One of the things that makes Star Wars appeal across so many cultures is that it bases its characters on universal character archetypes. Below I have compiled the archetypes that I believe are being used for major characters in the Sequel Trilogy.
Snoke: The Ascendant Villain
There are two archetypes typically used for villains that could be considered the “Big Bad”: The Evil Overlord and the Ascendant Villain. The Evil Overlord begins the story in a position of great strength and remains in that position of power until they are ultimately overthrown by the good guys at the end. Emperor Palpatine in the Original Trilogy would be an example of an Evil Overlord. He starts the story as Emperor of the dominant Galactic Empire and remains Emperor until his death. The Ascendant Villain is a villain that begins the story in a place of weakness, often having previously fallen from great power. The Ascendant Villain spends the story acquiring power. Typically their acquisition of power is not a linear trend, but rather a series of schemes and manipulations that result in the villain (re)gaining a massive amount of power when their plans come to fruition. Chancellor Palpatine in the Prequel Trilogy is an Ascendant Villain as are characters like Voldemort in the Harry Potter books and Sauron from the Lord of the Rings (though Sauron’s scheme for power ultimately fails).
I believe Snoke to be an Ascendant Villain rather than and Evil Overlord because he begins the Sequel Trilogy in a place of weakness. At the beginning of The Force Awakens, the New Republic rules the galaxy, whereas the First Order is a militant insurgency. Snoke’s political power can only grow as the First Order claims more territory from a New Republic now reeling from the loss of its capitol. What’s interesting though is that Snoke in the Force Awakens treats the New Republic as an afterthought. It is highly likely that Snoke is seeking not only increased political power, but increased power with the Force as well. If he continues to follow the Ascendant Villain archetype he will likely get it. If the Sequel Trilogy follows the same patterns as the Original Trilogy, then the middle chapter will need to end with a great victory for Snoke. Therefore, the Last Jedi will likely end with Snoke gaining an exponential increase in power.
Finn: The Noble Traitor
In this archetype the hero begins the story on the side of an evil or oppressive force. Though they are fighting for the “bad guys” they do so through innocence and ignorance or because they, at the time, believe they are on the side of right. At some point in the story they face one or more moral crises that reveal to them that the side they are fighting for doesn’t align with their own sense of right and wrong. At this point the hero abandons their allegiance to their compatriots. At some point the hero then defects to the enemy of their former allies. This can happen immediately or there can be a period between their initial rejection of their own people and their defection where they are either on the run or on their own and aimless. After their defection there may be a proving period where their new allies haven’t fully accepted them yet and they have to prove themselves. Ultimately, the hero ends up taking on a leadership position among their new found allies and then leads the fight against their former masters.
Examples in Pop Culture: Jake Sully in Avatar, Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise’s character) in the Last Samurai, more loosely Marko Ramius (Sean Connery’s character) in Hunt for Red October, and (though the story is structured a bit differently) Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity
Finn had his moral crisis at the Jakku village where he refused to kill the captive villagers. After that he abandoned his position as a Stormtrooper and went on the run. He stopped running and was willing to turn and fight when Rey was taken prisoner but we haven’t seen Finn fully throw in his lot with the Resistance yet. He provided them with vital intel and helped take down the shields and the oscillator on Starkiller base but his primary goal was to rescue Rey, not fight the First Order. Following the archetype forward we can expect that Finn will join the Resistance fully and become and instrumental part of their fight against the First Order. Finn’s final victory will likely come through him leading that fight in some capacity, possibly in a position similar to Han’s or Lando’s in Return of the Jedi.
The Villain’s Journey
This character starts off as a good person, but as the story progresses they make progressively more morally questionable choices until they eventually become unquestionably evil. Sometimes this archetype includes a tempter that seduces the character into following that dark path such as Mephistopheles in Faust, Lord Henry in the Picture of Dorian Grey, and of course Palpatine in the Prequels.
Other examples in pop culture: Breaking Bad
This could be Kylo’s origin story with Snoke serving as the tempter whispering in Ben’s ear persuading him to do progressively darker things until he eventually succumbs to the dark side completely. I don’t think that this will be Kylo’s archetype for the Sequel trilogy as he doesn’t really fit the start of the archetype in The Force Awakens. He’s not a good person who starts making bad choices, he’s already fully evil. One of the first things he does when he comes on scene is murder a defenseless old man and by the end of the movie he’s murdered his own father. It’s hard to get much more evil than that.
