Disney has released a “special look” at Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which debuted at the D23 convention over the weekend, and, shockingly, there’s a clip of Rey wielding a Darth Maulian double-red lightsaber and looking pretty damn evil. Has Rey gone from being your kid’s favorite Star Wars character to being your child’s worst nightmare?
Effectively, this footage serves as a second trailer for The Rise of Skywalker and will send hardcore Star Wars nerds into a frenzy of geeky speculation. But what does it mean for kids? Will Disney and Lucasfilm really send Rey to the dark side? And if so, can families really handle losing another pop-culture hero?
Everybody has their own reaction to Luke getting his hand cut off in The Empire Strike Back, but little-kid me was just out at that moment. Luke had probably already made it back on the Millennium Falcon before my parents figured out that I was hiding behind the living-room sofa. Luke losing his hand and finding out Darth Vader was his dad nearly ended my Star Wars fandom, but my parents coaxed me back, assuring me that the movie would end on a happy note and that Luke would “be okay.”
Now, parents may face a similar problem with the contemporary version of Luke, the heroic and staunchly good character of Rey. If Rey becomes Rey Vader in The Rise of Skywalker, how do we assure our kids that everything is going to be okay? Let’s watch that trailer again, and think about it through the eyes of a child.
Though this trailer starts hopeful and beautiful, that last image is pretty bleak. The entire story of Star Wars can’t be about a good person going evil, right? And yet, in this context, if a kid sees Rey in the black hood with the red lightsabers, they will probably assume the worst. So what does a parent say? The gut reaction would be to say “everything will be okay, even Darth Vader turned good in the end” But what if the actual plot of the film turns us into liars? In an effort to make an interesting artistic choice (and it is interesting for the record) it seems like Disney and Lucasfilm could be fumbling the whole point of Star Wars in the first place.
In numerous interviews, George Lucas repeatedly said that he created Star Wars to give future generations new stories about heroes; a series of fairy tales that felt old and new at the same time. Essentially, Star Wars in 1977 was an optimistic response to anti-heroes and pessimism. After the failure of his dystopian sci-fi film THX-1138, Lucas decided you could change people’s lives with positivism over pessimism. Since then, the Star Wars saga has dipped in and out of this “everything is going to be okay” mentality. While the notion of hope tends to reign supreme in the Star Wars philosophy, the status quo of the fictional galaxy-at-large is pretty bleak. After all, the name of the series has “war” central to its theme. These are stories about conflict, even if the messages and flash visuals connect with children.
But how do you explain Dark Rey kid? You could try: “Sorry honey, Rey (maybe) turning to the dark side of the Force represents the duality within all of us; the idea that we all have the potential for great good and great evil stems from psychology and deep understanding of Jungian myth, so really, you should be happy Rey is (maybe) turning evil, because it’s a more realistic depiction of the human condition and not a fairy tale that panders to your need for heroes.”
Yeah. I think we all know that’s not going to fly. The only way for this to work out for kids is to talk about Rey in hopeful tones right now. “Rey probably knows what’s she’s doing” seems like a good place to start. Or: “I can’t wait to see what Rey is really doing with that lightsaber! Remember when she stole Kylo Ren’s lightsaber last time?”
Thinking about Rey relative to a hopeful outcome feels consistent with what Star Wars is usually all about. And if Rey does end-up permanently turning to the dark side, it sort of depends on how it all plays out in the movie. After all, the Jedi try to teach you never to be angry, but anyone with a small child knows that anger is a natural part of life. Smart parents let their kids feel their feelings, even negative ones. So, if Rey is having a temper-tantrum in The Rise of Skywalker, maybe there will be a teachable moment or two in all of this. Kids might not be able to articulate what nuance is per se, but they are aware of moral paradoxes all the time. They can want to dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween and simultaneously recognize that Darth Vader is a morally bankrupt person. If kids see aspects of themselves in Dark Rey, maybe that’s okay.
Just as long as lightsabers aren’t real and simply a metaphor, parents can rest easy. For now.
The Rise of Skywalker is out everywhere in theaters on December 20, 2019