Written by: robotical712, Josey, Needs_More_Sprinkles, HypersonicHarpist
In the last full post of the series, we’ll examine the symbolism of The Last Jedi and what it tells us about Rey, Luke and the Skywalker family.
Some of the symbolism, such as preserving the core of a thing, was covered in themes. Once the DVD is out, we’ll revisit this section with images and cuts from the movie!
Rey: And a Jedi who saved him. Yes, the most hated man in the galaxy. But you saw there was conflict inside him. You believed that he wasn’t gone. That he could be turned.
Luke: And I became a legend. For many years, there was balance and then I saw Ben. My nephew with that mighty Skywalker blood. And in my hubris, I thought I could train him, I could pass on my strengths.
When Luke recounts the failures of the Jedi in an effort to dissuade Rey from following the path of the Jedi, Rey counters with how Luke saw the good in Vader and turned him from the dark side. Luke scoffs that it made him a legend and misled him into thinking he could teach his nephew to overcome the true nature of his of bloodline. Rey, believing Luke is talking Ben as a student, counters that where Ben failed him, she will not.
At exactly the halfway point of the film, Rey finds the mirror in the dark side cave and asks it to show her parents. To her disappointment, the mirror only shows shadows before showing her own reflection. However, Rey misses the point of what it showed her – being a mirror, it can only show what is placed in front of it. She sought an answer external to herself when the answer already lies inside her. That she sought the answer from the dark side cave further underscores the point being made. By looking for answers to who she is outside herself, Rey is trying to take the quick and easy path.
While Rey misses what the mirror is telling her, the scene subtly to signals the audience that the answer will be found by watching what Rey does. After learning what really happened the night of the massacre, Rey tells Luke there is still good in Kylo – much as Luke saw good in Vader as the film helpfully reminded us – and demands he go confront him. After he refuses, she leaves to do what she feels is right, much as Luke left Yoda to rescue his friends.
Once she arrives on the Supremacy, the movie shows a condensed version of Luke’s confrontation with his father. The elevator scene corresponds to Luke and Vader’s conversation on the catwalk on Endor. Snoke welcomes Rey and removes her restraints in the same way the Emperor removed Luke’s. Snoke places the lightsaber on the same side in the same orientation. The flow of the dialog mirrors that on the Death Star and Snoke even uses some of the same wording:
Young fool. It was I who…
Finally, Snoke forces Rey to watch as the Supremacy destroys the Resistance transports just as Luke watched the Death Star destroy the Rebel ships in Return of the Jedi. Also like RotJ, the apprentice turns on his master, but Kylo does it for his own ends. Following Kylo’s refusal, Rey heads to Crait to join her friends. It is in the final segment of the film, Luke and Rey rescue the Resistance. Luke distracts the Kylo and the First Order while Rey removes the rocks preventing the survivors from escaping – completing the mirror in spectacular fashion..
The mirror tells us the true answer to who Rey’s parents are will be reflected in her and she then spends the entire last half of the film mirroring Luke’s arc from the Original Trilogy. Finally, she unknowingly joins her father in saving those they love.
Facing Fathers in the Cave
When Rey enters the mirror cave in search of answers about who her parents are, she is faced with two blurry shadows that merge into one. When she uncovers the shadow’s face, she sees her own face reflected back at her. Not only does this hearken back to Luke’s experience in the cave on Dagobah–where he unmasks a vision of his father to reveal his own face–but the shadow that comes to the forefront before merging is very clearly a male, slightly taller than Rey, wearing a high-necked dark outfit, and sporting an ear-length haircut with bangs covering the forehead (note: a screenshot will be added here when the DVD is released). If Johnson didn’t want the audience to suspect Luke was Rey’s father, one would think he’d choose a different model for the father shadow, one that lacked that, let’s say familiar walk, height, outfit, and hairdo.
This is also yet another example of “parents” being used as a stand-in for “father” in the film. Rey asks to see both parents, but the shadow that looks like Luke is the one who comes directly to the front. The avoidance of actually saying the word “father,” juxtaposed with the obviousness of the shadow’s identity, begs the question of why we are coming so close to outright drawing a connection between Luke Skywalker and Rey’s father, while still ultimately skirting the issue. But the very fact that a single shadow comes forward is significant in that it signals the significance (to the narrative, of course) of one of Rey’s parent (father) over the other. This has the automatic effect of removing “random parents” from the list of parentage possibilities.
