Finn from Star Wars, One of the Greats of Modern Film
Now, before you think that I am just fangirling here (Anyone else think it's ridiculous that "fangirling is a verb now?) let me clarify that I didn't actually love the latest addition to the Star Wars universe. Don't get me wrong, I liked it well enough,especially on the second go around.
I don't feel the need to pick apart the movie. I understand every choice that was made in the movie and applaud their respectful retelling of it. It was over all a very enjoyable, safe movie.
I only say all this to reduce the chance that anyone will think I have any biased when I say that I genuinely believe that Star Wars protagonist Finn is one of the best characters to come out of film in at least the last 10 years. So good a character, in fact, that I decided to devote an entire blog post to talking about just how awesome he is. By the way, spoiler alerts may lurk ahead, so watch your step.
Finn is one of the main characters presented in Star Wars: The Force Awakened. He is brilliantly played by young English actor John Boyega. And honestly Boyega's portrayal added so much to my appreciation of this character that I don't think I would have been able to appreciate him at all had another actor been cast.
Finn is the nick name given to defecting storm trooper FN-2187. I wont bore you with all the details. If you've seen the movie you already know what happened and if you haven't you shouldn't be reading this because, spoilers.
So, why Finn? Finn's character has an interesting story, and one that, while not especially original, is rarely done well. Finn was taken as a very young child and essentially brainwashed to become a Storm Trooper. While most characters with this type of broken past are presented as hardened or bitter, the writers took a very different approach with Finn. Finn comes across as sheltered and almost naive. Instead of being a hardened warrior Finn is often confused and frightened. This is often portrayed in very subtle ways, such as how he seems to be the only one who doesn't understand any foreign languages, or in how Finn doesn't seem at all bothered by his lack of a real name but is overjoyed when he first gets his nick name. This aspect of his character makes him not only original, but accessible. These characteristics are painted on with light brush strokes however, and Finn never seems to come across as stupid or cowardly.
While Finn's life before the events of the film seems to have formed some of his personality quirks his unusual amount of empathy is not on that list. Most protagonists are expected to have some level of empathy. Narcissistic characters are hard to connect with. However, not only is Finns empathy a defining trait, it is a trait that would have been specifically targeted by his brainwashing. If Finn was to be an effective soldier it would be necessary for him to obey without thought or feeling. We see how this empathy effects the entire First Order in the first few minutes of the film. We are also given the idea that the fact that Finn had survived the rigorous training with any hint of empathy at all was at the very least rare and probably unheard of. When in any of the films did you look at a storm or clone trooper and expect anything from them but complete obedience?
However, had Finn not had this resilient and powerful empathy he never would have left the First Order. The entire plot of the movie hinges on this one, unusual and tenacious trait that would normally be the first thing to go in a hostile situation. Most people tend to very quickly put up walls and retreat away from empathy when placed in a situation like Finn might have been in.
The fact that this empathy managed to survive such specific abuse and in such purity is especially intriguing to me. I have always been interested in the concept of nature verses nurture and it is a theme that I like to explore in a lot of my characters. How do things around us effect our natural state...our soul so to speak...to form our personality? Some of us have more resilient souls, some weaker, and some completely break under the pressure. Finn is a character who's personality is completely contradictory to expectations under the circumstances, both for an generic "enemy" soldier, and for a tortured hero character. While we see during the course of the movie that Finn is not unaffected or unchanged by his experiences while in the hands of the first order, he doesn't allow it to change in in such a way to make him cruel or bitter. This makes the fact that Finn has been through so much even more potent for the viewer. The effect is similar to watching a child suffer, because Finn comes across as so innocent and pure.
On that note, I especially appreciated that the film left Finn's past such a mystery. While we are given a few generalities we are not given any real details about the way the order treated Finn. He could have been horribly abused, or simply raised in a slightly more strict environment. Finn indicates that it wasn't a pleasant experience, but he seems to be more effected not by the harm done to him, but by that done to others. Either way we know what a storm trooper is and we know Finn. We don't need to be told much to have a working understanding of what Finn's life could have been like as a Storm Trooper. While this could change in future movies, for now the intentional ambiguity accomplishes two essential things without wasting any of our time. Firstly, it allows us fill in the gaps ourselves, and gives us a chance to more fully connect with the character. Secondly, it avoids unnecessary drama that would drag down an otherwise light and enjoyable character.
