HomeMoviesThe Force Awakens - Why It's Not As Good as You Think

The Force Awakens – Why It’s Not As Good as You Think


Like most movies, character is at the heart of Star Wars. There are plenty of great movies that are exceptions, but generally speaking in a pop movie like this one you need strong character work in order to have a well-functioning story. And almost from moment one, The Force Awakens makes bizarre choices with its characters that really weaken its narrative. After all, we start the movie with Poe Dameron, one of the most egregious mismatches between marketing and actual presence in recent memory (though not even the worst example in this movie. Why hire Gwendoline Christie to do absolutely nothing?). We open with Poe meeting with an old member of the Rebel Alliance, and we get told he’s the best pilot in the Resistance. Then he quips at Kylo Ren, and later instantly trusts Finn when they’re escaping from the First Order ship. And…that’s it.


This meager grounding is all we have to go on for the rest of the movie, as he shortly vanishes for most of the remaining runtime. It’s decent enough to start with, mind you. Leia made it through half of A New Hope based off little but spitting venom at Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. But it’s something that needs to be built upon and reinforced through constant interactions with other characters and a deepening of the bonds between them. This is what Leia has that Poe lacks: her banter with Luke and Han, and the gradually warming relations between the three of them over the course of the second half of the movie, create a depth to her character that the initial half does not. Poe, on the other hand, disappears, doomed to only one more conversation in the entire rest of the movie. This vague, one-dimensional sketch is all he ever is, and it becomes very difficult to be invested in him or his role in the finale when his character and relationships are so nakedly superficial. I can’t even demonstrate how poorly the movie creates consistent psychology with its characters because it doesn’t even bother trying with Poe, despite acting like he is one of the main characters. To get a clearer look at how it handles this, we’ll have to instead consider its treatment of Finn.

When it comes to immediate establishment of who a character is, Finn is probably the best example in the movie. In his first scene, Finn is shocked and saddened to see that a Stormtrooper friend of his died in the attack on Jakku. He is subsequently horrified by the command to execute innocent civilians and quietly refuses to comply. This effectively establishes his respect for the sanctity of life and his conflicted feelings of camaraderie with his fellow Stormtroopers and disgust with the First Order’s actions. Except that doesn’t sound like Finn at all, does it? In his very next scene, he is happily blasting away at other Stormtroopers, feeling no conflict at all about fighting them.

Now, Stormtroopers have always been rather disposable in Star Wars; its philosophical musings on the pointlessness of anger and aggression aside, even the original trilogy didn’t spare a moment’s thought for the plight of the Stormtroopers. The mere fact of Finn joining in on this gleeful disregard for these faceless drones is not a particularly egregious facet of the plot by itself. What makes it so baffling is how the movie calls special attention to the fact that he cares about other Stormtroopers. His very first scene is watching in horror as a Stormtrooper dies in front of him and leaves a streak of blood on his face. It is possible to view this as mere terror at the prospect of battle, and his refusal to harm innocents as similar fear at the brutality of the First Order. Certainly much later on the movie claims his only motivation throughout the plot has been fear. But this is not the initial impression created by his actions, and so it leaves Finn cloaked in a veil of confusion that makes it hard to know how to feel about him.

If the stated motivation is a possible, albeit non-obvious, interpretation of the events, however, is it really still a problem? It is presentation-wise, of course, as its clashing signals make charting Finn’s arc difficult. But in the fundamentals of the script, does the existence of this serviceable interpretation lessen the problem? I might concede that it reduces it to solely a presentation one, like I said, were this all the movie has to say on Finn’s arc. But instead it further muddies the issue, and turns this into a serious problem with Finn’s character, through its half-hearted efforts to draw on his status as a former Stormtrooper. You all know the scene I’m talking about here: when a Stormtrooper confronts a lightsaber-wielding Finn and shouts “Traitor!” There are massive problems with this short little scene, but we need only concern ourselves with the traitor part of it. In having this Stormtrooper react to Finn with anger for betraying them, the movie ascribes both a humanity to the Stormtroopers (if they were merely faceless drones, such a betrayal wouldn’t sting) and an emotional conflict to Finn having to fight his former brothers. But the movie backs neither of these up with anything else.

Like I said before, the Stormtroopers are as disposable as ever, and Finn never once identifies with them. There are a few other times where Finn is branded a traitor, but no attempt is made to actually dramatize this accusation. Every time it’s brought up, it hangs limply in the air, exposing how poorly realized Finn’s character is. By trying to have its cake and eat it too, the movie takes what would just be a presentation problem and makes it a serious flaw in Finn’s character that weakens him considerably. His underlying psychology is bizarre; his actions do not line up with his experiences or even the way people react to him in any meaningful way. Every conflict that comes up with him rings as hollow as that Stormtrooper’s cry, improved only by being comparatively less blatant in its artificiality.

To demonstrate this, imagine the movie exactly as it is, but instead of the opening scene with Finn as a Stormtrooper, he’s just some random guy scared of the First Order who finds Poe in the desert. Other than those perfunctory declarations of “traitor” and maybe a handwave or two about how they navigate Starkiller base, does anything change? Does it radically alter our understanding of Finn as a character? Is anything of value actually lost by ditching that entire angle? I can’t think of anything, which raises the question of why do it at all if it’s going to be entirely meaningless? The movie even goes out of its way to note that Finn has never been in combat before, so we don’t have to imagine him actually doing anything bad or unheroic. To which I say, if you aren’t going to touch on the idea of being a Stormtrooper in any way, whether that’s through character or theme or philosophy or all of the above, then why is it even in the movie?

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Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.


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