Rian Johnson Explains Why He Made That Difficult Decision About Rey’s Parents

Daisy Ridley Star Wars The Last Jedi

SPOILER ALERT: The following article contains massive spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you have not yet seen the film, and don't wish to know any major details about it before you do, please bookmark this article and return after your screening!

Director Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi is full of shocking events and revelations, but few are on par with the information disclosed regarding Rey's parents. Fans have spent years speculating who the heroine's mother or father could be, guessing that it could be someone as important as Obi-wan Kenobi... but the ultimate answer is "None of the Above." As told to Rey by Kylo Ren, her parents were nobodies who sold her on Jakku and then died a few years later. It's epic news to learn, but Johnson recently revealed to me why he decided that it was the move that had to be made:

For me it was a dramatic choice. It was just that her hearing - and also for the audience hearing that... if the answer had been, that's presented in this movie at least, in this context. 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! Wish fulfillment. It's like, 'Oh, great! That's who I am. That's that.' The hardest thing she could hear is, 'No, you're not going to get that answer, that definition.' In fact, the fact that you don't have that is going to be used against you by Kylo, to try and make you lean on him. You're going to have to find the strength to define yourself and stand on your own two feet.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rian Johnson and Star Wars: The Last Jedi producer Ram Bergman at a special press day in Los Angeles yesterday, and it was there that I had the opportunity to dive deep into spoilers from the film. One major topic of discussion was the subject of Rey's family and where she came from, and Johnson explained why he felt that it was the choice that needed to be made for the story he was telling.

While not every fan has reacted positively to this reveal about Rey's parents, Rian Johnson also makes a very strong point about why he made the decision -- without even mentioning the argument that giving Rey a famous relative would make the Star Wars universe feel too small. Since the character was first introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey has been a protagonist full of inner conflict, largely spurring from the fact that she doesn't really know who she is and where's she really comes from. To have her learn some kind of easy answer about a noble ancestry would not only immediately zap away that important conflict, but would also totally freeze and dismantle her important journey of self-discovery. Without the simple explanation, the heroine must stand on her own and carve out her own path, rather than just follow one already carved out for her.

Going further, Rian Johnson went on to explain that his choice regarding Rey's parents was also very much inspired by particular revelations in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which you can read about on the next page:

Daisy Ridley Star Wars The Last Jedi

How The Rey's Parents Revelation Connects Back To The Empire Strikes Back

There are many Star Wars legacies that are carried on by Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and big revelations in the second story of a trilogy is certainly part of that. But in regards to Rian Johnson's move with Rey's parents, the filmmaker pointed back specifically to one of the most iconic lines of dialogue in cinema: Darth Vader revealing that he is Luke Skywalker's father in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Fans will always remember this moment as a rather devastating one in the history of the saga, and Johnson explained to me that he was actively going for that effect in his film. Said Johnson,

I always go back to Empire - the moment of 'I am your father.' That moment right there, that was the hardest thing Luke, and also the audience, could have possibly heard. It took away the easy answer of, 'It's just a bad guy.' Suddenly you had to think of him in more complex terms. And Mark's amazing, 'No' that he delivers in response to that is also how we feel as an audience member! We hate that moment. It suddenly takes away the easy answer and makes things very hard. And I was searching for what the answer would be in this movie that would have the same effect, and that was it.

Part of the charm of Star Wars has always been its black and white perspective of morality -- with the Rebels representing the forces of Good, and the Empire standing in for Evil. This is a key part of the storytelling in the 1977 original, but the water gets muddied forever in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker can no longer simply take down the Empire with his Lightsaber, because it means killing the only family he has left in the universe. It's the same idea in The Last Jedi, but flipped: while Luke Skywalker discovers that he actually has a family, Rey learns that she actually doesn't.

Like the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back, the information about Rey's nobody parents is all about subverting expectations, which is actually something (without getting into too many details) that Star Wars: The Last Jedi does multiple times throughout its narrative. It's natural for parts of the audience to reject it, because they had a specific image of what the blockbuster should be, and because it isn't, they're upset. But that's normal. Remember: The Empire Strikes Back didn't get the warmest reception when it came out in 1980 either.

Because some people aren't in love with the decision regarding Rey's parents in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there has been some denial going around as well -- specifically asking if it's possible that Kylo Ren is lying to Rey about where she really comes from. I also had the chance to ask Rian Johnson about this, and we'll dive into that on page three!

Kylo Ren Star Wars The Last Jedi

Could Kylo Ren Be Lying About Rey's Parents?

After years of theorizing and speculating about Rey's parents, some fans don't seem fully willing to accept the reality that Star Wars: The Last Jedi presents -- and their key piece of evidence seems to be that they don't trust the person delivering the news. After all, the villain has a lot to gain from putting Rey off-balance while he is trying to seduce her to the Dark Side, and it's possible that he doesn't actually know anything. During our sit down, I asked Rian Johnson about that argument being made, and while he admitted that context could change things in the future, that wasn't what he was trying to do.

The thing is, and again, it's totally open in terms of where it's going to go in the next one. My own take, I don't think he's lying in terms of playing chess in that moment. Maybe he is, I don't think so. It seems to me that he believes it. It seems to me she believes it. But, you know, certain point of view always comes into play in these movies.

In regards to Kylo Ren telling the truth, it does track with the legacy of the Star Wars franchise. Bringing it back to the Empire Strikes Back comparison, you never really doubt that Darth Vader is telling the truth about his relation to Luke Skywalker, and it winds up being in the franchise's best interest because it becomes a huge part of the hero's conflict in Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi. If Rey just accepts what Kylo says as truth, she is set to go down an equally meaningful path, though one that is entirely unique from the events of the 1983 film.

Of course, now the decisions in that department are out of Rian Johnson's hands. While the filmmaker is sticking with the Star Wars franchise developing a whole new trilogy of movies, the narrative of 2019's Star Wars: Episode IX is now in the hands of director J.J. Abrams. During the making of his movie, he could make the decision to totally reverse Johnson's choices regarding Rey's parents, and establish that Kylo Ren was indeed lying -- but it should be noted that wasn't the initial intention of The Last Jedi director.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now in theaters, and be sure to stay tuned for more from my interview with Rian Johnson!

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.