Deciphering the Cavern Sequence in The Last Jedi


I have no doubt that if you’ve seen Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, there is a sequence in the film that may have left you feeling somewhat perplexed. If nothing else, I am sure that every now and then you’ve pondered as to the purpose of this sequence. For myself, I’d like to think that I have since grasped the significance of it, though I can understand why so many viewers feel confused or even cheated by it. After all, the truth of Rey’s parentage was a mystery which J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, co-writers of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, left completely empty for writer and director Rian Johnson to fill in when crafting the eighth episode of the Star Wars saga. Still, that is not a subject for which we will discuss today–at least not directly.

Today, we are going to look at Rey’s experience in the Cavern on Ahch-To. In doing so, I hope to provide you with the same conclusions that I had concerning Rey’s character development in TLJ by citing parallels found in the saga, as well as from other works of modern storytelling.

Rey’s experience inside of the Cavern of Ahch-To is one of the wildest and most confusing moments in the Star Wars saga, thus far. Let us watch it together to review.


Longtime fans will recognize Rey’s experience inside of the cavern as being reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s experience inside of the cave on Dagobah.[1] It is one of the more obvious callbacks to earlier moments in franchise. For starters, both the cave and cavern are noted as being nexus points for the Dark Side of the Force. In both cases, Luke and Rey encounter illusions created by the Force. Strangely enough, however, Master Yoda’s dialogue in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back suggests that Luke’s experience was meant to test him; and while Yoda comments on Luke’s “failure in the cave”, I remained unable to comprehend the purpose of the test until I saw TLJ. It is my opinion that Rey too was tested in the cavern on Ahch-To and that she, like Luke before her, also failed.

For Luke, his trial within the Cave of Evil was to test his spirit and resolve. In the cave, Luke engages in combat with an illusionary Darth Vader; when Vader is beheaded, the decapitated mask breaks open to reveal Luke’s own head inside. So how exactly does Luke fail, you ask? Let us watch the scene in its entirety.

Prior to entering the cave, Master Yoda had been cautioning Luke on the temptations of the Dark Side, citing the ease at which individuals have been corrupted, particularly “Obi-Wan’s apprentice” (Vader). Thus, Luke’s disregard for the warnings of Master Yoda infers his inability, in my opinion, to recognize the illusionary Darth Vader as his own darkness and his ignorance towards his own corruptibility, as invoked by Luke’s own face being behind the mask. He fights an illusion spawned by the Dark Side purely out of fear, sudden desperation, and rashness.

The illusion also foreshadows Luke’s upcoming confrontation with Darth Vader on Bespin where he will learn a hidden truth about himself–that he is the son of Darth Vader, formerly known as Anakin Skywalker. Luke was already aware that Darth Vader was a former student of Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, who “betrayed and murdered [his] father” upon turning to the Dark Side. So how could Luke, despite still being ignorant of his relationship to Vader, not recognize the possibility his own corruption? If a student of Obi-Wan and a peer to the heroic Anakin Skywalker could be seduced to evil, could the same outcome not happen to Luke, Obi-Wan’s last intended pupil?

In the end, Luke’s failure, as Yoda will tell him, comes as much from his audaciousness as it does from his lack of faith, particularly in himself. Ironically, as Luke will tell Rey in TLJ, his later failures are stemmed from his growing arrogance and hubris, believing himself to be some omnipotent and legendary galactic savior, resulting not only in Luke losing all faith in himself, but also in the ethics and sincerity of the galaxy.

So, after all this talk about Luke, you may still wonder, “how is Rey’s experience in the cavern a failure?” Well, in order to understand that, we need to make a trip “across the pond” and put ourselves before the Mirror of Erised, as found in the Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling.


The Mirror of Erised made its first and only appearance in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Coming from unknown origins, the Mirror had the virtue of showing someone’s deepest and most desperate desire at the very moment.[2] Harry Potter stumbled upon the Mirror during an evening excursion through Hogwarts Castle.

It was a magnificent mirror, as high as the ceiling, with an ornate gold frame, standing on two clawed feet. There was an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on woshi.

His panic fading now that there was no sound of Filch and Snape, Harry moved nearer to the mirror, wanting to look at himself but see no reflection again. He stepped in front of it.

He had to clap his hands to stop himself from screaming. He whiled around. His heart was pounding far more furiously than when the book had screamed –– for he had seen not only himself in the mirror, but a whole crowd of people standing right behind him.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, pg. 207 – 208

As Harry looked closer at the reflection of the people who weren’t there, he began to take notice of the two immediately flanking him.

She was a very pretty woman. She had dark red hair and her eyes – her eyes are just like mine, Harry thought, edging a little closer to the glass. Bright green – exactly the same shape, but then he noticed that she was crying; smiling, but crying at the same time. The tall, thin, black-haired man standing next to her put his arm around her. He wore glasses, and his hair was very untidy. It stuck up at the back, just as Harry’s did.

Harry was so close to the mirror now that his nose was nearly touching that of his reflection.

“Mom?” he whispered. “Dad?”

They just looked at him, smiling. And slowly, Harry looked into the faces of the other people in the mirror, and saw other pairs of green eyes like his, other noses like his, even a little old man who looked as though he had Harry’s knobbly knees – Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, pg. 208 – 209

Over the next few nights, Harry continued to visit the Mirror of Erised, dwelling on his parents and relatives, until at last, one evening, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore came to visit. Aware and concerned about Harry’s increased obsession with the Mirror and constant vigils, Dumbledore warned him about the dangers of clinging to the past, urging him to move on with his life, accepting the losses he has experienced in order to grow, not dwell and waste away.

