SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Blade Runner 2049, in theaters now.
Although the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner saw Rachael and Deckard run off into the proverbial sunset together, it is well known that that wasn't the ending director Ridley Scott had envisioned for his characters. In the Final Cut of the film, we were given the ending he had always wanted, which was Deckard and Rachael, in an elevator, knowing full well that nothing would await them but an entire life of running. It was definitely a darker ending, but one that was infinitely more true to the dark world created in the film.
With Blade Runner 2049 taking place exactly 30 years after that fateful ending, it was pretty much a given that we wouldn't find these two characters in the same time and place. We've known for a long time that Harrison Ford would reprise his role as an older, grizzled Deckard, but what of Sean Young, who portrayed the experimental Nexus-6 replicant? If the actress wasn't involved in the movie, what did that mean for her character? What happened to Rachael, in those past 30 years?
When first we met her in the original Blade Runner, we knew that Rachael wasn't like any other replicant out there – a prototype, an experiment, designed by Eldon Tyrell. Where the previous replicants only had four years to live, Rachael had an undetermined longevity, and she was much harder to pick out of a crowd. Even renowned blade runner Deckard had to ask her dozens more questions during the Voight-Kampff testing to determine who, or what, she truly was. After forming a strong bond, a relationship born of love, the two of them ended up on the run, hunted, and neither of them had any idea how long she would be alive.
Sadly, the answer is that Rachael wasn't long for the world once those elevator doors closed shut. In fact, in the sequel, we come to learn that she has been dead for almost three decades, her remains found buried deep underneath a dead tree outside of a protein farm, looked after and cared for by Dave Bautista's Sapper Morton. But the awful, horrible, beautiful truth is infinitely more complicated. Rachael wasn't retired by a blade runner, nor did she die because her limited lifespan had run its course. Instead, it is revealed that Rachael died after giving birth to a child, something that was believed to be wholly impossible for replicants, an unfathomable miracle that could have repercussions throughout the entire world -- and beyond. After the examination of her bones in the LAPD's crime lab, Ryan Gosling's K discovers that the deceased replicant's body showed signs of an emergency c-section, the complications of which led to the her death.
Rachael's death led to the creation of a miracle – one that could change everything, from humanity's expansion towards space, to the already fractured relationship between humans and replicants. The discovery of her body is what kickstarts the entire story of Blade Runner 2049 so, in a way, she is as much an important part of this story as Deckard. Tyrell designed her to be something else entirely, something new and beautiful, something "more human than human," and Rachael, in her existence as well as in her death, proved exactly that. Thanks to her, the replicants, and their freedom movement, now know that a revolution is possible. That they have just as much a stake in life as any other form of life. Thanks to her, they know that they don't have to be slaves to humanity.
What happened to Rachael? She fell in love. She lived on the run. She said goodbye to Deckard, and she sacrificed everything so that her child could live. And she lit the fire of hope for an entire species.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) from a script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Barkhad Abdi, Lennie James, Mackenzie Davis and Sylvia Hoeks. Executive produced by Ridley Scott, the film is in theaters now.