Among the significant challenges raised in the new edition of Star Wars is the question of identity: how people see themselves, how they are perceived by others and are they deceiving themselves and others in their ever-changing sense of who they are?
We get introduced to the concept of identity early in the film when the Monk-like Lor San Tekka converses with Poe Dameron in their perceptions of who Laia is. One sees her as a general, the other royalty.
This sets the tone for what will be a dynamic character conflict that embraces each of the main figures in the film.
“I knew you before you changed your name to Klyo Ren,” Tekka tells the film’s primary villain, stressing the history out of which the First Order has risen, and how as a member of a more righteous family, Ren did not fit.
Ren, of course, is seeking to follow in the evil footsteps his grandfather, Darth Vader eventually abandoned, the ultimate identity crisis he finds almost impossible to resolve.
Ren hides his true identity behind a mask.
Poe tells Ren it is hard to understand him when Ren talks from behind that mask. Rey calls Ren “a creature” behind a mask. Han tells Ren he doesn’t need the mask.
Ren mocks Rey’s friends as thieves and traitors, but struggles to live up to an image he invented, and his grandfather’s memory.
Han complains to Laia that she sees their son each time she looks at Han, part of the reason for their breakup. But the matter is great than that. There is a sense that Ren is jealous of Luke, and Luke, missing in action for most of this film, has given up his own identity as well.
But in some ways, all the characters are wearing masks, and the distinction between good and evil appears to focus on the ability of good people to shed the masks they wear.
One symbolic moment in the film comes when we meet Rey for the first time and she is wearing goggles and her face is wrapped up like one of the sand people from the previous collection of Star Wars films. When she sheds this, she begins to get her own identity, although a good portion of this film (and likely those that will follow) involves her search for who she is and the roots of her upbringing.
Rey, like the other main characters, has a number of identities, partly because she has no real idea of who she really is.
“A big secret, me, too,” she tells BB8.
Rey is a scavenger, pilot and something even more that she has yet to discover, someone powerful with The Force, suggesting a heritage similar to Luke’s in the first trilogy.
Indeed, Luke’s light saber calls to her, and she later controls it even though Ren claims it as his own.
A storm trooper calls her “scavenger scum.”
She defines herself in one point as a scavenger, but when running away from a First Order attack early in the film, Finn yells, “We need a pilot.”
“You got one,” Rey yells back.
“You?” Finn says in disbelief.
Han later also seems shocked that she managed to pilot the Falcon, though she slowly convinces him to the point where he actually offers her a job – an identity. But she says she has to get back. She is waiting for the return of her family, and thus her original identity. But Maz Kanata tell her the answers Rey seeks are ahead of her not in the past.
Annother symbolic moment comes when a dying storm trooper marks Finn’s mask with bloody fingerprints, distinguishing him as different from the otherwise indistinguishable parade of storm troopers that stomp through this epic tale. Later, Finn takes the next bold step of removing his helmet without permission from his superior officer.
Finn has no identity at the start except for letters and numbers that had been assign him when he was taken from his parents. Poe gives him the name “Finn” rather than dealing with this complex impersonal identity the First Order insists upon.
After the crash of the fighter that he helped Poe escape in, Finn inherits Poe’s jacket, and so adopts yet a new identity as a resistance fighter. But it also marks him as a thief originally since BB8 recognizes the jacket when they come together a short time later.
Finn didn’t invent being a resistance fighter. Rey mistakes him for one.
“So you’re with the resistance,” Rey says.
“Obviously I’m with the resistance,” Finn replies.
“I never met a resistance fighter before,” Rey says.
“This is what a resistance fighter looks like,” Finn tells her. “Some of us. Others look different.”
Finn keeps changing identity through the film, starting out as a storm trooper, then a rescuer, then a resistance fighter.
Han Solo understands the deception, and warns Finn that women always find out the truth.
When Finn decides he needs to flee before the First Order catches up with him, he finally admits that he’s not a resistance fighter at all. But by this time, he’s well on his way to becoming one, even though he isn’t aware of the fact at the time.
When Poe arrives later, he recognizes his jacket. Finn starts to take it off, but Poe said, “Don’t, it suits you.”
Indeed, by that time, Finn is what he pretended to be.
But he’s forced into taking action, he would not otherwise take. Maz Kanata looks into Finn’s eyes and sees him as a man who wants to run.
But love of Rey moves Finn, because when he first met her, she saw something in him, he didn’t even see in himself.
Han has his own identity issues, as somewhat defined by his own jacket issue.
When Laia arrives on the scene, she looks at Han and says, “Same old jacket.”
“Na,” he replies. “A new jacket.”
But this is symbol of a more significant change in Han. After his son betrayed the Jedi, Han reverted to his old identity as a scoundrel. This was made clear from the brief interchange between him, Finn and Rey on the Falcon.
“You’re the Han Solo that fought with the resistance,” Finn (I think) says.
“I used to be,” Han replies.
We get a little bit more of this in a more or less comic exchange between Laia and Han about his trying to be helpful.
“When has that ever happened?” Laia asks. “And don’t tell me the Death Star.”
Arriving back at the Falcon, Han is forced back into his old role as a hero, although – as in the first Star Wars trilogy – it takes him a little while to readjust.
“Chewy, we’re home,” Han says.
Han said after his son betrayed Luke, Han went back to the only thing he was ever really good at, a confidence man. The space gangs, however, do not think much of his ability as a scoundrel.
“There’s nobody left that you haven’t swindled,” one gang member tells him.
Even R2D2 has lost his identity.
“Since Master Luke left, he’s just not himself,”
CPO also is suffering a crisis of identity, but blames it on the fact that
he has someone come up with a red arm.
There are tons of other moments in this film dealing with identity, and more likely more to come when the new film comes out later this year.