Luke Skywalker had never planned to have children.
Yet here he was, his newborn daughter cradled awkwardly yet tenderly in his hands, and all the fears he’d had of this moment evaporated. His fear had never existed. Always, he had loved her.
The Force coalesced beside him, and the blue of his father’s ghost lit the dark room. Luke glanced at her mother, but she slept so deeply the light did not wake her. His daughter, on the other hand, stirred slightly in his hands. Afraid of dropping her, he brought her closer to his chest.
When she stilled again, Luke mumbled, barely audible, “Isn’t she beautiful?”
Of course, Anakin heard him without needing to strain. “Like an angel.”
Luke allowed his eyes to drift from the face of his daughter for just a second. Anakin beamed at him.
“Have you chosen a name?”
Luke shook his head, but couldn’t suppress a smile. “We are—”
“She looks like Padmé.”
“—not naming her Padmé.”
“She has her grandmother’s eyes.”
“Her eyes are closed!”
Now both child and mother did stir; Luke glanced warily between them. His daughter blinked up at him.
“You see?” Anakin said, a little softer now. “Grandmother’s eyes.”
“Tell your father,” came a tired voice from the bed, “that her name is Rey.”
Luke grinned back at Anakin’s ghost and shrugged—very carefully.
Anakin looked down at Rey, who gurgled.
“Can’t argue with that.”
“Are you sure this place is…” Anakin paused as Rey slipped from the vine she’d been swinging on and fell with a splash into a shallow pool. When she stood up, giggling and dripping, Anakin continued, “safe for a four-year-old?”
Luke scooped out a bit of swamp gunk from Artoo’s data port and threw it to the ground.
“If anything, I’m more worried about Artoo over here,” Luke said. Artoo chirped appreciatively. “Besides, Dagobah is safer than any podrace on Tatooine.”
“If this is an attempt to make me feel guilty for telling that story… it’s working.”
Luke glanced up at his father’s ghost, and through the blue glow, he could see Ben emerge from the forest. His scowl could have done his grandfather justice; it struck chills through Luke’s spine. But then Ben’s gaze fell upon his cousin, and his expression softened.
“Hello, Rey,” he said, kneeling next to her. “What are you doing?”
Biting her lip, Rey looked up at Ben. A drop of water slid down her nose. “Training to be a Jedi.”
“Oh, is that so?” Rey nodded proudly. “Tell me, young padawan—are you any match for … the tickle monster ?”
The tickle monster attacked Rey before she could prepare; she collapsed to the ground, rolling and giggling. “Stop!” she cried between laughs, “Stop!”
“The tickle monster will not fall prey to your Jedi Mind Tricks!” Ben yelled, laughing too.
Luke smiled. Ben’s training had not gone well these past few months, and he’d hoped that a trip to Dagobah might help take his nephew’s mind off things. It had certainly helped Luke, as a teacher, to return to his former master’s home. He’d phrased it as a vacation, a chance to work with Ben without other pupils around to distract him, but he couldn’t leave Rey behind. Fortunately, it seemed Rey had helped calm Ben more than anything else.
“You—will—stop!” Rey could barely get the words out.
“I… will… stop…” Ben said, pulling his hands away and pretending to be confused. Rey paused and watched as Ben sat back on his heels. She cocked her head to the side. “The Force is strong with this one,” Ben said. “I shall take you as my apprentice.”
“Oooh!” Rey beamed up at her cousin. “Teach me!”
Artoo beeped beside him, and Luke turned back to his droid. “Alright, Artoo.”
Anakin sat down beside him. “You might want to check his hydraulics. Is there any crevice this swamp gunk doesn’t find?”
Though he spared a quick look at Artoo’s hydraulics, Luke moved on to wiping out the droid’s vents instead. “Do you have a purpose for being here? Some ancient wisdom to share with the living?”
“Yes,” Anakin said solemnly. “I’m here to deliver some rather important instructions regarding the proper care and maintenance of R2 units. Lesson one. Do not bring them to swamps.”
Artoo whirred and Anakin grinned affectionately down at his former droid.
“Very funny,” Luke said.
“In all seriousness,” Anakin said, the smile fading from his face. “I’m not so sure it was a good idea to bring Rey along. It may be time to return home.”
“We just got here,” Luke said, trying not to sound like a disappointed child.
Anakin pointed at Rey and Ben.
Using the Force, Rey had constructed a tall tower of stones; they swayed precariously despite the lack of wind. Luke’s eyebrows shot up and a smile began to spread across his face. He’d never seen Rey do that before, but then, she’d always been a fast learner. He looked up at Ben, about to congratulate him for teaching so well, but then his smile faded.
Ben shared the initial look of surprise, but his face had twisted into a frown, deeper even than the one before. Clueless, Rey beamed up at him. The tower stopped shaking and stood still. That was when Ben kicked it.
“Hey!” Rey yelled as her cousin retreated to Yoda’s hut.
When he was gone, Luke turned to his father. “Can’t you help…” But his father’s ghost had disappeared. “…Ben.”
“Don’t do this, Luke.”
Luke could hear the desperation in his father’s voice; more so, he could feel it. Not just from his father’s disruption of the Force, but in his own heart, too.
But Anakin could do nothing to stop him. Luke strode forward, his back to Rey and to his father. He listened to nothing and everything at the same time. The echoes of his father’s words. Rey’s cries as she called out for him. He could feel her presence in the Force, too, tugging at him, trying to will him to come back. It was difficult to resist, but he had no choice.
