In the Star Wars universe, hands are pretty important. There’s rarely a movie where a hand isn’t cut off, replaced, or repaired. Besides this fixation on the physicality of ‘having’ hands, they are often conduits of the Force. Both Jedi and Sith use hand gestures to control this mystical energy. Cameras focus on hands, gestures have power, and many characters speak with their hands — pointing and using some kind of makeshift sign language when language barriers rise.
We get it. Hands are big deal.
The Last Jedi doesn’t lose this focus. One of the first shots is a continuation of the final scene of The Force Awakens when Rey holds Luke’s lightsaber out to him. This is just the start. We see how important hands are throughout the film: when Leia’s hand moves in the dead of space; when Hux points at ships and demands they be shot out of the sky; when Rey, and then Luke, slam their hands on the meditation pedestal after or just before a connection with the Force. Hands and gestures are not just precursors to action but are important acts themselves.
Besides hands as a source of action in these films, hands are also a method of communication, both with the self and with the other. When hands are pressed flat, either against other hands, or against a surface, it is indicated that there is a deep, spiritual, and loving connection between individuals, as if there is no part of one that wishes to be apart from the other.
In The Force Awakens, we see this occur between Poe and Leia. When Leia is in her coma, we see it when Luke tilts Leia’s head down to kiss her forehead. Poe also grabs onto Finn when he first recovers from his coma, shakes Rey’s hand immediately, and he is constantly affectionate with his droid, BB8. There’s another time when Leia and Holdo hold each other’s hands before Holdo sacrifices herself for the survival of the Resistance that truly shows the depths of their relationship and establishes some of the trust and respect they feel for each other. It happens another time when Finn and Rey are embracing — both have their hands pressed flat against each other’s backs and shoulders.
These are just some of the instances that I remember from my re-watch of the film. These are all moments when people are using their hands to connect to other people in a deep and meaningful way. These open hands have friendship, respect, and understanding tied to them. I don’t remember any time when a member of the First Order is shown to so much as shake hands with another person. There is no trust there, no truth or honesty at all within their connections. It’s all superficial, driven by greed and power.
Hands pressed flat against surfaces is also incredibly important. We see Finn slam his hands against the clear surface of the med tank after he wakes from his coma in a fit of startled awakening; we see Poe slam his hands against the glass when he sees Resistance ships being blown up. Even through these surfaces, these characters are desperate to connect to others.
Rey is a huge part of this, and the main subject of this piece. She has very little contact with anyone in this film, unlike in The Force Awakens, where she actually comes into physical contact with a lot of characters, most notably Finn. She holds Finn’s hand multiple times throughout the film, and even hugs him a few times. Rey also has a lot of contact with other characters. She hugs Leia at the end of the film, and is touched by both Maz Kanata and Han Solo. In The Last Jedi, she might not have as much contact with Finn, but her hands are just as expressive as the other characters’, and gives us a great insight into her character and how she relates to the others in the film.
First, let’s look at when her hands are flat. She does this at a few points very clearly. When she exits her meditative state after her first lesson with Luke, her hand slams down on the meditation stone, jolting her and the viewer out of her reverie that Luke had been powerless to draw her back from. Throughout this scene, her hands were used as a conduit for the power of the Force, but it’s only when she presses her hand flat that any action is taken. This is a sign of power, strength, and self-control, as she is the one who pulls herself away from the Dark Place, and comes back to question Luke about his place within the Force.
Next, her hands are flat when she pulls herself up from the Dark Place. Again, a source of action and power, pushing herself away from a dangerous situation. I consider this a less important instance of hands, but a good example of how Rey’s own power overcomes her fears.
The next part of this argument comes when her hands are not flat, but just lightly touching surfaces. When there are just brushes of this connection it doesn’t indicate a love or a deep respect, but asks a question or sets the stage for an expectation. With Rey, her outstretched hands are common and powerful. She is always questioning and striving for greater. Her hands are in this position of openness and connection in relation to other people in two instances: once in the Dark Place, and the other time when she is sitting in front of Kylo Ren during their Force-powered Skype date.
This expression of light touching is not the connection of love, but rather the connection of mirrors and introspection. In the Dark Place her fingers press against the crystalline cave wall, and she asks for a simple thing: to see where she came from. It turns out at the end of it, there is only herself. The Dark Place is a mirror, an infinite fun room of self-reflection and the loss of expectations. She must be good enough because she’s the only one there. It’s only her, but she’s enough.
This mirror comes back again when Rey and Kylo Ren are speaking over their connection. Now, while Kylo Ren might not have made overt sexual overtures, Rian Johnson has admitted to creating sexually charged situations between the two of them in order to make Rey feel uncomfortable. Besides this as an explanation for the shirtless Kylo scene, it also explains that the only time we see Kylo Ren take off his glove is in Rey’s presence. Helmets aren’t sexy; gloves are.
While Kylo Ren might want to reach out and grab Rey’s hand, they merely brush fingertips. Again, this is not the sign of passion or love, but in the manner presented as canon in this story, it is as if they are reaching for a mirror. Over and over people attack mirrors in films and art; they also touch them gently, they caress them, they try to find the truth and the clarity hidden there. The Last Jedi is no exception, and Rey’s hands are searching for mirrors and truth, even in Dark Places.
Mirrors have long been in folklore as methods of reaching the ‘other side’ or even the ‘dark side’ of things. Rey’s choice to touch the mirrors she finds may speak to a desire to know the other side in order to become a new kind of grey Jedi, one who sees herself in all things. Her intimate moment with Kylo Ren is not, as Rian Johnson might have led us to believe, a moment of passion or burgeoning love, but the kind of intimacy one finds when they look into a mirror, when one side of a coin recognizes the other.
If this were a moment of passion, why not grasp hands, why not make a move towards that? They don’t even try, and they can’t, because Rey is not looking for love from this man, and Kylo Ren is incapable of anything but realizing his own ambitions. They are separated when Luke, in a burst of power, breaks them apart with the Force. He does this with a gesture from his hand that he has not done (we presume) in years. (There is another mirror here: Luke’s hands when he breaks apart the domed cell versus Kylo Ren’s when he brings down the cabin at the Temple.)
This all speaks to the power of hands in The Last Jedi. Rey is searching for clarity, truth, and honesty, all features that mirrors have been used to symbolically portray. Her search takes her onto the Supremacy itself, but when Kylo Ren offer his hand a second time it is no longer a mirror of her own, but closed off, gloved, and selfish. He is no longer a mirror, but a man standing in his own image. Rey refuses to take it because she is a different kind of person, one who will reach out with bare, open hands, and love without conditions.