She’s the Rey of light in Star Wars. See what we did there? Rey is such a phenomenal character that she deserves even better than our awesome jokes. Rey has changed Star Wars forever – and for the better.
So much of the Star Wars hype revolves around Kylo Ren, and there’s a reason for that. He’s an incredible villain. It’s why I adore him, to the extent that as a present (and a joke), a friend of mine gave me a six-foot cardboard Kylo cut-out. But is the fandom’s love of Kylo coming at the expense of Rey?
From the moment Rey screamed at the chivalrous Finn to let go of her hand and then rescued his sorry arse, I knew that I had found a character I could champion. Yet, strangely, it is rare to find a hero to applaud above a bad guy who causes fascination. In fandom, we tend to gravitate around the loudest characters, but that risks replicating an all too common real life scenario: celebrating villainous men, while the quiet women who stand up to them get overlooked for their committed activism and devotion to justice.
If Ben is a study in making the wrong decisions and being driven by self-destruction, Rey is the story of making the right choices even against impossible odds. She’s the one who strives toward the light, refusing to alter her path, even if her commitment to justice scares the established guard. It is Rey’s story that truly feeds the soul, if we accept it and allow it to.
A lot of the characters have their roots in trauma. Ben was privileged, but he was also trained to be a child soldier and then was almost murdered by his uncle. Finn was stolen from his family and brought up with a number for a name by fascists who trained him for destruction and murder. Rey was abandoned. She came from nothing and grew up on a planet where exploitation was rife and she was barely able to ensure she got a meal a day.
The three stories contrast with each other brilliantly. All are from trauma, and yet all make very different choices. Ben is ruled by confusion, anger and hate but a desire eventually, for a love of himself. Finn loves only the people he has connections to at first. He doesn’t love the cause and he is challenged by his narrow view of love. Rey loves those close to her too but ultimately, she loves life and wants to cherish it. She is ruled completely by love. That’s how she can stand up to Finn and say she won’t abandon a fight even if he goes, because it is the right thing to do. It’s how she is instantly connected to BB8. Rey’s love means calling out those who won’t fight for this galaxy. She won’t take crap. She will be kind, and even forgiving, but ultimately, she expects everyone to do the right thing, regardless of their own pain, because she knows that personal discontent is no excuse for toxic, complacent or abusive behaviour. And Rey, as a character, finally makes it okay for women to call out the weaker men around her. She does it with love and composure. But it’s clear: if they won’t fight with her then they cannot be considered allies in any way.
Rey inherently politicises her relationships. She gives people chances and they must take them. She is the perfect tonic to a culture that has tried to link love with kindness. They are not the same thing. Sometimes demanding better is the best way to show love, and so can be walking away when we are not respected. Love is not about going along with someone you know is causing harm. Love is infinitely more radical than that.
Rey doesn’t always have all of the answers. Should she have given Ben any chances at all when he is a mass murderer? Should she have just followed what Luke said? Rey is unusual for a hero in Star Wars. She fights with her heart and not her head, or even solely with the force. She is skilled, and she is flawed. She is not Jedi. She is just human, and that’s how Rey has managed to give Star Wars fans a story we can truly connect with (and having characters which are more representative also goes a long way to achieve that).
Of course, there is dark in Rey, as there are in all humans. She acknowledges that and strives to do better and on her own terms. The Jedi wanted to let go of love and to be above everything, and where did it lead them? Rey shuns their outdated and isolationist model. She wants to connect with people, to reach out and to try and build a movement of empowerment for everyone. She respects the past but knows they must go further to defeat the evil that now faces the galaxy.
Rey’s triumph is not in her tremendous abilities. It’s why her parents really shouldn’t need any connection to the force. Anyone can be talented. Rey’s story is about her choice to love. In a galaxy of pain and men who constantly fail, Rey has chosen, repeatedly, to love. That does not mean redemption. It does not mean embracing those who do harm.
When it comes to analysis, we always focus upon the flaws of characters but how often do these characters ever actually work to do better? And genuinely commit to doing better day after day? It is astonishingly rare, and Rey is that character. And of course, it had to be against a backdrop of men (particularly Ben and Luke) who repeatedly wax lyrical about how the galaxy has wronged them but so rarely look at themselves or take positive action.
Rey has chosen the toughest route of them all. She wants to work for a better galaxy, regardless of the commitment and pain that takes. She has overcome huge self-doubt because she believes in something bigger than herself, and she wants to find a place in it. Rey’s story is not about hope; it is about endeavour. Rey works to love and respect Ben, Luke, Finn, general Organa, BB8, the wider galaxy and especially, herself. She does it knowing that it may still all end in pain. It’s a risk she believes is worth taking, even when few say they would follow her.
If Rey’s legacy could be summed up as anything it would be that yes, she was scared to love, but she did it anyway. Maybe that might just be how the galaxy is saved this time.