Tuesday, September 1, 2015

First Look At Luke Skywalker's Costume in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens & the Importance of Beards

This is the first and only glimpse we know that we have had of Luke Skywalker in the upcoming Star Wars VII; we think that's his cyber-kinetic hand resting on R2D2's top in the trailers, but we aren't definitely sure. While we have seen the other major players, this is the first time for Luke who has rumored to be in hiding so that he doesn't unduly swing events in the universe with a negative use of the Force and put people, or himself, in jeopardy, which leads us to why this is such a massive reveal (discussed below). Please note, his beard is a "contractual obligation," which means it's an important part of his costume.
You know I adore costumes.
Since the very first rumors that another Star Wars film would be made, ultra-fans of the films and comics have speculated that Luke would be the ultimate baddie, having gone the way of the Dark Side like daddy-dearest. The first image of Luke released (above) has a massive, universal sigh going out that these rumors are (at least mostly) false, and it's the light color-scheme of his robes that have assuaged fans' fears.( UPDATE: NOW THAT I HAVE SEEN STAR WARS VII, THE FULL REVIEW CAN BE FOUND HERE AT THIS LINK; THANK YOU!).
Fans are noting that the light-color scheme is a sign that Luke hasn't gone over to the Dark Side since Jedi knights like Ben and Yoda wore light-colored robes like the one we see in the new image; does that mean that, since Luke isn't wearing black like Darth Vader that he isn't evil? Well, no, it's more complicated than that. For example, we know that white can mean death because a corpse turns white as it decomposes, and for a Jedi to go to the Dark Side means they have spiritually died and are alive to worldly ambitions and using the Force for their own gain, not the greater good of others. Brown, which there are several different shades of on the robes, refers to dirt, so either someone is as humble as the dirt and view themselves as being lowly, or this person is, literally, dirty and they are not to be trusted or respected. We also don't know at what point in the film Luke begins wearing this outfit: from the beginning, or not until the end? He wears a black cape/hood in the trailer when he puts his right hand on R2D2 (which you can watch here, look for 0:49), so he might start out on the Dark Side, but convert like his father at the end of Return Of the Jedi. Further, seeing that the robes of the old Luke (right) are the same color scheme as those of the young Luke (left), we could say that Luke has digressed into a childish phase that makes him selfish or short-sighted as he was before his destiny of meeting Leia, Luke and Ben. This is all possible, but I don't think it's probable, but we need to be flexible. The beard most likely is intended to signal to fans that Luke's self-imposed exile has been meant for him to gain wisdom so he can be the instrument of the Force, rather than use the Force as his instrument. The earth tones, then, signal that Luke has gained in humility because he has learned how great the Force is and it's not to be used lightly or without intellect and the color tones he wears from his youth indicate that the scars, passions and pains of his youth have been overcome and now he's balanced. There are two additional features of this costume we need to explore: the hood and his belt. The hood is going to function like a hat or a character's hair: it symbolizes the thoughts because our thoughts originate in our head and hair/hats are closest to the origin of our thoughts. Remember when Luke was young? He pretty much blurted out whatever came to his mind, we always knew what he was thinking; now, however, it appears that he will be keeping his thoughts mostly to himself, keeping them "under wraps" so to speak with the hood covering his head. What about the belt? The rest of his costume looks very simple, even like it could come from ancient days, from homespun or something simple like that, its natural fibers, not man-made or synthetic, etc., rather, fiber spun from some animal, domestic or alien. The belt, however, is man-made and clashes with his costume. Traditionally, belts symbolize chastity (which would make sense because he's in self-imposed exile, and exile with a bunch of prostitutes doesn't really make sense, does it?), or some vow that has been taken, and a belt (or something like it) is worn around the waist reminding the wearer of the vow taken (consider Dante and his rope belt in Inferno), and, since Luke's belt most likely holds his light saber (maybe some Jolly Ranchers or something, too) the belt reminds him of a vow he made regarding the Force (most likely to protect rather than to be aggressive). Most likely, this isn't going to come directly out in the story, however, Luke will most likely do something that violates his own vow/oath and that will be devastating to him. 
Let's discuss the beard.
Typically (and I don't mean to offend any of the male readers: this is about the strictly controlled context of art, not what you do or don't do in your morning routine, or your personal fashion statements) a man with an unshaven face will symbolize a man who is undisciplined, or has animal appetites; why? That's how the Romans distinguished themselves from the barbarians: Roman men shaved, the barbarians had beards, so Romans considered themselves civilized whereas the barbarians were men of appetites in all realms of their existence: sexual, spiritual (they weren't converts to Christianity), intellectual and even in terms of diplomacy and warfare. We know the mouth itself symbolizes the appetites (and again, this refers to just more than food, so a woman in an artistic context, for example, who wears bright red lipstick, could be interpreted as having very active appetites, from sexual to professional, depending upon the character).
