A red herring is defined as “something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue,” or a “misdirection.” Star Wars: The Last Jedi, whether to the delight or dismay of the ravenous fanbase, is a film with a couple of big ones.
Warning: Spoilers from The Last Jedi ahead.
Snoke, for example? Built up by The Force Awakens as a worthy quasi-Palpatine, Snoke was Supreme Leader of the First Order; as arrogant as his melted-candlewax-looking-face was ugly; a powerful adept with the Dark Side of the Force — who got carved in half by a lightsaber before we had a chance to learn a damn thing about him. Like how he came to power in the interim between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, how someone with such obvious clout with the Force went unmentioned in Star Wars lore until now, how he mind-manipulated Kylo Ren to the Dark Side… but that’s a topic for another time, as Episodes VII, VIII and IX aren’t about Snoke — they’re about Kylo Ren and Rey. And an even bigger red herring flailing about.
I know — everything about The Last Jedi suggests that we, like the characters themselves, are to dispel the previously sacrosanct notion that this is the Skywalkers’ saga. Or the big players must somehow maintain one degree of separation from each other trilogy to trilogy. All that hoopla surrounding Rey’s parents, as it turns out, is just another red herring. Rey’s precociousness with the Force doesn’t stem from the most midichlorian-rich blood — but “a couple of filthy junk traders.” Nobodies, as Rey herself admits. But if Rey’s parents are truly “nobodies,” as Rian Johnson’s ancestral misdirect would lead us to believe, then why does her past still remain so obscured? Red herring within a red herring, or has the Force itself finally gotten sick of the Skywalkers’ shit and decided to pass the torch of favoritism to a new lineage entirely?
Notwithstanding, the dialogue between Ren and Rey following Snoke’s throne room death would have been made no less powerful if Rey’s parents had been revealed as someone more preeminent within the saga. The overriding significance of the scene is the link between Ren and Rey: he seems to genuinely care about her, whereas her parents did not.
“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, choking 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.”
But is Kylo Ren telling Rey the truth about her parents or merely what she wants to hear to fulfill his own lust for power? And are Ren and Rey, as closely linked in the Force as they seem to be, interpreting their visions truthfully? Or only what they perceive to be the truth?
An Entertainment Weekly interview with The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson seems to suggest Kylo’s words should be taken with at least some deliberation:
“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.”
“A certain point of view?” “Kylo believes it’s the truth?” Remarks with an air of incertitude surrounding Rey’s origins. Origins about which Kylo Ren actor Adam Driver might’ve accidentally dropped a huge spoiler in a recent interview with British GQ:
…The person Kylo’s pretending to be on the outside is not who he is. He’s a vulnerable kid who doesn’t know where to put his energy, but when he puts his mask on, suddenly, he’s playing a role.
Rey might also be playing a role, whether she knows it or not, if Driver’s words here are referring to who we think they are:
“You have, also, the hidden identity of this princess who’s hiding who she really is so she can survive and Kylo Ren and her hiding behind these artifices,” Driver says, apparently dropping a massive revelation about Rey’s royal origins.
A princess?! But that would mean…
Personally, I enjoy the notion that Rey is lineally disconnected from the Skywalkers and the rest of the Force-users we saw in the first six films. But why were there so many seeds planted in The Force Awakens, especially in Rey’s “Forceback” vision after she touches Luke’s lightsaber for the first time? Director J.J. Abrams gave an explanation for what she saw in an interview with Slashfilm, referencing a famous Disney princess:
In this scene, she is drawn to this place, almost like Cinderella. And she goes to this box, which, when she opens, she discovers something that has no meaning to her. She’s never seen this before and doesn’t know what it is, but has meaning to the audience. Touching the lightsaber triggers what we call the “Forceback.”
There were many iterations of this. In one, from the Cloud City Corridor, she looked down and saw Vader fighting Luke, which we ended up cutting. We wanted it to be a more personal story, something that she couldn’t comprehend, that was overwhelming to her, frightening to her, that was taking her through all of these elemental experiences, of fire, of rain, snow, wind. But also that she was being confronted with truths about the Force, about the past. The Knights of Ren here, the past for herself. She realizes that the cries she heard were actually her own cries as a young girl being taken away from her family. And then she hears a voice, “Rey,” and that’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
But why would simply touching the lightsaber once belonging to Anakin Skywalker cause Rey to see and hear all the things she did in her vision if she wasn’t somehow linked or related to the characters therein?
Why would scenes of Luke and Leia communicating to each other through the Force parallel those of Ren and Rey doing the very same throughout The Last Jedi?
If Rey’s parents are truly nobodies, then maybe the title, The Force Awakens takes on a more literal meaning. Maybe the Force made Rey. Kinda like it made Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One conceived all immaculate-like by the midichlorians, who emerged out of nowhere (the Virgin Shmi) to balance the Force a handful of Star Wars movies ago.
Or maybe I’m getting sucked into the undertow of yet another red herring that’ll have you all looking at me the way those fish nuns looked at Rey during her training with Luke on Ahch-To. Or she’s been a Palpatine all along. Either way, bring on Episode IX.