At a recent family breakfast get together, the topic of Star Wars: The Force Awakens naturally came up since it just came out on Blu-Ray and DVD. An aunt seized this opportunity to excitedly ask me several questions about the movie, assuming I would have the answers since I’m the dude with the film blog. Unfortunately, most of the questions she asked were unanswerable. For example, we don’t actually know who Supreme Leader Snoke is nor do we know who Rey’s parents are. However, I at least offered up some of the more obvious fan theories, i.e., Snoke might be Palpatine’s former master, Luke might be Rey’s dad. Since its trailer had just debuted, I also threw in the theory that Felicity Jones’ character Jyn Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story might be Rey’s mom.
Well, I owe my aunt an apology. I was apparently not only wrong but also somehow behaving like a total sexist by even entertaining the idea that Rey’s parentage is even significant.
Or at least that seems to be the tone some people are taking as they shoot down the “Jyn is Rey’s mom” theory as well as the entire idea that the identity of her parents matter.
Before I go on, in the extreme off-chance you haven’t already seen it here’s the Rogue One teaser trailer:
Daisy Ridley, Rey herself, recently spoke out about this to MTV [via MovieWeb], striking a forward-looking tone in arguing that it really should be more about where Rey is going, not where she came from:
“I’m not being funny you guys, but just because [Jyn’s] white and got brown hair… it doesn’t mean she’s my mom. I think the amazing thing about [Episode VII] is that Finn and Rey don’t come from anywhere, and they find a place. So to me, it’s funny that people think it’s so important, because I don’t really think it is. Because, regardless of where you come from, where you go is the thing. You’re moving forward, and you can make a family, you can find the people you love, so I think the progression Rey is making and the people she’s meeting and the relationships she’s making now, are kind of more important than where she comes from, but that’s just me.”
Pajiba’s Emily Chambers, in her article entitled “Why Those ‘Jyn is Rey’s Mom’ Theories Are Terrible,” listed two logical reasons why the theory doesn’t hold up (timing, complications) before concluding that it really falls apart because even asking the question about Rey’s mom comes from a place of sexism:
The Force Awakens was plagued with its own form of “Rey’s a Mary Sue” sexism. Some (asshole) critics nitpicked every single thing Rey was able to do. She can pilot a ship! She can fight! She knows how to use the Force! Aside from those all being characteristics of every Star Wars character, the implication is that female characters don’t learn how to do anything unless we have a reason to. Otherwise we’re simply passive bystanders waiting for the action to happen to us. Even though we know enough about Rey’s backstory to understand that she would need to learn to take care of herself. Too many people thought it was unreasonable to have a female character that was a badass who knew shit.
And the “answer” that Jyn is her mom solves all of those problems. Oh, sure! Of course that’s why Rey is tough! She was born that way! This theory doesn’t explain how or why Jyn gets to be tough, but it does mean that Rey still isn’t the one responsible for her own skill set. She didn’t mean to be self-sufficient, it’s just in her genes! And also it’s complete bullshit. Female characters don’t need to constantly be explained any more than male characters. Why did Han learn how to become a smart-ass, smuggling pilot? Because he wanted to. Why did Luke want to get off of Tatooine? Because moisture farming sucks. Why could Rey handle herself throughout the movie? Because dying on a strange planet as an abandoned child sucks, and our girl was too good for that.
Yes, some fans have been astonishingly sexist in their response to Rey in The Force Awakens and the introduction of Jyn in Rogue One. Perhaps for them, assuming Jyn must be Rey’s mother is a form of knowingly or perhaps subconsciously wanting to take Rey’s power away.
However, I must add that during the aforementioned breakfast get together my aunt repeatedly referred to herself as a feminist, sharing several stories about how her budding feminism in the 70s stood in complete contrast to the more rigid gender roles still being practiced in the family at that time. She rose above the social constraints of her time and place, and became a trailblazer in my family by going to college and getting a degree.
This isn’t a woman who asked me who Rey was because she refused to recognize Rey’s inherent power as a survivor of extreme and harsh circumstance. She asked me because she’s intelligent enough to recognize when a movie is purposefully presenting a mystery, and also because she’s seen the other Star Wars movies before. If Luke and Leia can turn out to be siblings and Darth Vader their father then it’s only natural to wonder who Rey’s parents might be, especially since Force Awakens already went to that familiar Star Wars trope with the “Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s son” reveal. Even if Rey’s actual parents turn out to be insignificant players in the larger narrative, it’s still natural to wonder if there is more to her story, such as the theory that she was left on Jakku after being the sole survivor among Luke’s Jedi trainees who were wiped out when Ben Solo turned to the dark side.
As for Jyn, there are some obvious superficial causes for the “she’s Rey’s mom” theories. They both have British accents. They fit a similar profile. Their names are similarly limited to a mere three letters. There are some geekier reasons, such as the assumption that Jyn is more or less the new Star Wars’ version of Mara Jade, who eventually became Luke’s wife and the mother of his child in the now-discarded expanded universe.
There’s also an understandable impulse to want Rogue One to be more than just an exciting, but ultimately pointless prequel. On paper, Rogue One will simply be about the group of rebels who stole the plans for the first Death Star from the Empire. It’s an entire movie devoted to depicting what was summarized in a single line of dialogue in A New Hope. As I previously joked, still reeling over Force Awakens‘ cliffhanger of an ending? Good. Now here’s the story of that one time something totally different happened over 30 years ago with characters we’ve never met before.
And that could still make for a good movie. However, thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe we have been conditioned to expect these types of things to somehow link up. As such, you can’t help but wonder if Kathleen Kennedy and company dreamed up various ways for Rogue One to connect to Force Awakens. What if we somehow learn more about Supreme Leader Snoke through Rogue One? Maybe there will be hints at the future creation of The First Order, a cameo from the long-lived Maz, appearances from Star Wars Rebels characters, etc. Jyn turning out to be Rey’s mom would similarly make Rogue One seem to matter more. For me, that has nothing to do with sexism, and everything to do with attempting to understand exactly how Rogue One fits into the larger Star Wars narrative which was re-started by Force Awakens.