As we inch ever closer to The Last Jedi, my excitement continues to mount. No matter how much I tell myself not to get my expectations too high, I can’t help but speculate! As I’ve said before, this random and excited speculating is part of the fun of Star Wars. I remember the months leading up to The Force Awakens were filled with hours and hours of pondering and hypothesizing. What will happen?? Who are these new characters?? How will the fit into the world of Star Wars?!? Geeking out with other Star Wars fans is one of life’s great joys :). And like many fans of the Saga, I’ve been spending a lot of time puzzling over who Rey really is and how she fits into the Force. Somewhat unexpectedly, the answer I keep coming back to that makes the most sense comes care of Hinduism.
Obviously, the question of Rey’s identity, not just her familial identity but her spiritual identity, is an important one. For me, it’s her spiritual/mythic identity that’s most pressing. With six Star Wars films before The Force Awakens, we know the Skywalkers touch the Force in a special way. Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One, the one who was born to bring balance to the Force. He was conceived by the midi-chlorians and born of a virgin – calling to mind both the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ and the Taoist understanding of Lao Tzu. But Star Wars takes the traditional Christian understanding of Jesus Christ – as Savior and Redeemer – and splits the role between Anakin and his son Luke Skywalker. Anakin is the Savior, the one who balances the Force. Luke is the Redeemer, the one whose love brings his father back to the Light Side so the Force can be balanced.
Both men are the heroes of their respective stories. Both men are characters with layer upon layer of mythical and theological significance. This isn’t even scratching the surface of the symbolism George Lucas built into the characters of Luke and Anakin Skywalker! But that’s not the point of this essay. Suffice it to say Anakin Skywalker’s spiritual/theological/mythic identity in the Star Wars Saga is that of the Savior. Luke Skywalker’s spiritual/theological/mythic identity in the Star Wars Saga is that of Redeemer. As characters of such importance, they have special roles to play in bringing about the will of the Force and the Force moves through them with unique power.
So why is this relevant for Rey? The Force Awakens makes it very clear that Rey can use the Force with exceptional skill without any sort of formal training. She has powerful visions. She can successfully execute a Jedi mind trick with (to the best of our knowledge) no practice or knowledge of the ability’s existence. She can instinctively call Luke’s lightsaber to her with ease and when she battles Kylo Ren it’s obvious she is fighting with the Force flowing through her, giving her strength, and guiding her actions. We’ve never seen anyone in Star Wars demonstrate this much natural ability/untrained power. How can Rey be more powerful than Luke – the one who redeemed the Chosen One? Or how can she be more powerful than the Chosen One??
My worst fear is that Disney’s going to try and use Revenge of the Sith to say Anakin wasn’t the one to bring balance to the Force. Rather, it’s Rey who’s come to do that; she’s the prophesized Chosen One. The key line of dialogue comes as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, and Yoda discuss Anakin’s assignment to spy on Palpatine:
Mace Windu – “It’s very dangerous putting them together. I don’t think the boy can handle it. I don’t trust him.”
Obi-Wan – “With all due respect Master, is he not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?”
Mace Windu – “So the prophecy says.”
Yoda – “A prophecy that misread, could have been.”
So I worry (a lot actually) that Disney will just try and drop their story over George Lucas’s story with a sort of, “Oh, you thought that was the big fight?? HA HA, no way! This is the big fight! Here is the real Chosen One!” Ugh. The idea of that coming to pass makes me sad and angry. BUT, while it’s my worst fear, I’m giving Disney the benefit of the doubt and presuming they aren’t going to do that. I’m choosing to believe they won’t bastardize everything Lucas created in the name of lazy storytelling. You’re better than that Disney!
My second fear is that no one’s really thought about the significance of all this at all. A bunch of people are writing a bunch of disconnected scripts for a connected story and that can spell trouble. I worry they started out to make this new Sequel Trilogy and, obviously, needed a hero so they said, “Oh, here’s this new girl who’s really good with the Force too!” But there has to be more to Rey than that! You can’t just have someone with Force abilities that (at least seem to) rival or surpass the Chosen One and not have a reason she’s so talented. We can’t have Rey flirting with the level of ability she has without some serious theological/mythological explanation as to how and/or why she can do what she does without undercutting Anakin’s importance in the whole Star Wars Saga. And I’m choosing to believe Disney is trying to put more into their era of Star Wars stories than that too.
As I run all of this over in my mind again and again (and I do it more and more the closer we get to The Last Jedi!!) my best explanation comes from the Hindu idea of an avatar. In Hinduism an avatar is an incarnation of God. Whenever a deity comes down to earth, for any purpose, in any life form, it’s called an avatar. While the Christian understanding of the incarnation of God is unique in the person of Jesus Christ, in Hinduism the gods incarnate on earth whenever they’re needed. The Bhagavad-Gita, the most influential Hindu scripture, tells the story of the god Krishna coming to council the warrior-prince Arjuna in the form of his charioteer as he wrestles with a moral dilemma as he prepares for a great battle. In the Gita, Krishna explains his true nature to Arjuna by saying, “Whenever sacred duty decays and chaos prevails, then, I create myself, Arjuna. To protect men of virtue and to destroy men who do evil, to set the standard of sacred duty, I appear in age after age” (4:7-8). If the Force can incarnate as the Hindu deities do and not only once as the Christian understanding of God does in the person of Jesus Christ, I find a workable answer for Rey’s power! She doesn’t even need to be a Skywalker for this to fit either!
