The lightsaber is the key.
Ever since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015, fans have speculated endlessly on the back story of Rey, debating multiple theories that point to who her parents are and why she’s so strong in the Force.
You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all had something to say on this matter because we all know that the second movie in this trilogy, The Last Jedi, will contain “the twist” that defines the new generation of Star Wars, in the same way The Empire Strikes Back did for fans in 1980.
That said, J.J. Abrams has given us a lot to go on when it comes to explaining Rey’s back story. But even if you don’t believe his comments that Rey’s parents don’t appear in The Force Awakens, there’s ample evidence within the movie itself to support that her parents are not Skywalkers, Solos, or Kenobis. And they’re certainly not anything related to Palpatine because that would be far too complicated for these movies to explain.
But Force Awakens does leave plenty of clues for us to put together that will make more sense in The Last Jedi, coming this December. And it all ladders up to what I call The LIGHTSABER Theory. This is the comprehensive theory that outlines how Star Wars: The Force Awakens reveals the most important details about Rey’s origins all by itself.
The LIGHTSABER Theory is simple: everything we need to know about Rey and her parents can be surmised by understanding the role of Luke’s first lightsaber, a macguffin that was at one point the main plot device in Force Awakens. Years ago, before the release of Episode VII, Lucasfilm hinted that the story of the movie would hinge on Rey and her friends trying to keep Luke’s lightsaber out of Kylo Ren’s hands. All we knew of Kylo at the time was that he sought Sith relics, especially related to Vader, but they cut most of this out of the final film, perhaps to make the big twist less obvious.
In fact, you can see a blatant hint of this in one of the first teasers for Force Awakens when it’s shown that a lightsaber is being handed to Leia. Eventually, the lightsaber hot potato was diminished a great deal by Abrams (or the producers) and later replaced with our heroes trying to find Luke Skywalker through use of BB-8’s map, but there are still hints of the lightsaber’s ownership struggle, like when Kylo Ren demands Rey give him Luke’s lightsaber on Starkiller Base. “That lightsaber doesn’t belong to you.”
When you watch Force Awakens, you’ll probably notice that it’s unclear what Han, Leia, and Maz know about Rey’s origins. All of their conversations about Rey are cut short for the audience, hinting that they know exactly who she is, but we don’t get to know yet. Many fans claim this as evidence that Rey is related to another character in the franchise, but that’s almost certainly not the case.
Before we dive deep into the crux of The LIGHTSABER Theory, let’s cover a few important details that you might have missed on your first viewing of the movie.
1. Lor San Tekka (played by Max Von Sydow) seems connected to Rey somehow.
The fact that Lor San Tekka’s village, which is part of the “Church of the Force,” is so close to Rey’s salvage town is too coincidental to ignore. In fact, it strongly suggests that Lor San Tekka was an Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque character in Force Awakens, watching Rey from afar. His strong connection to Luke Skywalker, as revealed in the canon novels, is a crucial piece of evidence for believing Rey’s identity is known and understood by Luke’s inner circle.
It’s also a bit suspicious that the Millennium Falcon is also within close proximity to Rey, but that’s a theory for another day. For now, we can try to believe it was really stolen, though I think there’s ample evidence to suggest that whoever dropped Rey off on Jakku has a serious connection to the Millennium Falcon.
2. Han, Leia, and Maz know who Rey is, but not at first.
When Han Solo first runs into Rey, he clearly doesn’t recognize her. In fact, he assures her and Finn that they can “be on their way” once they’ve dealt with the smugglers on the freighter. But after spending some time with Rey, it’s easy to notice that he’s slowly realizing who she is.
This is supported by how conversations between Han and Maz and Leia that are about Rey are all offscreen. Maz asks Han “Who’s the girl?” as soon as they’re alone, so clearly Maz can discern that Rey is somehow special, and we know Han has told Maz something crucial about Rey’s identity because the next we see of Maz, she’s trying to convince Rey to take Luke’s lightsaber and learn about the Force.
In fact, that entire scene of Rey stumbling across the lightsaber feels like an orchestration. Like Maz purposefully put the lightsaber in a place where Rey could feel the Force guiding her. When Rey goes to find the lightsaber, the door even opens for her. There’s no way Maz would just leave such a valuable relic unguarded, beneath a cantina filled with outlaws, no less. She wanted Rey to get the lightsaber because of something Han told her. Which is why she’s there as soon as Rey finishes her Force flashback, or “Forceback” as Abrams calls it.
