Reunion with Reality
The Faceless Evil of Star Wars
Two iconic Star Wars images are the faceless helmets of Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers. They are the stuff of which merchandise is made. I saw fist-sized versions of each on the desk in a child’s room just recently. Now, of course, we can add the new great, evil one, Kylo Ren’s helmet to the collection, although he does expose his face in the new movie and Adam Driver actually does a good job of emoting evil in the flesh.
We are used to ‘evil’ wearing masks, aren’t we. Whether it’s the bandanna of the western bandit or the ski mask of the terrorist, we don’t expect the evil ones to expose their faces. They, of course, are hiding themselves, but somehow that makes it easier for us to see them as something other than human, or other a good human being, at any rate. It makes it easier to demonize them categorically, and it makes it easier to treat them with violence.
It is interesting to contrast that presentation of the evil ones in Star Wars with the presentation of the heroic ones, whose faces we see and whom we recognize as human. Even the helmets of the resistance fighter pilots allow us to see their faces.
A key scene of the newest movie (which has a plot line and settings almost identical to the first Star Wars (IV) (sic) is the introduction of the new character Finn (John Boyega). Early in the film, we see him as a Stormtrooper, helmet and all, in a scene of murder and mayhem in which the Stormtroopers are massacring an entire village of civilians. One of his fellow Stormtroopers is shot and when he does something uncharacteristic for a trooper (he goes over to check on his faceless, fallen comrade), the latter reaches up and swipes his bloody hand across Finn’s helmet. From that point on (until he takes off the helmet), we can actually differentiate him from the other troopers.
I say, until he takes off his helmet, because that is the key scene. Finn takes off his helmet and we see not only his face, but all the conflict that he is experiencing in this horrific war scene. We see that he is human. He has a face and he has, we can see, a conscience.
Now, while I have referred to this character as Finn, that was not his original name, and here I think is maybe one of the few deft touches and saving graces of the movie: As a Stormtrooper, Finn did not have a name. He had a number: FN-2187 (like a robot).
He explains, to the resistance fighter he befriends, that as a Stormtrooper, he was taken from his family at birth, assigned a number, and raised to be a trooper. In other words, there was an attempt to dehumanize him from a very early age, by taking him from his family, giving him a number for a name and training him to follow orders, even when he was directed to kill civilians.
His new resistance-fighter friend is the one who renames him Finn, based on the letters in his alphanumeric. But it was FN-2187 who shakes off his Stormtrooper conditioning and re-enters humanity. The ‘evil empire’ dehumanized him; he rehumanized himself.
This is a pivotal point in the storyline, and although both Finn and the resistance fighters whom he joins in the quest to defeat the empire, use violence and counter-mayhem to achieve their goal, this is a significant concept on which the story turns. People who have been dehumanized can be rehumanized. And, this is a major ingredient in the practice of nonviolence.
The Star Wars movies are extremely violent, although not in a highly graphic way according to current standards. There are scenes of murder and mayhem, like the one mentioned above, and there are fantastic flying battle scenes. This shouldn't, of course, surprise us if we remember the very name of the films.
The nonviolent act is one in which a person who recognizes the humanity in a person who is violent, manages to help that violent person see their own humanity. This is the act of rehumanization. It worked in India against the British Empire; it worked in America during the Civil Rights Movement; it has worked countless times throughout history in settings large and small.
I am one who believes that in this new age of social awareness and cultural evolution, these acts of rehumanization are actually becoming more commonplace than are acts of dehumanization and that (in spite of what we’re seeing currently on the American political stage and the battlefields of the world), humanity is on the road to a more peaceful future.
Nonviolence is being recognized as the more effective mechanism of change for social, economic and political justice. War should be relegated to the dust bin of history.
For individuals, rehumanization is a fruit of contemplative practice in which we remove mask after mask of conditioning from our minds and personality. When we are strip ourselves of these masks in the depths of meditation, our true humanity and personalities are revealed and we realize our potential as human beings. We realize that at our core, humans are divine and that evil is the result of cloaking and masking that divinity in layers of ignorance; an ignorance of that very divinity at our human core.
[PS: The main character on whom this new Star Wars movie turns is the capable, intelligent and beautiful Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young women who embodies the ‘force’ in a natural way, without Jedi training. She is as refreshing as this SW#VII is not.]
Copyright 2017 James Phoenix