Our heroine Rey faces crucial moments in and in front of two caves in The Last Jedi. In this piece, we investigate the deeper symbolism that these classic mythic images might contain in the context of her journey.
Recently, I’ve been thinking more deeply about the imagery of caves in TLJ, and the concepts they symbolize. Readers of Joseph Campbell will recognize the “Inmost Cave” as a vital stage of the hero’s journey, wherein the hero approaches the deepest and most dangerous stage of their quest in order to obtain the thing they set off to find. In Rey’s case, of course, this objective (or “elixir,” to use Campbell’s terminology) is the identity of her family, hence why she ventures into the mirror cave on Ahch-To in hopes of seeing them. “This didn’t go on forever,” she asserts in the film, adding that at the end of the cave, she believed she would find “what [she] came to see.” But as we know, when she approaches this (inmost) cave, she is faced only with a seemingly endless sequence of mirrors blocking her from moving forward, reflecting back, as she approaches them, only herself. Disappointed, she returns to the surface world, deciding that the answer she seeks is out of reach and a journey through both the physical and conceptual cave is futile.
Later, we see another representation of caves, when the Resistance is trapped in one on Crait. Like Rey, they become dejected and believe that there is no way through to the other side when they encounter rocks blocking their way. But then we see Rey, once again standing at the opening of a cave, this time empowered by her defeat of Kylo Ren (and a possible desire to prove, to him and to herself, that she does indeed have “a place in [the] story”). Now, instead of retreating when she finds an obstacle, Rey lifts the rocks herself, opening a path not just to her friends in the Resistance, but also a direct line through the cave from her to Luke, who stands on the other side.
We now know from the Junior Novelization that, in this moment, Luke is connecting with Rey through the Force to tell her that he will “Always be with her” (p. 197)–in other words, just as Rey lifts the physical obstacles between them (much like the walls she’s put up in her mind), the two of them instantly, and finally, connect.
Earlier in her journey, Rey faced an obstacle in a cave keeping her from reaching her parents and retreated in defeat. By the end of her journey, she lifts the obstacle from the cave through sheer strength of will–finally, at long last, opening a clear and direct path between her and her…mentor?
You do the math.