FINDING MYSELF IN MEDIA: Choosing Your Family and The Rise of Skywalker

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Rey Skywalker

Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker

Not every family is happy, that’s just a reality of life. But, we live in a society where blood family supersedes all else. Don’t want to go home for the holidays? Well, you must be an awful person. But what many don’t realize is that sometimes, not only can you choose your family, but you’re forced to. When the people in your family don’t respect you, don’t care for you, finding your family somewhere else is of the utmost importance. Additionally, sometimes you have to choose your family, not because you’ve been pushed from yours but because they don’t exist. It’s the latter that has defined Rey’s journey throughout the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and in The Rise of Skywalker, JJ Abrams takes an underlying message and makes it overt with Rey Skywalker.

When it comes to Rey, her parentage and her identity has been a point of fandom contention. Some wanted her to remain Rey “Nobody” while others wanted her to be connected to an existing lineage like Obi-Wan’s or to be a Skywalker.  For me, I didn’t care either way. With the former, you get a subversion of a long-held trope within not just Star Wars but fantasy as a whole. With the latter, you get an explanation for Rey’s power. That being said, The Rise of Skywalker does much more than simply tie Rey to a lineage. While we now know that she’s Rey Palpatine by blood, Abrams and Chris Terrio, the film’s writers, took her lineage in a predictable yet important direction. They have her choose to be Rey Skywalker.

I come from a Mexican family. Our culture makes it so that cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles, and more are all our nuclear family. Growing up, I didn’t understand the concept of “immediate family” just being my parents and my brother. Instead, I was connected to 72 other people, who on holidays would all come into my grandma’s house and celebrate together. Because of this closeness and cultural rules that saw age as a hierarchy, it wasn’t always easy to be in the same room as them. Especially when I started to develop my own identity outside of a familial one.

While I’m Mexican American, I’m also an atheist. You may not think this is a revelatory statement but for me, in a staunchly Catholic family, it was choosing to be true to myself and live on the outside. As the current political climate grew more hostile, my white-passing cousins made it impossible to be around them as they supported people who looked to harm our community. Losing parts of my family was hard, but my conscious and self-care were more important. Hearing about what Hell awaited me or having some of my family members ask me racist questions because I got one of my degrees in Middle Eastern Studies meant that I had to overcome the internalized “family is family” rhetoric that traps so many of us in toxic situations.

Rise of Skywalker

While my setting was uncomfortable, I’m reminded of my friends growing up who had it worse. Those who ran away from home, who were withheld from college because they were a woman, who were kicked out for their sexuality, and for the family we created amongst our friend group. Telling people that blood is blood, that it binds you to people forever, is a harmful lie. It doesn’t. We can, in fact, choose our family. Like many, my dad, who I call my dad isn’t my biological father. But he chose me. He chooses to be my father every moment of the day while the actual man behind the blood in my veins actively ignored my existence.

And all of this, all of the experiences I carry with me, I carried into my viewing of Rise of Skywalker. By doing this, I found myself in Rey. While I’ve loved her character, I disconnected from her character in The Last Jedi, which focused more on her relationship  She began her story alone and seemingly forgotten. But, over the course of the sequel trilogy, she found her family. The concept of found-family in media is a family of choice, cemented by a bond forged between people unrelated by blood that is equal to if not greater than other representations of family. In a found-family, a character who has been alone finds brothers, sisters, parents in those around them in a bond that runs deeper than blood.

Even without her lineage, this is Rey’s family in the sequel trilogy. Finn, Poe, Leia, and Luke are her family. They impact her and have since The Force Awakens. Despite not receiving screentime all together in The Last Jedi, Rise of the Skywalker gives Poe, Finn, and Rey time to shine as a family, together. Their bickering, their hugs, and ultimately how they’re there for each other when the galaxy is coming at them.

Rey Skywalker

That being said, Rise of the Skywalker does more than just give an orphaned girl from Jakku friends who become family. It also shows Rey actively making the choice to turn away from her blood, to shirk what Palpatine believes she should be. Our growth and our destinies are not about who or where we come from.

For Rey, the pull to the dark came from a hatred for the man who took her real parents from her, but she is saved by the love and guidance of the ones who stepped in. Rey’s choice to turn away from the dark is influenced by leaning on those around her who helped her grow: Luke and Leia. When Rey feels Leia die, she remembers her, choosing to save Kylo Ren instead of letting him die. When she’s ready to give up on Ach’to, Luke appears to remind her that this isn’t the way. And when she lies on the floor close to death in Palpatine’s throne room it’s the call of them and the Jedi before her that helps move her.

For those of us from families that aren’t traditional, Rey’s journey is a meaningful one. While it isn’t the journey that some fans wanted after The Last Jedi, it’s one that hits me at my core. My family isn’t traditional, my father chose me, my friends chose me, and ultimately, I’ve turned my back on toxic members. The message of The Rise of Skywalker is that it is okay to turn your back on blood and to become someone of your own making.

At the end of the day, her name is Rey Skywalker. She chose that, and they chose her.