John Boyega’s Finn has been the most underutilized character in the recent Star Wars movies, here’s why he needs redemption
When the teaser for The Force Awakens dropped, it gave fans new hope for the future of Star Wars — a future that could restore fans’ faith in the quality of storytelling and iconic characterization that had won them over in the first place with the original trilogy. Even though not everything was bad about the prequels and Revenge of the Sith was a worthy addition to the franchise, those movies couldn’t touch the highs of the exploits of Leia, Luke, and Han.
So when the audience saw a mysterious stormtrooper visibly tensed, mask off, on a desert, they knew that things were going to be different this time around. Not only one of the leads was going to be black but he was a stormtrooper too. Star Wars’ history has not been very kind to the stormtroopers, and despite the iconic armor they don, they have always been subjected to ridiculous take downs and apparently lack of discipline with blasters.
Personally, I was as much excited about the character as I was about the actor playing the role. I had seen John Boyega’s debut feature Attack the Block (2011) only a year before his appearance in the Star Wars teaser, and I had loved his performance in that sci-fi creature-feature. I wanted to see what he would bring to this big-budget franchise.
What we really got
When I think of the Rey-Finn-Poe trio, I cannot help comparing the progression of Finn’s character to Ron’s in the Harry Potter films — he gets sidelined with each movie (so does Poe, but that’s for another post). The Force Awakens, although relied a lot on nostalgia and basically was a riff on A New Hope’s plot, did a good job of introducing the characters. The most intriguing of the three was definitely Finn. Never before in a Star Wars movie was a stormtrooper given anything meaningful to do, let alone lead the franchise.
Watch: Finn: The Most WASTED Character in Star Wars History – Rise of Skywalker
While both Rey and Finn were almost on an equal footing in the first film, by the time we reached the credits of The Last Jedi, it was clear that the Disney was no longer interested in exploring, for whatever reason, the immense possibilities Finn’s character offered. Thus, Finn was reduced to a loyal sidekick whose only motive seemed to be looking for Rey and dealing with forced pursuits and quests in order to even communicate to Rey what he felt (clearly the Force), which he does not in the end.
How a series can do justice to Finn
Even by the end of Rise of Skywalker, we don’t have enough backstory on Finn. Where he comes from, what was his life like before defecting to the Resistance, why he really defected (“the Force guiding him” was a vague explanation), his future after the events of Rise of Skywalker all present a lot of opportunities to complete or even complement the rather lacklustre character arc.
One might think that why this article fixates on getting Finn a second chance and not others when almost all new characters were either underused or largely given unsatisfying character arcs. It is simply because Finn carried the opportunity to explore a new direction for Star Wars, where not all characters of importance were chosen ones or of “special” birth. Rey too had shown that promise, but ultimately turned out to be a Palpatine and later chose the Skywalker name instead of creating her own identity. For a film franchise that focuses on dismantling fascist regimes and setting up democracy, an awful lot of main characters boast of prominent lineage. In contrast, The Mandalorian is a step in the right direction.
A show about Finn could be like The Mandalorian — a masked soldier/warrior raised in a particular way of life (almost like a cult) to become ruthless killers; however, they overcome their brainwashing in the face of extreme injustice and violence.
The two characters are not very different if you see them carefully.
However, the approach to the two characters reveals why one worked and why the other didn’t despite a lot of potentials. Moreover, Finn is arguably the strongest character among the trio as he didn’t require any manifest Jedi powers to break free of the brainwashing and propaganda that he had been exposed to since childhood.
And that is a very difficult thing to do. He may have had some help from the Force, despite the fact that high force-sensitivity has historically shown people to be more vulnerable to the dark side.
I am sure fans would be interested in exploring Finn’s strength of character further. I, for one, would like to know whether Finn suffers from PTSD. Or, why is he so good with a blaster than other stormtroopers when they had the same training program? Perhaps the suits reduce mobility and the helmet reduces the line of sight, but we cannot know if there is no further story from a (ex-)stormtrooper’s perspective.
Jokes apart, the exploration of Finn’s story could provide a ground-level perspective of Star Wars like The Mandalorian. Focus on the life of an ex-stormtrooper would make for such a gritty and powerful show, with the politics and propaganda of the empire and the existential angst of the soldiers on full display. And what better way to go about it than a show on Finn, who sparked this conversation.