This flashback essentially completes the puzzle, or at least the most important parts we can know. After watching it, you can figure out who Rey is, why she was left on Jakku, and who it was that left her. This is the crux of The LIGHTSABER Theory. When Rey has her flashback, she’s taken through several moments in time that appear random, but they’re actually not.
3. The “Forceback”
The first scene is a shot of Cloud City, where Luke fought Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. This was confirmed by Abrams, who has said that they actually wanted to show some of the fight itself but then chose to make it more eery by illuminating an empty hallway. Fair enough.
Then there’s a crash, and Rey finds herself in front of Luke and R2-D2 by a fire, and we hear Luke scream “Nooooo” from when he learned Darth Vader was his father. Then the scene changes to the Knights of Ren and Kylo himself (if that is Kylo) standing around a group of bodies, presumably the next generation of Jedi trained by Luke. Someone goes to attack Rey, or whoever was there instead of Rey, but he’s killed by Kylo.
Then we see a young Rey getting left behind on Jakku with Unkar as an unknown ship flies away, a ship by the way that looks a lot like the one we see as concept art for Rey’s family’s ship, but let’s just assume that’s a coincidence. Finally, we get a glimpse of the future, when Rey confronts Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base. And we hear Obi-Wan Kenobi calling out to Rey. These are her first steps.
What do all of these scenes have in common? It’s pretty obvious, actually.The lightsaber. It ties them all together, and we’re seeing a sequence of events in chronological order. In each of these scenes, the lightsaber is present and something significant happens to it.
First, Luke loses it during his fight with Vader. Then, Luke presumably finds it again with R2D2, supported by how he and Lor San Tekka sought out Jedi relics together. I believe finding the lightsaber again is one of the triggers for Ben Solo’s turn to the dark side, and we’re seeing the aftermath of the Jedi Massacre as hinted in The Last Jedi teaser. We know Luke had to seek out the lightsaber himself because Rey finds the lightsaber in the same chest Obi-Wan had. Only Luke would know about that relic.
And then there’s the rain scene. The blue lightsaber must have changed ownership to Ben Solo at this point, but when he became Kylo Ren, sometime after the worst of the Jedi Massacre. In each of these scenes, the lightsaber is the key. That’s how we know who dropped Rey off on Jakku.
It was Luke Skywalker. The lightsaber had to be present when we see her being left on Jakku. And Rey even says this when Maz pressures her moments later, telling her that who she’s waiting for isn’t coming back. Maz then says someone else could come back, and Rey says, “Luke.” Rey actually realizes that Luke left her on Jakku at this point, but she didn’t know it was him. She thought Luke was a myth and that her family would come back to get her, which is what Luke must have told her. The red herring is that we think she wants the person who left her to come back, but really, she just wants answers. She wants to know what happened to her parents.
I strongly believe based on the movie that one or both of Rey’s parents were Luke’s Jedi apprentices and that they’re among the bodies we see in front of the Knights of Ren. An alternate way to interpret this is that Luke ends up giving the lightsaber to Rey’s father or mother, believing them to be the rightful heir to the Jedi and angering Ben Solo because Luke doesn’t trust him to carry on the legacy. This would be huge for a villain who’s been set up to revere his grandfather. Luke might even suspect Ben is slowly being seduced to the Dark Side by Snoke as he picks his successor.
The Knights of Ren scene shows us how Luke gets the lightsaber back during the massacre. I believe Luke has been defeated at this point in the scene, as evidenced by what appears to be Kylo Ren holding Luke’s green lightsaber. Then we see Kylo killing one of his own men who is about to attack Luke, but Kylo kills him, perhaps because he doesn’t want Luke to die just yet, or at all.
After surviving this encounter, Luke leaves Rey on Jakku to protect her from the First Order and Kylo Ren, who might suspect another Force sensitive is around. Han, Leia, and Maz would know about Rey because of her parents, but they’re not as familiar with her as Luke is. This would explain why Kylo seems to find Rey so familiar, yet he clearly doesn’t know who she is when he talks to Supreme Leader Snoke.
