This post obviously contains some spoilers.
People know me as that food nerd, but I was a Star Wars nerd long before I ever even picked up a knife. Like other SW fans, I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering Rey’s origins, watching, re-watching, and re-watching The Force Awakens again and again in search of clues.
In the real world Star Wars universe, Rey origin stories are as numerous as mynocks in a giant space slug’s belly, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for yet another one to come out and latch on to you. Here’s one that has been chewing on the power cables of my brain for the last 12 hours or so, ever since re-watching The Force Awakens a couple times on a cross-country flight (I knew I wasn’t getting any of the much-needed sleep I’d planned as soon as I saw the movie list):
Rey is a Palpatine.
It sounds like some Jar-Jar-is-a-Sith-level crazy when you first hear it, but there’s some pretty compelling evidence that is folded into that movie, beyond the obvious “she must come from a force-strong family” and “her origin is important” business that can be used to support most other fan theories.
Here’s what I got.
Her Fighting Style
This is the most compelling to me. From the very first viewing of Episode VII in the theater, I noticed that Rey’s first move upon force-grabbing that lightsaber is to jab at Kylo with a horizontal stabby motion, both hands on the hilt, with a big forward shoulder thrust. This is the exact move that Palpatine uses to take the jedi off-guard when Mace Windu comes to arrest him in Revenge of the Sith.
Rey repeats the move two more times over the course of her short fight with Kylo. The Emperor uses it multiple times in both of his major fight scenes. It’s a fighting style that does not fit into any of the traditional forms, and indicates that the character is powerful and talented enough to forge their own style.
More importantly, it’s a move that is not used by any other saber-wielder in any of the other movies: the only two characters to use it are Palpatine and Rey, and both use it multiple times.
Names in Star Wars movie have always had significance. Darth Vader is the obvious Dark Father. Luke is a biblical name that derives from the Latin for “light”. Han Solo is a loner. Yoda comes from the Hebrew for “wisdom”. Salacious Crumb. Darth Sidious and Tyranus. BB-8. The list goes on, and none of those names are an accident.
Rey could be interpreted a couple ways. Perhaps she is the ray of light, the New Hope for the jedi to return balance to the force. But “Rey” is also Spanish for “king,” derived from the Latin “rex.” This doesn’t necessarily imply good or evil, light or dark, but it is the kind of thing where if we were to find out in Episode 8 or 9 that she is a Palpatine, we’ll look back and go “duh, the name fits,” just as we did with Darth Vader.
It Follows Established Star Wars Tropes
At its core, the Star Wars story has always been Palpatine vs. Skywalker. Sure, there are battles and feuds between other characters, there are characters who lose their way and find it again, but it’s always the Skywalkers leading the charge for the Light Side, dealing with both internal and external struggles against the Dark Side, which is led by Palpatine.
True, Episode 4 seems to live in the Palpatine-free vacuum of Skywalker vs. Skywalker, but it’s important to remember that when A New Hope was made, there was no guarantee that Episodes 5 or 6 would even see the light of day, thus more complex story arc plot points were largely ignored to keep the movie self-contained. As soon as it became clear that this would be a multi-movie franchise, the struggle rapidly switched from Skywalker vs. Skywalker to Skywalker vs. Palpatine, with Palpatine manipulating the action either directly or from behind the scenes every step of the way. Even in Empire Strikes Back, the stage is set for Anakin’s eventual redemption and battle against the emperor.
She Was Dumped on Jakku for a Reason
It seems pretty clear that Rey was dropped on Jakku in the care of Unkar Plutt after Kylo Ren went rogue for a reason. That reason is because Luke is afraid of her and the power/potential rise of the dark side she represents. Even Kylo seems to know that she has untapped potential (even beyond the way she whooped his butt with no training at the end of Episode 7).
Where do you drop someone who you don’t want to get trained? Someone who you want to keep hidden from everyone, including themselves? In the ass-backward end of the galaxy on a desert planet. And how do you guarantee that she’ll never leave of her own accord? Tell her that her family is going to return to pick her up some day, “so you better not ever leave!”
Oh, and let’s ask Han Solo and Chewie to hang around and keep an eye on her too, just in case she ever manages to find a way to escape. You think it was an accident that Han Solo picked Rey and Finn up so soon after they made it off the planet surface? He knew they were leaving, he was watching her all along. It’s also no accident that he asks her to join his crew before he even bothers asking for her name (not that he didn’t already know it). He wants to keep her close.
That look in Luke’s eyes at the end of the film is a mixture of fear, regret, self-incrimination, affection. All feelings that make sense for a man who abandoned a young girl not because he wanted to, but because he felt he had to.
It Makes a Good Story
The fight between Kylo and Rey has a lot more weight to it than random force-users who don’t have a more intimate and intertwined relationship. Does Kylo know of her origin? His “I can train you” line just before the earth opens up could be telling.
