After The Force Awakens introduced Rey and Finn on equal footing, the rest of the trilogy focused on Rey, but should it have?
In the months since the Star Wars sequel trilogy came to an unceremonious close with The Rise of Skywalker’s Endgame-by-numbers finale, John Boyega has been so outspoken about his disappointment with the films on social media that it prompted Disney to get in touch and have a frank conversation about it. After being introduced as one of the trilogy’s central trio in The Force Awakens, his character Finn was quickly sidelined in the following two installments. Boyega saw his role drastically minimized with increasingly muddled material until he spent the entirety of the final movie yelling Rey’s name, trying to tell her something that doesn’t even end up telling her on-screen (according to J.J. Abrams, it was that he was Force-sensitive, which was already hinted at heavily in Episode VII).
The mishandling of Finn’s character arc was as disappointing for Star Wars fans as it was for the actor himself. He was introduced as a fascinating new character in The Force Awakens, conflicted over his past and unsure about his future, and his brief, but glorious moments of lightsaber combat set up explosive payoffs that never came to pass. Finn is also the only character in the sequel trilogy’s main trio who actually develops a close relationship with both other characters in The Force Awakens. Rey and Poe don’t even meet until the final moments of The Last Jedi. Finn made such strong connections with both Rey and Poe in The Force Awakens that there were rumors of romances for both pairings.
Initially, The Force Awakens set up Rey and Finn as the dual protagonists of the sequel trilogy. There was no reason why Finn couldn’t train with Luke, too – it would’ve cut out that dreadful, unnecessary Canto Bight subplot – and he deserved to go through the same journey Rey did. They’re both Force-sensitive, both grew close to Han Solo before Kylo Ren killed him, and both have good reasons to hold a grudge against the First Order. But if there was only room for one of these characters to lead the way, then Finn was arguably better-suited to the position than Rey.
After deserting the First Order, Finn cleared his own conscience, but taking the next step to join the fight against the First Order proved to be just as much of a challenge. After Luke kicked things off as a bright-eyed, optimistic, traditional hero in the original trilogy and Anakin shook things up as a pseudo-Shakespearean tragic hero in the prequels, it would’ve been interesting for the next trilogy to follow Finn’s journey as a reluctant hero. Unfortunately, all this great potential was squandered. After The Force Awakens set him up as a reluctant hero with dormant Force abilities, he was relegated to spending the rest of the trilogy pining after various love interests in the background of the Reylo storyline.
The overall theme of the sequel trilogy (if there is one) is that anyone can be a hero, which was refreshing after two trilogies about Skywalkers fulfilling their prophesized destiny. The message that you don’t have to hail from a special bloodline to be a special person is an inspiring one, and an important one for Star Wars’ intended young audience to hear. But it didn’t exactly stick the landing in delivering this message through Rey’s bungled character arc. Rey was introduced as unusually powerful with the Force, then it was revealed that her parents were “nobodies,” then it was revealed that she’s actually the granddaughter of the still-alive Emperor Palpatine, and she’s destined to bring down the most powerful dark side Force user who ever lived once and for all, singlehandedly. By that point, she’s not much of a nobody. By her own admission, she’s “all the Jedi.”
Finn fit the bill for the “anybody can be a hero” angle much better than Rey. He wasn’t even introduced with a real name. The First Order raised him to do their evil bidding and eradicated any sense of individuality by giving him the name FN-2187. It would’ve made a lot more sense for a character who was never given a real name to adopt the Skywalker name than a character who felt the need to tack a surname onto her already-fine given name in a universe filled with single-named characters (Yoda, Chewbacca, Greedo etc.). The fact that Finn was never given a proper name and was brainwashed to be exactly like the First Order’s thousands of other Stormtroopers makes him much more of a “nobody” than Rey. Rey had parents who raised her and loved her and ultimately sacrificed themselves to protect her. Her isolated existence on Jakku visually highlights her loneliness (even if it is basically cribbed from Luke Skywalker’s own childhood), but Finn is alone in a much more literal sense.
As an ex-Stormtrooper, Finn would’ve had a more interesting hero/villain dynamic with Kylo Ren. Whereas Luke Skywalker was Darth Vader’s son, Finn was one of Kylo Ren’s underlings – a soldier in his army, doing his dirty work, following his orders. Finn could’ve led a Stormtrooper uprising against the First Order. Finn and Kylo’s lightsaber duel on Starkiller Base showed Finn to be hopelessly unprepared to fight an experienced Force user, recalling Luke’s ill-fated duel with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, which set up a rematch that never happened.
Finn suffered a lot more personal loss at the hands of Kylo Ren than Rey. Rey had little personal connection to Kylo Ren before the events of The Force Awakens, so the writers struggled to come up with an interesting hero/villain dynamic between them. In the end, Rey and Kylo Ren’s hero/villain dynamic became essentially the most toxic romance in movie history. Rey’s hatred for Ben Solo after he murders her father figure – who was also his biological father – gradually morphs into romantic affection.
In The Rise of Skywalker, Rey kills Ben, then Leia resurrects him with her lifeforce, then Rey dies, then Ben resurrects her with his lifeforce, and in the brief moment between her revival and his death, they make out, then Rey goes to Tatooine and pledges herself to Ben’s family. The reason these alarming overtones don’t come through more clearly is purely down to the good grace of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver’s impeccable chemistry.
Thanks to Ridley’s captivating performance and the character’s general likability, Rey made a fine hero for the sequel trilogy. The audience always rooted for her and her storyline offered enough of a counterpoint to Luke and Anakin’s arcs that it felt fresh. But the trilogy might’ve been able to explore its themes more effectively and tell a more cohesive story if it had focused on Finn instead, or at least given him a larger role.
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