There have been several posts written about Star Wars and The Force Awakens as a fairytale, but I have yet to see one about Rey’s origins within a fairytale context. Before we get to that however, you might be asking yourself, “why in the world would this chick even be comparing Star Wars to fairytales in the first place?” Well, I’ve got a simple answer for you. Star Wars is a fairytale in pretty much every sense of the word, just a modern one. Below are several quotes from various people involved with the Star Wars franchise illustrating the comparability of Star Wars and fairytales.
“[Lucas] then wanted to focus on making a film that was geared more towards kids, and combined elements of mythology and serials of the day, like Flash Gordon. Star Wars was meant to be a new mythology for kids trying to find their way in a bigger world, and [Lucas] felt that some of that was lost when westerns stopped being popular.”
— On the creation of Star Wars
“Star Wars is a fairytale. It’s a fantasy. At the heart of Star Wars is that idea of the Force, which is almost the antithesis of Science Fiction. It’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
— JJ Abrams
“Star Wars is more fairytale than true Science Fiction.”
— Mark Hamill
So now that we have that squared away, what exactly is a fairytale? Below are some quotes that I feel summarize what a fairytale is because it can be kind of difficult to categorize. These scholars conveyed what a fairytale is far better than I ever could.
“I said the sense “stories about fairies” was too narrow. It is too narrow, even if we reject the diminutive size, for fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faërie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being. Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.“
– J. R. R. Tolkien
“The definition of a fairy-story – what it is, or what it should be – does not, then, depend on any definition or historical account of elf or fairy, but upon the nature of Faërie: the Perilous Realm itself, and the air that blows in that country. I will not attempt to define that, nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible. It has many ingredients, but analysis will not necessarily discover the secret of the whole. Yet I hope that what I have later to say about the other questions will give some glimpses of my own imperfect vision of it. For the moment I will say only this: a “fairy-story” is one which touches on or uses Faërie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. Faërie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic – but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso: if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.“
– J. R. R. Tolkien
“My own definition of fairy tale goes something like this: A fairy tale is a story-literary or folk-that has a sense of the numinous, the feeling or sensation of the supernatural or the mysterious. But, and this is crucial, it is a story that happens in the past tense, and a story that is not tied to any specifics. If it happens “at the beginning of the world,” then it is a myth. A story that names a specific “real” person is a legend (even if it contains a magical occurrence). A story that happens in the future is a fantasy. Fairy tales are sometimes spiritual, but never religious.“
– Marcia Lane
If you look past the fact that Star Wars is set in space the narrative starts to look similar to other fantasy stories. ‘The Force’ is essentially a magic system and Force users can be comparable to warlocks/wizards/witches or faeries.
The Sequel Trilogy as a fairytale
Before we get into the meat of this post I just want to give a brief overview of the function of different types of fairytales. The function and narrative of fairytales greatly depend of the gender and age of the central character of the story. Fairytales that feature young children, like Hansel and Gretel, The Juniper Tree, or Sweet Porridge, deal primarily with family, food, and the fear of being consumed (read eaten). Stories revolving around young men tend to be coming-of-age tales. Examples of these types of tales include Jack and the Beanstalk, The Brave Little Tailor, and Tom Thumb. These are the types of tales that are famously used by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. These are also the types of stories that we see a lot of in modern media. Examples would be the original Star Wars Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and Avatar the Last Airbender. The list goes on and on. Below is a handy image of what the Hero’s Journey looks like.
Fairytales that feature adults or elderly people tend to focus once again on family and food. An example of this type of tale is The Fisherman and His Wife.
Fairytales that feature young women are also coming-of-age stories, but they tend to focus more on love, marriage and the exploration of women’s sexuality. By the end of the story the heroine either ascends or returns to a high social rank through marriage. In ascension tales the heroine is born in a poor household, usually with multiple siblings, and faces hardships such as abuse or starvation. In these stories the heroine is put into a situation where she meets a prince or a king and ascends to a new social class by marriage. In return tales a girl of noble birth (usually a princess) is lost or driven out of their home for one reason for another and is forced to live as vagrant or peasant. They meet a prince or king and return to their noble social class through marriage. The following lists are examples of ascension and return tale types.
