Let’s start with Finn, played by John Boyega. A stormtrooper-turned-deserter is a great idea for a character, for so many reasons:
- It’s something that we never saw, or even imagined, in the original trilogy. It implies right away that this movie will venture into new territory, and not just be a retread.
- It automatically sets him out on a great Maslovian journey, going from literally zero to hero.
- It gives the actor a lot to play, and Boyega does a great job with it.
- It recreates the thematic idealism and inherent pacifism of the original trilogy: if a stormtrooper can be redeemed, then anybody can.
- It gives us something else that we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie before: an everyman. A guy who is essentially new to this universe and to heroism, who gets to plunge in over his head, get confused, say gee whiz to some things, and roll his eyes at others, just like we’re doing in the audience. (That wasn’t really what Luke was like. He was actually a pretty canny operator throughout.)
This brings us to the other problem big problem with Finn: his motivation never tracks after the first half, even though it could have and should have.
These two problems both come to a head in a bit of dialogue that gets a nice little laugh in the theater, but harms the character irreparably: when he reveals to Han that he was actually just a janitor in the big base, and he lied to the rebellion about being able to blow it up. That’s bad enough, but then he compounds the problem by implying that he doesn’t particularly want to blow it up and he’s actually there to save his would-be girlfriend.
I’m sorry, what? This is an everyman trope too far. He’s a stormtrooper, he’s agreed to lead an assault on the stormtroopers’ planet-destroying weapon, so everyone he’s just met and indeed the entire galaxy is counting on him. This is his chance to use his special skills and become the big hero we all want and need him to be, but he’s too busy crushing? Suddenly I hate him.
And the movie doesn’t really seem to like him that much either. Did you notice that they never put him on the same level with Rey, literally or figuratively? In the cantina scene where he wants to ditch out on her, he is for some reason on a lower step and a head shorter than her. Why? And that hug they have when they reunite at the base, he’s hugging her low, which makes for the most friendzoney hug of all time: His big romantic gesture (I’d rather find you than save the universe!) results in zero romantic sparks. Is it any surprise that he gets knocked out and misses the finale (not even waking up for the epilogue)? At that point, he’s been totally sacrificed as a character, rendered to just the role of not-Rey. It’s a bummer because it turns a potentially-great character into an impossible-to-cheer-for dud.
But hey, what about Rey? Let’s get to her tomorrow…