There’s a lot going on in Rey’s vision.
As the vision begins, the voice of Yoda can be heard describing the Force (a sound recording taken from Episode V). Later we hear the voice of the elderly Obi-Wan Kenobi (a sound recording of Alec Guinness which is cut together to actually call Rey’s name). Darth Vader’s breathing can also be heard in the background as Rey traverses a corridor that looks like a hallway in the Cloud City of Bespin (the site of Luke’s first battle with Vader, in which he lost the lightsaber that Rey has just discovered).
This is the same hallway Rey sees in her vision.
The cries of the little girl that drew Rey into the lower level turn out to be a prelude to the vision. Rey sees a little girl in the desert – presumably her younger self – begging a spaceship not to leave as it flies away. She is held back by what appears to be Unkar Plutt. In the novelization Rey can also hear a familiar voice assuring her that they will return for her.
Rey sees a cloaked figure with a robot hand (presumably Luke Skywalker) watching alongside an R2 unit Astromech droid as a temple burns to the ground. She also sees Kylo Ren murdering what looks like a fellow Jedi with a band of followers behind him. Perhaps these are First Order troops or the Knights of Ren who are said to serve Kylo. It is unclear in the vision who any of them are except Kylo Ren. But even he is mostly obscured by darkness and rain, and it is only his signature style of lightsaber that positively identifies him.
There are a lot of possibilities here: According to the script, it is indeed Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 who look on as a temple burns. This is not stated in the script, but in the novelization Rey not only sees hallways in Cloud City, but the distant figures of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader as they duel. Seeing a boy at the end of the hall, she follows and the vision shifts to the rainy night that is the scene of Kylo and his Knights of Ren battling unidentified opponents. The script confirms that the hooded figures accompanying Kylo are the Knights of Ren, but nothing in the film, the script, or the novel identifies who they are fighting. We are meant to assume, from Han’s exposition, that we are witnessing the final destruction of Luke’s New Jedi Order, but there is nothing I can see anywhere that overtly states this. In fact, I think there are some hints that suggest otherwise.
Here’s what we know: Han tells Rey and Finn that Luke was trying to build a New Jedi Order until his apprentice turned on him and destroyed it all. He does not specifically mention Kylo Ren, though it’s possible that Kylo was the wayward apprentice. We learn later on that Leia sent Kylo to be trained by Luke because he had too much Vader in him, the failure of which lost them their son and destroyed their marriage. We know that Kylo took his new name from the order he now commands, the mysterious Knights of Ren. According to the screenplay, Rey’s vision shows her a scene of Kylo and the Knights of Ren decisively winning a battle of some kind. Kylo’s victim is stabbed from behind, suggesting this may be an act of treachery rather than a fair fight. But Kylo’s victim was also poised to strike Rey in this vision, as seen from her point of view, so Kylo may also have been acting to save whoever is being represented in the vision (or possibly even Rey herself). From this perspective Kylo Ren interceded to save the person from whose perspective Rey is viewing the battle. Kylo is flanked by six other Knights of Ren, but the vision shifts before we see what happens next.
So what could this mean? Kylo formed the Knights of Ren to destroy Luke’s New Jedi Order? Possibly. That’s certainly the most obvious explanation. But their victims in the vision are not necessary fellow Jedi. We don’t even know for sure that the Knights of Ren were founded to destroy Luke’s Jedi students. What if the Knights of Ren were Luke’s New Jedi Order? The apprentice that destroyed Luke’s dream may not have done so by killing his fellow students. Maybe he turned them all to the Dark Side. Lor San Tekka said the First Order rose from the Dark Side. Maybe the Knights of Ren, once turned, helped to form the foundation of Snoke’s new Empire. But if so, who were the Knights of Ren fighting in Rey’s vision? The remaining loyalists among Luke’s students? Maybe. But maybe not.
The warrior Kylo kills – apparently to prevent him from striking someone else – seems to be dressed in the traditional battle armor of the Kyuzo warriors. His face is not shown, and in one frame looks like it might be human, but it happens so fast you really can't tell. But the headwear and armor look like those worn by the Kyuzo.
They are not prominently featured in the film, but several of them, led by Constable Zuvio, are the self-appointed defenders of law and order in Niima Outpost, where Rey made her living on the planet Jakku. According to Pablo Hidalgo’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary, they’re pretty much the only law in Niima Outpost. Jakku is also the site of the last major engagement between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire before the Imperial Forces finally surrendered to the Republic. Jakku was home to a secret Imperial research facility prior to that battle, but after the initial peace accords the last remnants of the Empire fell back to the Unknown Regions of space and disappeared, returning years later as the First Order.
So what was happening on Jakku? Could the Knights of Ren have been there? Rey’s vision could have been telling her that Kylo and the Knights of Ren were possibly on Jakku and may have even been part of her mysterious past.
Employing your basic “Bigfoot on Mars” approach to analyzing the limited amount of information we’re given in this scene, I have an interesting theory I’d like to put forward for your consideration. Using undiscovered evidence, I’ve been able to piece together a speculative timeline of loosely inferred or outright invented observations whose main purpose is to support each other (the perfect recipe for your basic internet fan theory):
See, there's no way Bigfoot could be a man in a gorilla suit. A man in a gorilla suit
could never survive the unforgiving atmosphere of planet Mars. That's just science.
