The Boys from Brazil might hold the key to Rey's true identity
Who is Rey? This paranoid ‘70s conspiracy thriller might hold the answer to the biggest mystery in Star Wars.
I tend to steer clear of wild speculation here, if only because there are enough terrible fan theories out there without me adding to the pile-on, but I’m going to make an exception for this one.
Today’s post was originally going to be about the inspirations for The First Order in Star Wars: The Force Awakens — and it still is, kind of.
In an interview with Empire last year, JJ Abrams said his reborn Empire was inspired by a real-world fear.
“That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again,” Abrams said.
“What could be born of that? Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire? Could the work of The Empire be seen as unfulfilled? And could Vader be a martyr? Could there be a need to see through what didn’t get done?”
The idea of Nazis escaping to South America isn’t just an urban legend – it actually happened. Thousands of Nazi war criminals, as well as Italian and Croatian fascists, were welcomed into Argentina by President Juan Domingo Perón’s regime, eventually finding their way to other South American nations like Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.
One of those war criminals, Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, was snatched right off a street in Buenos Aires by a Mossad commando team in 1960, and was tried and executed in Israel. But plenty of others lived long lives in South America, evading capture even as their presence there remained one of the world’s worst kept secrets.
Dr Josef Mengele, the SS officer known for conducting deadly experiments on prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp with no regard for human life, was one of those Nazis who avoided detection in South America.
Arriving in Argentina in 1949, he fled to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960, always staying one step ahead of West German and Israeli authorities and Nazi hunters, until he eventually drowned while swimming off the Brazilian coast in 1979.
Even in death, Mengele remained on the run – he was buried under a false name. A mock trial in Jerusalem in 1985 revived interest in finding the twisted doctor (at this point, Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal believed he was still alive), and after a massive manhunt, his remains were found and exhumed later that year. A forensic examination confirmed that the body was Mengele's.
One year before his death, however, Mengele was portrayed by screen legend Gregory Peck in The Boys From Brazil, a sci-fi conspiracy thriller (based on the 1976 novel of the same name) about a secret cabal of Third Reich war criminals living in Paraguay and plotting their terrible revenge.
Boasting an all-star cast that also included Laurence Olivier, James Mason and Denholm Elliott, The Boys From Brazil is the best — and by far the most famous — film about Nazis in hiding in South America after World War II.
Although he’s never specifically name-checked it, The Boys From Brazil is almost certainly what Abrams had in mind when he compared The First Order to Nazis in South America with “a need to see through what didn’t get done”.
(At the very least, it’s the film I immediately thought of when I read Abrams’ quote, and I’m not a famous cinephile who's spent the last few years working on remakes, restorations and reboots of '70s sci-fi films.)
Why is any of this important? Because if Abrams did have The Boys From Brazil in mind when he made Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it could tell us a lot about Rey’s true nature.
I'm going to have to spoil a significant plot detail to make my point here, so if you don't know who 'The Boys from Brazil' are and you want to come to the movie clean, stop reading now or forever hold your peace.
The film sees Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Olivier) unravel Mengele’s sinister machinations to recreate Adolf Hitler. Or, rather, a lot of Adolf Hitlers – in the 1960s, Mengele fertilised several surrogate mothers in a Brazilian clinic with ova carrying a sample of Hitler's DNA. A total of 94 clones of Hitler were born, and were sent to different parts of the world for adoption.
But it’s not enough that the clones be genetic duplicates. As cloning expert Professor Bruckner explains to Lieberman while he pieces Mengele’s plot together, in order to produce the perfect clone, “not only would you have to reproduce the genetic code of the donor, but the environmental background as well”.
(In a strange twist, Bruno Ganz – who plays Professor Bruckner in this scene – is now best known for playing Adolf Hitler in the endlessly memeable Downfall.)
In fact, Mengele goes to absurd lengths to recreate Hitler’s upbringing, ensuring that each of the 94 children are adopted by cold and domineering civil servants with wives about 23 years younger than themselves, recreating the relationship between Hitler’s parents, and that each of these 94 civil servants meet untimely deaths around the age of 65, just as Hitler’s father did.
Now, imagine that the Nazis are the First Order. Imagine that they’ve escaped to the unknown regions of space, instead of South America. And imagine that, instead of being raised by an overbearing civil servant, their Hitler had been raised under the thumb of a cruel junk dealer on a desert planet — what do you suppose they would do then?
TL;DR — what if Rey is a clone of Anakin Skywalker, and what if her upbringing on Jakku isn’t just an affectionate callback to the earlier films in the saga, but a deliberate attempt, in-universe, to reproduce the environmental background of Anakin Skywalker, and reverse-engineer the next Darth Vader?
After all the criticisms that The Force Awakens is just a ‘remake’, wouldn’t it be a delicious twist if Rey was, quite literally, intended to be a remake of Anakin Skywalker, and Abrams has just been biting his tongue this entire time?
Remember, the lightsaber Rey finds herself drawn to in Maz Kanata's castle may have been Luke's, but it belonged to Anakin first.
There are a few red flags here. The first is that, if we’re going full Boys From Brazil, Darth Vader isn’t Hitler — that’d be Sheev Palpatine.
But I think we can see, from Abrams’ comments above about Vader being a martyr for The First Order, and from Kylo Ren’s worship of Vader, that Abrams sees Vader in that role, which makes sense — he’s an OG fan who came of age with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, so from his perspective The Emperor is something of a villain-come-lately.
And, hey, Vader’s just cooler.