From examining Harry’s experience with the Mirror of Erised, one might be able to interpret Harry’s deepest desire, not as wishing to see his parents, but instead to understand his place in the (wizarding) world–which is to say, to discover his identity. In seeing the faces of his parents and grandparents, distant aunts and uncles, Harry comes to understand that he is part of a family, descended from wizards & witches and muggles (non-magical people), alike. Despite still being just a boy, Harry came to understand the knowledge and self-awareness granted to him by the Mirror of Erised. There was no misinterpreting what he was shown, and he displayed no notion of doubt, confusion, or rejection. Harry understood–to the best of his ability, for Dumbledore would come to withhold the prophecy concerning him and the Dark Lord for another four years–that his was an unfortunate existence, yet now he knew that he was so much more than just the orphan boy who dwelt in the cupboard.

So, we now return to Rey’s failure. When she approached the rock-face mirror she pleaded with the Force to show her the face of her parents, which we have already understood, as with Harry Potter, is to be shown her identity. And yet, when the Force provided her with an answer, something different, something she did not expect, something she fears even, Rey refused to accept it. Of course, what the Force showed Rey was her own reflection.

Thus, the point of the Cavern experience is to show Rey, or rather to allow her the opportunity to accept that her parentage and heritage do not define who she is. Rey has never been the daughter of Luke Skywalker, as she might have considered and as many fans continue to believe. She is neither the long-lost offspring of a Force-wielder, nor the forgotten child of a politician or Rebellion hero. Rey has always been just Rey, and that is exactly who she needs to recognize herself as: a capable, graceful, fierce, and independent woman.


Rey is not the only character who suffers with an identity crisis throughout TLJ. Her journey is paralleled by that of Kylo Ren (one of many similarities they share throughout the film), who struggles to suppress his former persona–that of Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo & Leia Organa, nephew of Luke Skywalker, grandson of Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker–believing his true nature to align with the Dark Side of the Force. This struggle led him to murder his father in the previous film (TFA), an event noted to have “broken [his] spirit”, which may infer why he stayed his hand when he was given the opportunity to kill his mother as well.

Rey’s search for answers and Kylo’s indecisiveness are juxtaposed to one another. This near-identical struggle is what allows a telepathic link (via the Force) to develop between the two. As such, Rey and Kylo, despite being adversaries to one another, slowly begin to understand each other’s character and history. Remember, it is to Kylo Ren, and not Luke Skywalker, that Rey seeks comfort in after her experience in the cavern. Kylo Ren, the same person who kidnapped and tortured her; the same person who murdered Han Solo, her would-be mentor and father-figure; the same person who mortally injured her companion Finn; he is the one from whom she sought comfort because she recognized them as kindred spirits.

As depicted in the above scene, the connection between Rey and Kylo was strong that it allows them to “touch” one another across space and time. Each one, however, has a different experience upon the sensation: Rey experiences a premonition where in which Kylo will be restored to Ben Solo, a name she continued to call him for the rest of the film; on the other hand, Kylo, not only foresees Rey joining him, but also glimpses her past and learns the identity of her parents.[3]

It is near the end of the film that all these internal conflicts and struggles come to a head. With he and Rey having survived an encounter with the Supreme Leader of the First Order and his Praetorian Guard, Kylo Ren at last makes the decision as to who he wants to be.

Kylo Ren attempts to coerce Rey into joining his cause. He tries to take advantage of her sense of loneliness and low self-esteem, belittling her and claiming that she has no worth to anyone, but him. This time, however, Rey does not shrink back into defeat, but she overcomes those negative emotions being stirred by Kylo and chooses to fight back against him. It is here, if I might be so bold to say, that Rey, consciously or not, chooses to accept the answer given to her at the mirror. Rey has seen for herself, by seeing who Kylo has chosen to be, who she truly is. She is Rey, a young woman who has only ever needed to be and is defined by her own thoughts, actions, and deeds. And in discovering herself for the first time, Rey has found that which has always been hidden from her–she has found purpose.


In writing TLJ, Rian Johnson wanted each individual character to face what he considered to be their greatest obstacles, and overcome them. Rey’s greatest obstacle was in confronting the possibility of being alone in the universe, without any sort of familial ties remaining to her and being incapable of recognizing herself. Thus, throughout the film, we as the audience bear witness to Rey’s evolution from a frightened, seemingly abandoned child to becoming the admirable woman we’ve known her to be.

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi is full of amazing character development and references that tie back to the greater saga. I hope that in reading this, you have been opened to a wider lens with which to watch and understand this most controversial of Star Wars film. Furthermore, if you have your own thoughts and opinions, please feel free to share them with me at any time. It would not surprise me if all our understandings were to change once The Rise of Skywalker releases later this year. Until then, I hope that you’ve enjoy this brief dive into modern storytelling and that you continue to do so at your own pleasure.

May The Force Of Others Be With You.

UPDATE (03/10/2020): According the official novelization of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey’s father was a failed clone of Emperor Palpatine who lacked the Force sensitivity required to house the emperor’s disembodied spirit.


[1] The Cave of Evil, as it is now called, first appeared in Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back (1980). The Cave makes another appearance in a 4-part story arc of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), wherein which Master Yoda is led by the disembodied voice of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn to uncover lost secrets of the Force.
[2] It is only when the inscription of the Mirror of Erised is read backwards that its meaning is made clear. The reverse reads, “I show not your face but your heart’s desire”.
[3]The release of The Rise of Skywalker brought with it new information concerning Rey’s parentage. Rey is revealed to be the granddaughter of the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine, left on Jakku by her parents to be kept safe from her grandfather’s machination. At the end of the film, she takes the surname “Skywalker” in honor of the family that trained her, cherished her, and loved her.

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