If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, stop reading this now, crawl out from under your rock (congrats on getting wifi on the rock, I know that’s hard for them to install) and go see the movie. Then come back and read this, as there are spoilers abound.
Star Wars is back, and maybe better than ever. There’s Han and Leia and Luke and C-3PO and Artoo and a whole host of new characters to fall in love with, most notably newcomers and The Force Awakens‘ protagonists, Rey and Finn.
But, wow, Finn sure didn’t have a problem killing a lot of Stormtroopers for a guy who was just a Stormtrooper, did he?
Look, there are issues in any movie. But a film as anticipated and as secretive as Star Wars: The Force Awakens inexplicably lived up to the hype, with very few issues that would disappoint movie-goers looking for the magic that the first trilogy gave us that the second trilogy was horribly lacking. In short, The Force Awakens is a great movie and with the expectations put upon Lucasfilm and Disney and J.J. Abrams and the cast and crew of this epic, it delivered far beyond expectations.
It is, again, a great movie. And yet, there are issues in any movie, no matter how great it is. (The depth of the dissection of said issues is perhaps the best compliment a movie like Star Wars can get.)
One of the biggest issues in The Force Awakens is the development of the character Finn, the Stormtrooper turned leather-jacket wearing hero who is the central figure of the entire saga. Every major plot point and every main character introduced (and reintroduced)—from Poe Dameron to Rey to Han Solo and Chewbacca to Kylo Ren himself—are framed from the perspective of a man bred to be evil, but turning oh-so-good.
The question that lingers after seeing The Force Awakens, though, is was Finn too good?
Now, in a galaxy where junk ships fly at light speed, lasers blast holes in white plastic armor nobody has thought to upgrade in 30 years and scavengers living on desert planets like Jakku understand the squeaking and beeping language of droids they’ve just met, there is some belief to be suspended. And yet, Finn’s transformation from bad to good came so quickly and so resolutely that it hampered the development of an otherwise wonderful character.
Finn—played by the electric John Boyega, who had immediate chemistry with everyone he shared the screen—was a Stormtrooper, built from birth. On the official Star Wars website, this is Finn’s biography:
FN-2187 was trained since birth to serve the First Order as a stormtrooper, but a skirmish on Jakku awakened his conscience and drove him down a different path, one that proved both heroic and dangerous. He helped Poe Dameron escape the First Order – picking up the nickname Finn in doing so – and then sought his own freedom alongside Rey and BB-8.
FN-2187 was sent to the planet Jakku to find a piece of the map that would help Kylo Ren and the First Order locate Luke Skywalker. During the firefight on Jakku—more than a skirmish, thankyouverymuch—FN-2187 was told to murder innocent townsfolk, but he paused, staring down Kylo Ren in the first moment of “Hey, that might be the bad guy who turns good” in the movie.
It also helped that Abrams smartly had a fellow Stormtrooper wipe his blood on FN-2187’s helmet, so we could easily identify him among the other, far more evil troopers and give the first-time fighter some immediate pause in realizing his life could end at any moment for this fight he was cast into against his will.
When the fight ends and the soldiers return to their ship, FN-2187 is admonished by his boss, the silvery Captain Phasma, for disobeying orders and taking off his helmet. He was sent to reconditioning, something that obviously happens from time to time to other Stormtroopers who fall on similar crises of conscience. This is important—that the First Order has a reconditioning program—and yet ignored the rest of the movie.
Let’s flash forward to FN-2187’s official transformation, freeing Poe Dameron because he needs a pilot, then without any hesitation, firing a Tie Fighter’s cannons at his fellow Stormtroopers to help facilitate their escape. He immediately went from bad guy wondering what he’s doing with his life and wanting to escape to unabashed mass murderer of his colleagues and, in all likelihood, friends.
Surely being programmed as a killing machine from birth might confuse a young man who suddenly has second thoughts, but that never enters his mind again the rest of the movie. From the time Finn—given that name by Poe in the Tie Fighter—lands on Jakku again, he is one hundred percent hero, meeting with Rey and BB-8 and Han and Chewie and Leia and all the good guys, of which he instantly became one.
The Star Wars universe has always been black and white, sometimes literally, with very little room for gray outside of the infinite struggle between the light side and the dark side. But for a man who refused to murder innocent civilians on Jakku—a man programmed from birth for that purpose—the guy sure as heck didn’t have problems murdering his brethren.
I lost count along the way just how many First Order forces Finn murders in the movie, but it’s certainly a lot, attacking them with blasters and cannons and, hell, even a light saber.
Was there not one thought in his head that if he had this crisis of conscience on Jakku, maybe one of his old friends might have too?
Was there not one moment of pause from a guy who just went from bad to good that maybe he could convince his other trooper pals to switch with him?
Instead Finn instantly fell in love with Rey—so wonderfully played by Daisy Ridley it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with her—and spent the rest of the movie murdering anyone who got in his way of saving her.
He tricked the leaders of the Republic into letting him back onto the Death Planet (note: look how much bigger it was than the Death Star with the same fatal flaw as the two the Sith made… nah, not going there) just to save Rey. And yet, he had these feelings after one exchange with her on Jakku, before they stole a ship together, hid out and ended up meeting some legends of the galaxy.
The only pause from Finn was when they went to a bar where he was all set to ditch Rey and hide from the First Order, until that very First Order showed up and stole her. Yes, that’s enough to turn a man sideways, especially a man who probably never felt love before, but dude, slow down on murdering all your buddies just to be with her.
One scene in the fight on Takodana, outside Maz Kanata’s castle bar, would have made Finn’s transformation much more believable.
Imagine Finn running to find Rey while carrying Skywalker’s light saber when a Stormtrooper starts shooting at him. Finn turns on the saber and starts deflecting the lasers coming at him. “Whoa.” One blast then accidentally bounces back and hits the Stormtrooper shooting at him. Finn didn’t mean to hurt the guy, he was just defending himself. (Note: they almost had that scene when Finn fought the Stormtrooper with the electric saber similar to the lightsaber and dialog during that fight could have accomplished the same thing.)
Imagine a distressed Finn, just trying to get away and live his life, runs over to see if the guy is all right—after all, he’s not a murderer like the rest—and takes off the man’s helmet to see a kid who looks just like him, only younger. He tries to talk to the kid as he helps him up, convincing him “You know you’re the bad guys, right?” before the kid tries to steal the saber and kill Finn, leaving him no choice but to protect himself, reluctantly killing the trooper in a “him or me” situation.
Finn would be left realizing there’s no saving the rest of them, as the fight is much bigger than that. Then flash to Kylo Ren kidnapping an unconscious Rey and continue along with the movie exactly how it went.
One scene, with Finn struggling to cope with killing the very people he was—if he could change, why can’t the rest of them—would have gone a long way in developing an otherwise noble character. Plus, it could have set up a nice juxtaposition to the amazing scene between Han and Kylo on the bridge.
For Rey to have no specter of evil in her being is understandable given her place in Star Wars canon.
For Finn to go from bad to good as quickly and completely as he did was an awakening that seemed more convenient to the story they wanted to tell than it was believable.