some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Finn














Some folks on the internet find a cynical motive behind The Force Awakens‘s re-use of plot points from A New Hope. They see it as a corporation playing it safe, pandering to the audience, protecting their considerable investment. And yet, if “playing it safe” was the order of the day on the production of The Force Awakens, why are the four principle “good guys” of the movie played by a woman, a black man, a Guatemalan and a 73-year-old Jew? That sounds like idle snark, but let me assure you, movie studios are the most risk-averse institutions on the planet. I was once asked to develop a science-fiction franchise, based on a series of novels about a teenage girl trying to negotiate her way through a futuristic dystopia obsessed with beauty, and I outlined an entire trilogy, which took two and a half hours to pitch, only to have the female executive ask me if I could make the protagonist a boy. That was before The Hunger Games, of course, so now it would theoretically be “okay” to recognize that girls like science-fiction too, but to have a female protagonist with a black co-lead, and to have her kiss him in Act III? For the studio who refused to market Black Widow toys in connection with its Avengers movies, because “Disney has the girl market locked up with princess movies, thanks?” This is, I guarantee you, a bold step forward.

But, more germane to our discussion here, what does Finn want?

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Finn begins the narrative as a Stormtrooper. Stormtroopers, we know, are the cannon fodder of the Star Wars universe. They have bad aim, their flimsy armor is a decades-long joke, they have no lives outside their uniforms. They are, essentially, their uniforms. The Force Awakens suggests that they’re kidnapped as children and trained, brainwashed perhaps, in order to fulfill their duties as soulless cogs, ready to march into any battle, ready to kill, given no training whatsoever in defensive maneuvers.

Finn, for reasons not discussed in depth, has doubts about his role. Marched into battle and dropped on an alien planet, he is ordered to kill a group of villagers. If, as George Lucas said, Star Wars is all about Vietnam, then the opening of The Force Awakens is its My Lai massacre, and Finn is Lt Calley’s holdout.

In this movie that is supposedly just a rehash of A New Hope, there is no precedent for Finn. No Stormtrooper has ever had a face before, much less received a character arc or a biography. Again, his relationship to the older movie is in the negative — whereas Luke dresses up as a Stormtrooper to bust a rebel prisoner out of jail, Finn uses his actual identity as a Stormtrooper to bust a Resistance prisoner out of jail, and, once he has done so, takes off his uniform and dons the prisoners jacket. Again, clothes make the man.

But what does Finn want? All we know for sure is that he wants out of the First Order, the Empire-inspired outfit that General Hux appears to run. Does he know what the Resistance is, or what it stands for? It doesn’t seem so. It seems more like he just wants out, much like Luke Skywalker wanted off Tatooine, without very much understanding of what life outside his sphere is about. (Luke, don’t forget, wanted to run away and join the Empire’s flight-training school. He didn’t even care which side of the fight he was on — he joined up with Obi-Wan because he wanted to bone his sister. If he’d run away a season earlier, Luke could have ended up as one of the millions of Stormtroopers he personally, single-handedly murders at the end of A New Hope.)

The noose is closing for Finn, again, in a negative reflection of Luke. Luke craves action, whereas Finn has had quite enough of it. Luke searches for adventure and gets his family killed, while Finn refuses to kill families and ends up being investigated by his surrogate family, specifically his surrogate mother Captain Phasma and surrogate father Kylo Ren, both of whom take Finn’s running away very personally. In this way, Phasma and Kylo are like Finn’s Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. One can almost imagine the awkward dinner scene where Finn whines about how he doesn’t want to slaughter civilians any more and Kylo pleads with him to stay on at Starkiller Base for one more season, at least until the planets of the Hosnian System are destroyed. Kylo even remembers Finn’s troop number, and seemingly recognizes his face, even though, as far as we know, the Stormtroopers never even see each others’ faces.

Facing an investigation that will surely lead to his death or worse, Finn, obviously smarter than your average Stormtrooper, devises a plan to escape Starkiller Base with a Resistance Prisoner, Poe Dameron. Like Luke escaping from Tatooine, Finn isn’t concerned with who Dameron is, only that he is a pilot, and, thus, can get him off the base in a TIE fighter. Dameron becomes both Finn’s Han Solo and his Obi-Wan Kenobi. Dameron, in a remarkably compressed amount of time, radicalizes Finn against the First Order, teaches him how to operate a starship gun, gives him a name, and, finally, gives him his jacket, which completes Finn’s transition to civilian.

