One of the most common objections to Rey being a Skywalker is that it would mean Luke had abandoned her on Jakku, destroying his noble and heroic character. However, this is not the only possible option for the story of Rey’s separation from her father, and there are, in fact, hints within the films that point a different direction.
Ever since The Force Awakens, people have objected to Rey being Luke’s daughter on the grounds that it would mean he abandoned her on Jakku. Many have proposed that perhaps Luke didn’t know he had a daughter – perhaps Rey’s mother left Luke before he knew she was pregnant. While possible, we think this is unlikely on narrative grounds;namely, it only weakly links Rey to the events that led to the Skywalker family downfall. We firmly think Rey’s tragic loss is intrinsic to the entire backstory of the Sequel Trilogy, and a simple biological connection would not fit with this interpretation.
Of course, Rey being with her father up until her abandonment opens up an entire raft of questions. How did Rey end up on Jakku? Why did she think her family was coming back to her? How does this fit with Maz implying whomever Rey was waiting for and Luke were two separate people? Why couldn’t Luke sense Rey was alive through the Force?
Even prior to the blog’s creation, our members proposed various theories to answer these questions. While The Last Jedi did little to directly affirm or refute those theories, there were some elements that are highly indicative. Here, I will lay out the parts of the backstory that we have a consensus on and what we think supports that consensus. We’re currently planning to do a full round table by the Council to provide a range of more comprehensive theories on Rey’s backstory.
What Would it Take to Break Luke Skywalker?
The one commonality between Rey Skywalker theories that posit she was separated from Luke is the assumption that Luke believed Rey to be dead. This was a core component of the leading theory – that Ben abandoned Rey during the temple massacre – immediately after The Force Awakens. As it’s unimaginable Luke would ever have stopped looking for her if he believed her alive, it’s still a necessary assumption for us to work with.
Despite first appearances, The Last Jedi is actually rather evocative in this regard. Many have opined that the reasons we were given are insufficient to account for Luke’s complete disillusionment and despair. On this we fully agree. Experiencing the temple massacre and nearly losing control and killing his nephew are indeed terrible events that would knock anyone into a tailspin. However, even those hardly seem like they should be enough to completely break the man who bounced back from learning one of the most evil men in the galaxy was his father.
Further, there are anomalies in what The Last Jedi shows us if we are to believe Rian when he states Luke was 100% the same character we observed in the Original Trilogy. One of the keys that allowed Luke to turn Vader was the connection he formed with him that allowed Luke to sense and eventually reach the good in Vader. We saw this deep, familial connection again with Leia and the unborn Ben in Life Debt. Yet Luke states he only saw glimpses of the darkness inside Ben, until he looked inside. How is it that Luke could sense the tiny bit of good in Vader and yet had glimpses of the growing darkness inside Ben? Worse, Luke implies Ben was not the only student to fall, as several students went with him. What was going on with Luke that multiple students fell to the dark side without Luke noticing? It is also worth noting that in the flashback where Luke considers killing Ben, his mechanical hand is already missing its artificial skin, suggesting prior physical trauma. The fact that Luke’s hand was damaged prior to his self imposed exile, a time when he would have presumably had access to medical facilities where the skin could be replaced, and that he neglected to have it repaired suggests mental and emotional trauma as well.
Together these details indicate something was already deeply wrong with Luke. The man who saved his father through their emotional connection seems to have withheld that same connection from his own nephew (much like Luke withheld it from Rey until the end of The Last Jedi, pushing her into the arms of the person who did form a connection – Kylo). By that night it would seem Luke was already doing what he could to hold himself together.
If Luke was already emotionally compromised, then the next question is what happened? Again, The Last Jedi provides some subtle nudges. In the third flashback, Luke reveals the truth of his actions that night – after looking into Ben’s mind, he ignited his saber and nearly killed his nephew. There is one other time we’ve seen Luke get pushed over the edge – when Vader threatened to find and turn Leia. The only time Luke has lost control and gone into a murderous rage is when his loved ones were directly threatened. Now it may be that Luke saw a vision of Ben threatening what Luke loves, yet Luke’s state suggests something has already happened. Let’s look at the scene a little closer:
I saw darkness. I’d sensed it building in him. I’d seen it in moments during his training. But then I looked inside, and it was beyond what I ever imagined.
