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New footage for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker debuted at D23 on Saturday, leading to plenty of speculation about the fate of the franchise’s beloved characters, notably Rey (Daisy Ridley). That footage, which has now been officially released online, concludes with a startling moment: a hooded and gaunt-looking Rey wielding a red, double-bladed lightsaber. It appears Rey’s journey from discovering her heritage within the Force, and becoming the last Jedi, will see her turn to the dark side. But of course, this is a J.J. Abrams film we’re talking about, and the director is known for his mystery box approach, red herrings and surprising reveals. Rey’s dark side turn, especially considering its reveal within a b-roll teaser, is sure to be more than it appears. But given that this is the end of the Skywalker Saga, a narrative built around cyclical stories and parallel images, what are the odds that Rey truly turns to the dark side?
Since her debut in The Force Awakens (2015), Rey has emerged as a fan-favorite character who ushered in a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. Her importance to the franchise can’t be understated. She’s the first female lead and the first Jedi who isn’t part of the Skywalker lineage (barring an unlikely retcon) to carry the fate of the galaxy on her shoulders. But her emergence as a complex hero does not prohibit a potential shift to a complex villain. But a possible jump from light to dark would need to rely on a major narrative turning point, such as the death of several key allies or a startling revelation about her identity.
There’s an eagerness to learn that comes with Rey’s characterization, but she lacks the competitive intensity of Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and the impatience of Luke (Mark Hamill). On the surface, her personality doesn’t seem geared to the perversion of the Force that begets Lords of the Sith, or even Jedi like Luke who struggle between the dark and the light. Yet there is a darkness to her that comes from a lack of security in her parentage, a desire to be more than an orphan from Jakku. While she keeps it buried, there’s a measure of anger and fear within her. As Luke revealed to her in The Last Jedi (2017), she was immediately drawn to the dark side on Ahch-To. And her connection to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whether we read it as romantic or platonic, is potentially seductive. She turned down joining him to rule the galaxy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s turned her back on the dark side for good. The return of Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) could certainly lead to a compelling reason for Rey to turn dark.
What seems most likely is that Rey’s turn to the dark side is a force vision, not unlike Luke’s journey into the Cave of Evil on Dagobah, where his face was revealed under Vader’s shattered helmet. The setting surrounding Rey in that final teaser moment appears cavelike, though it could also be the interior of a damaged Star Destroyer. If it is a vision of a possible future, does that mean it’s Rey’s? Perhaps it’s Kylo’s vision, a warning from Luke, or a manipulation by Palpatine, to show what will happen if he strays from the dark side and how another, worse evil, rises in his place.
There’s some expectation that Kylo will be redeemed, but maybe that redemption comes in the form of him being convinced to turn his back on the light and sacrifice himself to the dark side in order to prevent the Emperor from seducing Rey. But why would Rey need Kylo to save her from the dark side? Well ,let’s not forget Palpatine’s ability to create life from the Force. It’s highly implied in Revenge of the Sith (2005) that he created Anakin. It’s not impossible that Rey was Palpatine’s second attempt and the mother that gave birth to her on Jakku was merely a vessel, like Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August). Rey’s vision in the Mirror Cave when she sought the answers of her parentage didn’t show junkers, it showed only Rey. It’s possible Kylo told the truth when he said her parents were nobodies, because the story of her creation is one that lies in the secrets of the Force.
A final detail worth noting in this end teaser moment is that Rey is wearing Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) ring. Does this imply that Leia’s death was the reason Rey turned to the dark side, or that Rey killed her? Leia wears the ring on her right hand, but Rey has it on her left, a reference the idea that the left hand is sinister. If this moment isn’t a force vision, then perhaps Rey is merely posing as a Sith to convince Palpatine she has turned, manipulating the great manipulator. Whatever the truth is revealed to be, chances are that Rey’s journey will not end in her becoming a Sith. But the idea of it, and the imagery behind it, is interesting to entertain and adds another level of anticipation to The Rise of Skywalker.
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