Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a fun movie that did a fine job of the difficult task of balancing being an homage to the original movies and creating its own movie.
Part of its own creation is the introduction of the new main characters, notably Rey, Kylo Ren, and Finn. The characters were well portrayed, fully fleshed out characters that were separate from the original movies, and were an absolutely welcome addition to the franchise.
While I’ve seen criticisms of Rey for being too adept too quickly, and for Kylo Ren being too emo to take seriously as a major villain, my problem lies with Finn. His actions are problematic, not just for his own character, but for all of the viewers.
Here there be spoilers, so if you still haven’t seen the movie but plan to, probably stop now. Why did you open this in the first place? I mean, thanks, but it’s really not for you. Yet.
We first meet Finn as a stormtrooper, when he and his fellow First Order soldiers start blasting a town in search of the MacGuffin of the movie, a map to Luke Skywalker. They even sometimes hit things!
But during the assault, one of Finn’s fellow stormtroopers is fatally shot, and in dying, he reaches up and smears blood on Finn’s helmet (which is really there just to make sure we can tell it’s always him). Finn is clearly filled with emotions and ultimately never shoots at anyone, disobeying orders to do so.
Back on the main vessel, he realizes his unwillingness to fire is going to be found out by his superiors, so he deserts, helping a rebel pilot escape and thrusting us into the main plot of the movie. So far, so good.
After escaping, and some shenanigans, Finn meets Rey and earns her trust, pretending to be a part of the rebellion to do so. His main goal at this point (and during the escape as well) was to get as far away from the First Order as possible, since he was now a traitor and deserter.
The First Order attacks, they fly off, they meet Han and Chewbacca, and they all wind up at a Mos Eisley Cantina franchise. Along the way, we get Finn’s story: he was taken from his family as an infant by the First Order and raised to be a stormtrooper. He never knew his family, never had any choice in his life, but he chose not to be one of their pawns and kill anyone. That was the choice he was making.
Then, as he’s getting ready to leave Rey, Han, Chewie, and the exorbitant paychecks of being a star in this franchise behind, the First Order attacks and he feels a need to defend Rey. And possibly his own life, but later events show he’s determined to save/protect Rey.
As part of the fight, he’s going toe-to-toe with stormtroopers. And while he’s not very efficient–he’s armed only with a lightsaber that he’s never trained with vs. the stormtroopers with blasters and high-powered weaponry–he’s definitely willing to fight them off.
Later in the movie, he’s all about destroying stormtroopers.
And therein lies the problem: of all the people in the Star Wars universe, Finn should be the most unwilling to kill them. He was one of them. They were his colleagues, the only friends he’s ever known. They grew up together, dealt with training together, ate together, shared rooms together. Deciding not to kill anyone was the one choice he felt was his to make, but as soon as one girl gets into trouble, he’s willing to annihilate the only family he’s ever known.
And this is an issue not just for Finn, but for us as the viewers. The stormtroopers were easily presented in the original trilogy as an evil force. They were basically Nazi soldiers, and their armor and masks dehumanized them to where you didn’t have to see them as people just stuck doing a job.
Finn, in taking off his armor, unmasks them all. One of the officers of his crew is chastised and told they should have chosen clone troopers, but the response is that their team will do just fine. This shows they are all like Finn–children stolen from homes and raised to be stormtroopers. They shouldn’t be slaughtered, they should be treated.
Finn of all people should realize that, but he is overeager to destroy them all. He truly is the best example we have in all of the franchise at seeing a character turn to the dark side.