The Last Word Part 5 – The Cave

Rey’s cave scene is a sad undoing of what had been an interesting dynamic. Rey, who has no family, no traditions to stand on and seeks both, has been arguing with Luke this whole time on the importance of the Jedi, and their tradition, and their role in the galaxy. She’s horrified to discover Luke has cut himself off from the force – a metaphysical step consistent with his self-exile to the island. She is in top form telling Luke that “You did not fail Ben Solo, he failed you.” In this rather long-running argument with Luke, she has been entirely correct in terms of existing Star Wars films and philosophy, though it is difficult to know what to make of this (or what we are supposed to make of it) given the previously described incoherence of the overall ‘end of the Jedi’ sub-plot.  Indeed, this debate is not so resolved as cut short – Luke reaffirmed the destruction of his own connections with the book burning, and Rey dismisses her own previous arguments with Luke here in the cave.

Recall, if you can, Luke’s cave scene, right at the fulcrum of the original trilogy, sitting at the balance of Luke-as-pilot and Luke-as-Jedi (his leaving Yoda to help is friends is the last gasp of the young, impulsive Luke). He enters a swampy cave, faces Vader in a dream-like place between the worlds, and strikes him down with all his hatred and anger at the evils of the Galactic Empire, only to reveal that the face under the black mask was his own.

This remains a brilliant scene, in terms of both the mechanics of storytelling and the themes and philosophy of the series. It foreshadowed the end of the film when Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father – a scene that literally could not have worked with an audience absent this one. It implicates the inherent self-destructiveness of the violence and rage. It warns Luke of the darkness hiding in his own heart and so prepares him for the temptations of the Dark Side to come. It is, in short, one of those perfect scenes of the original Star Wars films that attempt – and succeed – to do pretty much everything at once, so smoothly and with so few extraneous details that the films really are very easy to watch.

Now for the updated version. At (presumably) the same point in the character arc, Rey enters her cave and sees a black mirror, reflecting herself, somehow behind as well as ahead. Everything she does is repeated into the distance – and comes back around behind her. Where Luke faces the duality of the soul, Rey faces solipsism, the endless self, Ouroborous – the worm eating its own tail. This can’t be accidental: Rey snapping her fingers so that a perfect causal loop is symbolism that even these writers can’t have missed it. Further, this circle of self came from a demand to see her origin.

This scene is either the greatest piece of stage-setting in Star Wars history to surpass even Luke’s cave scene in subtlety, or the most bone-headed mistake since Midichlorians.

Suppose it were brilliant. The cave is full of the Dark Side, and already attempted to seduce Rey during her meditation. Rey is torn between her parents and the Jedi traditions, and the self-sufficiency and iconoclasm being preached, hypocritically, by the (Vader-worshipping) Kylo Ren and (regret-driven Jedi) Luke Skywalker. She goes into the cave, and where Luke was tempted with a figure to hate and kill, Rey is tempted with a vision of absolute self-sufficiency. As described in the previous section, solipsism is the Dark Side, with its all-consuming selfishness. The Dark Side has none of the connections to the past, future, present, and other people that make the Light Side the true expression of the Force’s oneness, only illusions of self-sufficiency, self-creation, on and on twisting forever through the shadows and murk and echoing darkness.

And then Rey completely misses the point.

Stop and think about that: she completely misses the point. She appears to give up on acquiring the traditions Luke has ever so grudgingly begun training her in, and decides she’s been training herself just fine already. She leaves the cave secure with the confidence of a heroic tragic flaw – an Oedipus searching for his father’s murderer, a Macbeth confident in the destiny of the crown.

Rey goes on to say that the cave has done nothing for her, which shows she missed the point twice.  She didn’t even notice that temptation was being offered, and did not notice that she succumbed.  After all, for the solipsist, nothing external (such as the cave) can possibly have an effect.  Thus, she succeeds in missing the point twice by going on to act as if she only missed the point once.

This scene is a crime, for these writers are morons, and all this potential wasted. This scene should have been the first film, and the second should have had reality crushing in upon Rey, with friends dying, and hopes falling apart, and her struggling to put herself, and the rest of the protagonists back together as she comes to understand that solipsism isn’t enough, that she is in part created by her friends and companions, as they are shaped by the consequences of her presence. Because, as Yoda said, ‘failure is the best teacher’.

But this film wasn’t the first, it was the second. Rey’s path is onward and upward, with barely a speed-bump of an intransigent hermit in the way. In fact, she is the only person in this film whose arc does not appear to have produced outcomes worse than the status quo ante (if you include Luke’s flashback confession of attempted murder as part of this film).  By all rights as primary protagonist, and in light of her Dark Side solipsism, she should have been the exemplar of failure so as to set the stage of her triumph in the trilogy finale.

I understand the writers want to paint the lesson of the cave as positive self-confidence rather than solipsism, of Rey’s capacity for leadership, and coming to terms with herself. Yet whatever they were trying to do, the result is that they wrote, scripted, and shot the setup for perhaps the deepest, most rewarding moral character arc in Star Wars history, and wasted it because they never bothered to understand the premises of the series. Indeed, they seem to have spend an inordinate amount of time attacking the premise – albeit badly because, again, they didn’t understand what they were attacking.

The Philosophy of the Force <- prior | Index | next -> Legacy

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