Finn escapes the clutches of the First Order, but he’s not free for long. Soon there are TIE fighters chasing him in the grimy marketplace of a dusty planet, and, just like Luke, he has to find another pilot to get off the planet without any, shall we say, imperial entanglements. As it happens, he finds a pilot in the first person he meets, and, furthermore, they escape from their dusty planet on the Millennium Falcon. So Finn is a Luke with two Hans. His first Han is also his Obi-Wan, but his second Han is his Leia. He is immediately attracted to Rey, but his training as a Stormtrooper does not prepare him for the scrappy desert scavenger. Apparently, in Stormtrooper school they teach you that women are delicate creatures who need to be gallantly rescued and wooed, so Finn is completely flummoxed by the hyper-competent Rey, who can outrun blaster fire, outwit TIE fighters, pilot a spaceship, speak as many languages as C-3PO, and fix any machine that presents itself to her. Like Luke, he poses as a Resistance fighter in order to pitch woo to a girl, and, like Luke, he’s met with something between irritation and resistance. Luke receives one kiss from Leia, “for luck,” as they escape some Stormtroopers, but Finn doesn’t get his kiss from Rey until after he’s been rendered unconscious in a lightsaber duel.

Once Finn escapes from Jakku, his agenda diverges from Rey’s. She wants to go back home, he wants to go anywhere but where he is. He still doesn’t want to be in the Resistance, but once Rey is taken prisoner by Kylo, he feels he owes her. Plus he’s in love with her. So in this phase of his Luke-life, he, Han Solo and Chewbacca, yes, infiltrate the Death-Star-like Starkiller Base in order to rescue her. Little do they know, Rey requires no rescue and in fact ends up rescuing Finn (if not Han).

There has been much commentary on Rey as being a “Mary Sue,” ie, an unrealistically skilled cosplayer romping in a boy’s movie. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m 54 years old and I’d thought this kind of woman-hating bullshit had evaporated by now. Luke Skywalker can single-handedly destroy a space-station his first time out and he’s a “classic hero,” but if a girl can operate a machine and handle a light-saber she’s apparently a cynical ploy on the part of a heartless studio. It’s disgusting and stupid.

When I saw A New Hope in the theater in May of 1977, the theater exploded in cheers when the Death Star was destroyed. Poe Dameron and his squadron of flying aces blow up the planet-killing weapon this time around, but no one cheered for him — the cheers went to Rey for picking up Luke’s lightsaber. If Star Wars was about Vietnam, then perhaps this new series is about a more modern conflict, the one about how straight white guys don’t get all the parades.


16 Responses to “some thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Finn”
  1. Rootboy says:

    I loved Finn, and the whole the idea of a Stormtrooper deserter. It’s legitimately something we’ve never seen before in Star Wars while feeling like a natural part of the world to explore. That’s what I want to see more of in this sequel series.

    • Alex says:

      We got a bit of it in the EU. Zahn’s ‘Allegiance’ and ‘Choices of One’ had, IMO, a great take on the conscience-plagued Stormtrooper.

      Obviously they’re no longer canon, but it was nice to see the occasional nods to the books.

  2. I’d say that opening scene felt more like Iraq or Afghanistan than Vietnam. It was certainly the most terrifying Star Wars battle scene I’ve ever seen (which, as far as terror goes, is a pretty low bar). Finn’s disillusionment is palpable, believable, and more than that, completely supportable. You feel like you’d have to be a monster to do anything but what he did. The mark on his helmet was both brilliant for obvious identifying reasons, and perhaps some of the first blood-letting in the Star Wars saga (the most gruesome thing, previously, being Owen and Beru’s charred skeletons). It set the bar that this episode would be more brutal and immediate than the previous, and by humanizing a mindless Stormtrooper, it set an early sign that anything was up for consideration, even in a movie that so faithfully echoed previous plot points.

    • Todd says:

      It’s interesting, I can’t remember ever seeing human blood in a Star Wars movie before, only laser blasts and cauterized wounds from lightsabers. One wonders what Finn’s relationship was to the stormtrooper who dies in his arms.

      • Alex says:

        He actually got a bit of back story! See Greg Rucka’s ‘ Before the Awakening’ or check out FN-2003 on Wookieepedia.

    • James Callan says:

      I also thought of Iraq and Afghanistan during the village massacre.

      An interesting parallel:
      The dying stormtrooper touches Finn’s face and leaves a mark.
      Dying Han Solo touches Kylo Ren’s face and leaves no mark.

  3. Glenn Peters says:

    I think it’s interesting that Finn’s awakening happens when he goes to the side of his fallen comrade, who then smears blood on his mask. I know this is a convenient way to mark him for the audience, but I can’t help but feel that blood has some deeper significance.

    “But what does Finn want? All we know for sure is that he wants out of the First Order”

    Finn says that he’s breaking Poe out because it’s the right thing to do. I believe him, but I also believe he’s still trying to figure out what the right thing is. By the time he reaches Maz’s place, I think he feels he’s fulfilled his right thing duty, and he thinks at that point that the right thing is continuing to run the hell away.

    “Kylo even remembers Finn’s troop number, and seemingly recognizes his face, even though, as far as we know, the Stormtroopers never even see each others’ faces.”

    Kylo sensed Finn on Jakku before leaving, turned and looked straight at him for a moment, when he barely even gave a blaster bolt coming straight at him his full attention. I don’t know why the hell he didn’t do anything about that at the time, and clearly Kylo kicks himself for it later. Whether or not he remembers his face, I think he remembers his Force “fingerprint”, in the same way he recognized his father.

