This post will contain extensive spoilers for The Last Jedi – consider yourself warned!
The Last Jedi is full of parallels and, in particular, parallel characters. You have Rey and Kylo Ren at the forefront, but you also have the pair of Luke and Snoke looming behind them. And while Luke may merely be bitter and tormented while Snoke is twisted and malevolent, both masters have walked shockingly similar paths with regards to Ben Solo. Luke openly admits to the sin of hubris – excessive pride or self-confidence – and is painfully aware of his failings. Snoke, by contrast, is all-too guilty of hubris but trips up by failing to be mindful of his pride. This lack of self-awareness is what, with delicious inevitability, results in his destruction. Luke is forced to confront his own hubris and pride when Ben Solo turns on him and destroys his temple, whereas Snoke receives no such lesson until it is too late – Kylo’s betrayal ends him definitively, and leaves no room for the reflection that Luke was permitted by his survival.
With regards to Ben Solo, Luke and Snoke both make the same mistake by perceiving the boy primarily in terms of his bloodline. In his nephew, Luke sees “mighty Skywalker blood” that signifies enormous potential in the Force – upon recognising this, Luke resolves that it is his duty to train the boy and allow him to realise his potential. Snoke tells an eerily similar story:
When I found you, I saw what all masters live to see. Raw, untamed power. And beyond that, something truly special. The potential of your bloodline. A new Vader.
Both Luke and Snoke, in this way, seem fixated on Ben’s lineage – they define him primarily in terms of his bloodline, so it should come as no shock that Ben eventually absorbs this in a thoroughly unhealthy way and finds it impossible to escape from the shadow of his monolithic grandfather. He is always told that his blood means he should achieve greatness, whether for the light or the dark, and this ultimately has the effect of robbing him of his agency. He is a figure in a galactic game of chess, being moved across a board by the same forces of destiny that dictated the movements of his grandfather and uncle. This concept of himself breeds many evils in Ben – entitlement, arrogance, pride and, most poignantly, crippling self-doubt. As long as he is being measured against the Skywalker precedent – by his masters and by himself – Ben always finds himself lacking, with this eternal lack breeding feelings of frustration and self-loathing.
We know little of Ben’s time under Luke, but we do know that he was already under Snoke’s influence and had had the seeds of darkness sown in his mind. When Luke looked into Ben’s mind he was filled with fear over his nephew’s potential for evil, and contemplated murdering the boy in his sleep – Ben waking to witness his uncle’s green lightsaber ignited above him is the precipitating event in his downfall. In relation to hubris, we must look at this event as Luke’s turning point – the moment he considered murdering the boy he had placed such hope in and devoted so much energy to training was the moment when his own self-belief and confidence were shattered. In this moment, Luke believed his nephew to be capable of tremendous harm and his faith in the Skywalker bloodline’s potential for good was shattered. Luke’s realisation of Ben’s potential for evil and the terrible aftermath of his moment of weakness do away with his pride and send him into exile.
Instead of guiding a beloved nephew to use his powers for good, Snoke seized upon the lost Ben Solo and exploited him as a weapon. He craved the “mighty Skywalker blood”, attracted to its potential just as Luke once was, and took the newly renamed Kylo Ren under his wing as his apprentice. Snoke picked up the dropped threads of Luke’s training by continuing to tell Kylo that he was special and worthy by dint of his blood, but he also used this knowledge as an instrument of cruelty and punishment. In The Last Jedi, we see Snoke humiliate Kylo, telling him:
Yes, there it is. You have too much of your father’s heart in you, Young Solo.
Han Solo represents the complicated and messy elements of Ben Solo that neither Luke nor Snoke wished to confront. Han Solo was the antithesis to Anakin Skywalker, being resoundingly normal. Han was as mundane and ordinary as Anakin was unique and gifted. While invoking the name of Anakin Skywalker calls to mind high-flung concepts like destiny and fate, the name of Han Solo suggests fast ships and gambling tables. Conditioned to buy into the story of his own special destiny by both his masters, Ben has come to share in this distaste, even as a part of him continues to love his father and bitterly regrets killing him. For Ben, his father was emblematic of the human fragility and weakness that was keeping him from fulfilling his long-promised destiny as the last Skywalker.
Snoke’s hubris meets a deliciously satisfying end when he pays the price for it with his murder. Snoke considers Kylo Ren his instrument, and his close control of his mind means he is arrogant enough to believe in his apprentice’s total loyalty. He considers Rey and Kylo his playthings, claiming authorship of the Force connection between Rey and Kylo in a move that clearly shocks and angers them both. The Force bond had facilitated intensely private and intimate moments between them, resulting in blossoming feelings of tenderness and trust, and to be told that it was merely an instrument of Snoke’s is clearly a violation that Rey and Kylo both reject. Regardless of how the bond came about, the feelings that emerged through it were palpably genuine.
