Here are some discourses on my favorite character from Star Wars:
We start with an admonishment to not be “That Person”.
this is a post for my fellow white star wars fans: we gotta do better. the treatment of Finn in the fandom at large has been dismal, both in obvious and insidious ways. so let’s talk about this.
quick note before we start: if you’re only here to argue, move on. if you’re already typing out a response beginning with, “not all white people,” don’t. however, if you’re interested in challenging your own biases, welcome aboard.
here are some harmful things white fans do, in regards to Finn:
1. we ignore him in fan works.
a quick check of ao3 stats shows that Hux (who has approx. 3 min of screen time) shows up in two thousand more works than Finn.
before you get defensive: no one’s telling you what you can and can’t write. however, as white fans we need to consider why we’re willing to go to the effort to imagine a rich backstory for a minor character we know almost nothing about, while ignoring the *actual* protagonist who already has a rich backstory of his own. (that protagonist is Finn, in case i was being unclear. Finn is a protagonist of Star Wars: Episode VII -The Force Awakens. Finn is a main character and co-lead. it’s Finn.)
2. when we do include Finn in fan works, we treat him poorly.
i’m going to stay in my lane on this one, and refer you to Writing with Color for more specifics on how *not* to treat black characters in harmful and/or stereotypical ways.
briefly: Finn is often hyper-sexualized (BBC, etc.) or pushed to the side by the narrative. additionally, very few fics, even ones with Finn in the main pairing, truly treat Finn as the protagonist of their fic.
i’m guilty of this myself, and i’m working on it. which is all i’m asking you to do: educate yourself, be willing to change, and then do it.
3. we underestimate his role in cannon
go read this post, and then tell me you haven’t been underestimating Finn from the moment he stepped on screen. i’d noticed almost everything the post points out, but chalked it up to plot holes, instead of considering that Finn (again, a protagonist) had been awake in the force since the beginning of the film.
that, right there friends, is racism.
tl;dr fellow white fans, we gotta do better. let’s take the energy we spend trying to convince people we aren’t racist…and actually be less racist. it’s our responsibility to examine our attitudes and change our actions. now is the time.
here’s 5 tips for being an ally (video) by chescaleigh (Franchesca Ramsey) – her channel has a ton of other videos about race too.
(feel free to add links + resources)
The thing is, if Reylo is your pairing and that’s the characters you choose to focus on – since that is how shipping works and as a reader I’m definitely going in for Reylo and other characters are secondary – what qualifies as “ignoring” or “pushing to the side”? That’s my issue with these talks about erasure and sidelining around Finn.
Lest it be misunderstood, I totally agree that we can be better at treating Finn in our fan works. I’ve seen him used in some uncomfortable ways. But there are some contradictions in this endeavor that tend to get glossed over.
I mean, no one is saying Finn should be the focus of fanfics about Reylo or other non-Finn ships. That doesn’t make sense. When we talk about Finn erasure, we’re talking about the bigger picture.
For example, if I go to the main TFA tag or the Star Wars tag, Finn is often nowhere to be seen. If I look for Finn (or even Finnrey or Stormpilot) fics, few that come up in the search are actually about Finn, making it difficult to find actual Finn content where he’s not a background character. When the title for Ep 8 dropped, There was a lot of speculation that The Last Jedi might be Ren and Rey as if Finn doesn’t exist. It’s not just in individual ship fics, if you look at many fan spaces, you would think Finn was a very minor character, not a main character. And that’s a problem.
We have to ask why Reylo and Kylux are the dominant ships while fics about Finn are the least popular. The question is not why aren’t Reylo and Kylux fics about Finn, it’s why are these ships exponentially more popular than ships including Finn and fics where Finn is actually a main character.
After a year’s worth of justifications that historically ONLY apply to white characters (fandom loves villains, the blank slate, etc) plus the fact that white heroes/protags are shipped like crazy, it’s clear that Finn’s blackness contributes heavily to his minimization.
The narrative arc The Force Awakens create between Finn and Kylo Ren is an interesting one. Visually it begins in the very first scene they appear on screen together at the assault of Tuanul village after the execution of the villagers that FN-2187 refused to participate in. When Kylo Ren is returning to his shuttle, he stops and stares at Finn for, at the time, no discernible reason.
In doing this the movie draws a visual line between the two men, connecting them in the audience’s mind and in-universe. One is dressed in black, the other in white, both are helmeted and faceless, but already we have witnessed the distinction between them and the movie spends the rest of its time emphasizing it: Kylo Ren will murder on a whim, while FN-2187 refuses to kill unarmed civilians.
