I must have missed something, because Rey is a scavenger who dismantles spacecraft, etc., and can drive a speeder/swoop.

It’s likely she has never even seen someone operate a spaceship. Are we to believe that their purported background is enough to inform them on the operation of these, to where they’re doing all kinds of fancy tricks within two minutes of their first moment behind the controls?

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    The most notable were Anakin and Luke Skywalker. I believe there are a couple minor examples in Clone Wars and Rebels as well. – Dave Johnson Dec 29 '15 at 20:35
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    @paultamalunas All we saw Luke do in the first Star Wars is drive a land speeder. Then suddenly he can man the canons on the Millennium Falcon. Then he can fly an X-wing at the end of the film. – Giacomo1968 Dec 29 '15 at 20:44
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    @paultamalunas I disagree with the podracer thing, as Anakin was very lucky in that race. It's mentioned several times that Anakin has yet to finish a race, let alone win. – CBredlow Dec 29 '15 at 21:15
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    @paultamalunas With the common-ness of protocol droids similar in shape to C-3P0, he probably 'built' that droid the same way I 'built' my computer. – CBredlow Dec 29 '15 at 21:34
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    Of all the things she picks up the ability to do in the film remarkably quickly, this is the least surprising. – TZHX Dec 29 '15 at 21:40

In the canon book, Before the Awakening, it is discussed that Rey had access to a flight simulator, which she spent some of her time on. It is also mentioned that she was very skilled at flying spaceships in the simulator.

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    so, before she was abandoned, she had access to all kinds of fancy stuff, is that it? I'm gonna have to look into that. – paultamalunas Dec 29 '15 at 21:59
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    @paultamalunas : For all we know she keeps the simulator in the AT-AT foot. It may well be her WoW. However, I have flown simulated and real aircraft and I'm not quite willing to buy that zillions of hours in one is sufficient practice for crazy aerobatics in the other. – Eric Towers Dec 29 '15 at 22:46
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    @EricTowers I would guess that being strong enough in the Force to make a movie about probably covers that gap decently. – TylerH Dec 29 '15 at 23:49
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    Good find! That's what I get for delaying to add prequel stuff to my answer :)))) +1 – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 30 '15 at 1:08
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    I'll be darned, the SW wikia site actually corroborates this. I thought you guys meant she had a flight simulator from before. She actually does have it in her AT-AT foot. There was a perfect opportunity to show this during her dinner scene in the movie, but they blew it. All makes sense now -- as long as we can assume that pirate cargo vessels are included in the flight simulator, or that controls are fairly standardized in the SW universe ... – paultamalunas Dec 30 '15 at 20:25

TL;DR: because of a confluence of several reasons

  1. She flew many craft/junk before (her terms), since birth
  2. It was harder to fly Falcon than the film made it look at first glance. She made many mistakes
  3. Her "fancy flying" was either an accident, OR flying through intimately familiar Star Destroyer
  4. She studied Falcon (and other ships) in the junkyard before
  5. She has the Force

Visual Dictionary confirms #1:

  1. She's a skilled pilot

    She has also become a skilled pilot (page 30)

The Alan Dean Foster novelization addresses this in several ways:

  1. She flew many "craft" before.

    Turning, Finn headed for the indicated area. “You ever fly this thing? Or anything like it?”
    As BB-8 looked on, she shouted back to him, “I’ve piloted all kinds of craft, but nobody’s flown this old crate in years!”

    and later, after shaking the second TIE:

    “That was some piloting!”
    “Thanks.” She shrugged. “I’ve been flying every kind of junk you can imagine almost since I could walk.”

  2. It was harder to fly that it looked, before she got the hang of it

    Fully powered up now, it soared into the bright blue sky of Jakku—but not efficiently. Shedding tarps as it rose, it spun and careened wildly, nearly crashing back to the ground. Wrestling with the unfamiliar controls, Rey managed to level off just in time to crash into and through the town’s entry archway: Niima Outpost’s sole example of architectural pride.

    and later

    Driving the ship surfaceward, she pulled up at the last possible moment and sent them screaming across the ground, clipping the crests of at least two dunes.

    and later

    Just a little farther, she told herself as she clung grimly to the controls. Just keep them off a little longer. She was heading for her favorite scavenging spot: the ships’ graveyard. Let them try to follow her in there! She banked hard, low enough to cut a crease in the sand.


    Trailed by the surviving fighter, the ship slalomed through the colossal debris field. Sparks flew as she grazed towering metal walls and fallen station sections, but the hull of the borrowed craft held together. As he was banged around in the gunner’s seat, Finn tried to keep track of their remaining pursuer while peering out at a trash-paved surface that frequently came entirely too near to where he happened to be sitting.