“If Skywalker returns, the new Jedi will rise.” “[Your equal in the Light was] Skywalker, I assumed.” “Skywalker lives. The seed of the Jedi Order lives.” All of these lines are ostensibly meant to refer to Luke, but by the end of TLJ, all of them end up being true of Rey. Luke does not, in fact, “return” from Ahch-To in the sense that Snoke is indicating in this line from TFA–but Rey does. Luke is not Kylo’s equal in the light–but Rey is. And by the end of the film, Luke does not live to restore the Jedi Order–but Rey does. All of Snoke’s assumptions and predictions, seemingly disproven by the events of TLJ, end up being proven true if Snoke is simply assuming them to be about the wrong Skywalker. While not core to Rey’s story, this clever bit of wordplay is yet another feature of the Sequel Trilogy that is enhanced and made meaningful if Rey is Luke’s daughter.
The Skywalker Saber
The Saber as Excalibur
An iconic scene in The Force Awakens involving the Skywalker saber is during the climatic lightsaber duel on Starkiller Base. Kylo has just disarmed Finn and the saber had gone flying off to end up stuck a snow bank. Kylo tries to pull the saber to him and we see the saber wiggle in the snow much as it did when Luke first tried to call the saber to his hand in Empire Strikes Back. However, when Rey reaches for the saber it goes flying past Kylo and into her hand. The Star Wars movies have always been heavily inspired by the legends of King Arthur and this scene draws a clear parallel to the sword in the stone. No one but Arthur could get the sword to so much as budge while he was able to pull it from the stone with ease because he was the rightful heir to the throne. Rey was able to pull the saber from the snow while Kylo wasn’t because he isn’t the rightful heir, she is. It’s important to note that what made Arthur the rightful heir wasn’t his pure heart, it was that he was the lost son of the previous king, Uthur Pendragon. In drawing such strong parallels to the Sword in the Stone this scene is telling us that Rey has a more rightful claim to the saber and the Skywalker legacy than the grandson of Darth Vader, most likely because she is also a lost Skywalker child.
“An Offer. A Plea. The Galaxy’s Only Hope.”
The saber itself can be viewed as a physical representation of the Skywalker family and legacy. When Rey holds it out for Luke, it’s a symbolic request for him to accept his family legacy (“The truth that is his family”) through acknowledging her as his daughter. When he throws the saber away, it’s not only him rejecting his own identity, but also denying it to Rey. Despite Luke’s rejection, Rey recovers the saber, symbolizing her taking on the legacy herself, despite not realizing it. After Rey confronts Luke about what really happened the night of the massacre, he begs her not to leave and she offers to it to him a second time, but he rejects it once again. In true Skywalker fashion, Rey takes up the burden of saving the galaxy herself.
At the end, Luke appears to buy the Resistance time to escape and create one final legend. He appears as his younger self and sounds like the Luke we knew. Indeed, his statement “No one is ever really gone.” is as much about himself as Ben. However, the really important symbolism appears when he ignites his lightsaber – and it’s the Skywalker saber. Rey offered the saber to Luke several times in the movie and he refused it both times. Symbolically, he was refusing to accept who he and Rey were as Skywalkers, but now accepts it and is whole once again. By confronting Kylo with it, he is telling him that not only will Rey continue the Jedi, but the future of their family lies with her, not Kylo.
A Legacy, Divided
In The Force Awakens, Rey is easily able to seize her family’s saber from Kylo in their duel on Starkiller Base, symbolizing her rightful claim to her grandfather’s legacy (Rey being a stand-in for his persona as Anakin, and Kylo being a stand-in for his persona as Vader). But in the throne room scene in TLJ, the feuding cousins both have such strong pulls towards the saber that it actually shatters under the stress. This can then be read as a symbol of the escalating tension and shattering of the family, as the stakes of the story increase and the dark side–ie, the legacy of Vader–becomes ascendent. But it is Rey who is able, in the midst of the seeming destruction, to salvage the core of her family’s legacy and carry it with her into the future. In other words, while the Skywalker legacy now seems to hang in the balance, Rey still has true claim to the heart of it.
