The continuing Star Wars mythos is no stranger to symbolism. We see plenty of it in the prequel trilogy as well as the original trilogy. It only makes sense that this storytelling technique be continued into the sequel trilogy of movies.
I believed I have identified symbolism being used in The Force Awakens in regards to how Rey and Luke’s relationship will function in The Last Jedi. Rey and Luke’s “hands” act as symbols that enhance a story of a damaged and lost master and an innocent and naive learner coming together to complete one another.
Prologue: Michael Arndt’s Script:
Before we start jumping right into the crux of the symbolism being used, I’d like to take a step back and look at the development of Star Wars Episode VII, and a key piece of information that ties into the bigger picture being presented.
Back in 2012, Michael Arndt was chosen to write the script for a new Star Wars installment set to be released in 2015. Arndt had a script written out, but ran into difficulties trying to tell a story that mixed in a new generation of characters with the old, legacy characters of the Original Trilogy. Namely, Luke Skywalker would overshadow the newer characters whenever he appeared on-screen. This prompted Lucasfilm to bring on Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams for the script, who rewrote most of what Arndt had laid out. This is what lead to the story we see in The Force Awakens; Luke Skywalker has vanished, giving our new generation of characters a chance to shine as they search for the map leading to the legendary Jedi.
However, an interesting piece of Arndt’s script comes at the very beginning of the script. In fact, it comes (supposedly) right after the opening crawl. The Skywalker lightsaber is tumbling through space, with Luke’s disembodied hand still attached. The lightsaber enters the orbit of a desert planet (presumably Jakku) and begins crashing into the atmosphere. The hand attached to the lightsaber burns up, and the lightsaber hits the surface.
The opening is sure a head-scratcher, making you wonder where Arndt’s mind was when coming up with this script. It was only after I had written most of this theory that I looked back and realized the possible symbolism Arndt was trying to convey. The meaning lies in the interaction between the attached disembodied hand and the lightsaber. The hand represents the remnants of where the lightsaber was, who it once belonged to. The hand is disfigured and brutal, showing the major emotional and physical damage the previous owner (Luke) went through. As it enters the atmosphere, the hand burns up, destroying the troubled past of who once wielded the lightsaber. It is primed and ready for a new generation to find it.
This point is placed as a prologue because it’s pivotal to looking at my theory from an out-of-universe perspective, and start from the very beginning of the writers using this symbol. The opening Arndt wrote would make more sense within this context. Arndt is no slouch with screenwriting, having movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 under his belt. I would be willing to bet that both Kasdan and Abrams were told by Arndt the idea of what he was going for with this opening. The rest of this theory is this symbol of the *duality of hands* being used in a much more subtle and nuanced way.
Part I: Rey’s Hand:
We’ll first be looking at how the symbolism reflects itself in Rey and her hand. At the beginning of The Force Awakens, Rey represents innocence and naivity. Everyone around her sees the truth in her situation on Jakku, but Rey is oblivious to it until her meeting with Maz after her vision. It’s during this period of the movie where we see Rey as a raw person, in her most untampered-with form. The decisions she makes and the feelings she has are mostly reflected in why she is staying on Jakku waiting for her family. When Rey makes the decision to not sell BB-8 to Unkar Plutt for the insane amount of portions, she’s-from there on out-established as a compassionate character when it matters most and when she gains someone’s trust. Most likely, her decision to spare BB-8 started when she began to relate with BB-8 (“Classified, really? Me too.”). So we then can rationalize that Rey is someone who becomes compassionate and open when she can trust someone, and this leads into her interaction with Finn.
At first (very obviously), Rey is distrusting of Finn and his intentions, through her friendship with BB-8. As the situation on Jakku becomes a life or death situation, Rey slowly goes from resisting Finn’s attempts to grab her hand (“Let go of my hand!”) to lending her hand out to him after they were bombed by the First Order TIE Fighter; this is the shot we see in the second trailer for the movie as well.
Rey’s interaction with BB-8 leads into the symbolism utilized in her interactions with Finn. It marks her transition from being self-sustaining, to showing compassion for a droid, to showing compassion for another human being. Her hand represents her humanity. Because of her situation on Jakku and the struggle she goes through every day, she keeps her humanity close to her because of the vulnerabilites she has. This is represented in her objections to Finn trying to take her hand. But once the situation arises where she is able to lend her ‘hand’ (compassion) out, she does so to Finn, as she feels more comfortable when in control of the situation (i.e. Finn isn’t leading the chase, or protecting her, but vice versa). This subtle but effective plotline is somewhat resolved when Finn comes back for Rey on Starkiller, and they hug.