The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son rejects his father and leaves his family. He then goes on to live a self-destructive lifestyle that ends with his life in ruins. (Often when this archetype is used in fiction the character leaves out of an act of selfishness, but then has pangs of conscience that cause a change of heart.) At his lowest moment he realizes the error of his ways and returns home. His father forgives him fully and welcomes him back with open arms. Sometimes when this archetype is used other family members or friends are substituted for the father.
Examples in popular fiction: Han when he leaves the rebellion before the Battle of Yavin but comes back to help Luke, Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Edmund in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Zuko in Avatar the Last Airbender
This is the arc that I think Ben Solo will end up following. The story begins with him having already rejected his family, but we also see him reject his father in the most brutal way possible. I think he is going to become even more unhinged and self-destructive in the Last Jedi. I also think that either by the end of VIII or the beginning of IX he is going to realize that Han was right, Snoke is just using him. Since Han is gone, I think Luke and Rey will be filling in the roll of the forgiving father.
The Anti-Hero’s Journey
Like the Hero’s Journey, the Anti-Hero’s Journey is an archetype commonly used in fiction that follows a series of phases as the story progresses. Initially, the anti-hero is presented as being purely villainous and the other characters in the story and the audience are given no reason to sympathize with them. The next step of the Anti-Hero’s Journey is that they are humanized. Often this is done by either giving them a tragic backstory, or by showing that while they may do wicked things they are doing them with good intentions. After the Anti-Hero has been humanized they go through a phase of internal conflict or their internal conflict is revealed or in some way amplified. During this phase of internal conflict we see the anti-hero waffling between right and wrong. The next step of the archetype is that the anti-hero’s internal conflict begins to drive them toward the side of good. This can manifest as uncharacteristic acts of mercy or even the anti-hero helping the good guys out for a time. Ultimately though the Anti-Hero isn’t ready to be redeemed yet and once again falls back to their evil ways. This can be because of their own desires or because they fell to the temptations of another villainous character. This second fall often results in the anti-hero betraying the hero(ine) and returning to fight for/alongside the story’s true villain. The anti-hero’s betrayal often leads to them achieving some goal that they had become evil to achieve in the first place. At some point shortly after achieving this goal the Anti-Hero realizes that they have made a colossal mistake and that this wasn’t what they wanted at all or achieving the goal backfires on them in some horrible way. The realization that their actions have had disastrous consequences that far outweigh anything they had hoped to gain by giving themselves over to do evil causes the anti-hero to repent and fully seek to fight for what is right. In the final battle they are then fighting on the side of the heroes against their former allies/master.
Examples in Popular Fiction: Edmund in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Zuko in Avatar the Last Airbender, Catwoman in the Dark Knight Rises, Magneto in X-men, Artemis Entreri in the Legend of Drizzt
It is to be noted that while Prodigal Son characters can follow the Anti-Hero’s Journey (such as Edmund and Prince Zuko), not all Anti-Hero’s Journey characters are Prodigal Sons and not all Prodigal sons are on the Anti-Hero’s Journey. For example there are characters that follow the first half of the Anti-Hero’s Journey, but instead of becoming fully redeemed enter a cycle where they fight alongside or against the main heroes depending on their own purposes (Magneto is an example of this). Also not all Prodigal Son characters become truly villainous, some like Han and Jack Sparrow simply give in to their selfishness for a time.
We see Kylo Ren as a full villain at the beginning of The Force Awakens. He murders a defenseless old man and orders the slaughter of an entire village. He is also portrayed and powerful and terrifying as he stalks, overpowers, and then abducts Rey. Kylo is humanized when he takes off his mask to reveal not a scarred monstrous visage, but that of a young man who is trying so hard to be more frightening than he actually is. He is also humanized through Han and Leia. We care for them, we feel their pain at losing their son, and we want him to come home as much as they do. We see Kylo’s internal conflict begin when Han confronts Kylo and Kylo is feeling “torn apart” but ultimately he can’t bring himself to do the right thing and falls further into darkness. We know that killing Han only made Kylo feel the pull to the light all the more, so this phase of internal conflict will likely extend well into The Last Jedi. I think we will see Kylo trend toward good and possibly even help the good guys out at some point in The Last Jedi, possibly through Kylo giving information that is helpful to Luke and Rey or the Resistance as a whole. If Kylo starts acting helpful toward the heroes in The Last Jedi remember that there is one film still to go and expect that he will betray them before the end of the film. He isn’t ready to be redeemed just yet. In Kylo’s case betraying the heroes yet again could further some agenda of Snoke’s that Snoke had used to persuade Kylo to join him. Kylo’s betrayal leading to his lowest point could have to do with Han’s prophetic words in The Force Awakens, “Snoke is only using you for your power. When he’s through he’ll crush you.” I think this will likely take place at the end of The Last Jedi, but Kylo realizing he has made a terrible mistake could also tie in with the death of his mother in IX. Kylo realizing that he was nothing more than a means to an awful end for Snoke would lead him to see the error of his ways and he then would be fighting Snoke alongside Rey in the final showdown.
