or how finn is totally non-functional as a concept
I want to be upfront and totally honest with you, giving you the opportunity to click away before reading through this essay to its conclusion. This writing will, of course, contain spoilers for Episode VII and this is a big deal to most people (for reasons I barely understand) – so if you’ve not seen it yet, click away now for ye be fairly so warned. Paramount to that, I feel, is the fact that a previous writing of mine apparently ruined (or, I guess and at the very least, gave cause to a re-evaluated opinion of) a film for at least one reader. So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re currently very comfortable with the way you feel about Star Wars: The Force Awakens and you’re not particularly keen on having that challenged or otherwise reading any dissenting opinion on the matter thereof, well, close the tab and move along.
But, if you’re interested in the discussion, please read on.
Finn is a really great character and he works really well in the film and he’s very likeable and it’s very clear that all the other characters in the film like him and, overall, it’s very easy to see why he is a character with resonance that people can walk away from a movie feeling quite strongly and positively towards and about. But ultimately I think it’s all a trick.
We need to look at how he works and where he works – we need to look at what we remember. We remember that he feels, a feels quite a lot of different things, and we remember about whom he feels – and these two things are resonant because it’s reflective. We can empathise with the fear he feels when Rey unleashes those squid monsters. We can empathise with the doubt he feels on New-Yoda’s Bar-Planet. We can empathise with the desire to run, with the conflict of that desire chafing against his desire to stay with and protect Rey (though I wouldn’t expect he wants to protect her as much as he wants to continue to visually observe that she is still alive, I’m confident he knows she’s the stronger element and more imposing force (ha!) in their relationship) and we empathise with all of that because we understand. In part or in totality, we can position ourselves with him – and Rey and Ben and even the fuckin’ little soccer ball robot.
the movie is very good at making me empathise with its characters, so i assume its very good at making you empathise with its characters too
But this is all a trick – or at least it is with Finn.
A lot of my reading about the film seems to have a constant strain through it when talking about Finn. He’s so constantly described as empathetic. He feels. He relates. He understands. And I think the trick is that the movie tells us this but doesn’t actually show us this.
which is, u no, just breaking the only fucking rule that exists in filmmaking
rule #1 – show don’t tell
rule #2 – 180° shutter.
The catalyst of the whole fucking film is the moment when Finn shits his pants watching a friend die (a fellow stormtrooper) and then watching, in that frame, the unabated slaughter of the rebels (who are innocent because the first order are guilty / who are good because the first order are evil / who are saintly because the first order are devilish). And so he sheds his helmet and he sheds years of conditioning of body and mind and soul and frees the pilot and flies away.
Which is sorta cool, ya know? A defected Stormtrooper is an excellent character. We can really explore the nuances of conditioning, we can really have a discussion about War and the innocence of both sides and we can really explore the deep greys of slaughter and murder and the narrow justifications of wartime and also this dude is a really good asset for the rebel scum to exploit, what with all of his INSIDER KNOWLEDGE in the newly mindscape of the newly treacherous!
So it didn’t really bug me that Han and Leia immediately decided to abuse Finn’s position for the gain of the rebels. And I guess it doesn’t really surprise me, or concern me too much, that the film didn’t get into some weird diatribe about how the Stormtroopers are all okay guys until they get all messed up by what I assume is that machine in A Clockwork Orange but used for the exact opposite reason — ONLY EXCEPT THAT BUGS ME A LOT.
the catalyst of the film, the reason the film exists, the reason finn resonates with you and me and everyone is a moment taken through deliberation to show a stormtrooper as human
The movie took pained fucking effort to personify and humanize something that, up until that exact moment, was little more than a caricature of a bad guy. And then it spends all this time on Kylo Ren, painting him as this ongoing fucking internalisation of the war between the light and the dark — going so far as to have him LITERALLY STATE that he is the abstract personification OF THE GREY AREA IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FORCE being pulled apart by both the light and the dark — and then the film has finn and the heroes blow up a planet full of people.
like i get that the first order sort of did it first but i dunno, i felt it was a little tone deaf to not at least have finn maybe say something like “MY FRENDS R THERE”. i understand their all brainwashed murder machines… but given that the film literally says LITERALLY SAYS they’re all kidnapped as babies and conditioned to be that way i dunno i feel like that’s a pretty eloquent statement and declaration of their abstract AND concrete innocence.
but hey gotta blow up them baddies
And so it is that I can’t help but feel that Finn fails as a character. He’s set up as this intersection between the two worlds, in a film waxing philosophical about the light and the dark at every opportunity, but for an entire film operates as totally disconnected from his own roots. At no point did Finn empathise with people who are literally in the same situation from which he just escaped. At no point does he try to use his position to elevate the rebels to a level above the fuckin’ lowly level of the first order by producing a counter-offer to blowing up a planet to maybe survive his fellows because, as far as the film is concerned, all his insider knowledge equates to is space geography.
and seriously, blowing up a planet full of dudes because they blew up two republic planets because it’s a war and if you don’t oh no they’ll destroy your planet too is pretty fuckin’ juvenile in my mind
I enjoyed the film, I should say. Quite a lot more than I expected. But this thought has bugging me since I walked out. That explosion at the end is just so disconnected from that opening sequence — Finn’s decision to help is just so dissonant from his decision to flee the order.
and also i don’t know why nobody thought to just, like, break into the giant death star and point it at something else. the stupid thing only had one sun left.
they could have just wasted it’s only remaining bullet?