A Legacy, Rebuilt
The breaking of the Skywalker saber in TLJ calls to mind two other famous instances of broken family heirloom swords: Narsil from the Lord of the Rings and Nothung in Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung Operas. In both stories the shattered remains of the swords are reforged. Siegfried reforges Nothung and the elves reforge the shards of Naril into Anduril for Aragorn. The symbolism surrounding the reforging of the swords is also quite similar. In both cases the act of reforging the sword is symbolic of an heir embracing their family’s legacy and taking up the duty that that legacy entails. Compare this with the symbolism of the lightsabers Luke uses in the OT. Through ANH and ESB Luke uses his father’s lightsaber, symbolizing how his goal is to be like his father. He loses that saber when he finds out that Vader is his father. He then constructs a new lightsaber that looks nothing like his father’s in either color or design. This symbolizes how Luke was forced to forge his own identity independent of his father. He no longer wants to be like his father, he wants his father to be like him. To complete her Jedi training Rey will have to construct a lightsaber of her own. What is interesting is that while the Skywalker saber is broken, Rey still has all of the pieces. This strongly implies that Rey’s new saber will be the Skywalker saber reforged. Rey constructing an entirely new saber, like Luke constructing his green saber, would likely be symbolic of her forging an identity for herself. However, Rey reforging a sword that has deep connections to the Skywalker family would likely be used symbolically as her embracing her rightful place in the Skywalker family.
Isolation and Connections
Cut Off From More Than the Force
Luke cutting himself off from the Force as a second symbol of Luke’s emotional state. The Force, throughout Star Wars, is associated with feelings: “Trust your feelings,” “Reach out with your feelings,” “Search your feelings,” etc. Luke has willfully cut himself off from the Force. This is likely symbolic of Luke not allowing himself to feel his own emotions. And what is the result of this? Rey feeling “nothing from [him]” because he’s not allowing himself to feel anything from her or her to feel anything from him. Rian even considered making Luke physically blind at one point.
Surrounding and Binding
While this point cannot be officially corroborated until the release of the novel and/or screenplay, it appears that Rey and Luke’s distant relationship undergoes a brief but significant transformation on Crait. When Luke passes into the Force, Rey is the first to feel it happen, in spite of the two never having connected or communicated through the Force before. Or have they? Some moments prior, during Luke’s final monologue, the camera cuts directly from Luke saying “I will not be the last Jedi” to Rey suddenly snapping her eyes open and glancing back over her shoulder as if she is sensing somebody’s presence. While the obvious answer would be that she’s sensing Finn, this doesn’t quite track narratively. For one thing, the Force doesn’t function like a cell phone reception, unable to reach someone until a physical barrier has been removed. If Rey had sensed Finn’s presence, she would have sensed it when she approached the cave. For another thing, Rey looks surprised and confused by the source of the presence, glancing over her shoulder as opposed to forward to the cave, where she would assume Finn to be. She even does a small double-take back to the cave before Finn emerges, showing that his presence is distracting her from what is already on her mind.
The only other possible explanation for her reaction is that she is sensing Luke’s re-entry into the Force, and a deliberate connection he is extending to her in that moment (Luke clearly connected to the Force before this, when he first projected himself to Crait, so it only makes sense that Rey senses him at this moment if he is deliberately connecting to her through it). This is further supported by Johnson’s choice to cut immediately back to Luke after Rey’s reunion with the Resistance, a noticeably relaxed and even happy expression on his face. While the scene is still highly cryptic, the most coherent way to thread it together is that it depicts Luke connecting with Rey in some way through the Force, which then allows her to sense his physical death even before his twin sister does.
This connection plays into the existing motif of physical distance as a symbol of broken familial bonds in the film, and contact through the Force as a symbol of reconnection and healing. We see Leia communicating with Kylo from afar as he readies himself to attack the Resistance, Luke reaching out to Leia on Ahch-To, Rey and Kylo touching hands across the galaxy, and now Luke (presumably) using what little remains of his life force to connect with Rey as a final act before dying. The Force–the literal lifeblood of the Skywalkers–is capable of connecting the shattered family in spite of the massive rifts that have erupted between them. Much like Rey’s bond with Kylo, which remains strong regardless of their shared enmity, the Skywalkers’ lineage keeps its members closely knit together, even when they seem broken beyond repair.
