Masks have a long history of symbolism in many different cultures. Masks can be used to evoke fear, humor, and reference something else like an animal or a monster or whatever. It can also serve a lot of other meanings too, and the Star Wars saga is no stranger to masks. Consider, for example, how the Storm Troopers used helmets that also serve to mask their faces. These helmets evoke fear, but also serve to dehumanize the troopers, and to remove their individuality. Importantly, masks symbolically can mean that someone is hiding their true self.
The interesting thing about The Force Awakens is that the three most important characters, arguably, are all introduced wearing a mask. Is this significant? What do they all have in common? Consider for a moment that Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren are all hiding from their pasts, hiding from their own inner selves. In many cases, denying their own selves.
First, let’s consider Finn. He was taken from his family at a young age, and was trained as a Storm Trooper. He became a symbol of intimidation, and became a number. Although Finn became a symbol of violence and intimidation, this didn’t reflect his true self. He wasn’t like the other Storm Troopers. Something in him awoke, and one of his first impulses as soon as he got back to the Star Destroyer was to take off his helmet. To take off his mask. He needed some fresh air, but he also revealed his true identity to the audience.
What about Rey? It is pretty clear that Rey is holding some serious emotional baggage. Rey is hiding from a past that she doesn’t even remember. Rey is trying to conceal the sadness within her; the sadness that Kylo Ren saw when he used Force-telepathy on her. The sadness that came bubbling over after she touched the lightsaber and ran outside with tears in her eyes. The mask that Rey wore at the beginning of The Force Awakens, was largely for practical purposes. It was to shield her from the elements inside the Star Destroyer, I suppose. But did she really need to be completely concealed by this mask? After all, she didn’t wear it again in the movie after her introduction. One might consider the notion that Rey’s mask serves a purpose symbolically in The Force Awakens to show a character that was concealing herself. She’s a character that was concealing her past.
Finally, there is Kylo Ren. Kylo’s mask certainly served to evoke fear, but he is also hiding his own self. He experiences the light side of the Force, but chooses to deny it. He chooses to seek help from Darth Vader, his deceased grandfather, in order to not succumb to the light side of the Force. Kylo Ren wears this mask, possibly, because not only does it evoke fear, but it also hides his true emotions. True emotions that became apparent right before he killed Han Solo. Masks can also protect the wearer (like ARMOR) from actions of their own and others. Every time Kylo Ren is weakened in The Force Awakens he has his mask off. When facing Snoke with Hux and discussing the escape of BB-8, when he faces Rey and she was able to overcome him mentally, when he kills his father feels weakened and is shot by Chewie and finally when he is defeated by Rey in his lightsaber battle.
It is pretty clear that these three characters all share this in common; they are all hiding their true selves from the audience when introduced. Poe Dameron could certainly be considered one of the leads, but he is introduced with his own face. When you think about it, he has always been true to who he is throughout the entire movie. He is a known commodity and a sure thing. He doesn’t hide anything and doesn’t need a mask.
Who else in The Force Awakens wears a mask? We also have Captain Phasma, who is a prominent, distinct character that always wears a mask. However, we didn’t really learn that much about Captain Phasma. She is largely a mystery. What we do know, is that she gave up the code to lower the shields on StarKiller base with little push-back. How true to the First Order is she? Is it possible that Captain Phasma is not unlike the other mask-wearing leads? Is it possible that Phasma is also hiding something, and that she is not that loyal to the First Order? Or is she the epitome of what the first order should be: faceless and protected from her actions? Confident that even with the shields down the First order would be able to stop the resistance no matter what their plan.
In fact, many fans have complained that it was a missed opportunity to not have Captain Phasma call Finn a traitor, and fight him on Takodana. Instead we got a largely unknown Storm Trooper. Is it possible that Captain Phasma was originally to fight Finn in that scene?
Recall Phasma’s Wampa Claw lightsaber hilt that was rumored long ago. It’s possible that she was originally supposed to fight Finn on Takodana, and was removed from that scene because it was decided that her character was not that loyal to the First Order. Not loyal enough to call Finn a traitor because she was also concealing her own lack of loyalty (which she revealed by how quickly she gave up). Who knows, maybe we’ll see Phasma become independent or even join the good guys in Episode VIII.