Story Geeks blogger and longtime Star Wars fan Ashley Pauls digs deeper into her favorite franchise with the “Women of Star Wars” blog series, taking a look at the character journeys of the major female characters in Star Wars and examining their impact on pop culture.
Bringing balance to the Force
1. Who is Rey, and what characteristics define her?
Rey is a survivor. After her family abandoned her on the lonely desert planet of Jakku, she’s spent years scavenging and learning how to fend for herself. She is wary of trusting others, and understandably so. Life is tough on Jakku, and you have to be careful of others who will try to steal your resources. Yet Rey is not a loner by nature; she stubbornly holds to the hope that one day her family will return for her, even though she knows deep down they probably won’t. She craves a sense of connection, and she wants to understand her place in the galaxy.
Rey is brave, determined, and curious. As she starts to open herself up to the Force, she isn’t shackled by the same baggage that Luke and Kylo are. She’s intrigued by the mysteries of the Force and is poised (I hope!) to push past the hangups of the old Jedi Order and bring a bold new understanding of the Force to the galaxy.
2. What are Rey’s biggest hopes? What are her greatest fears?
Rey’s biggest hope is that her family will return for her…and her greatest fear is that they won’t. Her belief that her family hasn’t truly abandoned her gives her the strength to keep surviving, and so she puts off confronting this painful moment from her past and refuses to accept that they’re never coming back.
Some fans feel that we haven’t gotten the final word on Rey’s origins. Personally, I hope that the explanation we got in “The Last Jedi” is the correct one. Rey doesn’t want to accept that her parents were “nobodies” who abandoned her with no intention of ever returning, but from this seemingly humble and heartbreaking backstory emerges an incredibly powerful theme: regardless of who you are or where you come from, you are capable of greatness. Rey doesn’t need to have a powerful Force legacy like Kylo. She’s an ordinary person who is willing to open herself up to the Force and follow the path of the light side.
Rey truly becomes a Jedi at the end of Episode VIII, when she finally makes peace with her past and moves beyond it, resisting the pull of the dark side and saving the Resistance in the process.
3. What is the biggest challenge that Rey faces, and how does she overcome it?
I think Rey’s biggest challenge is finding her destiny. When we first meet her in “The Force Awakens,” she’s simply surviving in the desert, waiting for her family to return. When she teams up with Finn, they both discover a larger world and are invited to play a role in the fight against the First Order. Then, the Force “awakens” in Rey, forever changing the way she views the galaxy and herself. She started this journey as a simple scavenger, but now she’s a major player on the galactic stage, and this is understandably a bit intimidating.
In “The Last Jedi,” Rey said she needs “someone to show me my place in all of this.” She seeks guidance and belonging, yet Luke ultimately cannot give her this, and neither can Kylo. Eventually, she finds her answer within the Force and within herself: she is meant to forge her own path, and she is strong enough and brave enough to do it. She burns as a bright beacon of hope, carrying on Luke’s legacy. I also love how she inspires Luke to rediscover the light within himself and emerge from retirement to become the legend the galaxy always believed him to be.
4. What is Rey’s biggest fault and/or moment of failure in the series, and how does she learn from it and grow as a character?
I have heard some fans criticizing Rey as a “Mary Sue” — a character who is too skilled at too many things and has no apparent flaws. Personally, that’s not how I see her character (I’m not a fan of the term “Mary Sue” anyway, but that’s another discussion for another time). Rey does have flaws, and Rian Johnson fleshes these out in “The Last Jedi.”
There’s more than a little pride and impatience behind Rey’s decisions to give up on Luke too soon AND to trust Kylo too quickly. I can totally understand how it would be frustrating for her to show up on Luke’s island, ready to learn the ways of the Force, and Luke just completely shuts her down. Yet he’s obviously been through significant trauma, and she’s not going to be able to fix all of that in a couple of days. Her compassion for Kylo and her belief in his potential for redemption also are admirable, but she can’t fix that on her own either. Just showing up on Snoke’s flagship isn’t enough to save him; she learns that he’s going to have to be the one to save himself.
While Rey’s OVERconfidence creates issues for her in “The Last Jedi,” her confidence in general isn’t a bad thing. Once she realizes her mistake with Kylo, she stands up for her beliefs and refuses to join him, even though she doesn’t want to be alone. I can’t wait to see Rey as a full-fledged Jedi in Episode IX and to find out what all she’s capable of.
5. What about this character portrayed as female stood out? Did she break any ground or does she feel more like a compilation of female character tropes?
Like Leia, Rey is a significant character both within Star Wars lore and pop culture at large. Leia is an awesome, groundbreaking character, and I don’t want to say anything to take away from that or from Carrie Fisher’s performance. However, having Rey as a part of the sequel trilogy is also important. She’s the first female Jedi main character in the movies, and I think it means a lot to people, especially young girls, to see that on screen.
My reaction to Rey in “The Force Awakens” was actually quite similar to my reaction to the movie “Wonder Woman.” I didn’t realize how much it would mean to me to see a female Jedi as a main character in a live-action Star Wars movie until I was watching it on screen. One of the most thrilling moments of the sequel trilogy for me so far was seeing Rey reaching out for Anakin’s lightsaber in the snowy forest in “The Force Awakens.” Kylo is reaching for the lightsaber too, but the saber flies past him and snaps into Rey’s hand instead. It was so cool to see a female character have this badass Force moment.
Rey’s connection to Kylo could have easily slipped into trope territory, but I’m thankful it didn’t. The whole “good girl intrigued by bad boy” has been done before and comes with its own set of problems, but “The Last Jedi” handles this in a nuanced way. I appreciate that both Rey and Kylo are equal protagonists with their own goals and perspectives. Rey chooses, on her own, to try to save Kylo (she isn’t pressured or conned into doing this), but the moment she realizes she can’t help him, she stands up for herself and leaves. Rey respects herself too much to enable his destructive behavior, and she is confident in her own morals. I’m definitely still rooting for them to reconcile in the end, but the burden’s now on Kylo to fix his problems first.
6. What does this character teach us about women in the real world? Are there lessons we can take from the screen and translate them into real life?
Rey has clearly resonated with a number of fans, judging by the amount of Rey cosplays I see at cons (I’m a Rey cosplayer myself!). I think she’s a great role model for both girls and boys! Since Luke offered to give Rey three lessons on Ahch-To (even though he never quite got to the third one in the movie!), here are three lessons we can learn from Rey. 🙂
- Regardless of who you are or what your “backstory” is, you are valuable as a person and have something special to offer the world. Maybe you’ve had a lot of challenges in your past, and maybe friends and family have disappointed you. But there is hope for you to overcome your struggles, and Rey’s example encourages us to find the strength within ourselves to keep fighting.
- Be curious. Unlike Luke and Kylo, Rey doesn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about the Force. She comes into it with an open mind, wanting to learn and soak up as much knowledge as she can. We should be curious about the world around us and ask questions about things we don’t understand. While it’s important to respect the past, we should also remember that just because something has “always been that way” doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t change in the future.
- Stand up for yourself and what you know is right. Rey refuses to be pressured by the dark side, and she stays true to her commitment to the Resistance. Even if you feel like giving in and taking the wrong path because it *seems* easier, don’t do it. It’s not worth it in the end.
Looking for more Star Wars content? You can listen to more about Rey in our podcasts on The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and the concept of Reylo. You can also listen to our recent podcast on Leia’s Character Journey. Also, check out our popular podcasts digging into Luke Skywalker’s and Han Solo’s Character Journeys.
Next up in the Women of Star Wars: Jyn!