Thanks to The Last Jedi, We Finally Know What “The Force Awakens” Means

It’s a long limb I’m about to go out on, but this branch is gigantic and definitely supports my weight. So let’s talk about Rey and about Kylo Ren. Let’s talk about Skywalkers and midi-chlorians. Let’s talk about how the Force “awakened” and what that means for the galaxy.

[Spoilers for The Last Jedi, of course.]

The Last Jedi’s final frames are not concerned with anyone “of note” in their galaxy. He’s a poor, enslaved child on Canto Bight who is now sporting Rose’s resistance ring. He reaches for a broom to sweep up, and the broom flies to his hand from a distance—he has the Force. He stares off into the night sky, much like Luke Skywalker stared into a Tatooine sunset decades before. He sees a shooting star. In effect, the end of Episode VIII wants its audience to acknowledge a shift in the galaxy: the Force is changing. When the new tide rises, perhaps no one will be barred from it.

This sense that “the Force belongs to everyone now!” has resonated with fans for good reason. Though there was never anything stopping sentient beings in the Star Wars galaxy from being Force-sensitive, there were many structures in place that prevented people from learning about that sensitivity and using it. Prior to Order 66, if you wanted to know about the Force, you had to be given to the Jedi Order by your parents in infancy. There weren’t many other avenues open to those whose parents made a different choice for them, who had the abilities but none of the knowledge. You could become a Sith apprentice, or maybe you were lucky enough to be born on a rare planet possessing a large Force-wielding population like Dathomir, but that was pretty much it.

Then the Jedi Order was wiped out by the Galactic Empire and being Force-sensitive was a liability, something to hide; the Emperor dispatched Inquisitors to seek out the remaining Jedi and find any Force-sensitive children to make certain that they never reached their full potential.

Jedi, Attack of the Clones

After the Rebellion deposed the Emperor, there was still the question of what would happen to a galaxy that continued to produce Force-users with very few educators to pick up the slack. Luke claims that he had a school of roughly a dozen students, plus his nephew, but those numbers don’t account for the ten thousand Jedi that had existed during the height of the Republic and other sensitives besides. Which means that there is basically an entire lost generation of people with Force-wielding capabilities just hanging around. Out there, somewhere.

So why is Rey the one that the galaxy needed? Why her specifically? We might already have our answer…

The title of Episode VII prompted some confusion for fans—the Force is awakening? Was it asleep? Is it somehow morphing? Supreme Leader Snoke made mention of this in the film, telling Kylo Ren, “There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” It’s likely that he was referring to Rey, the young woman who suddenly appeared on the galactic stage out of nowhere with a whole lot of Force mojo despite zero training. This seems even more likely when she explains to Luke Skywalker why she has come to find him on Ahch-To in the next film: “Something is inside me has always been there. But now it’s awake.”

In other words, Rey has always had some inkling that the Force was within her, but it suddenly flipped into overdrive. Her power is expanding, as her understanding of this strange sense has magnified. Rey isn’t just any old Force-sensitive being in their galaxy; her abilities are baffling to everyone who knows about the Force. Snoke belittles Kylo Ren after their fight on Starkiller Base, taunting him for being bested by “a girl who had never held a lightsaber.” Luke is mortified by the power Rey displays when he tries to give her a lesson. He tells her that he’s seen that raw strength once before—in his nephew—and he knows now to be afraid of it. Many fans assumed that this power in Rey was the result of a secret lineage, that we would learn she was either Luke or Leia’s child by The Last Jedi. Instead, the film offered us a different answer; Rey’s parents are no one special at all. They sold her and left her alone on Jakku, where she lived the majority of her life until now. So where did Rey’s awakened abilities come from?

To figure it out, we have to go back to Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin Skywalker, Revenge of the Sith

Here’s the deal: Anakin Skywalker has a conversation with Chancellor Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith in which Palpatine tells him a Sith legend about Darth Plagueis the Wise, a dark side-user so powerful that he figured out how to use the midi-chlorians to create life. We’re left with the distinct impression that Plagueis was Palpatine’s Sith master, and that he killed the man after gaining that knowledge for himself. Palpatine’s midi-chlorian manipulation is ostensibly what created Anakin Skywalker; his mother explains to Qui-Gon Jinn that Anakin has no father, that she became pregnant without a partner. Anakin is the result of a Sith Lord using special knowledge of the Force to create an unnatural birth.

