Rey and Other Heirs of Choice

This post is about the hero of the latest Star Wars trilogy. For the heroes of the original trilogy, see “Luke Skywalker and Other Celibate Heroes”, “Han Solo and Other Toxically Masculine Sidekicks”, and “Leia Organa and Other Awesome Princesses”.

I give a broad-strokes summary of Rey’s arc, but try to avoid any major spoilers.

Much of the plot of Star Wars episodes VII-IX concerns Rey’s search for identity. The actual revelation about her parenthood may or may not be satisfying to you, but it doesn’t really matter, because the identity she ultimately comes to has little to do with biological ancestry. Instead, Rey ends up finding her identity in her relationships with the three Star Wars characters I’ve already discussed: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa.

Rey’s story is, in many ways, a fantasy for all the kids like me who grew up with the original trilogy. Not only does she get to live in the Star Wars universe, she gets to meet the heroes of the original Star Wars trilogy and make friends with all of them. She flies with Han, trains under Luke, and fights for Leia. And she uses the gifts they give her to become the hero of a whole new Star Wars adventure.

At this point you might be thinking, “Mary Sue” – and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Yes, Rey is good at everything, has no serious flaws, and effortlessly wins the love of everyone she meets. But, to me, the bigger question is what Rey does with her talents and how she chooses to use them.

What Rey has in common with Han, Luke, and Leia is not just flying ability, Force sensitivity, and charisma. She also uses those things to help others. Rather than simply pursuing her own ambition, she fights for liberty and justice for the whole galaxy. By picking caring over domination, the Light Side over the Dark Side, and the Rebellion over the First Order, she reflects, not only the older heroes’ skills, but also their choices. And that makes her worthy to be their comrade and the heir to their legacy.

This is in contrast to the person who might seem like Han, Luke, and Leia’s natural heir: Ben Solo. As Han and Leia’s son and Luke’s nephew, you might expect him to inherit their roles of Millennium Falcon pilot, Resistance leader, and Jedi master. But Ben chooses a path that takes him away from his parents – and, more importantly, their values. He may have their genes, but Han, Luke, and Leia are defined by more than their genetic makeup: they’re also defined by the choices they make and the values they uphold. Rey becomes their heir based on her choices and values; her own biological ancestry is irrelevant.

There’s something just slightly queer about this. Queer and ace people are less likely to have biological children and more likely to be estranged from their biological families. That makes them more likely to form families in unconventional ways. Rather than engaging in sexual reproduction, they may adopt, help raise other people’s children, or become mentors. Rather than identifying with their birth families, they may find support and acceptance in chosen families and created communities. These, too, can be seen as forms of reproduction, where succession is based, not on blood, but on shared experience, purpose, and love.

And perhaps it’s because of being ace-spectrum myself that I’ve always enjoyed stories about this kind of succession. At the end of Camelot, King Arthur is at war with his biological son but feels triumphant knowing that his ideals will live on through young Tom of Warwick. Bilbo Baggins leaves his home and all his possessions to his cousin Frodo, who in turn leaves them to his best friend Sam. And, of course, Luke and Leia themselves both choose a very different path from their biological father.

One of the recurring themes of the new Star Wars trilogy is that the Rebellion is like a great big family that accepts the people who might be oppressed or rejected elsewhere. A few of its members are blood relatives, but what really connects them is their sense of shared purpose and support of one another. That makes it like other communities, including the ace community, where marginalised people can find acceptance and support each other. The ace community has been very important to me. I know it has been even more important to others, especially those who have been estranged from or rejected by their birth families. But, like Rey, we are not defined by our birth families. We have the power to create our own communities, claim our own identities – and be the heirs to those we choose to emulate.

3 thoughts on “Rey and Other Heirs of Choice

  1. Sara K. says:

    When I read this, I can’t help but think of the wuxia genre (and by extension the other -xia genres) where often family is based on teacher-student relationships rather than biological ancestry. The terminology reflects this – shifu/shifu literally means ‘teacher-father’ and the other students of your teacher are your ‘teacher-brothers’ or ‘teacher-sisters’ and the ‘teacher-sister’ of your shifu is your ‘teacher-aunt’ etc.

    On the other hand, these teacher-families can be just as abusive as biological families, a theme which is often explored in wuxia (and other -xia genres). After all, in wuxia stories, even biological parents don’t have a right to kill their own children, but it is quasi-acceptable for a shifu to kill their own students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blue Ice-Tea says:

      Interesting that the language makes the family relationships so explicit.

      I guess it makes sense that there would be parallels between Star Wars and wuxia, given that Star Wars was heavily influenced by Asian martial-arts films. Certainly the films all portray the master-pupil relationship as very important – arguably even more important than parent-child relationships.

      Of course, it also makes sense that these kinds of relationships can have their dark side. Any time you elevate a relationship to the status of familial relationship, you risk incurring the same problems that plague other familial relationships. But when your culture places so much emphasis on biological family (as North American culture does), then the idea of forming a family based on other things seems appealing.

      I wonder, do any wuxia stories end up doing the reverse? Having characters turn away from their teachers and choosing biological bonds instead?


      • Sara K. says:

        The short answer is yes, characters do sometimes turn away from their teachers towards biological bonds, but these stories can get pretty convoluted. It’s complicated enough when audiences have to keep track of biological genealogies of characters, but when there are also master-pupil genealogies…

        (And I notice that I was so tired when I made the initial comment that I made a mistake – the ‘teacher-sister’ of your shifu is actually your ‘teacher-uncle’ because ‘teacher-uncle’ is a gender-neutral term, just like ‘shifu/teacher-father’ can describe someone of any gender. A ‘teacher-mother’ is actually the wife of your shifu, to whom a pupil owes respect but isn’t actually the pupil’s official teacher, and a ‘teacher-gentleman’ is the husband of your shifu. As you can imagine, trying to translate these terms is one of the challenges of trying to translate wuxia into English).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s