Snoke’s vanity means he cannot conceive of the possibility that Kylo may have surpassed him, and he seems to enter into a state of near-sexual ecstasy as he dives into Kylo’s mind and experiences his murderous mental calculations. Snoke takes pleasure in the prospect of Rey’s murder at Kylo’s hand, considering the annihilation of the light counterpart to his dark apprentice the ultimate display of loyalty. The great and glorious irony, of course, is that the murder he is taking such delight in is actually his own:
You think you can turn him? Pathetic child. I cannot be betrayed, I cannot be beaten. I see his mind, I see his every intent. Yes. I see him turning the lightsaber to strike true. And now, foolish child, he ignites it, and kills his true enemy!
Snoke pays the ultimate price for his hubris with his death, but Kylo Ren cannot escape from the vision of himself he has had built up in his mind for decades. He continues to envisage himself as a subject of fate and destiny – he may have been cut loose from Snoke, but he has not cut himself loose from the chains of his own past. One of Kylo’s many tragedies is that he urges Rey to “let the past die” without achieving this himself – he continues to believe in the myth of the “mighty Skywalker blood”, and this arrogance means it feels natural to him to claim his place as the ruler of the galaxy. The only real complication to his destiny is his intense feelings for Rey – a “nothing” child born to wastrel parents who abandoned her. She had no legends or prophecies preceding her, and has no pre-ordained place in the story as Kylo Ren does. Kylo’s passion for her, his overwhelming feelings of love and tenderness, means he likely perceives her as the Padme to his Anakin – the love that he has always lacked and has only just realised how much he longed for. In his hubris and short-sightedness, Kylo cannot recognise that this vision of the Skywalker destiny ended in tragedy before and will surely end in tragedy again. Padme was heartbroken and appalled by Anakin’s ambition, and Rey is similarly repelled by Kylo’s choice. Only at the very end of the film, when he has to look up upon Rey as she closes the door of his father’s beloved ship in his face, does the emptiness of the Skywalker myth truly strike him. Kylo fulfilled Anakin Skywalker’s dream of ruling the galaxy, finishing what he started, but is crippled by the knowledge that he will do so alone. At the end of the film, he is finally left to carve his own path for the first time with no scripted destiny to guide him – but what should have been a triumph is yet another tragedy.
While Kylo absorbs and is further wounded by his masters’ hubris, Luke ultimately learns from his own mistakes. I would argue that a key aspect of his redemption arc is that he learns from his hubris and moves forward with a new perspective founded on hope and openness. Luke condemns the Jedi for restricting ownership of the Force, and clearly considers the Skywalkers themselves a great evil – he includes himself in this estimation, having exiled himself to Ahch-To to die. Luke performs a sharp turn away from hubris by losing confidence and exhibiting no pride in his bloodline at all, which makes his journey throughout the film – which sees him recover hope for the future of the Jedi through his interactions with Rey – remarkably powerful. At first he’s frightened by Rey’s connection with Kylo, entering into an explosive rage in an attempt to drive the two young people apart. He pleads with Rey not to give into her visions of Ben Solo returning to the light, and briefly feels helpless upon witnessing her departure in the Falcon. But Yoda reminds Luke of the importance of allowing failure, and gives Luke the resolve he needs to trust that Rey will make the right choice when the moment comes. Rey’s faith and goodness must remind Luke of his own actions – rushing off to save his friends despite his master’s warning, insisting on the possibility of bringing his father back despite everyone else’s lack of faith – as a young man, and he clearly sees in her the hope that he once embodied. He is inspired by this and is given a new sense of inner peace and comfort. Rey’s hope gives him hope in turn, and allows him to achieve the peace and calm that we can presume had eluded him since Ben Solo’s turn. When Luke appears on Crait, he is a finely tooled instrument of the Light side, with his resolve and determination showing up Kylo’s chaotic and unfinished state. He has regained hope and confidence, telling his sister that “no one is ever truly lost” even as he admits that neither of them will be able to bring Ben Solo back.
Hope for the future no longer lies in the older generation or the mythic blood that runs through their veins – it is instead embodied by Rey, and all the others like her who continue to struggle for what is right in the face of darkness and adversity. If Kylo is to escape his own past and break free from the poisonous Skywalker destiny, then he will have to learn the hardest lesson of them all for a man who was raised on the myth of his own inevitable greatness – humility.