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The Mask and the Machine in 'The Force Awakens'

"Take off that mask," Solo said to Ren, venturing further onto the bridge. "You don’t need it."*

But what would Star Wars be without them? An analysis of The Force Awakens centred around this symbol offers the viewer many windows into aspects of character and theme, particularly when contrasted to A New Hope, which Episode Seven so blatantly sets itself in juxtaposition to. What roles do masks in Star Wars create, and how are these challenged and manipulated by characters? How does Finn’s acting before he takes off his helmet – effectively mime – create his character? How is Ren’s mask, aesthetically and symbolically, different from Vader’s, and what is significant about Vader’s memorial being his mask (which he discarded at the end of Episode 6)? Comparing the use and implications of masks in the film and franchise to the historical purposes of masks that are also echoed in the movies – for instance, the samurai helmets of the Sith – could yield further insights, though there are many other options for enquiry.

The second focus of the article would be on machines, another key symbolic feature of the Star Wars series. The Force Awakens introduced us to new droids, from scrap to practically sentient. Comparing major characters like BB-8 to the junk droids we see on Jakku (and maybe comparing that comparison to a comparison of R2-D2/C-3PO against the junk droids on Tatooine) is just one path into the topic. Investigating the nature of the technology used by the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ of the movie also promises a lot of depth of discussion – why does the Dark Side always go for massive industrial weapons, contrasting to how the Light Side is saved by small, humble droids and the small pieces of data they carry – and why should those tiny things be threats against these massive feats of power?

A strong conclusion would find an insightful way to bring these two together; this can, and perhaps should, govern the entire focus of the article. The writer could use research into the traditions and developments of the theatre to discuss masks and machines (while the former’s link to theatre is obvious, one could consider how the latter were used in, say, Victorian melodrama, which Star Wars could be seen to parallel).

The article could consider just one of these symbols, but a controlled comparison should be more exciting.

edit: now considering writing this myself, unless anyone else gets a burning desire to (in which case I can offer

  • One of the most amazing things about the original Star Wars film, "A New Hope," was that the production and costume design was so iconic in its approach. Rather than decking out the villains in colorful, over-the-top "villain-like" apparel--as may be seen in dozens of sci-fi and fantasy anime series and other 1960s/1970s sci-fi--the villains here are more military, but also much more simple and straight-forward. Darth Vader is a dark figure, tall and imposing, but his mask denotes a sense of inner Death. His former self died long ago, and so he wears the death of his former self as an outward shell. The storm-trooper might also be metaphors for skeletons of sorts, but much less human-like, and far more like flimsy shells that are easily shot through: whereas Darth Vader's shell is hard to penetrate and disrupt. Kylo Ren is not nearly as iconic right off the bat as a dark skeletal man with a Samurai styled head-piece, but he forges his own identity none-the-less, by trying to impersonate the look of Vader, and yet not verbatim. – Jonathan Leiter 6 years ago
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  • It's supposed to say 'offer my thoughts' at the end; the text box let me put in in but it cut it off once it got published... – JekoJeko 6 years ago
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