This accounts for Rey’s abilities in and connection to the Force as well as opening the door for her reason for existing to be something other than balancing the Force. Rey can be an avatar of the Force in a similar fashion to how Anakin and Luke were. She can also be here to achieve a different end than balancing the Force, which I believe is important. If we start to say that Anakin didn’t really bring balance to the Force we undercut the entire story of Star Wars. I’m not okay with that. But Krishna tells Arjuna he appears “age after age” whenever “chaos prevails.” So Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One and he did what he was supposed to do. He brought balance to the Force. But that doesn’t preclude the will of the Force from having other designs it needs to bring about or other problems it needs to address. So we have Rey, a new incarnation of the Force to address the chaos of a new age.
The Hindu influence is evident in Star Wars going back to the beginning too. Whenever Lucas describes the Force in the Original Trilogy it is anchored in the Buddhist idea of Buddha Nature, the Taoist idea of the Tao, and the Hindu idea of Brahman. Brahman was the name the Aryans (the people who settled the Indus Valley in India in the tenth century B.C.E.) came to call the large and intangible reality behind everything. Brahman is “the unseen principle that enabled all things to grow and flourish. It was a power that was higher, deeper, and more fundamental than the gods…Brahman was the sacred energy that held all the disparate elements of the world together and prevented it from falling apart. Brahman had an infinitely greater degree of reality than mortal creatures, whose lives were limited by ignorance, sickness, pain, and death…it was everything that existed, as well as the inner meaning of all existence.” That sounds an awful lot like the Force to me! If Rey is an avatar, Star Wars would be adding an intriguing theological dimension to their use of the idea of incarnation, moving it from an expressly Christian one in Anakin and Luke to a Hindu one with Rey’s appearance on the scene.
Rey as an avatar of the Force would add another important theological dimension to the film, outside of expanding a Christian symbol to encompass a Hindu one. We’ve seen both Anakin and Luke be central to the Force and its will in the galaxy. Adding a female to this centrality brings the dimension of the Divine Feminine to the film and underscores the Force moves equally through women as it does through men. For centuries, Christianity has struggled with voices within it that try to keep women down because Jesus was a man (ignoring the reality that women were every bit as central to his movement as the men were). While religious prophets (across Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) always bring inclusive messages of equality, the fact that they were men can be used by certain segments of believers to undermine the importance and equality of women. Skywalker or not, making Rey an avatar of the Force in a vein similar to Anakin and Luke sends an important theological message.
On the Skywalker note, of course the argument can be made that Rey’s Force abilities are simply the result of her family. Her spiritual identity would flow from her familial identity then. The two most popular theories along this line of thinking are that Rey is a) a Skywalker or b) a Kenobi. As much as I would love Rey to be a Skywalker (pointing to the idea that a Skywalker comes along to help when the Force is in need (something a name with such angelic connotations as “Skywalker” is made for)), I don’t think that’s going to be the case. J.J. Abrams was pretty clear at the Tribecca Film Festival last year when he said, “Rey’s parents are not in Episode VII. So I can’t possibly say in this moment who they are. But I will say it is something that Rey thinks about, too.” Given the fact that both Leia and Luke are in The Force Awakens, J.J. is either throwing some major misdirection at us or she’s not a Skywalker. As to her being a Kenobi? Yeah, as far as I’m concerned there’s no way that can work and The Imperial Talker makes the definitive case on this one. If you’re curious as to why, click that link. He lays it out far better than I can. So I don’t think Rey can be a Skywalker nor can she be a Kenobi. And, honestly, I’m fine with that now. I think, if handled correctly, it could be exciting for Rey to be an entirely new character!
Now, there’s a very good chance none of this will end up being true. I’m probably wrong! But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m being completely serious about that too. This is part of the fun of Star Wars! Sitting around, thinking about this story and trying to unravel it in my mind is one of my favorite parts of obsessing about a galaxy far, far away. So, right now, this is my best guess about the nature of Rey and her abilities – a new incarnation of the Force. If you’ve got any fun and exciting theories yourself, be sure to let me know! And I promise, if a new idea pops up in my head between now and when The Last Jedi arrives in December, you’ll be the first to know.
 Ed Viswanathan, Am I a Hindu?: The Hinduism Primer. (San Francisco: Halo Books, 1992), 109.
 Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. (New York: Anchor Books, 2006), 436-7.
 Karen Armstrong, The Case for God. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009 ), 12.
 Well, first relatively speaking. I’m sure I would have already talked about it with Jeff…and Kalie…and Hannah…and probably David…and I may talk about in class at some random time too. BUT when it gets fleshed out to the point where I’ve got something to write about, well then you’ll know right away.