By chance or possibly fate, John Derrick saw his first episode of Doctor Who on the day he was born. The nerd has been strong with him ever since. When he’s not busy co-writing superhero stories with Rachael Derrick, he’s probably training their 5 year-old Padawan, Cal. Rachael & John’s first novel, Bounceback, about a woman sent back in time to relive her teenage life with brand new superpowers, is available now at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1074366999 .
The first time I saw The Force Awakens, I emerged from the theater wanting desperately for the next movie to reveal Rey to be Luke Skywalker’s lost daughter. Two years later, I saw The Last Jedi and emerged ready to fight anyone who would attempt to impose an important bloodline on her backstory. (Space Weehawken, dawn, lightsabers drawn.)
I literally do not remember a time in my life before Luke Skywalker. In my baby book, my mom chronicled my own retellings of the films when I was 2 years old, when apparently I would tell anyone who would listen about the adventures of Luke and “Mr. Detoo.” In middle school, I devoured the Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn and others, and wrote fanfic about Luke marrying Mara Jade years before their relationship became canon. Before Mara had an action figure, I would sub in Beverly Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, scale differences be damned.
Before the dark times. Before the prequels. Before the tie-in novels changed publishers and turned grimmer than I cared for and killed off too many of the newer characters, Mara included. The light in my fandom went out for the most part, though this did not stop me from writing a paper in college describing my identification with Luke Skywalker as the great chicken-and-egg paradox of my life. Did I love Luke because he reminded me of me? Or did he remind me of me because I loved him and patterned my attitude and moral outlook on this fictional character I first encountered at an impressionable age? I’ll probably never know, but my professor loved the piece.
When The Force Awakens came out, my love for Star Wars was like the Jedi themselves: a fire that had dwindled until only a spark remained, ready to be fanned by and for a new generation. My own son was barely a year old. As we got to know Rey, I was overjoyed that this young woman, so kind, brave and caring when life and the galaxy had given her so many reasons not to be any of those things, would be my son’s Luke Skywalker, the hero of his generation.
And I was sure — mostly sure … at least a healthy 77% sure — that Rey would turn out to be Luke Skywalker’s child as well. Everyone knew Star Wars was a generational saga, and The Force Awakens seemed full of meaningful glances in that direction. Take the moment in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon as it flies over the forest surrounding Maz’s castle when Rey says, “I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole galaxy.” Han Solo looks back at her, and his eyes seem to say, What did we do to our family?
The thought that my son’s hero could actually be the child of my own was too perfect. Ideally, we would learn her mother had been some multiversal variant of Mara Jade. Even better if this new Mara turned out to still be alive. Given the corporate calculus that had led Disney to wipe the former Star Wars expanded universe slate mostly clean, I realized the odds against Mara’s inclusion were approximately 3,720 to 1. But nevertheless, the thought was there.
Mostly I just wanted the daddy-child hero thing. Right up until the moment in The Last Jedi when Kylo Ren asks Rey to confront the truth about her parents:
Kylo Ren: You know the truth. Say it.
Rey: They were nobody.
Kylo Ren: They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a paupers’ grave in the Jakku desert. You have no place in this story. You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me. Join me. Please.
The first time I heard those words, an entire reality reconfigured itself in my head. Like the newly left-handed Luke in Cloud City learning the truth of his own parentage, I was tempted to write. But it wasn’t like that at all. More like Leia on Endor, realizing Luke was her brother — something she’d always known, or should have (which could have made episodes IV and V a little less awkward for everybody). I realized immediately that Rian Johnson had made the right choice. Rey couldn’t be Luke’s kid, or anyone else’s. This is the story the world needs right now, far more than I need to see myself and my kid mirrored in my heroes. This is how Star Wars levels up.
Rey from nowhere is the hero of a generation imperiled by the greatest disparities in income and political significance this world has ever known. In the real world, wealthy families believe lineage matters. They teach their children not to associate with people who don’t share their status because wealth is the only way to know someone has been raised with the right values. Spending time or money on anyone else is an investment with no guarantee of return. Rey from nowhere says you can take that idea and shove it, even as she rejects a place in Kylo Ren’s new order.
George Lucas famously brewed Star Wars from the classic hero’s journey archetypes outlined by Joseph Campbell and, in the process, created what is often credited as one of the few truly American mythologies. But in determining that Rey comes from nowhere and nobody, Johnson aligned the saga with the great American ideal: that anyone can make an impact on the world and be judged not by where or who they come from, but by their actions and character. We can debate whether the United States has ever lived up to this idea, but it’s where all our best stories begin.
By the light of this idea, not only is Rey illuminated as a vital heroine for our times, but we even see new depths in Han Solo. That moment in The Force Awakens, when Rey sees her first forest and Han Solo’s heart breaks for her … it turns out that’s not an uncle’s heartache or a family tragedy. It’s just a good person (as much as the old scoundrel has always tried to deny it) looking at a downtrodden kid and recognizing she deserves more — because every kid does.
I’ll always love Luke Skywalker. I’ll always love the moment in A New Hope when Luke hangs out in Old Ben’s house and finds out he’s not just another farm boy but the descendent of a great space wizard-knight, and miraculously manages not to ignite a laser sword right through his eye. That’s the moment that sets Luke’s feet on the hero’s path, and it is magic.
The moment that sets Rey’s feet on the hero’s path is a quieter one. It’s the moment in The Force Awakens when a starving girl from nowhere, a scavenger who sleeps every night in the abandoned husk of a war machine, is offered a massive pile of food in exchange for someone’s freedom, and she turns it down. That’s real heroism. That’s the kind of space wizard-knight I hope my son looks up to.
art by Faith Erin Hicks, source