Just as with Hera’s choice to cover her natural accent, a character’s appearance can also symbolize things from their past, or aspects of themselves that they wish to hide or diminish.
Let’s take a look at Kanan Jarrus, scoundrel and smuggler during the early years of the Empire, rebel leader and teacher to Ezra Bridger later on, and known during the time of the Clone Wars as Jedi Padawan, Caleb Dume. That’s quite a process of changes for this one man to go through, and his outfit across these various eras of his life often reflect quite a bit about where he currently is in his personal growth.
Early on, during his appearances in the comic series Kanan, young Caleb Dume was clad in the traditional robes and tunic of a Jedi youngling. After his apprenticeship to Depa Bilaba, he took on the customary Padawan braid, signifying his advance to the next level of Jedi training. However, Master Bilaba was killed when her clone troops betrayed her on the order of Darth Sidious during Order 66, and though Caleb managed to escape, he had to change his appearance in order to blend into an anti-Jedi galaxy.
When we meet up with Kanan again, it’s in the Rebels prequel novel, A New Dawn. Since this is a book, we don’t get much of a look into what his outfit featured at this time besides the front cover and a handful of drawings illustrating the events of the novel. However, based on what we see in these and the few small details the book does give us, it seems that his outfit during this time is largely the same as his appearance several years later when he arrives on the scene of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels.
Kanan’s first outfit consisted of a green tunic (which is actually more like a sweater), jointed shoulder-and-arm armor much like that sported by some Jedi during the Clone War, grey pants, high Jedi-style boots, and his blaster and holster which he constantly kept by his side. Kanan’s hair was long enough to be pulled back in a ponytail, which is where he kept it perpetually with never a stray lock (much to the groaning of realistic-minded, long-haired fans like myself).
Like Hera, one of Kanan’s chief colors throughout the entire season is green. It varies between being several lighter and a few shades darker than her skin, with his armor being a deep forest green and his tunic being almost yellow-green. This is an interesting connection between the two, and actually does help tie them together in a viewer’s mind. From the start the two have been an almost constant duo, with their respective personality traits and gifts complementing quite nicely, and the possibility of their feelings being able to develop much deeper has been hinted at from the start. Their chemistry together is undeniable, and the connections between their costumes help to visualize it.
Also of note is the fact that, though not of huge prominence in the color scheme, Kanan does feature a major costume component that is grey in color. This symbolizes his as-of-yet largely unmade up mind concerning the Rebellion, the Jedi way, and his own destiny. When Star Wars Rebels begins, Kanan doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life. He just hasn’t thought about it much. He’s in this thing largely because of Hera Syndulla, whom he’s being trailing ever since meeting her in a dark alley on Gorse several years before. And, though he would like to deny it, he’s also here because of the lingering morals of the Jedi deep inside him, which resonated deeply with this woman’s cause. But a lot of him is undecided. He didn’t just dive into this war head-first, ready to reveal himself as a Jedi right off and fight in the open for the destruction of the Empire. Although he does eventually have to make that choice, he constantly doubts himself and his own abilities, his place in yet another war, and his choices as a teacher of the Jedi ways.
Another major component of Kanan’s appearance is his largely “thrown together”, yet still very well-polished, look. He’s grabbed pieces from here and there that suit his needs, and over time has decided on an ensemble that fits his own personality and life-story.
In the beginning of the second season of Rebels, Kanan’s outfit undergoes a slight change that foreshadows things soon to come. While in a battle with Darth Vader, he has his shoulder armor damaged, and from then on it bears a scar across the symbol painted on it, a scar that oddly enough resembles the one that Kanan himself later receives courtesy of the former-Darth, Maul. It is also at this point that Kanan begins to wear his lightsaber more in the open, symbolizing his further progression towards full-hearted return to the Jedi path.
The next change in Kanan’s appearance is both the most drastic as well as the most metaphorically interesting. After the Jedi and his apprentice’s encounter with Maul on Malachor in the end of season two, resulting in the loss of their mentor and Force-using colleague Ahsoka Tano, Kanan’s blinding, and the beginning of Ezra’s experimentation with the dark side, Kanan’s appearance took a major change: losing his arm piece, changing to a new, darker version of tunic, growing a full beard, and allowing his ponytail to grow out and become shaggier are all part of his new look. But we can’t forget the most important new part of his appearance: Kanan also got an olive green mask to cover his now-blinded eyes, as well as most of the rest of his face.
Although all the pieces of Kanan’s new look contribute to the changes in his character (particularly his hair, the shaggy appearance of which quickly informs the viewer that he’s begun to care less about the physical world, and instead retreat to a place deep inside himself), the most significant aspect must be his mask. The color of this piece is an olive green, not flashy at all, and symbolizing once again Kanan’s departure from the physical and new depth of connection to the natural, and spiritual, world. This is shown when he discovers and repeatedly communes with the Bendu, a being seemingly in the middle between Light and Darkness and a natural part of the environment on the Rebel base planet of Attollon, as well as his final success at creating a bond with formerly vicious animals there.
The mask also seems to take on an identity of its own, picking up very strong significance both inside and outside of the story itself.
Whenever Kanan is wearing the mask, he seems to act much more reserved, calm, and all-around more like you would expect a great master of the Jedi to be. He doesn’t show much emotion or depth of personal feelings; in a sense, he’s very closed off, his own personal thoughts and feelings about everything just as hidden as his sightless eyes. However, when the mask is removed and his handicap and scar are revealed, he seems much more open and often willing to discuss things in a more personal manner.