The hand being in clear frame as she helps up Finn, alongside her objections to him taking her hand, make it an interesting and noteworthy piece.
Part II: Rey’s Vision:
Rey’s vision is another important place to discuss the meaning behind the ‘duality of hands,’ as it gives important backstory to the idea.
The sequence of events within the first part of the vision tells a story that connects Rey’s ‘hand’ to Luke’s ‘hand.’ The first thing we hear once the vision starts is the sound of Vader’s menacing mechanical breathing. This sets the scene of Rey walking down a lit hallway, which is confirmed to be Cloud City. As we all know, this is the scene where Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father. Also, it’s the scene where the Skywalker lightsaber is lost, and Luke loses his hand. This leads into the very next scene where, after hearing Luke’s famous “nooo!” after learning the truth, we see a cloaked figure put his mechanical hand onto R2D2.
The symbolism in this sequence has a couple of layers to it, namely that the latter appearance of Luke and his mechanical hand stems from the Cloud City encounter. Here, we see the Saga explain the ‘duality of hands’ as it applies to The Force Awakens. Luke lost his human hand (compassion, see Part I) to his father who had become more machine than man. This act of disarming comes back into play in Return of the Jedi, when Luke disarms Vader and comes to a realization of the path he’s walking down. It’s this rhyme in the story that applies to Rey and the lesson she learns her vision, as well as sheds some light on Luke’s situation. Rey watches Vader (more man than machine) destroy a part of his son’s humanity, both through a literal sense (Luke thinks he now has to kill his father), and symbolically through the loss of his hand, which is now replaced with a mechanical, unhuman, and unnatural hand. In Return of the Jedi, it serves as a reminder of how ‘disarming one’s hand’ can serve as a path to the dark side, taking away one’s humanity.
Now, looking at Luke in The Force Awakens, his synthetic skin has been withered away, revealing once again the robotic hand and a reminder of where he had once been. The scars of the past had returned (“I will finish, what you started.”) and his worries/insecurites were exposed.
This sets up what I call the ‘duality of hands”; the movie uses Rey’s hand and Luke’s hand as foils, culminating in the final scene of Rey and her ‘humanity’ (healthy hand) returning the Skywalker lightsaber to Luke and his damaged state (mechanical hand). The circle is now complete.
Part III: C-3PO’s Arm:
Another interesting thing to point out is how C-3PO’s state in The Force Awakens applies this same idea. When we first meet C-3PO, he has a red arm, and tells Han Solo that he probably couldn’t recognize him because of his replacement arm. However, at the end of The Force Awakens, we see C-3PO wave goodbye to Rey leaving for Ahch-To, with his golden arm reattached.
This symbolizes a couple of things. First of all, C-3PO believed he couldn’t be recognized without his normal arm. This applies to Luke and his current state in the narrative; Luke may feel that, because of his failures with his Jedi Academy (and possibly with his daughter), he is no longer recognized as the famous Luke Skywalker he once was. However, C-3PO gets his normal arm back as Rey leaves to find Luke, symbolizing that Luke’s ‘cure’ was here; Rey was there to complete Luke with her ‘human’ touch. The duality of hands have come together, and complete one another.
Part IV: The Last Jedi and the Duality of Hands:
It’s entirely possible this symbolism is being continued in The Last Jedi. We have a tweet from Mark Hamill telling us, “It’s all in the hands…”. The attached teaser also visually shows us the idea of the duality of hands as explained in Part II. Time will tell if this symbolism is expanded upon in the next upcoming films.
I hope you enjoyed reading this analysis. The conclusion I can take from this is that, it heavily leans towards symbolizing a father/daughter reunion. Interestingly enough, I got the idea to write this after someone on /r/starwarsspeculation used the prominence of Rey’s hand as evidence that Rey was cloned from Luke’s lost hand. It’s important to remember that the symbolism used in these movies are not to be taken literally, but rather tell the narrative through a different channel. In any case, I think most can agree that this symbolism tells us Rey and Luke complete each other. We will find out in time whether it extends into bloodline as well.
I originally wrote this theory under a now-deleted account on /r/starwarsspeculation in February of 2017. My original post was written rather quickly and had a humorous tone to it. I decided to rewrite it completely instead of re-release it with minor reworkings. Here is the original theory in all its embarrassing glory.