Who are Rey's parents? If you believe the Internet, it's the million-dollar question of the Star Wars franchise. Her family history is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; is she a Skywalker? A Solo? A Kenobi? A Palpatine?
(Seriously, that last theory is surprisingly common, even though it kind of makes me shudder at the idea of post-Revenge of the Sith Palpatine trying to be romantic. I guess by that theory, power really must be the ultimate aphrodisiac!)
Now we have another theory to add to our collection, courtesy of Jon Negroni, who originated the famous Pixar Theory that all Pixar films take place in the same universe. It's actually a really plausible one. He calls it — the Lightsaber Theory.
In This Theory, the Lightsaber Is the Key to Rey's Story
Jon Negroni suggests that the key moment in The Force Awakens is when Rey picks up Luke's old lightsaber and experiences what J. J. Abrams has taken to calling a "Forceback," a Force-induced series of visions that send her mind spinning through the whole #StarWars Saga.
- Scene 1: A haunting, eerie image of Cloud City, where Luke fought Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.
- Scene 2: Rey sees a hooded Luke at Artoo's side next to a burning building, as we hear his famous shout of "No!" The audio is from the moment Vader reveals that he's Luke's father; further tying the scenes together, Luke places his metal hand on Artoo's shell. In Empire, of course, that was the same scene where Vader cut Luke's hand off in the first place. In a strange twist, one of the Knights of Ren hovers over Luke — but is killed by Kylo Ren.
- Scene 3: Rey's vision spins her to Jakku, where she's being dragged away as a spaceship flies off.
- Scene 4: Rey's vision closes with a "Forceforward" — a glimpse of the future, of her duel with Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base.
It's thrilling to watch, and Jon Negroni argues that the common thread is the lightsaber itself. In each scene, the lightsaber is present — and something significant happens to it.
First, Luke lost the lightsaber on Cloud City, in that fateful duel with Darth Vader. He later finds it again; we know it was Luke who found it, because he places the lightsaber in the same chest Obi-Wan had. Only Luke would do that. By this logic, the lightsaber must have switched ownership (however briefly) at the Jedi Massacre; Scene 3 is clearly the aftermath of the slaughter, with Luke mourning the deaths of the Jedi. And the lightsaber must also be present when Rey is abandoned on Jakku, indicating that Luke was the one who left her.
If Jon Negroni's right, then the lightsaber is central to the story. He suggests that Rey's parents are among Luke's slaughtered students — and that one was perhaps chosen to bear the lightsaber as Luke's successor. For Ben Solo, who was becoming ever more obsessed with his grandfather's legacy, the idea that someone else should bear that lightsaber would be unthinkable.
Significantly, this fits pretty well with some of the character beats in The Force Awakens. Han doesn't recognize Rey at first, but relaxes around her as he works out who she is. Maz asks Han who this girl is, and — based on what Han's told her — arranges for Rey to find the lightsaber. That's why she appears as soon as Rey finishes her "forceback." Leia, too, relaxes around Rey, embracing her as though she knew her.
The key is that Han, Maz and Leia all know Rey a little, and recognize her as the film goes on.
Most importantly, though, this theory adds extra depth to two major scenes. Firstly, when Rey duels Kylo Ren he angrily insists that she doesn't deserve that lightsaber. That blade is the bone of contention between Luke and Kylo Ren, a relic that he so desperately desires — and that he has killed for. Secondly, though, the end-scene becomes far more significant. Jon Negroni writes:
"This also adds new meaning to the final shot of Rey offering the lightsaber back to Luke. It’s a full circle moment for her to remind Luke who he is, who she is, and how the Force has brought them together again. We see Luke’s slow realization of this, as he puts the pieces together himself, and we’ll likely start The Last Jedi with Rey convincing Luke to train her. The big twist will be Rey realizing that her parents were killed and that they were Jedi (or one of them was), and Luke’s decision to leave her on Jakku was rooted in his desire to end the Jedi."
It's certainly an attractive theory, from a narrative point of view. But fans are hotly debating whether it's watertight.
A Few Problems?
That said, there are some fundamental issues with the theory. The first is that the lightsaber is not always present in these scenes; we don't see any hint of the blade in the Jakku scene, with young Rey screaming as she's dragged away. It's more logical to suggest that the forceback is presenting visions of key moments from the lives of two of the lightsaber's owners, Luke and Rey. So the first scenes are important times in Luke's life; the last two are important moments in Rey's, including one "forceforward."
What's more, I have to say that this explanation troubles me a little. I'm not sure I like the idea that Han, Maz and Leia all worked out who Rey's parents were, and all chose not to reveal that secret. What's more, I'm not actually persuaded that Han, Maz and Leia actually deduce Rey's identity as the film goes on; they accept her, but then they've always had something of a habit of picking up strays.
The final problem with the theory is in the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, which subtly changes the order of the visions (it's likely the order was changed during the film's final edits, so as to make the flow easier to interpret; Foster had long since sent his manuscript off to the publisher's at that point). The dialogue is slightly different, too; as she revisits her past on Jakku, Rey hears another voice, one described as "that voice":
"Stay here. I'll come back for you... I'll come back, sweetheart. I promise."
Whoever left Rey behind on Jakku intended to come back for her. That, after all, is why Rey wants to stay on Jakku; she believes that promise. She believes the ones who left her behind will return.
Tweaking the Lightsaber Theory
Let's assume that Jon Negroni's theory is correct — that Rey's parents (or one of her parents) were Jedi Knights or Apprentices, being trained by Luke. When Rey picks up the lightsaber, she receives a series of visions, ones that are focused around the lightsaber's owners. So she relives key moments in Luke's life, and then her own — even ending with a vision of the duel on Starkiller Base.
For what it's worth, I do think the flow of the vision is correct; that Luke Skywalker is the one who leaves Rey on Jakku. But I think that, at this stage, Luke truly intended to return — instead, he found something on Ahch-To, something that made him change his mind. Either that, or he lost his spaceship, and had no way to return or contact his friends and family.
All in all, I don't think the Lightsaber Theory is quite right. However, I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't a little closer to the truth than most of our guesses to date. The general thrust of the narrative fits really well, and I love the additional significance this concept adds to the closing scene of The Force Awakens. It's definitely a theory worth thinking about!