decision, that’d be viewed as a clear move to keep an eye on this kid, he likes her, now it’s time to see what she’s made of. The fact that Chewie likes her – and Chewie’s instincts are far better than his – is a sign.
In that sense, Han watching Kylo Ren walk away from Maz Kanata’s palace takes on a new light; he’s debating whether to potentially kill his son in order to save the Emperor’s granddaughter.
Leia, on the other hand, may or may not know; one would suspect she doesn’t. Or she could have been against this decision from the get-go, and instead wants her to find her destiny with Luke. Either way, if Rey turns out to be Palpatine’s kid, we’ll manufacture plot to support the decision, and viewed in retrospect we’ll all buy it.
As for Luke, well, if we go with the simple version of “His saber found the worthiest student,” well, he pulled that pseudo-mystical stuff with Artoo and can do it again. He’s a Jedi Master, and my hope is that Episode VIII will show us more than the haggard old tripartite Force powers of mind trick/telekinesis/force lightning. I’d like Luke to have some really crazy powers – and I mean, Luke did crash blindly in the one spot where Yoda was waiting, so it’s not like Yoda didn’t have some planet-scale fuckery at his disposal.
(And while we’re at it, here’s my dream Luke-plot for Episode VIII: He’s at the first Jedi Temple, where he trains Rey in all the mystical ways of the Jedi order, and it doesn’t frickin’ work. He’s teaching her just like Obi-Wan and Yoda taught him, utilizing the millennium of old Jedi teachings, and he’s baffled by why he did all that and wound up with Kylo Ren…
(Until Rey points out that hey, Luke, you’re mindlessly emulating teaching techniques that created Vader and Kylo Ren, and the only time you broke the cycle was when you ignored Obi-Wan and Yoda to go do the right thing – so maybe, just maaaaybe Luke, you should stop trying to teach me like these old blinkered fuddy-duddies and teach me like Luke Fucking Skywalker would.
(Cue Luke’s enlightenment. Cue Luke becoming an actually good teacher.)
Anyway. The point is that yeah, Rey could be a Skywalker and could be a Kenobi (my personal hope), but you have to work harder to make those alternatives interesting. Rey as Palpatine is like the old films, but like the new films it also inverts it – the difference that Rey was not sent away for her protection, but to purposely isolate her, is a huge difference, as would the relationship with Kylo Ren.
There’s no firm evidence either way. It’s just more interesting. And alas, in the ever-incestuous Star Wars universe she’s gotta be some player’s kid, because as my friend Richard noted the most shocking plot twist of all would be to have Rey’s ancestry be nobody we’ve ever seen before.
* – Alas, it has to be her father/grandfather and not her mother, as Star Wars takes place in an alternate-universe scenario where the lead roles are actually sentient insects. Don’t blame me for this theory, blame Max Gladstone.