First, note that Luke said he looked inside. He went to the sleeping Ben and looked into his mind. Why would Luke see a vision if he’s looking into Ben’s mind? If it’s something Ben is planning, why couldn’t Luke tell that? The sounds we hear are rather coherent if it’s just something Ben was planning. Was Ben’s imagination really that vivid? It makes far more sense in our view that Luke didn’t see the future or Ben’s imaginings, but memories of something Ben had already done or witnessed. In this context, Luke’s actions make far more sense, he wasn’t acting out of fear of what might happen, he was reacting out of grief and rage at what had already happened.
Snoke had already turned his heart. He would bring destruction, and pain, and death, and the end of everything I love because of what he will become. And for the briefest moment of pure instinct, I thought I could stop it.
On the face of it, this would seem to support the idea Luke saw the future. Yet, Rian himself asked an interesting question on Twitter: “What did Luke say he saw?” The answer is, Luke didn’t say what he saw. The lines must also be understood in the context of the frame of reference Luke is speaking from – the present. As of the present, Ben, as Kylo, has destroyed what Luke loved. (1) Thus we’re left to wonder why Luke thought Snoke had already turned Ben’s heart and was so certain he would bring death and destruction. Luke, of all people, should know the future is always in motion which leaves us with the answer that he was certain because Ben had already done something terrible.
Let the Past Die
During the third flashback, you can hear sounds of battle. Yet, if you listen closely, it sounds like a brief fight between two people. First there’s a male yell or cry, then two sabers clashing and finally a woman screaming. The kicker is the woman’s scream is played again when Ben knocks the hut down and the scene transitions back to Rey and Luke. From Luke’s reaction, we surmise the woman was someone important to him.
Who is this mystery woman? Again, there are clues in the soundtrack. During the first lesson, when Rey says the cave is calling to her, you can hear a series of screeches. If you listen closely, it’s actually a woman screaming… and, at the very end, the scream of a young girl. Our belief is the screams we hear from Luke and Rey’s perspectives are the same event. We’re hearing the death of Luke’s love and Rey’s mother, and Ben was at least partially responsible. (2, 3)
Buried Too Soon
One objection any Rey Skywalker theory must contend with is “Why couldn’t Luke sense Rey was alive in the Force?” Dating back to my first full Rey Skywalker theory in April 2016, I’ve proposed Rey suffered severe Force related trauma and inadvertently cut herself off. My first theory proposed Rey suppressed it when her mother was killed, although subsequent theories explored other methods. Ironically, The Last Jedi lends support to this first theory – Rey sensed her mother dying and suppressed her Force connection to deal with the pain. First, Luke deliberately suppresses his own connection so Rey cannot sense him in the movie. Second, the screams of a woman combined with the little girl screaming in the first lesson scene suggest Rey did indeed witness her mother’s death in some way.
In a similar vein, other council members have theorized there’s something about Jakku that has been shielding Rey’s presence in the Force. It’s also possible she suffered significant Force trauma in other ways. Perhaps she was part of an experiment gone wrong in one of the Imperial facilities on Jakku, such as the Observatory. It’s even possible Luke suppressed her Force presence in an attempt to hide her from Force-sensitive assailants, they were separated, and it left him unable to determine if she was even alive.
There are still many questions to be covered, but the core elements of how Rey’s past intertwines with that of her family are there. Rather than making Rey incidental to the Skywalker’s tragic past, either as a nobody or the daughter Luke never knew he had, this explanation makes her central to the Skywalker family’s state in the Sequel Trilogy. Further, it explains many of the issues people have brought up with Luke’s character and avoids making him responsible for her loss. Best of all, we believe The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens lend direct support to this explanation. In a coming article we will explore a number of theories that seek to answer questions not covered here, such as what connection the Falcon has to her abandonment (4) and what happened to her after her mother was killed. (5)
- ‘Will’ makes no grammatical sense here. Either Luke is talking in the context of the present, in which case Kylo hasn’t caused pain and destruction yet and the use of the conditional verb ‘would’ is incorrect or he’s talking from the frame of the past in which case he should use present tense in the next sentence.
- Ben’s complicity also helps explain why he wouldn’t tell Rey if he knows who she is. Any chance of her joining him would disappear if she learned he was directly responsible for everything she had suffered.
- Although outside the scope of this article, a chance inclusion from an earlier script in the novelization sheds light on why he did it: jealousy.
- Kylo’s angry response to seeing the Falcon in The Last Jedi – “Blast that piece of junk out of the sky!” – strongly suggest he has a longstanding grudge against the ship and is likely responsible for ‘losing’ it.
- The easiest explanation for why Rey thinks her family is coming back for her on Jakku and no one looked for her there is she was moved to a Jakku from a different world and never realized it.