The final effect of all this is that Finn's sacrifice in the final chapter of the movie is not out of character and fits simply into the story. The sacrifice is subtle enough that it doesn't detract from the story or from the other characters, and yet powerful enough that it gives us a great respect for Finn as a human being. All through the movie Finn displays a very real fear of the First Order. He makes it clear that all he wants to is to be out of their reach. However, from the moment Finn met Rey he has been actively protective of her. When Finn returns to the enemy base for Rey despite the risk to himself and later stands between Rey and Kylo Ren despite the fear he feels, Finn is displaying a huge amount of personal sacrifice. That sacrifice is not shoved in your face or even dwelt on for long. It is simply backdrop for the greater drama of Kylo Ren's betrayal and the return of the force through Rey. Finn's actions shape the story without overwhelming the rest of it.
All over Finns character is one that is both novel and familiar. He feels real, not like a being that was simplu dropped into existence for the 2 or so hours of the film. He feels as if he has a life, has been effected by his environment and has developed through those experiences. He is not the weak "blank page Character" that is just waiting for the story to fulfill him, and yet he still carries a lot of promise for the future.
Finn is a refreshing hero figure in a culture that seems ever more enamored with the anti-hero. He has the feel of a classic mythological Greek hero, to me.
Many stories, when choosing an unassuming hero might choose a poor or misunderstood member of the "good guys". I love the touch of finding an soldier, like the ones that are so often over looked and killed in the every day story, to form the basis for an unlikely protagonist.
I like that Finn is not hated and shunned for his past, by the resistance, but is instead trusted and accepted based on the quick friendship he formed with Poe and the bravery it took to turn against the First Order. This avoided a lot of heavy drama and time-wasting political nonsense. They kept the attention where it belonged and Finn's character did just as much as he was expected to do. Once again, he doesn't overwhelm the plot.
None of these themes are entirely new, but they are remixed to form a refreshingly genuine, reluctant and empathetic character. What makes Finn such a diamond in the rough is not that he is an original character, but the fact that he is everything that has exemplified a protagonist for as long as there has been story telling. Despite all that he doesn't feel at all contrived or forced. He acts in a way that is consistent with his character throughout the whole film.
So what is my take away after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens and essentially falling in love with this character?
While I have been writing I've been struggling to write original characters that appeal to modern taste and don't feel fake. I find this especially hard because most modern Young adult or Fantasy books just don’t appeal to me. If I am going to enjoy a book I don’t mind a few mistakes or bad choices, but I don’t want to hate my hero more than my villain. If the hero keeps pushing the package eventually he will do something I just cannot identify with and I loose interest.
As far as real life heroes, history brings a whole new set of issues. Heroes, or what we would call heroes, in a historic sense, were usually no more than cruel men with great power who commanded respect through fear. They are only sometimes remembered well because they controlled the written history.
There has to be a balance between the two. A hero that is too good will be just as hard to connect with as one who is too evil, or too stupid or any other flaw.
While I have enjoyed some of the darker new shows that have been offered, such as "Walking Dead" and "Vikings" there is something to be said about a hero that you can sit back and cheer for without questioning their morality or your own.
I will be heading into edits soon on my manuscript, and into the first drafts of the second and third book. I have included a lot of dark themes in my books, and a lot of dark characters. I do have a empathetic character, like Finn. But unlike Finn, my character is heavily affected with PTSD and depression among other issues because of his empathy. I don't feel the need to change those characters. I am, after all, not trying to write Finn into my book. What I can take from this character to include into my books is that I can feel free to have moments of real, uncomplicated heroism in my stories without feeling foolish. Good versus evil isn't outdated, and it will never be. While I can have complicated and realistic protagonists and antagonists, I don’t want to have to second guess that dynamic. Writing is too exhausting as it is.
On the other side of the coin, I need to learn to be ok with making my character look bad and in an embarrassing way. It's good if he or she is clumsy, sheltered, or easily frightened.These characteristics were some of the most endearing about Finn, and part of what made his such a great character.
What about you? Who was your favorite character, and why? Do you agree with my observations? Please leave a comment below and be sure to check out my FB page at Jill E Purrazzi and my twitter account at @J23hawkE.
Come back next weekend for an in depth look into another character in my Fantasy Trilogy: Amonshek. I am excited to introduce him to you, as Amonshek is one of the characters who I've put the most of myself into. And be sure to keep following as I update on my progress. As I write this I am well into what I believe will be the final full chapter of Vol 1. I am so excited to start on edits and start polishing it up for beta readers. I hope you will consider being one of those for me.