Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Awakening: On Rey, geneology, and why her parents don't matter in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There be spoilers here.

No, seriously. A multitude of spoilers. Do not read on if you do not wish for spoilers.

Did I mention about the spoilers?  Because I'm not holding back or using spoiler font. Only read this if you've already seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens or don't mind spoilers or don't give a fiddly about the Star Wars universe and are just here for the cursing. Except there's probably not that much cursing.


As I was born in 1976, Star Wars has been a thing for all of my life - from "I love you"/"I know to Ewoks and midichlorians, the good, bad, and ugly of this space mythology/science fiction saga has enchanted the geeks I grew up with. In my household, we've eagerly awaited J.J. Abrams's addition to the universe and lost our girl-power marbles when we first caught a glimpse of Rey. But now Star Wars: The Force Awakens is also the source of some consternation as my daughters ask #wheresrey and a dude from Facebook mansplains to me that I can get Pop Vinyl Rey toys so I really shouldn't complain about the difficulty in finding the few mass-produced, non-collector's edition action figures for my ladies. Then my youngest girl child came home with a bobble head Rey and I went into a #smashthepatriarchy funk. As I witnessed yet another group of Star Wars fans discuss Rey's potential genealogy, I realized that I have a few things to say.

Of course Rey's genealogy intrigues me. Star Wars mythology called our attention to the Skywalker saga and how people are related is a key theme of this universe. As the parentage of Kylo Ren is known - and an essential plot line - viewers are left wondering about the family backgrounds of both Rey (who waits for her parents) and Finn (who never knew his parents). While a variety of theories about Finn's father abound, the true focus of commentary has been on Rey and there is much speculation regarding whether she is a Solo or a Skywalker.

I'm not here to do that. In fact, I think doing so undermines her agency as a key character in this Star Wars universe. As the audience watches Rey awaken, what is important is not her lineage, but her connection with the Force. In fact, continued discussions about Rey's mother and father tend to downplay Rey's power as something passed down, of which she is a passive recipient. Rather than acknowledging the rather tremendous (and strangely controlled, considering Luke's origin story) moment of Rey's awakening, fans appear to be focused on the occasion of Rey's actual, physical birth. This may be a good moment for us to remember that the movie is not called The Force is Born.

While the stories of the original series and the prequels were tied up in the saga of a single family, the films have always largely been about power and balance. The Force. Mythology envisioned through a family line was important, but now is an excellent time for J.J. Abrams and the Star Wars universe to take a step away from some of the ideas of the past and into a new arena where women are actualized and fully realized participants. To fully balance The Force, one must acknowledge its existence outside of the stories we've already seen. These are but a small sliver of the larger universe, and it's time for the films to acknowledge how the Skywalker/Solo/Organa trio fits into something much larger than themselves.

Incidentally, I think (or hope?) it is -- which is why Rey's genealogy does not matter. My theory?  Rey's genetic line is an intentional distraction from her origin story that we glimpse when she first touches Luke's lightsaber and her mental walls begin to falter. There are three key images in her vision: A world on its side, the Knights of Ren massacre, and Kylo Ren in the forest. My theory? Rey's a survivor of the massacre, a padawan learner hidden from herself and others. This explains the familial-like connections and protective natures of Solo and Organa, while still allowing that Rey is not, in fact, family. If mental walls were used to protect Rey and they began to falter once she touched the lightsaber, Kylo Ren's awkward fumbling brought everything down so that Rey could tap into her own, partially-trained, power.

It also allows for a fairly entrenched story to stretch outside of its previous grounding - and restore balance to a universe in which there are far more stories to tell. Remember, after all, these tales come from  Disney, who intends to spend many, many years telling them. Am I right? I guess we wait and find out. Chances are good Disney will stick with the Skywalker saga. It's like an old, comfortable pair of shoes worth over $4 billion. But if Disney wants to continue creating compelling films, they might consider breaking out of patriarchal story lines and trying something new. I think that General Leia would approve.

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