The Heroine’s Journey
In many cultures throughout history girls were considered women as soon as they were old enough to bear children. Boys, by contrast, often had to go through a rite of passage before they were considered men. This is why hero’s journey stories are ultimately stories about growing up with the quest or adventure serving as a rite of passage for the hero to become a man. Heroine’s journey stories are a bit different. Girls didn’t have to do anything to earn the right to be considered women, so their stories typically aren’t entirely about the heroine growing up. Women in many societies have, however, been oppressed due to their gender. As a result heroine’s journeys are typically about breaking free of limitations and the heroine finding her place in the world. Persephone follows this archetype, though she is caught in a cycle of breaking free from Hades and being forced to return. Disney loves this archetype, it’s used in nearly every Disney Princess movie. This is why the first song the princess sings is always about her longing for a better life or about how she feels like she doesn’t fit in. Once the adventure begins the heroine begins to break free and begins to get exactly what she wants. But often the story follows Persephone’s story and there’s a catch. The catch forces the heroine to return to her initial place of limitation. Often this return comes immediately after a great victory for the heroine. (Persephone is forced to return to Hades after returning home and being reunited with her mother. Belle has to return to her “provincial life” just as she and the beast are starting to fall in love. Mulan is discovered as a woman just after she wins the battle. Anastasia finally meets her grandmother only for her grandmother not to believe her, etc.) The heroine must then break free from her limitations once more and this time she leaves the catch behind, achieves her final victory and finds her rightful place.
Rey’s story is about her breaking free of the limitations she has put on herself by choosing to stay on Jakku to wait for her family. She has left Jakku behind but she hasn’t thrown off her chains completely as she still, above all else, longs to be reunited with her family. If Rey’s story follows Persephone’s then she will likely be reunited with her family in TLJ. Her return to her place of limitation could either be her being forced to return to Jakku or her once again being separated from her family and having to hold faith that she would see them again. Following the archetype, this would come after she had had some sort of victory. Her return to limitation could either be a cliff hanger at the end of TLJ or it could happen at the beginning of IX. IX then would be about her breaking free once more, saving the day, and would end with her being reunited with her family, and having found her rightful place in the galaxy.
The amnesiac is a character who has somehow lost their memories of what their life was prior to or at the start of the story. The character learning about their past and regaining their lost memories is used to drive the plot of the story and the character is developed as they discover themselves. Sometimes the character’s life prior to their loss of memory is shown, other times it is treated as a mystery that unravels for the audience as it does for the character.
Examples: Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity, and Anastasia in Anastasia
Rey’s life prior to being left on Jakku is a mystery to her and to us. She doesn’t remember her family, but knows that she wants to get back to them. The “Forceback” scene in the Force Awakens is the first time she begins to have her memories returned to her. She will likely continue to regain her memories through the Last Jedi and Episode IX (possibly through more “Forcebacks”, possibly through other means). These returned memories will be used to unravel the mystery of who she is and why she was left on Jakku.
The Reluctant Mentor
The reluctant mentor is one that feels they have good reason for not taking on the hero(ine) as a new student. Often these reasons tie into past failures with previous students. These mentor figures are often initially cold and argumentative toward the hero(ine). Some catalyst then occurs that causes the mentor to change their mind. Sometimes they are persuaded but still have misgivings, other times they are given renewed hope for the future and see how the hero(ine) could fulfill that hope.
Examples: Yoda toward Luke in the Empire Strikes Back, Anakin toward Ahsoka in the Clone Wars, Qui-Gon toward Obi-Wan in the (now Legends) Jedi Apprentice series.
In the Last Jedi, Luke is initially of the opinion that the Jedi need to end and doesn’t want anything to do with training Rey. He will need a catalyst to make him change his mind before he agrees to teach Rey.