Ben would kill her someday. He had foreseen it. He had to protect her, and so he had to leave her behind. On a remote desert planet. He knew it wasn’t fair, he could hear his nineteen-year-old self and the bitterness he’d felt at being left behind similarly. But then, nineteen years later and he knew a little better. He knew it had succeeded at protecting him. He knew Rey would be safer here. It was better for both Rey and Ben that way.
Ben. He closed his eyes and paused as he thought of his nephew. So many people had trusted him. His padawans. The parents they had left behind. Ben, Han, Leia. The Resistance. So many people he had failed. But he would not fail Rey. He continued forward.
Anakin berated him as the ship took off, and even still Luke could hear Rey’s cries. But he did not waiver.
“After everything I’ve been through, after everything you’ve been through, how could you leave her there to grow up alone? You’re her father, you should be with her. What would her mother have said?”
“Turn this ship around now. Bring her with you.”
“I cannot allow Rey to become a Jedi,” Luke said. “It will kill her. Ben will kill her.”
“No. She’s stronger than him. She’s stronger than the Dark Side. She will not fail you—you will not fail her.”
“You’re right,” Luke said, preparing the jump to hyperspace. “I will not fail her this time.”
The stars streaked to white before him. The ship jumped. Anakin’s ghost vanished.
“You can still go back.”
Luke did not turn to look at his father. The half-set sun cast golden light across the sea.
“I like it here,” Anakin commented after some time. “Plenty of water. No sand. I can understand the appeal.”
It had been ten years. Ten years since Luke had arrived on this planet, ten years since he’d last seen Anakin’s ghost. Ten years since he’d left Rey.
“I can’t go back now. It’s been too long.”
“Are you afraid she won’t be happy to see you?”
“I’ll only put her in more danger.” Luke sighed and settled onto a rock. Far below, the waves splashed at the shore and echoed in his head. “The First Order has only become more powerful.”
Anakin said nothing. The sun sank below the horizon. If he hadn’t been Force sensitive, Luke would have believed Anakin had left, so long had he gone without speaking.
“You are wondering why I never helped you with Ben.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Luke saw the blue glow of his father’s ghost sit beside him. Yet still Luke could not bring himself to turn and face his father.
“I’m wondering why you never helped Ben .”
Anakin sighed. “It’s not as easy for me to appear as it is for Obi-Wan or Yoda, you know.”
“Really?” Luke allowed a wry, half smile. “I never would have guessed. Some days it seemed like I couldn’t get rid of you.”
“It’s easy to manifest for you. But it is very difficult to manifest for others. Like Leia…” Anakin tilted his head to the side. “And Ben.”
“No one ever would have guessed,” Luke said. “The way he talked about you.”
“Perhaps I didn’t enjoy reliving those stories.” Anakin sighed. “You’re right. I always favored Rey. He could tell.”
Luke finally turned to look at his father’s ghost. Despite everything, Luke noted with some amusement that his father still preferred to appear as his twenty-three-year old self. Even ten years ago, it had felt strange seeing his father this way; now it was downright ridiculous. To see them sitting together, one might have thought Luke the father and Anakin the son.
“I would prefer to be remembered this way,” Anakin said, reading Luke’s thoughts. “As your mother saw me.”
“Mother.” Luke sighed and looked back to the horizon, at the trailing orange-red glow of the set sun. “What would she have done?”
“Oh, something brilliant, probably,” Anakin said, smiling. “Something well beyond the likes of us.”
They sat in silence for some time. Finally, when the last traces of red had left the sky and nothing remained but the deep darkness and twinkling stars, Anakin rose. Luke felt his father’s ghost draw in the Force around them, felt him draw on Luke’s own power in the Force.
When he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder, Luke looked up into his father’s eyes.
“Rey is like her grandmother,” Anakin said. “She’ll forgive you.”
Then, Anakin was gone.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Luke said to the night sky.
Luke felt her presence long before she arrived. He could feel the shift in the Force. He could feel it like a surge, a strong wave. He could feel it like the smell of spring. He could feel the Force clutching to a new hope. But would it slip between their fingers?
It almost hurt, to feel the shift in the Force. He’d felt it once, long ago, and it had done little good. And as the shift quickened and strengthened, it felt rather like the sand sliding beneath his feet, like tumbling down a long dune and knowing he could never climb back up.
She was coming. He’d dreamed it, he’d felt it. Now all he could do was wait.
He would not go down to meet her. But he wouldn’t hide in his cave, either. He didn’t know what to do; he wanted to do both and couldn’t do either. So he stood in his favorite spot at the top of the mountain and watched the waves crash into each other.
What would she remember of him? Would she remember him at all? Would she resent him for leaving her? Would she be happy to see him? Worst of all: would she ask him to train her?
It was that question which he couldn’t bear, and that question alone which he knew the answer to.
She came to a stop at the top of the stairs. He heard her breathing behind him. Felt her curiosity burning in her chest. She didn’t know, she wasn’t sure.
When he turned, he saw the lightsaber in her hands first. As he suppressed his surprise, the Force twisted around him—Anakin would appear, soon. Of course he would.
Finally, he forced himself to look at her eyes. A hint of her own surprise, but she too suppressed it, and instead stared resolute, the lightsaber in her hands never falling.
“Take it,” she said. She took a step forward and shook the hilt. “It’s yours.”
Luke did not trust himself to speak.
“Please,” she said. The sunlight glinted off her eyes and he could see a line of tears gathering there.
“ Go to her ,” said his father’s voice.
Luke crossed the light-years between them. As he came closer, Rey’s hand fell. When he was only feet in front of her, she dropped the saber to the ground and flung herself into his arms.