    Also, some of the "fancy piloting" you see at the start of the film (barrel roll when BB-8 was turned upside down and needed cables) was an accident

    Realizing it was impossible to reach the necessary instrumentation {{ she wanted shield controls on copilot's side }} while seated in full pilot’s position, Rey momentarily let go of the controls. She’d have to do this manually, she knew. Put any ship on autopilot and the vectoring would immediately be sensed by a pursuer, who could then lock on and blow you out of the sky. In contrast, there was just enough wild wobble in their flight path as she leaned to her right to confuse any electronic predictors. Her stretching, however, caused the ship to cant sharply as she tried to activate the shield instrumentation on the copilot’s side while maintaining some semblance of flight control.
    “Beebee-Ate, hold on!”
    Her warning came too late for the droid. Beeping madly, he rolled ceilingward as the ship spun.

  3. The really dangerous part of the flying (inside the Star Destroyer hull), she was flying inside a structure she knew in her heart, intimately, from past explorations (she chose it on purpose)

    Even a former crewmember would not have been as familiar with the corridors she chose. But she had not merely familiarized herself with them from a diagram: She knew them intimately, having inspected them individually and on foot or with climbing gear.

  4. Later, when they meet Han, she explains to him she knows this ship well since she studied it while it was in Plutt's junkyard

    “Hey! Some moof-milker installed a compressor on the ignition line!”
    “Unkar Plutt did.” Rey saw Finn shoot her a look and she glanced away, abashed. “I’d spent some time poking around all the ships parked at the outpost. Mostly at night. It was a way to learn some things. I was careful, and nobody much cared anyway, since I never took anything or tried anything.” She brightened. “Made it a lot easier when we filched this one. Though it wasn’t my first choice.”

  5. To top that off, she is positioned as being Strong in the Force.

    The last two Strong In the Force Jedi wanabees were both - in large part due to the Force abilities, developed instinctively before Jedi training - were great pilots: Luke Skywlalker and Anakin Skywalker. The first of which blew up a Death Star when first time in a space fighter; the second blew up a Trade Federation mothership, when first time in a space fighter AND 11 years old to boot.

  • So she's not your run-of-the-mill scavenger? Or she is, but they're allowed to fly spacecraft from time to time? Or this is hinting at a back-story element that we'll find out later? – paultamalunas Dec 29 '15 at 20:39
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    @paultamalunas well for one thing, she's obviously got super strong force powers. this gives her a leg up no matter what her backstory is. – zipquincy Dec 29 '15 at 20:41
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    @paultamalunas What you are saying is it’s theoretically impossible in the modern world to believe a homeless person can ride a bike or drive a car. Heck, some homeless people are ex-military so they might have even flown aircraft in the past. I do agree that a lot of the characterization in this film was really bad—worse than other Star Wars films—but the base logic is not much worse either. – Giacomo1968 Dec 29 '15 at 20:46
  • @JakeGould I'm not saying that at all. As you say, there's nothing stopping a homeless person from piloting a helicopter, if they're a military veteran or for some other reason had expertise there. But I wouldn't expect a military veteran who fueled up the helicopters and polished the controls to be able to fly the thing -- unless they were an enthusiast who flew aircraft on the side. My only question is, what is it about Rey that confers this ability. If flying a spaceship in SW universe is like driving a car in ours, that would be an acceptable answer. But if there's something more ... – paultamalunas Dec 29 '15 at 21:01
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    @paultamalunas - she's an independent scavenger, nowhere close to indentured servant :) I'll dig through the prequels for details, if any; but Visual Dictionary is pretty unambiguous – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 29 '15 at 22:01

She is

Anakin's grand-daughter. She has his innate skills with respect to machines. She is a good at taking things apart and piloting them, just like her grandfather.

  • On one hand, yes. On the other hand, being a great mechanic doesn't necessarily make one a great pilot. And being a grandchild of a great pilot likewise isn't necessarily magically heritable to you. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 30 '15 at 4:51
  • There is just a bit of magic in this universe though, no? My personal take is this was intentional by the writers. She even comments during one scene how she is not sure how she just performed a certain maneuver. – thron of three Dec 30 '15 at 5:00
  • Oh, I totally don't disagree that it was likely intentional by the writers. They stole most of the ideas from Episode IV :) But in-universe, you need to show proof that mechanic means pilot, or your assertion is not proven. There are plenty of talented engineers and mechanics in SW who are not pilots – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 30 '15 at 5:04
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    Citation needed – user2813274 Dec 30 '15 at 6:13
  • Actually, it is revealed in The Rise of Skywalker that she is Palpatine's granddaughter. – user62584 Mar 18 '20 at 10:45

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