Beauty and the Beast
Little Brother and Little Sister
The Girl Without Hands
The Singing, Springing Lark
The Goose Girl
With the Rey Solo theory dead in the water and the Rey Skywalker theory with one foot in the grave, I am confident that Rey will either be a nobody from a poor family or a princess. At this point, I’m leaning a little more towards princess/royalty. There isn’t much to say about the Rey Nobody theory, as ultimately her parents would not be important. However, there is plenty to discuss about the royalty theory.
Rey as Royalty
We’ll start with the lowest hanging fruit, Rey’s name. It has already been mentioned that Rey is most likely not her real name. In several supplemental materials it is said that she “calls herself Rey”, not that her name is Rey. She most likely got the name from the deceased Rebel pilot Dosmit Ræh. Rey is actually pictured wearing her helmet in the movie while sitting outside her AT-AT.
The next thing about Rey’s name is it’s meaning. Rey literally means ‘king’ in Spanish. Not so subtle.
An additional hint to Rey’s royal linage is her conversation with BB-8 when they first meet where Rey says “Classified? Me too, big secret.” She could be trying to be funny, but it could also be foreshadowing.
Colin Trevorrow, the director of Episode IX, has also gone on record about Rey’s parents.
“I’ve seen all of the theories… What I do know is that we’re going to make sure that that answer is deeply and profoundly satisfying, because Rey is a character that is important in this universe, not just in the context of The Force Awakens but in the entire galaxy, and she deserves it. So we’ll make sure that that answer is something that feels like it was—it’s something that happened a long time ago [in a galaxy] far, far away, we’re just telling you what happened.”
This doesn’t sound like Rey Nobody to me. This sounds like Rey and her parents are important people within the context of Star Wars, but her parents won’t necessarily be present in the films – their legacy will live on through their daughter.
Kylo Ren as Royalty
We’ve been discussing Rey as royalty, but we can’t forget that Kylo is technically royalty as well. Kylo has inherited his royal title from his grandmother, Padme (Queen of Naboo), and his mother (Princess of Alderaan). Below is a quote about how Kylo views himself and his place in the galaxy.
“Through his veins courses the bloodline of the most powerful Jedi and Sith, and Ren sees it at his birthright to rule the weaker beings in the galaxy.”
– The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary
From this quote we can gather that Kylo fully embraces his royal position, with all of the useful advantages that come from such a position, even if he is never addressed by a royal title in the movie. It’s interesting to note that in the novel Bloodline Leia is asked whether she thinks Ben would like to take a title or continue to work in government like her. Leia responds that she thinks he would not. At the time, Leia may have been correct, but that has since changed when Ben found out that Darth Vader was his grandfather.
Below is a screenshot taken from the official Star Wars Facebook page the day that The Force Awakens was released on Blu-ray/DVD.
“And together, we can rule the galaxy.” Hmmmm, so Kylo wants Rey to rule by his side as King and Queen? Based on everything we’ve seen so far, I think we can come to that conclusion.
So what does this mean? Remember earlier when I said that these types of fairytales typically end in marriage to royalty? I’m not saying that this trilogy will end with a marriage between Rey and Kylo, but this trilogy will end in a marriage between Rey and Kylo (or at least an equivalent to marriage). The question that remains to be seen is whether Rey is going to ascend to this position or return to it.
Just as a quick aside, fairytales that feature a disgraced prince or a prince in disguise always end with a return and a marriage- not redemption through death. Typically these types of male characters do not get their own stories, but are featured in (mostly) ascension tales. By the end of these tales the disgraced prince has returned home and the heroine has ascended. Not every tale is like that, but there is certainly a trend. Stories like these include Beauty and the Beast, Prince Lindworm, The Frog King, and East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
If we look back at the Hero’s Journey, I think we can safely assume that Kylo would be at his abyss right now and on the way to a transformation. By comparison, Rey would be at the first threshold (beginning of transformation). Now you might be thinking, “this only applies to heroes!” In a traditional fairytale you would be correct. However, there are many instances in modern media where villains make the same journey and end the narrative as protagonists. Two famous examples of this type of transformation are Vegeta from the Dragonball series and Zuko from the Avatar series (a character Kylo Ren is compared to frequently across the fandom). And, oh hey, would you look at that, they’re both princes as well.
Looking at The Force Awakens within this context can give us some clues about Rey’s origins and where the trilogy is heading.
tl;dr: Rey is either a nobody from a poor family or royalty, Kylo will most likely be redeemed, and the sequel trilogy will end in some style of marriage.