The best example of this is in the season three episode, “Trials of the Darksaber”. Kanan is trying to teach Sabine Wren how to wield the ancient Mandalorian lightsaber and token of her people, known as the Darksaber. However, due to both his own flaws as a teacher and his student’s own personal scars, he is getting nowhere, and for a while only results in angering and confusing both himself and Sabine. Throughout most of this sequence, Kanan wears his mask, and seems very detached and almost cold towards his pupil. However, it’s not until he has a heart-to-heart talk with his fellow team leader and mother-figure of the crew, Hera, who admonishes him to let Sabine “own” the sword, brand it with her past and make it her own, that he truly wakes up to everything he’s been doing wrong and makes an effort to fix it. Interestingly enough, during this conversation Kanan has removed his mask, even though he cannot see Hera in the hologram. Many fans pointed out the oddness of this move, but I realized quickly that it wasn’t as much for them, but to fulfil the metaphor. When Sabine returns to camp after storming off earlier, ready to resume her training with the Darksaber, Kanan still has his mask off, and greets her with a purpose to make things right. He’s ready to truly teach her the way she learns best this time, instead of trying to confine her to Jedi methods that won’t get through to her Mandalorian way of thinking. Kanan’s mask was clearly being used as a symbol during this time, showing his original detachment from everything going on, and his removal of it during his conversation with Hera symbolizes the beginning of his understanding of what is truly going on with his teammate, and later leads to her finally being able to admit her past, face her demons, and rise again to the challenge ahead of her with a lighter heart.
Many scenes are this way, and it’s become customary for me to always look to see if Kanan is wearing his mask or not. Based on this, it’s fairly easy to figure out how major of a part he will play in that scene, as well as whether he will probably be interacting with his own crew or not, and whether there may be any deep emotional or personal moments in it. The mask has become an amazing metaphor, not only inside the story but outside of it as well, and discovering the way it works is, to quote a certain Grand Admiral, “Fascinating.”
But there’s yet another aspect of the way the mask works that I haven’t explored yet. It’s a well-known understanding that “the eyes are the window to the soul”, and this takes on a whole new significance when it comes to the mask of Kanan Jarrus.
Whenever someone watches a movie or other form of visual media, whether they realize it or not, they often focus on the eyes and face of a character for information on what he or she is thinking or feeling, the same as it is in real life. In animation, correctly portraying the facial expressions of characters becomes even more vital, as animators and artists must be extra careful. One wrong shading, or a light in a character’s eyes, and the viewer’s entire perception of their personality could be thrown in a drastically different direction.
In my personal opinion, the animation style used in The Clone Wars series was not as lifelike as that used by Rebels. I know many fans drastically prefer the first over the second, and it’s true that, from a distance, there are many scenes that look more live-action, especially when it comes to shots of ships, clone troopers in full armor, and other “non-flesh” things, but I always found the style a bit too harsh, the lines too sharp, and something about the faces and movement always seemed rather stiff and cold to me. Rebels, on the other hand, has always felt more alive and warm, though it received harsh criticism from many fans for its animation style. I’ve also always found the animation style of Rebels to be better at showing emotion and correctly portraying facial expressions, especially in the eyes. When I look into a Rebels character’s eyes, I feel like I can see into the mind of an actual living, breathing being; they’re so lifelike, with a light and movement behind them that helps the viewer to instantly comprehend the thoughts and emotions of the players.
This is the importance of Kanan’s mask. When he wears it, the audience as well as his fellow characters cannot see exactly what it is he is thinking, and therefore he seems much more mysterious, with a wise-but-distant air surrounding him. He almost always seems calm, resigned to the will of the Force. When he removes his mask, however, a viewer can instantly see whatever turmoil is currently happening inside of him, and his humanity returns. This is how the metaphor functions.
This is exemplified strongest in the first ever episode with Kanan wearing his mask, the season three premiere, “Steps into Shadow”. Throughout the beginning of the episode, Kanan is very distant from his crew, and even Hera can’t get more than a monotone out of him when she tries to warn him that Ezra is drifting away. The way in which he sits at a distance from the base everyday, seemingly meditating in the Force, would make one think that his connection has deepened and he has grown significantly in his power as a Jedi. But as the story continues and Kanan meets the great Force-user known as the Bendu, one quickly realizes that this is not the case at all. Instead, Kanan has cut himself off from the Force and his team, wallowing ever deeper into despair, fear, and regret. This hits the viewer when he removes his mask for the very first time during his conversation with the Bendu, and his blinded eyes and scarred face can finally be viewed. The metaphor of the mask works its magic, as the ability to see his eyes instantly reveals that this man is desperate and in great pain, as well as symbolizing the figurative “removing of the mask” as he is finally open about his true feelings, and finally comes to the realization of just how much fear, anger, and pain there is within him.
Another interesting point is that the recent moments between Kanan and Hera in season 4 concerning their until-now unaddressed but obviously developing relationship have always happened while Kanan’s mask is off. In fact, during a very poignant scene between the two in the episode “The Occupation”, Kanan expresses his regret at his being unable to see Hera, which she responds to by reaching up and removing his mask and the statement, “You could always see me.” It’s also very interesting to note that Hera is not wearing gloves at this point, symbolizing her own move towards being more open with her personal feelings. In almost every scene between the two of them, the difference between whether Kanan’s mask is on or not will often clue the viewer in to how much of their personal feelings are going to be discussed or shown.
I don’t know how many other viewers have picked up on these details, but for the literary geek in me, Rebels is heaven because of them. The metaphor of sight is such a complex one, and it’s really amazing to unpack all the depth of meaning hidden in one small character accessory such as Kanan’s mask.