Star Wars, or the importance of being nobody

Rey of Jakku

Kylo: Do you want to know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You’ve just hidden it away. You know the truth. Say it. 
Rey: They were nobody.
Kylo: They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You have no place in this story; you come from nothing. You’re nothing… but not to me.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson, 2017)

When Kylo Ren pulled this page from the Mr Darcy playbook, he addressed one of the biggest mysteries of the sequel trilogy: who is Rey of Jakku?

Audiences were speculating on this long before The Force Awakens (2015) hit cinemas. Entertainment Weekly posited that Rey was Han’s daughter based on the blaster she holds in concept art; an entire thread discussing Rey’s possible parentage cropped up in September 2014, two months before we even saw a teaser.

Many fans continue to hold out hope that Rey is somehow linked to existing characters, whether through Han, Luke, Obi-Wan, Qi’ra or Jyn, but Rey coming from nothing is so much more poignant than being the long-lost scion of a known family.

Image: Lucasfilm

“They sent you? What’s special about you? Jedi lineage? Royalty?”

Rey was none of these things, and after a moment’s consideration Luke seemed to sense that.

The Last Jedi: Expanded Edition by Jason Fry (Random House, 2018)

The sequel trilogy and its new expanded universe explore the weight of legacy. Leia Organa’s political career was destroyed when the Galactic Senate learned that she was Darth Vader’s daughter (Bloodline by Claudia Gray, 2016). Ben Solo was crushed by the weight of the galaxy’s expectations. Luke Skywalker went into self-imposed exile because he failed to live up to his legendary status.

Making Rey a Skywalker, Kenobi or Palpatine just reinforces the idea that you have to be born heroic (or evil). It suggests that you can’t possibly be important or play a valuable role in the world unless you have the right connections.

Obviously, Rey is special—she’s Force-sensitive and bonded to Kylo Ren—but she has no heritage or pedigree. Her powers are thrust upon her at nineteen and she is made to find her own sense of self and belonging. She rescues BB-8 solely out of kindness and becomes the inadvertent face of the Resistance and the Jedi when all she wants is for her parents to come back.

Rey spends her formative years fighting to survive, with no guardians or teachers and only the vaguest memories of her family. She’s perpetually stuck on the bottom rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; who has time to self-actualise when you’re getting by on quarter-portions?

Contrast that with Anakin, who was freed from slavery as a child and raised as a prodigy, or with Ben Solo, who was born to war heroes and has the blood of two monarchies running through his veins. Both Anakin and Ben fell because of their sense of place. Anakin is a classic example of hubris: he’s so convinced that the universe should bend to his will that he ends up losing everything. Ben feels like a failure, and Snoke weaponises his shame and desperation from the womb until the end of The Last Jedi.

Rose Tico and Finn during the Canto Bight sequence of The Last Jedi (2017)
Image: Lucasfilm

Rose Tico gets so much flak, but she’s a perfect example of a Star Wars hero. She’s a flight engineer with no Force sensitivity, no remaining family, and a home planet that was destroyed. She makes the decision to infiltrate the First Order and later prevent Finn’s fruitless death on Crait.

Rose could easily have ditched the Resistance to mourn her sister, especially after being relegated to “work behind pipes all day” alone in the guts of the Raddus. Instead, she calls Finn out when he tries to jump ship and plays a huge part in his character’s moral development. She starts the film in awe of Resistance heroes and becomes one herself.

Rose, that’s a real hero. Know right from wrong and don’t run away when it gets hard.

Paige Tico (recounted by Rose to Finn, The Last Jedi)

Finn’s another great nobody: he was stolen from his family as an infant and raised in a sea of nameless, dehumanised stormtroopers. He spends most of The Force Awakens and the first half of The Last Jedi refusing the call to adventure before accepting that he is, in fact, a big deal in the Resistance.

It’s tempting to view Rey, Rose and Finn as a new breed of Star Wars heroes, but both Luke and Han come from humble beginnings. At the beginning of A New Hope (1977), Luke is, for all intents and purposes, just an orphaned farm boy. Until he meets Ben Kenobi, he thinks that Anakin was just a navigator on a spice freighter; the Vader reveal wasn’t even finalised until later drafts of The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

The heroes of the original trilogy aboard the Millennium Falcon
Image: Lucasfilm

Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.

Han Solo, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (dir. George Lucas, 1977)

Han has always been a nobody, and his backstory is fleshed out in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). He’s one of many Corellian ‘scrumrats’, orphans and scavengers forced to serve a criminal gang in exchange for food and shelter. A decade of smuggling and swindling later, he agrees to fly Obi-Wan, Luke and the droids to Alderaan in exchange for 17,000 credits.

Han claims that he’s only helping the rebels for himself, but under his scoundrel demeanour he has a good heart. Returning to the Battle of Yavin, rescuing Luke on Hoth and leading the mission on Endor didn’t pay Han’s debts or make his life easier, but they were the right things to do.

Han, Luke and Leia
Image: Lucasfilm via

In fact, this ethos goes all the way back to the beginning. Shmi Skywalker lives and dies a nobody despite giving birth to the Chosen One of prophecy. The Jedi Order does nothing to help her, but she lets Anakin leave with Qui-Gon Jinn so that her son can have a better chance at life.

Star Wars is about doing the best you can with what you have, whether you’re a princess, a Jedi or a slave. We revel in normal people saving the galaxy. It’s an escape from our own world, where most of us have no real control over the order of things.

In the Star Wars universe, you can be a nobody and choose your own destiny. You can come from humble origins and still find the potential in broken things, fight for a fairer world and save the people you love.

The Skywalker saga began with Shmi, a nobody. Her son was born a slave, fell in love with a queen, succumbed to the dark side and became the most feared man in the galaxy. Wouldn’t it be poetic if it ended with Rey, another woman sold into slavery, bringing the last descendant of a queen, a princess and Vader back to the light? I think so.

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