Warning! This article contains spoilers for Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson. If you don’t plan on reading this book, go home and rethink your life, then stop selling deathsticks. After that, read Phasma and come back here!
Ever since Darth Vader and his stormtroopers first marched on screen, we’ve gotten used to the idea of villains wearing masks. It became a staple of Star Wars. Since those moments, we’ve been able to see how important those masks are to the villains. Kylo Ren adopted one of his own, the Acolytes of the Beyond were changed by them, and the ancient Sith found them to be a necessity. What’s equally important is when they decide to remove their masks. Of all the villains we’ve been introduced to throughout Star Wars, we now know that Captain Phasma is among the most loathsome. As is pointed out in the new novel Phasma, “it was hard, once someone had adopted a mask, to give it up.”
In some cases, like stormtroopers, a mask can be as simple as taking away on sense of individuality and creating a uniform. These are the least common types, though. What’s more likely is for someone to wear a mask to transform them, absolve themselves from any accountability. In the Aftermath trilogy, the Acolytes of the Beyond earn their masks to become members of the group. There is a terrifying scene where an initiate isn’t sure this is the correct path for her. She has moments of doubt up until she puts a mask on. Once she does, her old self is gone and she is able to kill one of her closest friends. She never feels any shame. This mask is one that is unique to her, the same way we see the Knights of Ren each having their own mask that “represents” them.
Captain Phasma created her own unique mask for herself. Before donning her silver helmet, she wore four other masks. The first mask was made by the remains of her own parents, who she killed moments before. As soon as she had that cover, she became part of a new group that accepted her as one of their own, but she became a servant to the group itself. She lived as this new version of herself until it came time for her second mask – a leather covering. With the leather mask, Phasma became a leader among warriors who only wanted to protect their families. She played the part well for as long as she needed to. Once she no longer needed to, she switched masks. It was now time for a Mandolorian helmet. Now it was clear that she didn’t care about those she served, or who followed her, or who need protection. All that mattered was that she showed dominance, and that, like the Mandolorians she was recognized as the greatest among all warriors.
When this helmet, and therefore this version of herself, was taken away, she had to put on a new mask. This was the only time anyone noticed that that armor she wore didn’t fit. Regular-issued stormtrooper gear. She initially only put on the suit as self-preservation, but was too large for it. Obviously, the perfect symbolism for a character who always became greater than she needed to be. However, a uniform could never fit her. When she molded her fifth and final helmet, the chrome we’re all familiar with, she reached the point of no return. One of the few true villains in Star Wars with no means or desire for redemption. Phasma went as far as killing family, and for that matter anyone who saw her true face, in order to preserve the perception, and her reality, that was provided by the mask.
Phasma makes it clear that a mask is a sign of a total transformation. It makes the moment Vader takes his mask off to become Anakin Skywalker again even more poignant. It also shows the true villainy behind Emperor Palpatine. As Darth Sideous, he’s been known to shield his face behind a cloak, but the closest he comes to having a mask is a distorted face. This proves that he is the personification of evil, never needing to become something he’s not. This signals that whoever Snoke is, he’s been that person with the same motives for his entire life.
The most troubling part about this is what do we make of Kylo Ren? When Rey comes into the picture, we see his face, his true self, Ben Solo, for the first time, signaling that something about this girl, this scavenger, is causing the man that was Ben Solo to return. Interestingly, he seems to take his mask on and off with an incredible amount of ease, even dropping it at one point. Later, he removes the mask once more for Han Solo, and it remains off for the remainder of the film. Before, the helmet going off and on showed his unraveling and that isn’t sure who he is at any given point. But after killing his father, the mask stays off. Something has changed, at least as far as Kylo Ren is concerned. It’s hard to say at this point if he’ll still be wearing a mask at the end of The Last Jedi. If he isn’t, what will it take from him to be able to give it up?