This character confuses the heck out of me.
Who is he?
Is he a stormtrooper?
Not really, to be honest. He implies about his past that, like all stormtroopers, he was brainwashed from youth to be just another unthinking, unfeeling, nameless, faceless drone. But is any of this evident in the way he acts? Do we see a single trace of this in his personality?
No. On the contrary, Finn is creative, he takes initiative, he’s free spirited, he enjoys being adventurous. Emotionally, he’s open, trusting, and uncannily healthy. He displays not a single shred of remorse at acting against his supposed brainwashed upbringing. No conflict at all. He’s funny, quirky, naive, adventurous. He’s everything a normal citizen of the Star Wars galaxy would be.
The only traces of his former identity are in little bits of knowledge he uses to help the plot along. In personality, he is the exact opposite of what his character claims to be.
Okay, fine. Let’s look at a different aspect of his character?
Why is he so attached to Rey? Why does he care for her so much that he sacrifices the safety he’s supposedly been chasing the whole movie to rush in and rescue her?
He claims that it was Rey who first treated him like a real person. She was the one who first saw him as more than another faceless stormtrooper.
Again, however, we find a disconnect. It was actually Poe who first treated him as more than a stormtrooper. Poe trusted him. Poe treated him like an equal. Poe gave him his name. Finn’s identity was FN-2187 until he met Poe. Not Rey. Poe.
His first experience outside trooperhood was his adventure with Poe.
Finn develops a friendship with Poe. He’s sad when he thinks Poe is dead, he’s happy when he finds out that Poe is alive, he’s touched when Poe gives him his jacket–another step towards personhood for this former trooper.
And yet it is with Rey that Finn develops a much stronger relationship.
So two of Finn’s most prominent characteristics are not supported by what we see on screen.
What are we left with?
What does this character want anyway?
Does he want to be a Jedi? He seems fine with it, but he’s not particularly driven to become one.
Does he want to help the Resistance? He pretends he wants to, but he doesn’t really. Even when he breaks into Starkiller Base, it’s not to help the Resistance at all–it’s to rescue Rey. Rey is important to him because she sees him not as a stormtrooper, but as… what?
Looking at Finn’s arc, what is he moving away from and what is he moving towards?
Rey, by example, is moving away from her perceived duty of waiting on Jakku for her family to return and is moving towards becoming a hero like those in the stories she’s read. Her first plot point decision puts her on the track towards becoming that hero. Her midpoint reversal is deciding not to accept Han’s job offer and instead to return to Jakku. Her climax is using the Force and fighting the main villain like the hero she truly is.
Now look at Finn.
Finn’s first plot point decision is to help Poe escape and leave behind his identity as a stormtrooper. His midpoint reversal was not helping the Resistance because he was afraid of getting killed by the First Order. The third act consists of Finn deciding to rescue Rey, climaxing in him demonstrating potential as a Jedi.
Where is there ANY direction in this?
The ending has him going off into the sunset with Poe?? What is going on with this character?
My best guess is that he’s trying to find himself and his place, but this too is done poorly. He seems to have no trouble finding his place with Rey and the Resistance. There’s no struggle in him accepting that. There’s no give and take. His only struggle comes with his fear of the First Order. At that point we learn for the first time that he’s not comfortable being the hero. And at that point, he reverts–but not to anything specifically. He doesn’t consider becoming a faceless soldier again, he doesn’t wallow in despair at feeling lost. His conflict centers more around Rey. What is she to him again?
This is what Finn’s character SHOULD have been:
The struggle we saw in the first 20min of the movie is what his struggle should have been for the ENTIRE movie. The point of his character should have been the question: is it possible even for a stormtrooper to feel the Force and become a Jedi?
Plotwise, he should have started in the same place: being traumatized. Instead of Finn saving Poe, Poe escapes by forcing Finn to leave the Death Star at gunpoint. When the ship crashes, Finn finds Rey and for the first time, he can’t bring himself to do what he feels he should–he doesn’t kill her. But he does remain vocally and mentally loyal to the Empire. When Finn and Rey realize the droid is the one the First Order is after, he again is confronted with the decision of whether to join the other stormtroopers and pursue Rey, or help her. Against everything in him, he chooses to help her.
They escape together, he takes off his mask for the first time, he despairs at feeling lost and not knowing what’s happening to him. We seem him become humanized, though cautiously and fearfully, as they encounter Han and learn the stories are true. When they meet with the Resistance and learn everyone is about to be killed, he fears for his life and regrets ever leaving the stormtroopers. He turns himself in and since they can’t afford to turn down his help, he joins rank. A moment of hesitation upon encountering Rey leads into witnessing Kylo Ren kill Han Solo, who was a genuine friend to him and didn’t judge him based on his past. At that point, he renounces his stormtrooper identity for good and joins Rey in going after Kylo Ren.
Tell me that is not a much clearer and more powerful character arc than the actual one.
Absent of a solution like this, at the very least, make it Rey who gives Finn his name. Make Poe suspicious and distrustful so we can contrast with Rey’s willingness to see Finn as a person. Make the secret of his identity MEAN something by showing us how he was treated by someone who knew what he was. Give Rey a chance to show her Jedi-esque tolerance and understanding by accepting Finn even once he reveals his past.
Without a doubt, this character WILL develop in the next movie. But there’s no excuse for neglecting a protagonist like this, whether or not there’s another installment coming. So many people enjoyed this character because he was the first stormtrooper we cared about, but I simply did not see that on screen. It was told, not shown. As for the relationship with Rey, it was sloppily done considering how much of the story hinged on it. I can only hope that if it blooms into a real romance, it will be better than the last romance we saw out of Star Wars–which was also told, not shown.