A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a series of “Op-Ed’s from the Future”—pieces which imagined what an editorial from the future might say. In imitation, this post imagines a movie review from the year 2049 when the twenty-second Star Wars film, End of the Skywalkers, has just come out. I have not seen Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker, which premiered on December 20, 2019. So, for this post, I have entirely invented the plots of two Star Wars films—one from 2019 and one from 2049.
“There is one for every generation,” Daisy Ridley says, reprising her role as Rey in Star Wars: Episode XXII: The End of the Skywalkers, premiering December 21, 2049.
Rey’s line is a fitting epithet to the film which, as is now traditional, is rumored to be the finale in the Star Wars saga.
Star Wars is our perennial pop mythology. The quintessential heroes and villains of each generation have taken up the lightsaber. In the originals, it was the gifted, sensitive boy vs. the absent, militaristic father, in the prequels, the young idealist vs. the hidden threat of corruption, and in the sequels, any creativity or diversity in cast, character, or plot vs. the world’s most tradition-obsessed fanbase.
But let’s get back to Rey. In case you forgot how Rey’s story ended thirty years ago in Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker (2019), in a desperate move to please a polarized fanbase, Rey turned to the dark side, married Kylo Ren, was murdered by him, and blew up a Death Star. In short, Rey got “Daenerysed,” a term used by film critics to describe when a principal female character is annihilated by the writers, and then murdered on-screen by her ill-advised and melodramatic boyfriend.
Episode XXII: End of the Skywalkers shows us that Rey somehow survived the completion of Kylo’s redemption arc in Rise of Skywalker. If you recall, in Rise of Skywalker, Kylo supposedly brought balance to the Force—as is the Skywalker legacy—by plunging Luke’s lightsaber into the reactor of the Force Star (a.k.a. Death Star 3.0). Rey stood between the lightsaber and the Force Star Reactor, and she and the Force have been dead ever since. Or so we thought.
No one was really surprised thirty years ago that Rey had to be sacrificed to complete Kylo’s heroic story. The fantasy of Star Wars is the boy plucked from ignobility by destiny who ultimately defeats the seductions of power. The one special orphan chosen from the crowds. Sure, this fantasy appeals to folks from all walks of life, as is apparent in the films’ blockbuster success and cultural longevity. But it is a fantasy born in the privilege of the majority. Difference, being the chosen one, and the option of rejecting power, are arguably only luxuries for the majority. Difference is a curse to a character scrambling for equality, begging to be given the same chance as everyone else. Victory in that story is often fitting in, not standing out. And maybe there is something specifically male about the fantasy that is Star Wars. Or maybe it’s just that, before Rey, it only happened to dudes: Anakin, Luke, Kylo. Before Rey, the women of Star Wars have all followed tragic paths: the slow, involuntary descent from literal power to the arm of their “hero.” Marriage and/or death is a quiet way to fold a princess into the shadows of a man’s story. Even Rey got her identity swallowed in the trope-dense narrative of the sequels, like Boba Fett in the Sarlacc pit, as the search for her parents and her place in the Skywalker story, in fan chatter and on screen, overwhelmed her personality.
To be a hero in the Star Wars universe is to become a type, a role, an instrument of the Force.
And maybe thirty years ago, that was our female fantasy: just to be one of the many, to be one of the dudes, one of the heroes, one of the Jedi.
However, Rey in End of the Skywalkers is truly a female fantasy for 2049. We meet Rey, notably not dead, but not as a Jedi either. She is not a mythic hero or a mystic hermit, but a pilot, quietly living her life on Urba, a planet new to the Star Wars universe. In the beautiful opening shot reminiscent of a moment in The Force Awakens, Rey confidently strides out of the desert, swings into the pilot seat of what looks like a Rebel fighter plane, and dusts off a dinged-up rebel fighter helmet, revealing the rebel insignia. She sighs. BB-8 squeaks beside her. “You know the drill,” she says, plunking the too-big helmet on the little droid’s head. In a few bounces and beeps, the little droid covers up the insignia with a fresh coat of bright blue paint. Rey is neither rebel nor cause now. She cruises out of the atmosphere and jumps to hyperspeed. There is no yellow crawl of text. Just stars.
Rey’s destiny has been lived. She inhabits her own story. And maybe it isn’t fair to say that Rey has finally told the penultimate female fantasy.
But she’s kind of told my fantasy. I’m tired of it being exciting for a girl to live out a story a boy has already lived. We need a narrative of our own. May the Force be with you, Rey, as you go where no man has gone before.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.