The Heroine’s Mentor
In hero’s journey stories the mentor or father figure has to die because it forces the hero to be a man and stand on their own. It also often shows the hero surpassing their mentor/father by defeating what their mentor/father could not. Mentors and parental figures in heroine’s journeys play a different role than in hero’s journeys. Sometimes the overly strict parent is the source of the heroine’s limitations and the parent figure goes through their own character arc where they come to accept the choices that the heroine has made (Ariel’s father, Mulan’s father, Moana’s father, etc.). (They could play around with this trope with Luke not wanting to train Rey initially and then having something she does change his mind and/or by having him be overprotective of her.) In other cases the heroine’s mentor or family is the belonging that she ends up finding in the end (Anastasia’s grandmother, Rapunzel’s parents). (They appear to be using this trope with Rey, as what she wants more than anything is to be reunited with her family.) Heroes have to achieve their final victories alone, but heroines’ final victories are often collaborative. The hero must be a man and stand on his own. The heroine has found her place and so stands with the friends/family she has found along the way, her mentor often included (Mushu with Mulan, Maui with Moana). (I think we’ll likely see this with Rey too. I don’t think she will go into her final battle alone like Luke did, she’ll have friends/family by her side. If nothing else, it prevents IX from being accused of being a repeat of Return of the Jedi.) Heroine’s might lose their parent(s) at or before the very beginning of the story, but if the mentor or parental figure is still alive when the heroine’s adventure begins then they usually make it to the end of the story. This is 50% of the reason why I don’t think Luke will die in the Sequel Trilogy. We’ve been straight up told by Maz that Rey’s place of belonging is with Luke. He’s her reward at the end of all of this. For this reason, killing Luke off makes no more sense than killing Rapunzel’s parents in Tangled or killing Anastasia’s grandmother in Anastasia.
The Messianic Hero
A Messianic Hero, as the name implies, is a character whose arc follows the life of Christ. This archetype is often used in modern fantasy in part because it works very well with the hero’s journey archetype, but not all Messianic heroes are on the hero’s journey and not all hero’s journey characters are Messianic heroes. Messianic heroes are shown to willingly sacrifice their lives to save someone else, symbolizing Christ willingly going to his death to pay for the sins of humanity. Sometimes the characters literally die and then are resurrected (Aslan in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gandalf, Harry Potter, etc.) other times the characters experience a symbolic death and resurrection (Aragorn when he takes the paths of the dead in the Return of the King). After the character’s resurrection they often disappear for a period of time (symbolizing the ascension of Christ) and their allies are shown to be waiting for their return. In the hero’s absence their allies become embroiled in a battle that seems hopeless (The battle against the forces of the White Witch in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in the Lord of the Rings, the Battle of Hogwarts). This symbolizes the Battle of Armageddon. When all hope seems lost the hero returns often with an army behind him, symbolic of the second coming of Christ, the hero’s allies are saved and evil is defeated once and for all. Sometimes this archetype skips the ascension phase and goes straight from the resurrection to the second coming (Aslan, Aragorn, and Harry Potter all do this). Luke follows the first half of this archetype in Return of the Jedi. His attempt to redeem his father parallels the crucifixion of Christ. Both are willing to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of others, both are captured without a fight, taken before evil men, and condemned to death. Vader only achieves redemption through Luke’s “death” when he repents of all of the evil that he had done and accepts the forgiveness offered by Luke. This parallels the teachings of the Bible that salvation is only gained through repenting of one’s sins and accepting that they were paid for by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (This, I think, is the symbolism that people who ask how Anakin could truly be redeemed are missing. His redemption didn’t come from his good works outweighing the bad but through his repentance.) At the end, Anakin is saved and Luke returns to his friends alive.
Here’s the thing about the Sequel Trilogy, I don’t think Rey is supposed to be a new Messianic hero (her arc is something different). I think it’s still supposed to be Luke. They appear to be following the next steps of the archetype very closely. Very shortly after the end of Return of the Jedi Luke disappears and by the time The Force Awakens takes place no one knows where he is. There’s the parallel to the ascension of Christ. In his absence some doubt he will ever return, some doubt if he ever existed at all, but the faithful (Leia and the Resistance) still cling to the hope that he will come back one day soon. There’s only one step of the archetype left, the second coming. I fully expect a scene, possibly in TLJ but more likely at the end of IX, where the Republic/Resistance forces have found themselves backed into a corner. At the last moment Luke will show up, possibly with allies beside him (a new order of Force users?), and we’ll get to see exactly how powerful he’s truly become.
This is the other 50% of why I don’t think Luke will die in this trilogy, it breaks this archetype. Luke already had his “death”, he just came back from it.