By George Bate
The reveal that Rey was the granddaughter of none other than Emperor Palpatine took many by surprise and has since been the subject of much debate and discussion among fans. With such a groundbreaking revelation in The Rise of Skywalker and looking back upon the sequel trilogy as a whole, many questions arose, including the matter of who actually knew that Rey was a Palpatine. Potential shifts to the sequel trilogy’s overarching plan make it difficult to truly answer this question, but, now that the Skywalker saga has concluded, it’s interesting to look back and see how Rey’s parentage was regarded by others.
The question surrounding Leia is not “if she knew Rey was a Palpatine,” but “when did she know Rey was a Palpatine?” In The Rise of Skywalker, Luke reveals to Rey that Leia knew of her apprentice’s lineage and trained her in spite of it, a key moment in demonstrating how Rey is her own, autonomous person, free from any predetermined familial destiny. Leia could have come to this realization at many different points in canon, but there are two ways that are most probable. The first is in The Force Awakens, after Starkiller Base has been destroyed and the Resistance returns to their base on D’Qar. Here, Leia and Rey meet for the first time, sharing an intimate moment together as they mourn over Han’s death. It’s possible that Leia, being Force sensitive, sensed Rey’s linkage to Palpatine in this very moment, but felt that Rey was a genuinely good person despite this. Another option is that Leia came to this realization in between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, during which Leia trained Rey. During their training, Leia and Rey’s bond inevitably grew stronger, which, potentially, led to Leia coming to the conclusion that Rey is not actually a nobody, but that she is related to Darth Sidious himself.
Much of the sequel trilogy centers around Rey’s pursuit of belonging and this journey starts with her attachment to Han in The Force Awakens. Prior to The Last Jedi’s release, much of the speculation surrounding Rey being of familial importance came from several hints in The Force Awakens, some of which centered around Han. Not only does Han seem to have a strong, emotional connection to Rey, but the scene in which Maz asks Han, “Who’s the girl?” abruptly cuts before Han can respond, leaving audiences questioning if Han knew something the audience didn’t at that point. As the trilogy progressed, however, it became more evident that Han probably lacked any knowledge of Rey’s true parentage. Although he is not Force sensitive, it is possible that, somehow, Han had a “feeling” or a sense that Rey was something more than just a scavenger from Jakku. It’s also possible, although unlikely, that Leia somehow knew that Rey was a Palpatine before meeting her and conveyed this information to Han upon reunited with him. However, both of these options are unlikely, making it more certain that Han was unaware of Rey’s lineage.
From Episode VIII to Episode IX, Luke goes from “Who are you?” to “…you’re a Palpatine.” The most logical explanation for Luke’s obliviousness to Rey’s parentage in The Last Jedi, but comprehension of this fact in The Rise of Skywalker is that Luke somehow uncovered this mystery between the two films. As Luke cut himself off from the Force for the entirety of the time he spent with Rey in The Last Jedi, it’s conceivable that Luke was simply not given the opportunity to sense that Rey was a Palpatine, as Leia evidently was. Following his death, Luke could have discovered Rey’s lineage through their shared connection to the Force or through conversations with his sister Leia. However, although it’s clear that Luke truly thought Rey was a nobody upon meeting her in The Last Jedi, it’s possible that Luke was generally aware that another Palpatine could be out there. Battlefront 2, The Rise of Skywalker, The Rise of Kylo Ren comic, and other canon stories have explored some of Luke’s adventures following the fall of the Empire, some of which involved ensuring that Palpatine’s reign and influence in the galaxy was truly over. This is shown in Battlefront II when Luke is searching for Palpatine’s vault and in The Rise of Skywalker when Lando recounts their mission to find the Sith Wayfinder to Exegol. Perhaps, during these adventures, Luke found out that Palpatine had a child or a granddaughter, but never connected this to the scavenger who showed up on Ahch-To. Regardless of this, it’s clear that Luke came to this revelation, either through the Force or through Leia, following his death in The Last Jedi.
Palpatine / Snoke?
Perhaps most intriguing in this discussion is Palpatine’s knowledge of his granddaughter. Prior to The Force Awakens, Palpatine had hired Ochi of Bestoon to kill his son (failed clone?) and daughter-in-law and retrieve his granddaughter in order to execute his plan of using his granddaughter’s body and spirit to rule for eternity. It appears, however, that, upon failing to find his granddaughter, Palpatine shifted gears from this plan. No longer was he focused on getting his granddaughter, but he appeared more focused on cultivating Kylo Ren as his new apprentice, leading the First Order under the guise of Snoke, and finalizing his Final Order fleet. It seems that the only logical time for Palpatine to have uncovered the fact that Rey was his granddaughter was during the throne room sequence in The Last Jedi. Until that point, Snoke merely views Rey as a means toward an end – if the scavenger is captured, we can use her mind to find Luke Skywalker. There’s no hint whatsoever that Snoke and the First Order, in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, realize that Rey is a Palpatine. This must’ve changed in the throne room when Snoke comes face to face with Rey. Perhaps Snoke did not realize her lineage, but Palpatine, controlling Snoke from afar, definitely did once they were together in person. It must have been here that, while relentlessly trying to find and kill Luke Skywalker and strengthen the First Order’s grip on the galaxy, Palpatine realized that the Force sensitive scavenger girl who bested Kylo in a duel and who he used to find Luke was indeed his granddaughter. It would not make sense for Palpatine to have realized this beforehand. Otherwise, he would have pursued Rey, rather than Luke.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm & Disney+