When was Rey abandoned?
According to a Variety piece on Daisy Ridley, Rey was left on Jakku when she was five years old. If correct (this detail could change, since it doesn’t appear in any of the official canon books), that means she has been stuck on Jakku for fourteen years as of the events of The Force Awakens.
What were the circumstances of Rey’s abandonment?
There is very limited information to go on when it comes to this. In The Force Awakens, we briefly glimpse Rey being left behind on Jakku. We see a young Rey, protesting and screaming “come back”, having her arm tugged by Unkar Plutt:
And we then see the adult Rey – who finds herself physically present in the desert – looking up at the sky as a ship flies off and is swallowed by an ominous red light.
The heavy implication of this is that Rey was left with Unkar Plutt on Jakku for reasons unknown and by people who may or may not be her parents.
So, seriously – who left her?
While Rey imagines that she is waiting for her family to return for her, it is heavily implied in tie-in media that that is a mere assumption. In Rey’s Survival Guide, it is revealed that Rey has no real memory of life prior to finding herself on Jakku – that means she doesn’t know who her parents are, and has no real idea why she was left or who left her.
The nature of Jakku and – especially – the nature of monstrous junk dealer Unkar Plutt strongly imply that Rey’s being left behind was not the act of a benign parent making a rational decision about their child’s welfare. This, as far as I’m concerned, leaves three central possibilities:
- She was left there as a last resort, by someone who was desperate or felt they had no other choice.
- She was left behind by someone with ill intent, who wanted the child to be forgotten and endure a miserable and meaningless existence.
- She was left behind by someone with ill intent, to punish or take revenge on someone else (most likely her parents).
There is one more clue to Rey’s backstory that is worth mentioning. In the novelisation of The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster, Rey’s vision is different. The scene where Rey sees her child self being left behind is not present. Instead, you get this:
Around her now: barren, snowy woods, the sounds of unknown forest creatures, and a conviction that she must be losing her mind. Once more she climbed to her feet, her chilled breath preceding her. From in front of her, not far away, came the sounds of battle: the cries of the wounded and the clashing of weapons. Then behind her, another voice.
“Stay here. I’ll come back for you.”
She whirled, glazed eyes desperately scanning the dark gaps between the slender trees, trying to penetrate the darkness.
“Where are you?” She started running toward the voice.
“I’ll come back, sweetheart. I promise.”
“I’m here! Right here! Where are you?”
No response. She started forward again, running, only to be brought to a sudden halt by a figure appearing without warning from behind a tree.
This, of course, is a very different scene to what we ended up with. If it is based on Rey’s lived experience – being a kind of suppressed memory – then the scenario here involves Rey being hidden in a snowy forest by a loving guardian amidst a battle, seemingly for her own protection. But whoever left her doesn’t return.
The canonicity of the novelisation – which, like all novelisations, was based on an earlier draft of the script – is up for debate. It’s very possible that the memory Rey recalls in the novelisation will be discarded going forward. However, there is one small detail that may indicate that the story of Rey as a child of war is still being followed. The scene depicting Rey’s abandonment on Jakku was one of the last scenes to be filmed, and is supposed to have been shot in the summer of 2015 (that this was a late development is also reflected by its omission from the novelisations, which will have already been submitted by the time the scene with the young Rey was shot). The young actress who played Rey, Cailey Fleming, gave an interview to her local newspaper where she said the following:
“It was fun and we filmed at the headquarters on the roof. I wore war clothes and had makeup on my arms to make it look like I was in the desert. I met Daisy Ridley, who was really nice. The Director, J.J. Abrams was super nice and he sent me to Disneyland. Every time we did a scene he would yell “cut” and bring strawberries.”
The actress’s reference to “war clothes” seems very specific, and is likely to be a detail she was told rather than an inference she made on her own. Therefore, the scenario where Rey was separated from her parents or guardians during a battle seems highly plausible. If it is an actual part of the backstory, we may be dealing with a situation where Rey endured two separations as a child – the first from her parent(s) amidst a battle, and the second when she was left behind on Jakku.
One final detail worth noting is that the voice addressing Rey as “sweetheart” was attributed to a man in the script (as per Pablo Hidalgo):
Therefore, if the speaker was one of Rey’s parents, it would seem that she was hidden by her father rather than her mother.