A) An Imperial research facility was established on Jakku to explore the possibility of weaponizing Force-sensitive children. The Visual Dictionary tells us the first of these assumptions is true, but the only “fact” suggesting the second might be true is that this was the plot of the Dark Side Inquisitors in Star Wars: Rebels, which is a canonical work even though it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the new film.
I didn't think about it until I posted this pic, but the guy Kylo stabs in the vision
looks exactly like the Inquisitor shown on the left! Amended fan theory to follow...
B) A young Kylo and his Knights of Ren were somehow involved in this enterprise (very likely fighting to stop it, acting as Luke’s fledgling Jedi Order). This assumption is based on the fact that in Rey’s vision she sees Kylo and a gang of unidentified soldiers attacking a guy in a hat that I think looks like the hat worn by the constable of Niima Outpost. Since there are Kyuzo warriors on Jakku and the guy in the vision looks sort of like a Kyuzo warrior, maybe the battle in the vision actually takes place on Jakku.
Kylo's victim in the vision actually looks more like Embo, the Kyuzo bounty hunter from the Clone Wars
series rather than Zuvio's constabulary. But now I can't stop thinking about that Inquisitor...
C) Rey’s vision is a flashback of something that actually occurred in her past. Because the vision shows one of these Kyuzo warriors in an attack stance preparing to strike at Rey, then maybe Kylo Ren was actually saving Rey, meaning that at this time he was still one of the good guys. Since this happens on Jakku and the Imperial facility that I’ve now decided was experimenting on young Jedi was also on Jakku, Kylo and his compatriots (who are either his fellow Jedi students or the actual Knights of Ren, who were also Luke’s students before they turned to the Dark Side) are on Jakku to shut the facility down and end its experiments. If the facility were experimenting on Jedi children, that would explain why Luke would want his New Jedi Order to become involved in putting a stop to that. In this scenario the Kyuzo warriors stand against them for some reason, which I’m willing to admit is pretty shaky and I don’t have a good in-story reason why this would be the case.
D) Rey was also somehow involved in this research, possibly volunteered by her Imperial parents. Why do I think Rey had Imperial parents? Well, the British accent that everyone’s so keen to suggest Rey inherited from being a distant relation of Obi-Wan Kenobi is also just British enough to match the accent of pretty much every Imperial officer in the saga. Rey’s accent would make no sense to show that she’s related to Obi-Wan, who would have been dead decades before her birth, but if she were raised by Imperial parents she may have gotten her accent from them before they abandoned her on Jakku. The more reasonable explanation for her accent – if it requires an explanation for a character to have an accent – would be that it’s similar to Unkar Plutt’s. The vision shows us that he stepped in after her parents abandoned her, in a foster home scenario that reimagines Uncle Owen to be more like the uncle from the Harry Potter series.
There is a bit of a resemblance between Unkar Plutt and Uncle Vernon.
Rey may have even gotten the better deal; at least she got to live in an AT-AT.
"Unkar" even kind of sounds like "Uncle". What's with these
mythic heroes always getting dumped on their uncles?
But reasonable is not what I’m shooting for here, so in my preferred scenario Rey was brought to Jakku by her Imperial parents, who handed her over to Dark Side Inquisitors who were experimenting on Force sensitive children to throw the Force out of balance or some nonsense like that. This operation was broken up by young Kylo and the courageous Knights of Ren, after which Rey and her parents went into hiding. Shortly before the final battle between the Empire and the New Republic that wiped out the bulk of the Imperial fleet, Rey’s parents escaped, leaving her in hiding. Due to the decisive defeat of the Empire, Rey’s parents were either killed in the battle or unable to return, leaving Rey in hiding. This is another point toward Rey’s parents being Imperials, because leaving your kid to the unforgiving conditions on Jakku with the likes of Unkar Plutt is pretty much a jerk move, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
One canonical reference that suggests Rey has some sort of Jedi history and Kylo is in some way aware of it is revealed in the novelization of Episode VII. In the book as in the film, Kylo is very interested in reports of a girl who is helping FN-2187 and the droid escape Jakku. In their final battle, in which Rey instinctively calls the Skywalker saber to come to her rather than Kylo, Kylo says to her with revelation: “It is you”, suggesting that he has suspected she is someone he knew before. This line is not in the film, but it supports the idea that something in both their pasts brought Ren and Rey together once before, long enough ago that he wouldn’t recognize her right away if he saw her again. If she were some child that ran off into the night as he and the other Knights of Ren were destroying an Imperial research facility, he would have some inkling that there might be a girl on Jakku with Force ability but no knowledge of her location or identity.
The vision concludes with a prescient look at what will occur at the end of the film – a confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren. It is at this point that we hear the voice of the older Kenobi say Rey’s name. As Rey is thrown out of the vision and returned to the castle, we hear the voice of a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi (supplied in a new dialogue recording by Ewan McGregor) saying “these are the first steps”.