The following is an exemplar blog post for COMM 365 (Audience and Reception) students.
I’m conflicted about Finn.
Like most moviegoers, I was fooled by JJ Abrams’ mystery box marketing and went into Star Wars: The Force Awakens expecting to see the character established as the new Luke Skywalker of the series. As a black nerd, even an older, jaded one, the idea of a young man of colour becoming the central figure of that fabled universe was…exciting.
Finn is not that sort of hero.
Finn is not the gifted, hypercompetent Chosen One who is fated to vanquish the Great Evil in one-on-one combat. In a bit of a twist, that honour went to Rey, the female co-lead whose role in the story remained obscured in trailers and posters. So while we were teased by images of John Boyega wielding a lightsaber, it was Daisy Ridley who used it to devastating effect in the film’s climactic duel.
I have to admit: I was a little disappointed. And I wondered whether that made me a hypocrite. The film had, after all, delivered on its promise of a more diverse cast. But instead of appreciating the cultural shift that made a woman the center of the Star Wars universe, I sat there feeling deflated that Finn wasn’t the hero.
But Finn is still a hero.
And I’d argue he’s the most heroic figure in the movie. He’s a character who instinctively knows the right thing to do, who overcomes his own fear, even in the face of overwhelming odds. It makes him stand out as the most relatable character, the everyman, in a movie where most of the other characters seem almost superhumanly fearless. Played wonderfully by Boyega, the character brings energy, humor, and a sense of wonder to every scene, and, more importantly, brings out the best in his co-stars*. At least, that’s how I see him. Others, not unreasonably so, are less impressed, and see problematic aspects in the character. The debate rages on.
One of the problems with feeling underrepresented in film is the all-or-nothing attitude audiences often unwittingly adopt towards characters. A woman is either a badass or a damsel. A black character with a sense of humor is automatically a minstrel. Every character of colour carries the hopes and fears of an entire group on his or her shoulders, and it often prevents us from appreciating nuanced performances or portrayals. Every minority character needs to be “perfect”, whatever that might mean to the millions of different perspectives that make up minority audiences. But perfection is boring. And if the end goal is simply to be represented as “normal” people, sometimes we need to appreciate “normal” characters.
So Finn is not the unerring badass that Samuel L Jackson’s Mace Windu was in the prequel trilogy. He’s not that super-negro cliche, the
token minority character of immense power or skill, but little to no personality. Neither is he the magical variant, as his growth and change are, along with Rey’s, central to the movie. And he’s not (or not yet) the black jedi superhero I wanted to see. What he is, though, is a great character whose journey I’m still excited to witness.
*In this regard he reminds me a lot of Michael B Jordan’s character in the movie Chronicle, a portrayal that’s worthy of its own blog post in the future.