In the first several minutes of Rey’s introduction to the audience in The Force Awakens, she says not a single word to anyone, nor is she met with any kindness. She scavenges through a Star Destroyer, sells the day’s haul for sustenance (it can’t honestly be called food), and returns to her AT-AT shelter. There, she prepares her meal in silence and eats in solitude. This was her daily reality for fourteen years, a persistent and habitual loneliness accompanied by a quiet yearning. Even her slide down a large sand dune was more about efficiency than pleasure. It’s easy to imagine the loneliness such an existence would cause: to say nothing of the feelings of worthlessness from being deserted by those who should have loved her unconditionally.
There was little joy in her life, but plenty of questions. Why had her family left her on such a desolate world under the dubious guardianship of Unkar Plutt? Who were they, these people who had abandoned her? Most importantly, who was she? For the better part of three films, these questions were explored, and her personality and motivations were largely defined by them. In finding out her biological identity, and subsequently choosing her own family, she was able to mature emotionally in a way that might not have happened had circumstances not propelled her to leave Jakku.
From the novelization of The Force Awakens, we know that Rey would often hear a man’s voice in her dreams. “I’ll come back for you, sweetheart. I promise,” he would say. That promise gave her hope that her family, whoever they were, would return. That hope tied her to a lonely existence.
“They’ll be back… one day.”
Her abrupt entrance into the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance, coupled with a sense of destiny, of feeling a strange connection to Kylo Ren, and learning The Force was real (and awakening within her), made her wonder how she fit into the story. Rey found friendship, clashed sabers with her rival and dyad in the Force (it’s complicated), acquired two masters, and eventually embodied the power and wisdom of a thousand generations of Jedi. That’s a lot to experience in the span of a year and a half.
After a lifetime of wondering, she learns that she is none other than the granddaughter of the mastermind behind most of the ills that had befallen the galaxy for nearly seven decades. She had suspected the Darkness in herself, given her dark visions of a throne, and wondered at the source. It was devastating. But finally knowing her true origin, Rey was forced to deal with a bittersweet reality: she’d had parents who had loved her enough to let her go.
Rey did the only thing she could as a survivor: she accepted these difficult truths and then found her own identity and belonging.
“There’s been no one for so long,” says the old woman on Tatooine.
The woman was remarking that the Lars’ Homestead had been empty for four decades. Rey understands the question, and so do we. But there’s a subtler and unintended meaning in the question. Rey has been no one, and for such a long time.
“Who are you?” the old woman asks, further insisting upon a surname.
On Pasana, when asked a similar question, Rey masked her pain behind a smile. But that pain was now gone. Nothing suggests this more strongly than her little slide down the sand into the homestead, mirroring the scene on Jakku. This is classic Star Wars symmetry, a poetic repetition. Only this time, Rey is enjoying herself, unencumbered by the weight of the galaxy and of the questions that had plagued her. A smile crosses her face from the simple pleasure of doing something fun. She’s not smiling to hide her pain. She’s not smiling to put anyone else at ease. She’s comfortable in her solitude (this time only temporary and by choice), and with a feeling of new inner peace and understanding. She knows who she is, and who she isn’t.
With a look toward the Force Ghosts of the mentors who had accepted her unconditionally, she replies, “Rey Skywalker.”
Gone is Just Rey. Gone is Rey’s feeling of being no one. She is unbound from her lineage and her legacy, free to forge a new path for herself and to share the journey with her friends and found family. The belonging she sought was not behind her. It was ahead.