This post contains spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker.
There are a lot of bad scenes in The Rise of Skywalker. (There are a lot of good scenes too! Most of the scenes with Adam Driver are good. So are the C-3PO jokes.) But there’s one bad scene that perfectly crystalizes how determined J.J. Abrams and Disney’s Star Wars overseers were to undo the dramatic decisions of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. It’s really bad! It made me groan in the theater and has only made me more annoyed since. I am not someone who has previously gotten annoyed about Star Wars movies, but this moment is driving me crazy—especially because it contains a reveal that certain Star Wars fans will love and crow about for years to come. It’s the scene where Kylo Ren tells Rey, actually, you are the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine.
In the weeks following the 2015 release of J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, many fans began feverishly speculating about who orphan Rey’s parents would, eventually, turn out to be. Would we learn that Rey was Kylo Ren’s unmentioned sister, mirroring the long-ago connection between Luke and Leia? Is Rey’s father Luke? Or Obi-Wan? Or … I dunno, Wedge Antilles? Speculation continued right up to the release of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which conclusively answered the question: “Your parents were nobodies who sold you for drinking money,” Kylo Ren tells Rey. “You come from nothing. You’re nothing.”
But many of the fans who rejected The Last Jedi for recasting many of the foundational myths of the Star Wars saga weren’t about to take Kylo Ren’s word for it, even as Johnson made a convincing case for why it was the most dramatically interesting choice. They continued to believe that Kylo Ren was lying, and that we would learn, in Episode IX, who Rey’s real parents were.
Some percentage of those unhappy fans have spent the past two years on the internet being assholes to people who liked The Last Jedi. And as Abrams hinted in prerelease interviews—saying, “There’s more to that story”—it turned out those fans have been rewarded. When Kylo Ren said Rey’s parents were nobodies, he tells Rey in The Rise of Skywalker, he didn’t mean they were nobodies. He meant they were pretending to be nobodies in order to keep her safe. In fact, one of them was the child of the onetime emperor of the galaxy, Sheev Palpatine, and Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter.
Look, I know that it is pointless to get upset about Star Wars, a series of pretty good movies for children. But even a casual fan should be bothered to see the franchise abandon the idea that anyone can be the hero of these stories. It’s a boring, borderline-awful choice to continue asserting that destiny is determined by DNA, and that the only characters who truly matter in this story are the Kennedys and Bushes of the Star Wars universe.
More than that, though, I despair because Disney is not only ignoring but going out of its way to repudiate the artistic and financial success of The Last Jedi. Just two years ago, I was heartened to think that, as Sam Adams writes in his Slate review, “it was possible for a movie to tick all the boxes required of a modern IP-driven blockbuster, and still be genuinely thoughtful and surprising.” But this retcon says: Nope! $1.3 billion worldwide and universally positive reviews weren’t enough. If some subset of fans makes enough noise, they can convince the franchise’s gatekeepers that they are not just the loudest but the truest fans, and that the series must henceforth cater to their desires.
The result? A movie that takes the once-interesting stakes Rey faced and turns them into a very, very familiar story of a character facing the darkness of her ancestry. That was Luke’s story. It’s been Kylo Ren’s story. And now it’s Rey’s. “For me it was a dramatic choice,” Johnson said two years ago of his big reveal. “If the answer presented to her was, ‘Your parents are so-and-so, here you go, here’s your place in this story’—that would be the easiest thing for her to hear. And easiest thing for us to hear.” J.J. Abrams and Disney erased that dramatic, interesting decision. They gave Star Wars’ worst fans the easiest thing for them to hear.