Costuming is a major part of a character, especially in fantasy and sci-fi. What a character works in part influences your initial response to them. Just think of Darth Vader who would have a completely different presence in the Original Trilogy were it not for his imposing armour, sweeping cape and helmet. SO I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of the outfits and costumes in The Force Awakens and discuss the way they help us form an idea of our characters. I’ll especially take into account the way outfits change as well because character development often has physical effects as well. This post will contain spoilers for The Force Awakens so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to remain unspoiled, don’t read this post!
We’re going to start with my favourite character from the whole film, Rey. She wears mostly one outfit throughout the film, which is her Scavenger get-up. When I saw this outfit for the first time I was immensely impressed with it. There is a clear functionality to it, from the colour which lets her blend into the desert that is Jakku to the fact she is wearing trousers and boots. From the get-go it makes her look like a capable character who isn’t restricted by unnecessarily tight or form fitting clothes. Even the belt, the one thing that adds a “feminine” shape to the outfit is of use and is shown to be so throughout the film. In fact, everything we see Rey do throughout the film, running, jumping, fighting and climbing, is possible with this outfit. It perfectly fits with the idea that she has lives on a desert planet all her life, worked hard and didn’t have time for anything fanciful. As such, her outfit comes to represent her as much as a Jedi robe, for example, identifies a Jedi.
So how does her costume change throughout the film? Not much, thankfully, and precisely for the reason that Rey remains true to herself throughout the film. No matter what happens, she continues to rely on her mechanical and language skills and her athleticism, hence there is no reason for her to change the way she looks either. But when Finn has proven his commitment to her as a friend (or more) by staging an unnecessary rescue operation for her, Rey, for a time, wears Poe’s jacket which was bestowed upon Finn for the exact same thing, trying to save him. It binds the three characters together nicely but it also emphasizes the fact that Rey and Finn care about each other. And before anyone thinks that this jacket-giving is too romantic, imagine being a 19-yr old girl used to a desert-climate who suddenly ends up on an ice planet. I’d probably accept Kylo’s cloak at that point. The final change to Rey’s costume is a bit more drastic because it is a completely new outfit. Gifted to her by the Resistance for her journey to Luke, this new costume presents her leaving the scavenger behind and stepping into a larger world where she might become a Jedi. However, even now, Rey retains distinct elements from her previous costume such as the short sleeves, her staff and the trousers. She hasn’t forgotten who she is but is preparing for a new step in her life.
Finn is a fascinating character to discuss here exactly because his costume so clearly tracks his character development. When we first see him he’s in his Stormtooper armour, completely covered up with not a trace of individuality. He is uniform with the others and restricted, opposite tohow free in movement Rey is for example. Very quickly, though, it becomes clear that Finn is different and he continuously takes of his helmet when he shouldn’t in order to free his head and his thoughts. This already shows us that what’s beneath his armour is what matters and that Finn cannot remain a Stormtrooper. His escape and crash-landing on Jakku provide him with Poe’s jacket, which he originally uses as cover and then wears full-time. Important is that he sheds his Stormtrooper armour, but never his black clothes underneath. Just like Rey, he remains who he is at the core throughout the film.
Alongside with Poe’s jacket Finn also puts on a Resistance-persona to impress Rey and get safe passage. Han Solo can see straight through it but as Finn fights for the first time at Kanata’s Castle and, as such, becomes a part of the Resistance, Poe can see that the jacket ‘suits’ Finn. It has become a symbol for his new found identity as an independent agent of his life and as such now belongs to him. He is still the same beneath, but he has found a home with Rey, the Resistance and even with Poe. His lending it to Rey in the cold is a sign of how she’s now a part of his life as well.
Poe has become something of a fan favourite and it’s no surprise since he’s combining two of everyone’s favourite character-types. On the one hand we have the snarky pilot and on the other hand we have the capable and confident X-Wing pilot. The two costumes we see him wearing throughout TFA represent both of these sides. His first is the casual travel outfit which is very reminiscent of Han Solo but is also very simple. It will allow him to blend in while his jacket still marks him as part of the Resistance and has some personal touches to it. Since this jacket is worn by all three of our new characters it is a rather important piece of clothing, clearly. One which people can exchange between friends and which also represents discovering yourself, in a way. For Poe it’s a chance to get out of his pilot costume and work independently without a team, for Finn it’s a chance to escape what he has been made to be and for Rey wearing it is an acceptance that she now has someone in her life who cares about how she does.
Poe’s pilot costume is what we see him in most and that is significant in and of itself. What makes him different from Han Solo (and all the more attractive to me) is that he is very strongly attached to the cause of the Rebellion. He is willing to fight for it and his X-Wing is very much an extension of himself. Even after the battle around Starkiller Base he is still in this costume, so it’s quite clear how important his position as ‘best pilot of the Resistance’ is to him.
Kylo Ren’s costume fascinated me from the first time I saw the film. He is completely covered up, similarly to Finn, only in his case that is largely self-involved. We don’t know how much influence Snoke had on his outfit, but Kylo, or Ben, is clearly trying to hide himself and who he is from the world. He is obstructing everyone from seeing him and is stopping himself from seeing the world ‘with his own eyes’, something Darth Vader was desperate to do at the end of Return of the Jedi. The combination of Kylo’s obsession with Darth Vader and his fear of being swayed back to the light means he feels to need to hid himself as much as possible while projecting as imposing a persona as he can. The only people he willingy shows himself to are Han Solo, Rey, Snoke and Hux, who, in my eyes, represent the two sides tearing him apart. His voice, despite being deepened by his mask, still retains traces of the Ben underneath though, suggesting that he’s not entirely capable at changing himself.
What struck me especially is how heavy his mask sounds the two times he takes it. It makes quite an impact and must hence be quite heavy on his face as well. Similarly, his boots make one hell of a thud, suggesting to me those are also weighed down. It’s all a part of making him as imposing as possible but it also reminds me of self-chastisement because it can’t be entirely pleasant. Kylo is trying to remind himself with every step who he is supposed to be.
And finally a couple of comments on the other characters:
- Han Solo‘s outfit is practically a copy of that from the Original Trilogy which is, of course, on purpose. As he says himself, he returned to what he knew best and with that comes reassuming his old persona. Had we seen him in a Resistance-uniform it would have felt wrong with his characterisation.
- General Leia‘s costume is one which both references back to the Rebellion outfit she wore in RotJ while also retaining something dignified. Again, I love the fact she’s wearing trousers so she’s capable of being very active if that was required. Her second outfit, which shows her bidding farewell to Rey, towards the end is a lot more royal and ceremonial, adding an extra layer of royalty to her character.
- General Hux (and the First Order) are very much inspired by the Empire’s costumes in the OT but are black rather than green. With the extended trouser legs they also seem to take inspiration from the Nazis which makes sense since, unlike the Empire, there seems to be an ideology behind the First Order.
- Captain Phasma‘s costume has been discussed a lot already, but it deserved a mention at last. Although technically identical to all the other Stormtrooper costumes, the fact it’s chrome and she has a cape makes her distinctive over all the others. The hope is that in the next film we’ll get an idea as to why she has been allowed to look different than all the others because surely she isn’t the only Captain in the First Order.
If you spotted any other interesting character influences on the costumes, do add them in the comments!