Writing Tips and Film Critique

The Tragedy of FN-2187, Finn: How Not to Handle a Character

Now that the circle is complete on Disney’s Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, we can look back on it without hearing the classic excuse, “They’ll fix it in the next film.” There is no next film. The trilogy is finished. We got what we got, and unfortunately, what we got was a lot of good intentions gone horribly awry. For example, The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams wanted to place an African American in a prominent role but forgot to mold a role fitting of that good intention. It wasn’t long ago when I saw a meme that summed up well exactly what had been accomplished with the character arc devoted to actor John Boyega’s Finn:

Disney pioneered diversity

So, where did JJ Abrams, writer/director of The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker (the third film in the trilogy), and Rian Johnson, writer/director of The Last Jedi, go wrong?

The poor execution of Boyega’s character begins early in The Force Awakens, when FN-2187 decides to free the hotshot pilot Poe Dameron from his First Order imprisonment. Poe asks FN why FN is helping him, to which FN replies, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” Poe then charges, “You need a pilot,” and FN parrots, “I need a pilot.” By going for the joke, Abrams undercuts a critical moment in the development of FN. Rather than FN standing up and showing his blossoming moral sense, what we see is FN as the butt of a joke who simply wants to run away but is incapable of doing it on his own. Had the scene ended at FN saying, “Because it’s the right thing to do,” we would’ve been solidified in FN as a person who is beginning to take charge of his destiny. In this case, the humor was not only unnecessary, it subtracted from the moment, and this is only one instance of Finn as the comic relief in the trilogy, his take-charge attitude cut off by Rose Tico, in The Last Jedi, forcing him to stay with the Resistance.

Finn’s writing isn’t all bad though. He’s strongest when paired with Poe. They play well off each other. Poe is confident and knows where he’s going and what his goals are while Finn is just the opposite. It’s a shame these characters didn’t have the screen time in the first film to develop their friendship or, across the other two films, a romantic relationship. Yes, I was one who felt that a Finn/Poe romance would not have been out of place. Instead, Abrams has Finn chasing Rey in both The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, and Johnson has Finn running around with Rose in The Last Jedi, after Finn attempts to chase after Rey again.

Now, I’m not saying it was a flaw for Finn to pursue Rey; it was simply handled so poorly and obviously that it became a distraction to Finn’s character arc and an annoyance to watch, with Finn yelling, “Rey!!!” so often that it could’ve been a drinking game. Heck there is even a scene in The Force Awakens in which Finn just outright asks Rey if she has a boyfriend. In another type of film, that would’ve been acceptable dialogue, but in a Star Wars movie, it’s way too on-the-nose, though Rian Johnson did try to help matters with the addition of Rose as an alternate love interest for Finn, as clunky as that relationship was handled in the final act of The Last Jedi.

Had Abrams and Johnson been on the same page and didn’t retcon each other’s films, Finn’s story might’ve played out at least somewhat better, but Johnson missed an opportunity to develop Finn through his interactions with Rose. Rather, Johnson used Rose to “educate” Finn on the evils that plague the lower classes in the galaxy, never mind the fact that Finn is a former Stormtrooper who has likely seen a lot more than Rose. When Rose started educating him, Finn should’ve turned right around and asked, “You think I don’t know? You think I haven’t seen this before, on numerous other worlds?” This could open up Finn as someone who is troubled by his past, and if Finn shares his story with Rose, the characters can begin relating to each other and understanding one another, and perhaps that kiss they had later in the film wouldn’t have seemed so out of the blue.

This is the tragedy of Finn. His character is treated as comic relief who doesn’t know anything except chasing after girls, and he isn’t even successful at that. Finn is a janitor who happens to have vital information on The First Order’s systems when the plot needs him to have that information, whether it makes sense for a janitor or Stormtrooper to know what Finn knows. His contributions to the Sequel Trilogy are little to none, and his interactions with other characters are uninteresting because he’s instantly accepted by everyone in the Resistance without question. I like to say that Finn could be greatly improved simply by making him have to earn trust within the Resistance. This would also create natural conflict within the Resistance as Poe would speak up for Finn when others doubt, and maybe Han speaks up for Finn when Leia doubts (or the other way around). Finn could’ve been someone who becomes an inspiration for taking charge of his destiny. He could’ve wanted to walk away from the Resistance but chose not to because, for the first time in his life, he found someone, Poe, who truly believes in him.

And while Rey sought Luke Skywalker to start her Jedi training, Finn could’ve been the one to wrangle those who doubt him and those who doubt The First Order can be beaten, bringing everyone together to fight in the final battle of the trilogy. It didn’t have to be Lando magically gathering a fleet large enough to tackle The First Order in The Rise of Skywalker; it could’ve been Finn to do that, not by magic or ex machina but through leadership. Imagine Finn starting as a hesitant, former Stormtrooper in the first film, someone afraid of The First Order and barely trusted by the Resistance, working his way up the ranks in the second film and, in the third film, finding his way to being a model for the people in the galaxy who believed they couldn’t be more than what they were in the face of all that challenged them. Imagine Finn broadcasting a speech to all the planets in the galaxy to inspire the change that was needed:

They said it was impossible to escape The First Order, but I made it possible!
They said it was impossible to stand up to The First Order, but the Resistance made it possible!
They say it’s impossible to defeat The First Order, but together, united as one, we will all make it possible!

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