When The Empire Strikes Back came out, many fans left the theater wondering: Was Darth Vader telling the truth?
For any doubters, Return of the Jedi included a scene in which Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi confirm what Luke Skywalker had learned: Vader was his father.
That settled it, but fans may be emerging from The Last Jedi with a similar question: Did Rey really learn the truth about her own origins?
At a post-screening Q&A for the film Friday, writer-director Rian Johnson offers his thoughts on the matter. Spoiler Warning: Let’s talk more after the jump …
After a surreal experience inside the Mirror Cave beneath the Jedi-sacred island of Ahch-To (last warning: spoilers ahead!), Rey asks for a vision of her parents. The revelation is enigmatic. She doesn’t appear to know what to make of it, and neither does the audience.
All she sees is herself. Lots of herself. Thousands of variations.
The scene in the Mirror Cave is meant to be symbolic, much as Luke’s descent into the cave of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back showed him he had the potential to turn dark if he wasn’t cautious. “These movies rhyme with each other,” Johnson said.
“The idea is this island has incredible light and the first Jedi temple up top, and then it has an incredible darkness that’s balanced down underneath in the cave,” the filmmaker said. “In this search for identity, which is her whole thing, she finds all these various versions of ‘Who am I’ going off into infinity, all the possibilities of her. She comes to the end, looking for identity from somebody, looking for an answer, and it’s just her.
Rey’s parents, revealed
Later, Kylo Ren touches her hand and sees what she saw. He eventually lays out the answer she was seeking – as painfully as possible.
“Do you know the truth about your parents? Or have you always known? You’ve just hidden it away. … Say it.”
“They were nobody,” she says, fighting back tears.
“They were filthy junk traders,” he says. “Sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead in a pauper’s grave in the Jakku desert. You come from nothing. You’re nothing. … But not to me.”
So is he telling the truth, or playing on her emotions and a confusing cave-vision?
Writer-director Rian Johnson prefaced his answer by saying J.J. Abrams and Argo Oscar-winner Chris Terrio are currently writing the next movie right now.
“I can’t speak to what they’re going to do. And there’s always, in these movies, a question of ‘a certain point of view,’” Johnson said, invoking Obi-Wan’s line from Return of the Jedi, explaining why he told Luke his father was dead rather than the truth that he had become Darth Vader.
“But for me, in that moment, Kylo believes it’s the truth,” Johnson added. “I don’t think he’s purely playing chess. I think that’s what he saw when they touched fingers and that’s what he believes. And when he tells her that in that moment, she believes it.”
Deep, dark, truthful mirror
There was no established origin that Johnson inherited when he signed on to the movie. He was free to resolve it as he liked.
“I was thinking, what’s the most powerful answer to that question? Powerful meaning: what’s the hardest thing that Rey could hear? That’s what you’re after with challenging your characters,” Johnson said.
“I think back to the ‘I am your father’ moment with Vader and Luke, and the reason I think that lands is not because it’s a surprise or a twist but because it’s the hardest thing Luke and thus the audience could hear at that moment,” he added. “It turns someone into a bad guy that you just hate and want to kill into suddenly, Oh my God, this is a part of our protagonist. We have to start thinking of this person in more complex terms. We need to start thinking in terms of a redemption arc.”
“In our movie, it’s kind of the opposite,” Johnsons said. “The easiest thing for Rey and the audience to hear is, Oh yeah, you’re so-and-so’s daughter. That would be wish fulfillment and instantly hand her a place in this story on a silver platter.”
“The hardest thing for her is to hear she’s not going to get that easy answer. Not only that, but Kylo is going to use the fact that you don’t get that answer to try and weaken you so you have to lean on him,” Johnson says. “You’re going to have to find the strength to stand on your own two feet and define yourself in this story.”
Tomorrow: More insights from the filmmakers about the burning questions of The Last Jedi.