Squeaky Mouse Droid: “Finn-tradiction”
If there’s one sure-fire way for a movie character to instantly gain notoriety in pop-culture, and that’s to for that character to have any kind of speaking role in a Star Wars film. Yeah, once that happens, the public will either come done down for (i.e Han Solo) or against (i.e Jar Jar Binks) in the eyes of the public. There won’t be any shortage of people weighing in. Occasionally, there are characters in which the public is more or less split on whether they “work” in a Star Wars films, and while people might be quick to point out that Rey from The Force Awakens might be an easy choice (there are many who can justify their position that she is a bit too capable).. We’re not going to touch that in this article. Enough people have weighed in on that. To be blunt, it’s a bit early to weigh in on Rey. She’s a strong character (she was strong even before she did anything significant in that story; the creators of the film and the actress herself told us she was strong merely with that glance she gave Unkar Plutt when we see her getting that one-quarter portion of food for the first time. The real question is what about Finn? Is he an effective character in The Force Awakens?
Functionally, he helped to get the story rolling, as he was instrumental in getting Rey and BB-8 off Jakku and to the Resistance. Furthermore, as a former stormtrooper, his insider-knowledge of the First Order helped Han penetrate the enemy base, but one cannot deny that he is not the main character in this film. Indeed, for good or ill, he – functionally speaking – a sidekick of sorts. And while questions might arise form his usefulness to the film’s story, one can also wonder if he even feels like a Star Wars character. Much of his character derives from humorous situations that Finn is placed in and his reactions to it, and for the most part his character is played rather broadly despite the tantalizing possibilities of mystery that basically are what drew us into the character from the beginning of the story.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: he is a funny side-kick character, and those are always hard to pull off in these types of films. One needs to look no further than Star Wars’ own Jar Jar Binks to know just how easy is it is to go wrong with just such a character. I sometimes also get flashbacks of that cheesy Dungeons and Dragons movie starring Jeremy Irons. The hero in that film had a sidekick named Snails (I can’t believe I remember that) and, while he might have helped the hero along, his presence was almost grating, so much so that even when the other characters were reflecting on the character i n the last act of the film, it felt distracting. Yes, distracting.. from a film that was already awful to begin with. But I imagine it would have been one of those gawdawful films that would be at least more fun to watch if snails wasn’t in it it at all. And remember, the same actor played Ripcord, another sidekick character, in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Sidekick characters are fine, but some (like the ones played by Wayans) can be played to broadly and actually detract from the enjoyment of the film. With a film as culturally significant as a Star Wars film, it’s important for the producers and director to get everything right, so they really took a risk on this one. Finn comes in to the story asking a young women a question like “do you have a boyfriend” in one scene while almost making turning Han Solo’s name into a joke in another and then trying to have us take his warnings to run from the First Order seriously only a few scenes after that. It’s about here when we realize that, in both the humor itself and the acting style, that this character doesn’t have the suaveness that made Lando Calrissian a natural fit for the Star Wars universe. That character was written to fit right in with those films, and there is a timelessness to his acting style and sense of humor, whereas Finn was written n in a fashion that seems to be a bit too contemporary, at least for Star wars. The original films approached the dialogue in such a way that, by speaking proper English, without a lot of slang, the dialogue became timeless. Finn’s dialogue, with lines like “you have a boyfriend” will age far more quickly. Think about how articulate the original characters were oiin those films, and how easy it was to understand what they were feeling.
Yet, perhaps none of that matters, because in the end, fin is one of the best things about the film. JJ Abrams went for it here, and he trusted in his actor, John Boyega, to deliver. He did, in spades. Yes, Wayans.. This is how you do it. Boyega was charming, funny and sincere, all at the same time, and there Boyega’s comic timing was always spot-on, and when it came time to be more serious, Boyega showed he was even better at that.
I’m pretty sure that was Goyega playing the character in the early moments of the film, where we only see the character of FN-2187 with helmet on. As the stormtrooper suddenly found himself scared into reality by the horrible acts around him, we can only watch in awe as he staggers about, unable to bring himself to contribute to these war crimes. Even before his helmet is removed, FN-2187 becomes the first stormtrooper in this franchise that we come to really care about (unless you want to count that one that bumped his head on his way inside of a Death Star control room in A New Hope). This is due to some fine directing and a fantastic performance by Boyega.
Boyega gets even better when he removes his helmet. We really do see the torment of man who has now decided to do the right thing. We can see why it is that Poe can look this man over, look into his eyes, and instantly trust him. We can see why it is that, after believing his motivations to be less-than-friendly at first, why Rey quickly backs away and is more curious about Finn, and we understand why she considers him to be her deepest friend by the film’s end. We are charmed by his humorous asides along the way, from his stay “calm” but with Poe as they try to steal a TIE Fighter, to his annoyance with everyone “wanting to go back to Jakku.” There’s a standout scene where he tries to convince BB-8 to “go along” with telling him classified information merely because he is so earnest about needing it at that moment. I would add that Boyega’s chemistry with the droid is even better than the natural chemistry it has with Daisy Ridley’s Rey.
Also, as we come to the end of the film, we realize that the chemistry between a young Finn and an older wiser Han Solo is nearly as much fun as the chemistry between Han and Luke was in the original film. It doesn’t quite get there (those original films were magic) but it’s close. It’s all because JJ Abrams trusted his instincts about the character of Finn. Sidekick as he may be, perhaps no one in this film experiences as many emotional extremes as Finn does, and Boyega is able to deliver this all perfectly. I can’t imagine, before seeing his performance, that I would like a scene where a formal soldier would leave run out in the open in the middle of a great battle calling out the name of a comrade with all the risk of someone picking him off in the process, yet somehow Boyega makes this work when he sees that Rey has been captured by Kylo Ren
By all rights, Finn is a character that shouldn’t work in Star Wars, so much so that I’ve wondered more than once if he even belonged in Star Wars. Yet, he shines through. In those moments that we are reminded how closely The Force Awakens sticks to the Star Wars formula as established by A New Hope, the character of Finn keeps things fresh. He’s a character written from inspiration, if done well, even a stickler like me won’t be able to consider that a bad thing.