It’s All About The Hands
As Pale has pointed out in his earlier article, hands have their own language in the films. Close-ups of hands touching, or nearly touching, are used copiously throughout the film, always between characters with deep, significant ties to each other. To list some examples, we see a close-up of Poe touching Leia’s hand (mother figure and surrogate son), Leia touching Holdo’s hand (lifelong close friends), Luke touching Leia’s hand (twins), and of course, Rey touching Kylo’s hand (bonded together through the Force). The one outlier is the two close-ups of Luke’s hands and Rey’s hands, one when she is handing him the saber, and one when he presses her hand to the surface of a rock during her training. Ostensibly, these two characters have no connection to one another, and never develop a close relationship, and yet we linger on not one, but two shots of their hands together throughout the film.
Luke’s mechanical hand is also a symbol of him cutting himself off emotionally. Legends of Luke Skywalker makes a point of showing that Luke’s mechanical hand can’t feel anything. We know from Empire Strikes Back that Luke’s hand, when the artificial skin is present, is capable of the sensation of touch. Luke could have replaced the skin and allowed himself to feel again, but he chooses not to. This is likely symbolic of Luke’s emotional state. He is willfully choosing not to allow himself to feel. It is interesting that in the Legends of Luke Skywalker the only two stories that draw attention to Luke’s hand are stories of him in his later years, the earlier stories make no mention of anything unusual about his hand. The chronologically later stories also portray a more somber Luke than the earlier stories. In TLJ Luke’s hand is shown ungloved in only two contexts: when Luke first meets Rey and during the flashbacks of the night Ben Solo fell. This is important as it shows that Luke didn’t lose the skin on his hand the night Ben fell. So something happened to Luke prior to Ben’s fall that took the skin from his hand and made him choose not to feel again.
A Familiar Melody
“Binary Sunset” is one of the most iconic pieces of music in the Star Wars saga, eclipsed only by the films’ main theme. It has variously been referred to as “Luke’s Theme,” “Obi-Wan’s Theme,” and the “Force Theme,” but its usage is most closely tied to this last interpretation–that is, as an indicator of the presence of the Force in the scenes it underscores.
As the Skywalker family is directly descended from the Force itself, “Binary Sunset” evokes, by proxy, the family’s bloodline and their spiritual and metaphysical significance in the greater galaxy. In fact, the melody is used in nearly every scene in the saga where Skywalkers have important emotional interactions with one another, or where the bond between Skywalkers is discussed or implied, especially as it relates to their connection with the Force. It appears, variously, in the burning homestead scene in A New Hope (where Luke decides to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Jedi), Luke and Leia’s exchange on Endor (underscoring Luke’s “The force is strong in my family” speech), and Luke’s declaration that he is “A Jedi, like my father before me” in the Emperor’s throne room at the climax of Return of the Jedi, among others. Where does it appear most notably in the sequel trilogy? To name a few instances, the scene where the Skywalker saber flies to Rey on Starkiller Base, the moment Rey confronts Luke on the cliffside at the climax of The Force Awakens…and the moment Rey touches Kylo’s hand in the hut on Ahch-To.
The use of this specific piece of music proves that Johnson (and Williams) are trying to draw attention not to Rey and Kylo’s interpersonal/emotional connection in this scene, but to the greater significance of that connection–one that is thematically linked to all the familial connections referenced above. If the scene were intended to be romantic, it would make far more sense to use a “love theme” such as Han and Leia’s or Anakin and Padmé’s. And if the scene were intended to be frightening and foreboding, Williams would be more likely to incorporate strains of “The Imperial March” or “Darth Plagueis the Wise” to indicate that the bond is sinister and dangerous. Instead, the choice of music indicates that the audience is meant to focus on the strength of Rey and Kylo’s connection through the Force, while evoking the possibility that this connection is rooted in a familial bond as well.
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