There’s also the small matter that Anakin Skywalker is a man and Rey is a woman — but this really isn’t a big deal. There’s a long tradition of male-to-female cloning in sci-fi, where the male’s X-chromosome is doubled to produce a female clone, as in Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love or Ursula K Le Guin’s Nine Lives.
(Closer to home, Marvel has gone to this well twice in recent years – in the Ultimate universe, where Spider-Woman is a clone of Spider-Man, and in X-Men cartoons and comics featuring X-23, the female clone of Wolverine.)
There’s certainly evidence to suggest that there could be some cloning hijinks involved in Rey’s origin. Consider this passage from Pablo Hidalgo’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary:
Jakku was once home to a secret Imperial research facility, and was the last rallying point of the Imperial fleet. Entering the atmosphere to tighten its cordon, the Empire fought determinedly to keep the New Republic from capturing the base. In its defence, doomed Imperial vessels used tractor beams to drag New Republic warships into the planet’s surface. The retreating Imperials destroyed the base before disappearing into the unknown regions.
We haven’t seen a cloned Force user in the films or the ‘nu-canon’ of books and comics, but that’s not to say it can’t be done.
After all, if Palpatine wanted to wipe out the Jedi, and he wanted an army that could be trained quickly, of course he cloned soldiers instead of Force users during the Clone Wars – but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of cloning Jedi if you’re sufficiently motivated.
In the old, pre-Disney Expanded Universe, Force sensitivity was definitely something that could be cloned. The Emperor inhabited a number of cloned bodies during the Dark Empire saga. Joruus C’baoth, the Dark Jedi who served as the secondary antagonist of the Thrawn trilogy, was a clone.
And then there’s the infamous Luuke Skywalker (note the extra ‘u’, in all its terrible glory), the clone of Luke Skywalker created by Joruus C’baoth in the Thrawn trilogy. Luuke was grown from cells extracted from the hand Luke lost during his duel with Darth Vader in Cloud City.
In The Force Awakens, Maz Kanata has the lightsaber Luke lost in that duel with Vader – but not the hand that was attached to it.
That hand was supposed to be in the film, though. In fact, it was originally going to open the film — one of the earliest rumours about The Force Awakens was that the film was going to open with a shot of Luke Skywalker’s severed hand floating through space, clutching his lightsaber. As goofy as that might sound, it’s been confirmed that rumour was true, and the shot was only cut late in the process.
Since this is all just mindless speculation, there’s no reason to assume The First Order’s plan is identical to the Nazis – maybe they were willing to settle for the DNA of a Skywalker, any Skywalker, and got it from Luke’s severed hand. So opening the film with a shot of Luke’s severed hand would have seemed like a non sequitur at first, but its significance would gradually have become clear.
(Incidentally, artist Fred Palacio just won the ILM Art Department Challenge with a piece of concept art that suggests exactly that scenario.)
If Rey does turn out to be a Skywalker, deliberately raised in an “environmental background” similar to Anakin's in a bid by The First Order to create another Vader, then The Boys From Brazil wouldn’t be the only relevant influence.
In 2001’s audacious Metal Gear Solid 2, video game designer and director Hideo Kojima created a game that deliberately echoed its predecessor, almost note-for-note.
Eventually, it’s revealed that this isn’t an accident, or laziness. The parallels are part of the plot, as it turns out the game’s protagonist, Raiden, has been unwittingly taking part in a simulation of the plot of the previous game – it’s a training program, intended to create and condition soldiers on par with the previous game’s hero, Solid Snake.
Oh, hey, here’s a pic of JJ Abrams with his pal, Hideo Kojima.
And here’s that alien who pops his head out of the sand as BB-8 rolls away on Jakku and randomly says “Kojima”, for whatever that’s worth.
If there’s any truth in these ramblings, it presents interesting storytelling possibilities in the conflict between Kylo Ren, who desperately wants to be Darth Vader but can’t live up to his legacy, and Rey, who was engineered to be Darth Vader but wants no part of that legacy.
It also creates plenty of potential enemies (or allies) for Rey and The Resistance — because what if, like The Boys from Brazil, there are dozens of other Skywalker clones out there, who have also been 'abandoned' in similar situations, and are finally awakening?
Now, is there a chance Rey isn’t a Skywalker clone? Is there a chance she isn’t a child of Luke Skywalker, or Han Solo, or Sheev Palpatine, or Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Jyn Erso? Is there a chance she’s just, y’know, Rey?
Of course! Especially when you consider that the next fan theory that turns out to be completely accurate will probably be the first. And, to be honest, I think I’d prefer that – there’s something romantic about the notion that Rey really is just a scavenger from the middle of nowhere who finds herself at the centre of a galactic conflict, as opposed to the latest descendent of the Skywalker line.
Heroism isn’t a monarchy.
But by choosing not to give her a last name, and by keeping her early years shrouded in mystery, Abrams and co are creating expectations for a big reveal. I think they’re going to deliver.
If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to go back and revisit The Boys from Brazil, isn’t it?
Oh, and if it turns out Rey was cloned from Luke’s severed hand, it’d give new meaning to this meme.
I’ll give the last word to Rick Carter, the production designer of The Force Awakens (and probably the biggest creative force involved with the film, outside of JJ Abrams), who had this to say in The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
“There’s more to be revealed. And that reveal is going to involve things from the past that were right in front of us all along. We didn’t understand all that those things meant, and now we have to let them play themselves out.
“To me, that’s the Force.”