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Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker features a fairly dramatic plot twist, namely that

Rey is Rey Palpatine, granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine,

which finally answers the persistent question of her lineage.

At which point during the development of this third trilogy of films was this plot decision made? Was it made prior to the filming of The Force Awakens or was it made further along in the evolution of the trilogy? In particular, was it made between the release of The Last Jedi and the filming of The Rise of Skywalker?

Given the changes of directors and writers along the way, it is not clear which creative decisions were kept consistent and which plans remained intact.

Authoritative statements from directors J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson, or from the various writers working with them, or from other Lucasfilm / Disney personnel, would be satisfying.

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    Her name means "king" in Spanish so probably. Although 零 (れい, rei) means zero in Japanese so it could go either way.
    – Adamant
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 1:27
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    @Praxis - It strikes me as inherently unlikely that they had this twist in mind. The entire series seems like it was slung together based on poll-testing and focus-grouping lots of different plotlines to see which audiences liked
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 1:32
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    @Valorum whether the result of focus groups or not, the whole of Star Wars lore was made up on the fly, always. Yes, even the sacred Original Trilogy. Do you remember that kiss between Luke and Leia? They weren't brother and sister yet. And do you remember how Obi Wan told Luke Vader had killed his father? At that point that was true from all "points of view". And do you remember when Luke's surname was "Starkiller"? (ok, probably not that last one!) If Rey was turned into Palpatine's relative for the last movie, that's entirely in line with the modus operandi of the whole saga :)
    – Andres F.
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 2:34
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    My guess is that her lineage was undecided in TFA (but they had some ideas), then RJ subverted expectations in TLJ and he truly believed Rey was a nobody -- I'd say it's a key aspect of TLJ's message -- then JJ rolled that change back in RoS because audiences didn't like that direction. But I'm just guessing.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 2:37
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    @AndresF.: And here I was sitting through all three movies of this latest trilogy, wondering why the movies seem so obsessed with discussing whether or not Rey is or is not a nobody, and who her parents were ... when that seemed totally irrelevant to me all the time, given that Star Wars lore so far had established quite well that the Force is in everything, and force-sensitive people can be found in all species, probably in all social classes. Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 20:04

1 Answer 1

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Like everything in the Star Wars universe it seems like it was all “made up as they went along” with a follow-up of “we always meant to do this” or concocting some way to rationalize it all.

I know this is not 100% proof-positive, but the level of circumstantial evidence is off the charts here to support the claim that none of the topic of this specific question was ever planned and it was all decided on as part of pre-production for this specific film; aka: The Rise of Skywalker.

One of the biggest fallacies of the Star Wars universe is that all of the intricacies, connections, specifics and details are very well planned out.

That really has never been the case. For example — and as elaborated in this answer I posted on the Movies/TV Stack Exchange site — the whole “Luke and Leia being siblings” thing really only was developed when Return of the Jedi (1983) was in pre-production. Heck, in Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Luke and Leia were being portrayed as romantic interests. Why else would Leia give her “brother” (Luke) a big, full mouth French kiss in The Empire Strikes Back if any of this was planned out?

But back on topic…

Disney has generally been vague about whether stories are well planned out in advance, but I found a few good examples of people involved with the production vaguely answering — and never implying — that any of this was planned; quite the opposite.

Here check out this obtuse quote from writer/director J.J. Abrams in CinemaBlend (December 22, 2019); bold emphasis is mine:

“This whole trilogy — this 7, 8, and 9 — is really about the generation that sort of follows the great generation and the idea of balance, bringing balance to The Force. Which is the whole point of the chosen one Anakin in the original trilogy. What I love was the idea that balance brought to The Force doesn’t mean it’s forever. It’s not immediately everlasting. And I think the idea that if we are not careful, the evil will rise again. That we have to be proactive in doing what we can and maintain the balance, and how does the generation that follows the great generation do that. And the idea that these two main characters, both the grandchildren of these crucially important characters of Palpatine and Skywalker — as [co-writer] Chris [Terrio] was saying, these two houses coming together in this next generation felt like there was an inevitability to it. And if one were to watch [Episodes] 1 through 9, you know, 50, 100 years from now, hopefully you feel that these stories were inevitably leading there.”

Then there is this quote from producer Michelle Rejwan from Gizmodo (December 6, 2019); again bold emphasis is mine:

I think there was a feeling of inevitability that Palpatine had been a part of all three and in the biggest picture of nine movies, he has been there from the very beginning. And his presence in this movie, we will not spoil that, but when you see it it does feel to us, not only does it have the feeling of inevitability, but the ending of where we left him last, in Return of the Jedi, was very important to J.J. and Chris and to all of us. We discussed it at great length. So no, I don’t think so. I think it definitely feels as though it is in the DNA of the nine. And it felt appropriate to have his presence be in this movie.”

Then there is this info on from actor Ian McDiarmid who plays Palpatine on ComicBook.com (December 22, 2019) from an interview with Digital Spy (December 19, 2019); yet again bold emphasis is mine:

“I thought I was dead! I thought he was dead. Because when we did Return of the Jedi, and I was thrown down that chute to Galactic Hell, [he was dead]. And I said, ‘Oh, does he come back?’ And [George] said, ‘No, he’s dead.’ [Laughs] So I just accepted that. But then, of course, I didn’t know I was going to be doing the prequels, so in a sense he wasn’t dead, because we went back to revisit him when he was a young man. But I was totally surprised by this.”

And more for ComicBook.com (December 14, 2019) as well:

“It was a total surprise when about a year ago I had an email from J.J. saying, ‘Is there a good time to call you? And where should I call you?’” McDiarmid recalled. “So I emailed back and said, ‘Such and such time, and this is the best phone number to get me.’ And then he called me straight away and said, ‘We’re thinking of bringing back the Emperor. How do you feel?’ So I controlled myself and said, ‘Sounds like a great idea!’ And I realized my voice had shot up there, and I thought, ‘He won’t be able to cast me if I speak like that.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s wonderful.’”

None of this sounds like there was a definite plan, which is the line that George Lucas always gave when he answered similar questions about the prequels. If anything it sounds like they are trying to over rationalize it all.

But back on the topic really… Of Rey’s lineage.

Based on those quotes above and the revelation surrounding Rey seems to be improvised at best. Meaning The Rise of Skywalker seems to be a retcon of not just key points in The Last Jedi but also The Force Awakens.

I mean why bring back J.J. Abrams to do this if this final film of the main “Skywalker Saga” if this was all well so well planned to begin with?

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    Meaning The Rise of Skywalker seems to be a retcon of not just key points in The Last Jedi but also The Force Awakens. - there's stuff in those films that now has to be gone back to and changed to fit in with this?
    – Rawling
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 8:51
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    The Force Awakens set up the question of who Rey was as a huge mystery by doing things like ending scenes with lines like "Who's the girl?" and cutting away without answering. I don't think they had decided on what the answer would wind up being; rather, they left it as open as possible. The Last Jedi was about Rey being obsessed with finding the answer to a harmful degree, and concluded that in the end, the answer itself didn't matter.
    – Nathan K.
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 17:14
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    Rise of Skywalker tests this by revealing that her lineage is seemingly the worst a Jedi could possibly have. But instead of letting the name "Palpatine" define her, Rey rejects it and claims the name "Skywalker" instead. Just as with Luke, it's her choices that determine her destiny, not her parentage. Was this all planned from the beginning? Surely not. It's just one of many ways the mystery could have been resolved, and probably not most people's first choice! But I don't think it requires retcons; I think they hedged their bets by leaving a lot of possibilities open.
    – Nathan K.
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 17:15

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