And this even explains why Kylo gets so angry, especially about Rey using that particular lightsaber, which he recognizes the first time he sees it. He wants to be like Vader, and Anakin’s lightsaber is his key to getting there. This would serve as the real source of conflict between Kylo and Rey. Kylo believes himself to be the rightful heir to Darth Vader by blood, but Rey is his natural enemy because she is heir to Luke Skywalker by the sacrifice of her parents, Luke’s true successor(s).
Why do we hear Obi-Wan in the flashback, then? It’s not because Rey’s parents are somehow connected to him. They don’t have to be. Remember, Obi-Wan gave Luke that lightsaber in the first place. And he has the ability to appear as a Force Ghost, calling out to Rey as a way to pass the proverbial torch on to her.
This adds a whole new layer of significance to some of the ending scenes, and overall, it makes The Force Awakens a better movie. Han told Leia about Rey, as we see in her conversation with Finn. So when Rey comes back after Han Solo’s death, she and Leia hug, even though the audience doesn’t realize they know each other. But they do. At this point, Rey knows that Luke dropped her off on Jakku and that Leia has lost Han. When they see each other, they grieve together as if they know one another.
And this also adds new meaning to the final shot of Rey offering the lightsaber back to Luke. It’s a full circle moment for her to remind Luke who he is, who she is, and how the Force has brought them together again. We see Luke’s slow realization of this, as he puts the pieces together himself, and we’ll likely start The Last Jedi with Rey convincing Luke to train her. The big twist will be Rey realizing that her parents were killed and that they were Jedi (or one of them was), and Luke’s decision to leave her on Jakku was rooted in his desire to end the Jedi.
It’s also possible that one parent died by Kylo’s hands while another died on Jakku, where Rey might have been raised alongside the Church of the Force. Perhaps one of her parents is someone who used to live there. Luke could have found Rey with a dead parent, wondering where the other might be, then choosing to leave Rey with Unkar by trading the Millennium Falcon (theory for another day), rather than let her explore the Force among its worshipers. But she’s still close enough for Lor San Tekka to keep an eye on her.
At that point, Luke might have given the lightsaber to Maz, or someone else who would eventually get it to her. We can tell from Maz’s bond with Han Solo and Chewbacca that she’s someone the original heroes trust, and she’d be a less obvious suspect for Kylo Ren to go after when searching for the lightsaber.
When we finally see The Last Jedi, I believe we’ll learn about Luke’s dissatisfaction with the Jedi order. Perhaps he sought out the temple in order to find out where he went wrong with Ben, only to realize that the Jedi order has always had its flaws, and maybe it’s best just to let the order die, disregarding Lor San Tekka’s wish that the Jedi come back to bring balance to the Force.
Until Rey comes along and starts to question Luke’s shift into being neutral. She could be the literal ray of hope for the light side, even redefining it for a new generation, in part because she learns about the legacy of her parents and decides that she wants to follow in their footsteps and take their place as Luke’s successor. A new Skywalker who isn’t one by blood, but rather, merit. She’s not strong in the Force because she was trained at a young age and had her memories wiped or something, it’s because she’s the result of a new legacy and step forward for the Star Wars saga.
And that’s The LIGHTSABER Theory.
There are still a lot of pressing questions to be answered, like where the Knights of Ren rain scene takes place and who was killed there, for example. And I highly doubt I’ve guessed everything exactly right. Part of me does still buy into the idea that Rey had her memory erased via Jedi Mind Trick, but touching the lightsaber “awakened” her, explaining how she was able to use the Force so well all of a sudden—the idea is that she was trained as a Jedi and had her mind wiped, which is why she doesn’t know much about herself and her name “Rey” may actually be fake.
All that said, I sincerely believe that this theory points fans in the right direction. It uses evidence from within the text of the movie, so it’s simple enough for younger viewers to get it in a pinch.
The Force Awakens preps us for knowing that the lightsaber is important and that a lot of Jedi died. There doesn’t have to be a complicated explanation, but rather a rethinking of what we were shown and why were shown it. Rey doesn’t have to come from nothing. In fact, that’s already being set up in how Finn might become a Jedi from nothing.
Rey has a unique legacy that is both new for the Star Wars universe and still connected to the original characters in a simple, believable way that will make perfect sense when revealed in Episode VIII.