Many characters in Star Wars face off against their own humanity and many of the greatest Star Wars moments are our heroes accepting their humanity, finally defeating their greatest fears. What about the characters who have lost their human side?
Star Wars, and fiction in general for that matter, have many of these characters. A common visual tool to show this is covering the face of the character. It creates a disconnect between the audience and the character. It makes them less human. From clone troopers to the mighty Kylo Ren this storytelling tool is used to great effect.
Good Soldiers Follow Orders
During the Clone Wars, many clone troopers are shown to be very expressive and have their own personalities but they’re a part of a much larger plot by Darth Sidious.
It’s been shown how these clones have formed relationships and bonds with their Jedi generals and commanders but when Order 66 was issued by the dark lord none of that mattered. The clones, due to their programming, turn on their leaders and friends and lose all the traits that made them human. It’s ironic how at that point they act more like droids than the battle droids they had been fighting for years.
To show this, the clones after Order 66 are rarely shown with their helmets off and they move with almost robotic precision. They show no mercy and are willing to carry out their orders even if it costs them their lives. The worst part is that it’s not even the clone’s choice. The cold and lifeless appearance of the clone trooper helmet reflects this.
Rise, Lord Vader
During Revenge of the Sith, we see Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into the feared dark lord of the Sith, Darth Vader. He is given the title after he has helped Darth Sidious murder Mace Windu, which is long before he truly becomes the Sith we all know.
Anakin’s loss of humanity is one of consequence. It was due to the choices he made out of fear. He killed countless people, betrayed his friends and family, lied, and aided the Emperor in his plan to take over the galaxy and turn the people against the Jedi. These choices led him to become more machine than man. It’s almost an inversion of the situation the clones were in. They didn’t have a choice but Anakin was responsible for his downfall because he let his fear control his actions.
Later in his life, Anakin is rarely seen without his menacing helmet that struck fear into his subordinates and those who dared challenge him. In The Empire Strikes Back General Veers gets a glimpse at the man behind the mask. At this moment we find out that when he is in his meditation chamber the cyborg removes his helmet and is consumed by the brightness of his chamber. This very quick moment hints at Anakin’s return to the light. After he saves his son from his former master, Anakin spends his final moments looking upon his son free from the confines of the helmet that represented his loss of humanity and the darkest moments of his life.
No One’s Ever Really Gone
Throughout Ben Solo’s journey, we find out that he is someone who feels rejected by his family and unwanted. He felt like he had to live up to his great lineage and believed who he was as a person wasn’t good enough. Due to this rejection, he tries to be someone else.
He believes if he can’t live up to the legend of his parents and uncle then he’ll try and be like his grandfather Darth Vader but that is a betrayal of who he is at heart. Ben Solo hasn’t lost his humanity to the extent of the clones or even Anakin but he is constantly denying his humanity and so he chooses to wear a helmet very reminiscent of his grandfather’s because he believes that if he denies Ben Solo’s existence then his pain will go away.
The first time we see him without his helmet is during the interrogation scene in The Force Awakens. This leaves him vulnerable and because of that the scavenger, Rey, realizes there is more to Kylo Ren than she once believed. His act of smashing the helmet in The Last Jedi is a reflection of his suffering and even a sign that Ben Solo is still inside. By the end of his story, you can see scars and cracks symbolizing how all of his efforts to hide his humanity are failing. It’s something he cannot destroy or hideaway.
There are many more examples of storytellers using this idea to convey the dehumanizing of a character but these were the most prominent in the Star Wars story. This simple idea is so effective because it can be looked at from so many different angles. The clones were products designed to lose their humanity when the time came. Anakin lost his due to his actions and the consequences that came with them. Ben was trying to lose his humanity but it was something he realized he couldn’t hide.