    Also, on Takodana, one of the Stormtroopers sees Finn without his armor, yells “Traitor”, and drops his blaster (and shield?) to engage in non-fatal melee. This feels very personal to me. If there’d been a mission brief with his picture, more Stormtroopers would have been acting this way, or just using blaster on stun if they wanted him alive. This guy wanted to beat the tar out of Finn for betraying the First Order, and wanted Finn to know he was doing it. (Of course, Finn might not know which of his old comrades was doing this, since they wear their IDs on their backs,)

    • Todd says:

      So yes, stormtroopers, it seems, do have personal lives outside of their armor, because they can recognize each other out of it.

  4. Daniel Ibáñez says:

    I don’t really percieve any cynicism on behalf of the filmmakers (there is a lot of love here, which is part of the problem), but I do believe the movie is playing it very safe in some regards so it can afford to some risks that really pay off. Complaining about a fundamental lack of originality, story-wise, is absolutely a valid criticism, and it shouldn’t be dismissed just because some of this stuff is new. Structurally, it does follow the same basic outline as A New Hope, with a generous helping of Empire and Jedi thrown in for good measure, much to its detriment. Too many callbacks, too many cute inversions.

    That said, while the movie suffers every time it looks back, it soars when it takes a step forward. I already love these new characters and can’t wait to spend more time with them.

    • I apologize in advance for negating your point, but this sounds like it’s been quoted almost verbatim from 60-70% of all the FORCE AWAKENS reviews I read. I mean, I get that there’s a like-minded mentality that seeps into everyone’s consciousness while tackling a topic as universal as STAR WARS, but after a while it just gets old, and I think it’s hurtful rather than helpful to repeat the same old lines we’ve heard so many times before. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ideas Todd mentions above. Like, what did you think about Kylo Ren so blindly taking after his grandfather? Or the parallels between Finn pretending to be a resistance fighter/Luke dressing up as a Stormtrooper? Rey being referred to as a “Mary Sue”?

      • Daniel Ibáñez says:

        Well, I certainly haven’t read all the reviews, so if I appear to be simply echoing everyone’s opinion, surely it speaks to the film’s most glaring shortcomings. Sorry you find my take unoriginal, but at least now you know how I feel.

        As to my thoughts on the ideas Todd brings up, the movie’s in a constant hurry in order to cover up some major story problems, so it tends to rush most of its character moments, but I do think Kylo Ren is a fascinating character and easily my favorite part of the movie. He’s underwritten for sure (as is Rey and Finn and pretty much everone else), but there´s just enough to make him interesting and engaging. When he tells Rey that Han, her brand new father figure, will just end up disappointing her, it pretty much says it all: he’s not blindly following his grandfather, he’s an angry teenager lashing out at his parents. It’s simple and relatable in the same way Luke’s arc in A New Hope was. It’s a nice inversion, as is Finn’s story, or at least his jumping off point.

        As for Rey being a Mary Sue, well, the whole thing’s a minefield, and you can never underestimate how downright sexist some fanboys can be, but I think maybe the problem that a lot of these people can’t quite seem to be able to articulate is not that she’s overpowered (because whatever, you can actually work with that and make it interesting if you address it head on) but that she doesn’t seem quite flawed enough? After all, perfection is dehumanizing. I’m very conflicted here because, like I said, I think her character’s underwritten, but I also really do like her and what she represents for Star Wars (and movies in general) going forward. And it does bother me that she’s instantly awesome with a lightsaber, but I also think that fight between her and Kylo is edge-of your-seat great and pretty much keeps an otherwise very weak third act afloat by being so emotionally charged.

        So yeah, mixed feelings.

  5. J. H. Frank says:

    Finn’s Stormtrooper-to-Resistance arc seems like an incredibly accelerated riff on the old canon Han Solo Imperial-pilot-to-smuggler-to-Rebellion-General arc.

    I have no idea if Han’s Imperial training survived the great EU culling, though.

  6. Evilcritter says:

    I don’t know why he would assume females would need rescueing. He experience with women is Phasma and other female stormtroopers. We heard at least one other female in the film.

    • quasigentrified says:

      i think he assumed she was a regular civilian and not some extraordinarily adaptable force adept-to-be, which is actually quite reasonable.

  7. Peter Erwin says:

    Minor nitpick: Finn and Poe escape from a Star Destroyer orbiting near or around[*] Jakku, not from Starkiller Base, which is Somewhere Else.[**]

    (I’m really enjoying these posts, by the way!)

    [*] Since ships in Star Wars rarely pay attention to gravity, it’s a bit unclear where the Star Destroyer is.
    [**] From this and from his Star Trek movies, I get the impression that J.J. Abrams is completely unconcerned with trivia like where different moons, planets, stars, etc., actually are (and how far away they are) in relation to each other.

    • Bothan Spy says:

      not to be negative nancy on your post, but take a look at Episode V for when the filmmakers were unconcerned with proximity between worlds.