Disney has finally dropped the first substantive trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The closing moments show Rey (Daisy Ridley) clad in dark robes and wielding a double-bladed red lightsaber. That, along with hints at the return of the Emperor and clips of a massive fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers, raises a troubling question: Will our heroine turn to the Dark Side, give in to temptation, and join up with the Sith?
It’s a moot point, I’m afraid. Because she likely already has.
[Ed. note: We’re veering into fan theory at this point. No spoilers per se, but best to turn back now if you’re not up for it.]
To follow me along this speculative journey, we need to return to the most confusing part of Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Rey’s visit to the mysterious cave below the island on Ach-To.
Inside the cave below the Jedi temple Rey found a massive crystal wall. Touching it, she asked the Force itself to tell her who her parents were. Instead of a familiar elder or the face of a stranger, the figure that she saw inside the crystal was a reflection of herself. That reflection quickly expanded into an infinite regression, with hundreds of Reys vanishing off into the distance, each one mimicking her every move.
Speaking with /Film soon after the release of The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson played the scene off as a variation of Luke Skywalker’s own journey into a mysterious cave in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. There, in a grimy hole on Dagobah, Luke confronts a vision of Darth Vader, only to find his own ruined face hiding behind the mask.
“The idea was if the up top is the light, down underneath is the darkness,” Johnson said. “And she descends down into there and has to see, just like Luke did in the cave, her greatest fear. And her greatest fear is [that], in the search for identity, she has nobody but herself to rely on.”
Many fans, myself included, found that explanation unsatisfying. I have no reason to doubt Johnson or think that he lied in that interview. But, it may not even matter if he did. Johnson isn’t in control of this third and final film.
This time around the director is J.J. Abrams, the same man behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That means that whatever Johnson may or may not have had in mind doesn’t really matter anymore. Abrams is free, within reason, to reinterpret and remix Johnson’s imagery in any way that he sees fit, so long as the folks at Disney and the Lucasfilm Story Group sign off on it.
Perhaps, in Abrams’ mind, that reflection of Rey inside the dark crystal is much more literal than Johnson had at first intended. Maybe Rey is a clone.
That interpretation would explain away the issue of Rey’s parentage. Rather than drunken junk traders, she could be the offspring of anyone with access to the Empire’s now ancient cloning facilities. Perhaps Palpatine got tired of trying to find the right protégé and simply elected to roll his own. Adding to the complexity, perhaps Rey is just one possible branch of a cloning effort that is many generations old, one seeking to create a Force-sensitive creature more powerful than any that has come before. Perhaps, in making hundreds of Reys over the years, Palpatine has lured many of them over to fight at his side before destroying those with even a hint of disloyalty.
That would lead to a final confrontation putting the Rey we know and love against one — or more — of her own clones.
You can see the allure of the symbolism there. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace showed us that Anakin was the product of a natural birth, albeit from a virgin mother. Clone Rey would effectively be man-made, setting up a powerful conflict pitting the natural order against a kind of Frankenstein’s monster.
Obviously this could all be misdirection, a bunch of breadcrumbs lined up so that old hands at the Star Wars lore like me would come to just this conclusion. It could very likely be the same sort of trailer bait-and-switch that had so many people thinking Finn would be the Force-sensitive hero in the first movie instead of Rey.
But the reintroduction of clones has a history in the Star Wars canon. It hearkens back to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, specifically the original Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. In those novels the Empire’s remaining clone systems, called Spaarti cylinders, were a major plot point, as were the Jedi cloned with them, and the crews of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s massive fleet.
Perhaps when Disney pulled the plug on the Expanded Universe way back in 2014 it was all building up to this. Perhaps the reason that the Lucasfilm Story Group was even formed was, in part, the borrow the best parts from that huge block of narrative work — set down in novels, comics, and video games — and use them as kindling for the modern interpretation of the Star Wars universe.
Assuming that’s the case, then Abrams has even more narrative work to do in this final film than we can imagine.
If the Rey clones are real, then he needs to explain the timeline of their creation. That means revealing, once and for all, how an orphaned Rey ended up on Jakku. In the same film he also needs to plausibly resurrect the shadow of Emperor Palpatine, introduce one or more evil Rey clones into the mix, and somehow resolve the conflict between the Rey we know and love and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) ... plus give a resolution for every other character in the movie, including Poe and BB-8, Finn and Rose, Jannah, Lando, Leia ... even the Emperor himself.
That’s a lot of ground to cover. With more than 40 years of fandom waiting for the final reveal, and a multi-billion dollar franchise hanging in the balance, all eyes are on J.J. Abrams and The Rise of Skywalker. And I’ve got a bad feeling about this.