So, what about Luke Skywalker?
In Man Of Steel, Clark Kent goes on a similar exile trying to discover who he is, and he has to learn discipline to be worthy of the role he hopes to fulfill for humanity.  The example of this is in the bar when Clark tries to keep one of the waitresses from being hit on, and the truck driver hitting on her dumps a drink all over Clark's head; Clark doesn't do anything in there, but when the trucker walks out, his truck has been wrapped around a telephone pole; Clark's emotions are still getting the better of him, and he has an "appetite" for revenge because of his pride. In the lower image, after Clark has discovered who he is, and what he's meant to do, his pride transcends itself and he can be humble enough to let go of petty instances like getting a drink poured over him and so his appetite for revenge is gone. In Man Of Steel, we get a traditional, straight-forward interpretation of facial hair and how it reflects a deeper level of struggle within this character.
We know also that, traditionally, a beard can be a man's status sign of wise/holy: in the ancient days, especially of Christianity, men would retire to the wilderness and the deserts, where they would renounce the world and do penance, pray and fast. Not keeping society, they wouldn't bother to shave, and this carried over into monasteries where "vanity" of shaving was shunned and men tended to grow beards, even long beards (at some early point the tonsure hair shaving was adapted because that was the mark of a slave in Roman society, so early Christian men marked themselves as the slaves of Christ in this manner of humility). So, is a beard a sign of the appetites or holiness?
Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) in Penny Dreadful, Season 1 above and Season 2 below. Typically, Sir Malcolm wears a beard, as in the image at the top; in Season 2, however, he begins courting Evelyn Poole/Madame Kali who is a witch and wants to use him to destroy Vanessa (Eva Green). To look younger, Sir Malcolm shaves his beard off and it works, he does look younger, he acts younger too. His beard symbolizes his hard-won wisdom that comes from experience, and--in effect--he's castrating himself so he can leave wisdom behind and do what he really wants to do (have sex with Mrs. Poole) even though the wiser Malcolm would refrain, knowing better from his experiences that this can only bring him trouble. In this case, the beard is the exact opposite of Man Of Steel, being a sign of wisdom rather than the appetites. Now, I would like to mention causally that it's also possible to interpret the beard as an appetite for wisdom, This is perfectly legitimate, however, wisdom is something which happens over a long, drawn-out period of time; "appetites' generally don't have patience about what it is they want, they want it and now. An example of this is Irinka Spalko (Cate Blanchett) in Indiana Jones 4 and the Kingdom Of the Crystal Skull. The Soviet commander has an appetite for unlimited knowledge, normally, that would be a good thing, however, it's an appetite for her because she's a villain and she wants to use knowledge as a weapon, so it's bad and she's punished with death for it. Indy (Harrison Ford) on the other hand, is more than intelligent, but he accumulates what comes to him through experience and doesn't use it as a weapon (yes, he occasionally wears a beard, but we aren't going to interpret that here). 
Typically, and there are exceptions, if there is a beard, it's meant to further develop the behavior patterns a character has all ready established: if a character is good, then the beard portrays his wisdom and lack of appetites; if the character is behaving according to worldly ambitions while showing no regard for others, then the beard acts as a sign of his lack of discipline and lack of wisdom. Yes, it's regrettable that it's not more iron clad, but it is one of those symbols we can rely upon to signal to us that there is more going on with a character and we need to ponder the totality of his actions.
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane from The Hunger Games. This is an interesting concept as the beard is retained as a symbol of the appetites, but the design in the beard, which is unusual, further develops the symbol as being an appetite for certain, cultivated tastes, something of the unusual and decadent even. 
Does the first image of Luke Skywalker really tell us anything about his character? I think so. The thing about symbols is, as Carl Jung might say, they have to tap into the "collective unconscious" of the viewing audience to work, people have to be able to access the meaning of them so the characters make sense, even if it's not going to be verbally articulated by the audience at large. Whether Luke starts out still being on the side of the Force, or is there by the end of the film, the costume communicates to us that Luke has sought wisdom and limited himself on the use of the Force in trying to keep from becoming like his father; whether or not he has or will accomplish this is a huge portion of the narrative (I can't wait to see!).
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--I just saw The War Room and it was quite good! Working on getting that post up next!