(Editor’s note: normally, rather than compete with the holidays this week would be dedicated to our biannual Second Look feature—and that will indeed begin tomorrow and run through Friday. But first, with The Rise of Skywalker being so fresh in everybody’s minds and reactions being, ah, also very fresh, I thought today would be a good opportunity for this short, lighthearted piece from Jay Shah, which let’s be honest, I couldn’t have stopped him from writing if I’d tried. – Mike)
Warning: heavy spoilers follow for The Rise of Skywalker.
So, there are many questions that The Rise of Skywalker raises, even as it purports to answer others. There will be many articles over the coming weeks asking or answering them, serious think-pieces and silly parodies.
I plan to be serious in my silliness.
We learn a few things about Rey in this movie. I want to discuss what they mean. Not specifically for her, or the saga, or the mythology. I’ll leave those discussions for someone else. I want to discuss what the appropriate form of address for her should be.
But wait, you ask! Didn’t she say at the end of the film that her name was Rey Skywalker? She sure did. And she has a right to decide who she is and how she defines herself, regardless of what anybody else says — her bloodline, her family, the galaxy, etc. If she says she’s Rey Skywalker, then she is.
But since I didn’t see her sign a legal change of name document, I’ve decided she’s still legally Rey Palpatine. This is an assumption on my part: we don’t know if her father was legitimate or if he or she was a product of a morganatic marriage.1 But this is a silly piece, so I don’t care. I’m operating under the assumption that her father is legitimate and so is she. The Emperor wanted her to succeed him, so that is enough to establish legitimacy for me, regardless of anything else. Princeps legibus solutus est,2 after all.
The real question — what’s her title?
I’m pretty satisfied that Rey’s legal surname is Palpatine. But there’s another, more important, question: what’s her form of address and title? That one is a little more complicated.
For most of her life, it’s easy. She’s Her Imperial Highness, Princess Rey Palpatine. As the granddaughter of the Galactic Emperor, she’s entitled to this style and title (at least going by the vaguely Anglo-European rules of monarchy that I’ve decided to use).
But what about after the Emperor dies? And which time?
If we decide that the Imperial throne never lapsed after Endor since Palpatine never died, Rey is to be called Her Imperial Majesty, the Galactic Empress. That’s because Mas Amedda never has the authority to surrender the Galactic Empire, it was an ultra vires act and the Galactic Concordance was never legitimately signed. The Emperor was always the Emperor, and by killing him (as he wanted), Rey becomes the new Galactic Empress. At least, if we’re being hardline about the Imperial throne. Call it the Legitimist position, like the people who are still questioning the War of Spanish Succession.
But revolutions have consequences. The Emperor may be alive, but the Rebels won the war. The New Republic ran the galaxy for thirty years, or at least, parts of it (including the Core). Mas Amedda signed a Galactic Concordance that merely reflected reality. So — the Emperor was dethroned, and his successor Rey merely holds the title in pretense. She’s like numerous other royals from non-ruling houses in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In that case, by killing the Emperor, she’s Her Imperial Highness Princess Rey Palpatine, Empress-In-Pretense.
…or is she? The New Republic was destroyed by the First Order. The First Order was controlled by Emperor Palpatine, through his puppet Supreme Overlord Snoke. So if we accept that winners write the rules, then we’re back to Empress Rey, because she succeeded Emperor Palpatine after an Imperial Restoration.
So that’s the end of it, as far as we know. Except…we might know better. Rey’s not actually going to take up the Imperial title, she rejected the Sith plan and the Imperial fleet crashed and burned. We don’t know the shape of the galaxy to come, whether it’ll be a democratic galactic republic again or something else — but Rey won’t be reigning.
The bottom line of this very silly analysis is that depending on your point of view, you can call Rey anything. Empress? Sure? Just Rey of Jakku? Definitely. Rey Skywalker? Of course. Rey is, as ever, whatever she means to you.
But given that her very name means “king” in Spanish and given that as far as we know, she never legally renounced her status, I think she’s a member of a former ruling house and she is properly addressed as a princess. I am also still amused and delighted that it turns out she’s a Palpatine by blood, because that always struck me as delightfully absurd and impossibly random.
I think at the end of the day, I’d like to respect her decision to change her name. So I’m sticking with Her Imperial Highness, Princess Rey Skywalker of the House of Palpatine.