As a result, Anakin is also incredibly powerful. In fact, he might be more powerful than any other Force-wielder living, at least in terms of access to the Force. The happenstance of his birth results in him possessing an unusually high midi-chlorian count—even higher than Yoda’s, the most powerful Jedi of the era. He has the ability to podrace when no other human can, he sees things before they happen, and what he lacks in wisdom over the years, he makes up for in sheer brute might. While many Jedi have a better understanding of the Force, no one has the raw talent of Anakin Skywalker. And that unbridled strength is what seals the fate of the Jedi Order in the long run; when Anakin goes over to Palpatine’s side, the two become unstoppable.

Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine, Revenge of the Sith

Anakin Skywalker is prophesied to be the Chosen One who would bring balance to the Force, and he ultimately does through his children. After entering into a forbidden marriage, the twins that he and Padmé Amidala have are responsible for eradicating the Sith and bringing true harmony to the galaxy. Luke says as much to Rey in The Last Jedi; following the Emperor’s demise, there were years where the Force was finally balanced.

But then Ben Solo grew into his power.

This is the crux of the problem. While Luke Skywalker may have become a legend for correcting the cosmic imbalance, the Skywalker family is not destined to bring anything but pain into the universe. It’s important to remember that the Skywalkers were ultimately a lineage of Force-users that came into being without the Force’s input. Palpatine created Anakin to his own particular specifications, made him more powerful than anyone so that he could wield a mighty Vader-shaped hammer when he finally took over the galaxy. That power continued down his bloodline when it was only meant to benefit one horrendously evil man.

Luke and Leia. Return of the Jedi

The galaxy got lucky with Luke and Leia. Anakin’s children did not embody the flaws of their father—the Skywalker twins were both deeply motivated by selfless love, loyalty, and a desire to help others. They were capable of shepherding the galaxy into an era of peace because peace is what they sought. But like legends of old, the good ruler is only useful while they sit on the throne. Eventually someone else will take their place, and that person is liable to be worse, and then all that hard work is erased, the status quo restored. That return to form is precisely what we see in Ben Solo. Whatever Luke’s mistakes were in training him, Ben was predisposed to this path, like his grandfather before him. And his desire for power at the expense of all others is throwing the galaxy out of whack again.

So the Force Awakened. And it selected someone to eradicate the Skywalker line for good.

The Force has different components: the Cosmic Force and the Living Force. The Living Force is the Force that exists inside all living things, while the Cosmic Force is what binds the galaxy together. According to the Force Awakens Visual Dictionary, the Cosmic Force essentially went a little dormant following the defeat of Palpatine, and it was harder for those with Force-sensitivities to detect its presence. But there was turbulence in the galaxy and it awakened again, helping those with latent Force abilities to recognize their powers. Including people like Rey and that little kid with the broom.

And what was the turbulence? Oh… just another Skywalker threatening to plunge the galaxy into darkness again.

Ben Solo, Kylo Ren, The Last Jedi

The fact that Rey has a power clearly equal to Kylo Ren’s speaks volumes. Rey didn’t recognize her abilities until the Cosmic Force woke up, and when it did, she was drawn into a story much older and larger than herself. The Force chose her, not in a prophetic sense, but a practical one—and this can be true whether you view the Force as a sentient deity, or as a metaphysical aspect of the universe that is unconsciously doing the cosmic equivalent of introducing an antibody to expel a virus. It selected a random orphan of no importance to anyone and imbued her with the power to stop a line of Force-wielders who never should have existed in the first place. The Force is done letting the galaxy try to work things out for itself. It’s employing its own corrective.

The fact that Rey might simply be a castaway with no connection to others is incredibly important to her part in this story. After The Force Awakens, fans were keen to point out the similarities between Rey, Anakin, and Luke, all of them children who grew up on desert planets, hoping for better lives. But Rey’s early life was decidedly different from the Skywalker boys in one particular way: she never had a true home. Her very first friend was Finn, another person with no past and an uncertain future. Rey is the perfect candidate for this job because her life is unmoored, and she is searching for purpose. She answers this call without question because she has nothing else to do or be, even moreso than Luke at the beginning of his own journey. Compared to him, Rey is a laser beam, tightly focused on a target. She has so little to lose that it doesn’t occur to her to hesitate in taking up this mantle.

Rey, The Last Jedi

And all the while the Force is tweaking at her. Making it clear that she has this power, making her curious about it, making her want to use it. Rey isn’t just a very special Force-user with a very special destiny. She is the sword of the Cosmic Force, here to bring the galaxy true balance for the first time in an age.

Kylo Ren should be terrified.

Emily Asher-Perrin still feels really bad for all the Skywalkers, since it’s not like they were going for this lot in life. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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