(This post contains speculation about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that, if true, would constitute a major spoiler. You have been warned.)
One of the biggest problems with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was, well, Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) entire arc. She somehow was able to teach herself Force powers, using a Jedi mind trick on a stormtrooper despite presumably having no knowledge of that being a thing. And then she was somehow strong enough in the Force and skilled enough with a lightsaber that she could beat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who had been training his whole life in both the Force and lightsaber combat.
It’s a legitimate concern — typically when a character in a movie is good at doing something it’s either after the movie already established they were good at that thing (i.e. Biggs introducing Luke [Mark Hamilll] to Red Leader in the original “Star Wars” as “the best bush pilot in the Outer Rim”) or after we saw them learn how to do the thing (i.e. Luke training to use the Force on Dagobah). But Rey doesn’t get either of those in “The Force Awakens” — her beating Kylo Ren is akin to if Luke decided to fight Darth Vader right after Vader killed Obi-Wan and somehow defeated him.
Rey’s arc in “The Force Awakens” is either very bad writing or there’s something important we don’t know about her. It’s probably the latter, considering how the movie does present us with a mystery about Rey: someone (her parents?) left her on Jakku years earlier and she doesn’t know who they are. That that bit was important enough to show us probably means it’s important enough to be a thing that will be addressed in either “The Last Jedi” or “Episode IX.” And there’s a way in which the reveal of her history could completely recontextualize her arc in “The Force Awakens” so that it actually makes sense.
This idea is one that I’ve seen pop up periodically in different forms — sometimes as a fan theory on Reddit or elsewhere; at least once as a detail in an alleged leaked draft of the script for “The Last Jedi,” which at this stage is considered “debunked”; and TheWrap’s Ross Lincoln once mentioned it to us as part of a discussion over how “The Last Jedi” could improve “The Force Awakens” by retconning it extensively. I don’t know if this idea is true, and there isn’t much in the way of what I’d call evidence to support it, but we can’t get it out of our heads as we enter the last handful of days before we get to see the movie.
Anyway, here’s the idea: Rey was actually one of Luke Skywalker’s Jedi apprentices at his school. You know the one — the school that Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren destroyed when Kylo fell to the Dark Side, as described in “The Force Awakens.”
The idea is that Rey survived the attack by some means, either as the lone surviving student or by herself falling to the dark side and helping Kylo Ren destroy the Academy before being captured by Luke. But then Luke used the Force to wipe Rey’s memory to hide her from the First Order — implanted false memories in her mind to make her think she’d been left on Jakku as a child and lived there her whole life. Instead of being abandoned by parents she can’t remember as a small child, Luke left Rey on Jakku a much shorter time ago, and gave her false memories to make her think she’d been there all her life.
Blocked and implanted memories make a lot of sense with Rey’s character. If Luke left her with the sense that he was planning to return to her, it could explain why Rey was so convinced that she needed to wait around on Jakku for some nameless person’s return. He also could have locked her off from much of her Force sensitivity, to make her harder for the First Order to find, since as we’ve seen in other “Star Wars” films, Force-sensitives can often sense each other even across large distances.
Luke trying to keep Rey from unlocking her Force potential in order to protect he makes a lot of other little things in “The Force Awakens” make more sense as well. There’s the fact that Rey almost intuitively can use Force abilities that she seemingly has never heard of — she’s definitely on a faster track than Luke or even Anakin Skywalker were. And there’s Rey’s abilities with a lightsaber, which she would have trained with under Luke, that allow her to stand up to a much more experienced, if injured, Kylo Ren. Rey may not remember her past consciously, but perhaps her body does.
And then there’s the vision Rey has at Maz Kanata’s castle. When she discovers Luke’s old lightsaber, Rey has a Force vision that shows her a mess of stuff that happened in the past. It includes what happened to Luke’s Jedi academy and Kylo Ren killing a bunch of folks, as well as Rey’s backstory. Rey even has a serious reaction to the lightsaber, horrified by what she saw. If Luke had tried to lock all that away from Rey, seeing the memories come tumbling out and mix together when she touched a lightsaber, and thus got a dose of her own past, makes a kind of sense. It also tracks with the title of the film and Supreme Leader Snoke’s comment, “There has been an awakening.” Rey has been asleep to the Force thanks to the memory wipe, but she’s starting to wake up to it thanks to the events of the film.
Finding out that Luke zapped Rey’s brain would also give “The Last Jedi” ample room to establish any parentage Rian Johnson wants for Rey. Or no parentage at all, because it wouldn’t matter any more than the identity of Obi-Wan’s parents did. Of course, it’s been long rumored, since the earliest story leaks for “The Force Awakens,” that Rey is Luke’s daughter — which if true would also make sense in this framework because the daughter of Luke Skywalker would have Force talent and Luke would definitely train her.
The whole incident with Kylo Ren going dark and destroying Luke’s temple, by the way, occurred some time in the six years prior to when “The Force Awakens” is set — per the novel “Bloodlines,” which is canon, which establishes that Ben Solo has not yet turned when the events of the novel are happening. Rey is 19 years old in the movie, which would thus make her 13 at the earliest point at which Ben’s turn could have happened — more than old enough for her to have had years of training under Luke.
You might be inclined to think this theory doesn’t fully line up with “The Force Awakens” — we ourselves had some doubts, given that if she was an apprentice at Luke’s academy it’s likely that Han and Kylo Ren would recognize her but they never act like they do. Han is easy to explain — if Luke wiped Rey’s memory and hid her away then he would probably be aware of that fact. Kylo Ren is slightly tougher — how he greets her when they first meet outside Maz Kanata’s castle is not something that really communicates either recognition or playing coy. But the scene when Ren shows her his true face is more telling. When he takes his helmet off he looks at her without speaking for a long moment, almost like he’s waiting for her to figure it out. Rey, then, responds with an expression that is exactly the sort of look every normal person makes when they know they should remember something but can’t, with her eyes darting around and focusing on nothing.
Knowing for sure at that point that Rey doesn’t remember her past, Ren certainly would have played coy from there. And he even has a line later on that indicates he knows something about her despite not being able to probe her mind: “She’s just beginning to test her powers,” Ren tells a stormtrooper after Rey escapes from custody. “The longer it takes to find her, the more dangerous she becomes.”
It’s a bizarre line in the movie, because the context as it exists now doesn’t support it. Without being taught about the potential uses for her Force powers she wouldn’t have any idea what to do with it beyond what little she saw Kylo Ren do — like if you gave someone a nuke but they had no concept of what bombs are it wouldn’t be very useful to them and you wouldn’t consider that person a threat. But that line would make more sense if Kylo Ren knew she’d been trained previously and might be able to subconsciously draw upon that training.
If this turns out to be true it wouldn’t be a full fix for “The Force Awakens” — there are many, many other big problems with that movie, some of which are impossible to retcon or flesh out. There is no redeeming, for example, that whole thing with the rolling tentacle monsters. But it would go a long way toward helping patch up what is the central character arc of the movie, and that in itself would be huge.
But as for other ways “The Last Jedi” could improve “The Force Awakens,” we’ve compiled a list you can check out right here.