Whether he knows as of now or not, as soon as Kylo finds out that she is a Palpatine, the Ultimate Vader Fan-Boy is going to s#%t his pants thinking that this may be the Skywalkers’ chance at Dark Side redemption. Luke struck a major blow to the Dark Side when he converted Vader back to the light. Imagine if Kylo could bring back the Palpatine lineage, converting the Light Palpatine into the Dark Palpatine. He and she could, dare I say it, rule the galaxy? Just imagine the epic final showdown with Snoke battling Kylo and Rey, with the ambiguity of not knowing whether Kylo and Rey are fighting to usurp rule of the galaxy from Snoke, or to free the galaxy from the Sith. (It’s a Disney movie, so definitely the latter, but the tension will still be there).
If we are to believe that Snoke is really the Darth Plagueis that Palpatine refers to in the space opera scene in Revenge of the Sith, there are other fitting plot elements that come into play. The entire Skywalker lineage was supposedly created whole cloth by Plagueis (through the vessel of Shmi Skywalker), while Plagueis himself was killed by Palpatine/Sidious, afraid that the new Skywalker would mean his own demise as Plagueis’ apprentice (though the Snoke-as-Plagueis theory presumes that Plagueis was never really dead). There would be a poetic close-the-book quality to see the him defeated by a Palpatine and a Skywalker working together.
Finally, there’s another nice poetic balance to the plot of the new trilogy if we are to see the child of good characters (Han and Leia) turn evil, and the offspring of evil characters (Palpatine) turn good.
The Dream Sequence
The dream sequence that is instigated when Rey touches the Anakin’s old lightsaber is difficult to follow, particularly the audio. In the theater it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the layers of sounds going on into individual voices. With headphones plugged into the jack of the in-flight entertainment system and the ability to re-watch it a dozen times, a few things become more clear.
There is the obvious Alec Guinness Obi-Wan saying “Rey” followed by Ewan Mcgregor Obi-Wan saying “these are your first steps” towards the end, as well as Unkar Plutt saying “quiet girl.” Towards the beginning there is also Yoda delivering his “Its energy surrounds us and binds us” line. Harder to hear is a line right in the middle, during the Knights of Ren scenes. It’s a low, evil voice saying “it begins with this” (or something to that effect. I’ll need to re-listen again on my return flight), a voice that may belong to Snoke or Palpatine. Either way, the girl has strong ties to force-users, both light and dark. I don’t think those dark ties are going to go to waste as plot elements in future films.
During the Knights of Ren sequence, we also see Kylo Ren kill one of the Knights in order to protect Rey, presumably because knows of her royal lineage.
EDIT: I listened to this again several times and now I’m pretty certain that the voice is Alec Guinness Obi-Wan delivering one of his lines from the original trilogy, though it’s hard to make out.
Rey repeatedly loses herself to rage over the course of the movie. She angrily fights with Tito when she sees him hauling off BB-8. She gets a feel for the power of the blaster when firing at Storm Troopers outside of Maz Kanata’s hangout, and proceeds to angrily blast her way through several of them before turning her guns on Kylo Ren. She angrily fights with Ren as he is interrogating her, ending with the zinger “you’ll never be as powerful as Darth Vader.” Then of course there is the hate-fueled rampage she goes on when she sees Kylo take down her friend. Again, this could indicate either Skywalker or Palpatine lineage, but I like the story possibilities of the latter better.
Her Theme Song
Rey’s theme has similar motifs to other established Star Wars themes, most notably the force theme (John Williams has confirmed this connection), but it also shares similar motion to the Emperor’s theme. For music nerds, the ostinato without ornament in Rey’s theme goes: “Do-mi♭-Do Do-mi♭ Sol-si♭” while the Emperor’s theme is “Do-mi♭-Do Do-mi♭-si♭.” (A commenter below posted a Youtube video which makes this easier to hear).
The introduction to the Scavenger Theme also echoes the brass-based dissonances leading up to the Emperor’s Theme. Listen a little longer and you’ll find that the final cadence is nearly identical tonally (Sol-mi♭Do) to the main motif in the Imperial march (la♭-mi♭-Do), an indication that she has a connection to either Vader or the Emperor. Both would make sense.
Sure there are a few good guys with British accents — Obi-wan, Mon Mothma, Chancellor Valorum, a couple others — but by and large British accents in Star Wars films tend to imply some dark-ish tendencies.
EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that the British accents in Star Wars are generally attributed to affluent classes from the core systems of the galaxy, which means Rey’s accent only indicates that she was raised either near the core, or by upper-class people who come from the core. That said, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that just as they did with the other six movies, the moviemakers are willing to use in-universe traits, names, accents, etc. as plot devices to further our understanding of the themes. I.E. this is fantasy not science fiction, not every detail needs a plausible in-universe explanation.
There’s one very strong counterargument: The Emperor was dead before Rey was even born. But in the fantasy world of Star Wars there are ways around this. Clones, carbonite freezing, heck, the Emperor-could even already have a child we don’t know about, making Rey his granddaughter. In a galaxy where characters can be created by a mystical energy field and return as ghostly visions, I don’t think it’ll be very difficult to explain this chronological anomaly away. Besides, a force-based explanation of how Palpatine reproduced is much less icky than imagining the physical alternative. I really don’t want to imagine what his scarred body looks like under those robes.
What do you think? Plausible? Exciting? Yawn?
J. Kenji López-Alt is the author of the New York Times Best-Seller and James Beard Award Nominee The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. His nerd-dom extends well beyond the world of food.