After this “meeting” Kylo Ren maintains a distinct interest in FN-2187. So much that he not only knows that it was the same trooper which aided Poe in escaping, but that when he learns that Finn has got away with BB-8 he throws one of his two destructive rampages.
The other he has when Rey escapes captivity.
After this their stories part for a time, but only to be rejoined on Starkiller Base after Kylo Ren murders Han Solo.
After Chewie shoots Kylo, blows up the oscillator and everyone including Finn and Rey starts shooting, we see Kylo Ren kneeling on the bridge looking up. .
The camera cuts to an angle behind Kylo Ren’s head so we now also have Finn and Rey in the shot, both standing on a balcony in the background
Another cut, closing up on our two leads. This shows them both standing, looking down on Kylo Ren. Both look shocked and Finn is stepping forward on the balcony, towards the audience and more importantly, towards Kylo.
Once again the movie cuts and again it zooms in so that now Finn is in focus. His face merges from the shock and fear he has so far displayed, into grief, anger and determination. And throughout the shot he steps further and further forward while the camera zooms in on him, visually emphasizing him stepping into the conflict with Kylo Ren.
Rey is barely in the frame here and by the end of the shot she’s entirely gone, leaving her literally out of the picture.
Next cut is back to Kylo Ren, who is staring up at Finn. The way this sequence is cut together makes it startlingly clear that this is where he is looking and who he is looking at. Kylo’s face merges from surprise into unmitigated fury and hatred at the sight of FN-2187, the Stormtrooper who defected, who is everything he is not.
The whole sequence mirrors their first encounter with the two men staring at each other, though they’re now unmasked and we can see the mutual enmity clear on their faces. Finn is no longer running away, he’s stepping forward and the camera zooms in on Kylo’s face drawing him into conflict with Finn as well.
The movie sets up this conflict not just for the coming battle in the forest, but also for the next two Episodes as the battle between the two men is a draw. Finn is defeated by Kylo, but the Dark Sider does not obtain the lightsaber and is in turn defeated by Rey. Neither of them emerges a victor and the narrative conflict between them remains unresolved.
So whatever Episode VIII and IX brings, it is clear that Finn and Kylo will cross paths again and Kylo had better beware. To borrow John’s words: “Finn ain’t playing no more”, that much is clear from the scene in the oscillator.
Next cut is back to Kylo Ren, who is staring up at Finn. The way this sequence is cut together makes it startlingly clear that this is where he is looking and who he is looking at.
This part is so important and yet flew over like 90% of the fandom’s heads in favor of focusing on Rey (gee I wonder why).
The shift in Finn’s expression from shocked grief to quiet rage reminds me of Luke’s reaction to seeing his aunt and uncle’s burnt corpses in ANH. Obviously Rey and Kylo will be squaring off again in VIII but TFA also made it clear that there’s some serious bad blood between Finn and Kylo that’s entirely separate from wanting to protect or recruit Rey. Which is why I roll my eyes when I see people claim that Finn is going to be shunted off to a B-plot opposite Hux (a character he never interacted with in TFA) and Phasma (who he literally threw in the trash).
Also, it’s worth noting that for the first time, Rey has to take Finn by the arm and pull him away.
Kylo was stumbling up towards them and I’m not convinced that Finn wouldn’t have tried to take him down right then and there.
*Look, as far as I’m concerned Finn is Force Sensitive, and that’s that. He will be a Jedi. I will wrestle you out of of your underwear, with your pants still on, if you disagree. Here, have some receipts:
Also, I just love this gorgeous essay on the parallels between Finn’s narrative and Arthurian legend.
Maz giving Finn the lightsaber is noticeable for many reasons, not least of which because it happens twice and for all the Arthurian parallels surrounding the scenes.
The first time takes place just after the destruction of the Hosnia system which is what makes Finn return to Han (and implicitly to the fight against the Dark Side). At this point none of them knows that they’re about to be attacked themselves by the First Order, not even Maz.
Despite this she immediately upon Finn’s return takes him, Han and Chewie into the cellar where she keeps the lightsaber. When she takes it out of the chest Han recognizes it and asks where she got it, she brushes him off and focuses on Finn.
Why Finn? Last she saw him Finn made it clear that he was leaving. Hosnia’s destruction marked a tentative return, but so far it is tentative. And wouldn’t Han a man who might not be a paragon, but someone she’s know for years, make more sense?
Her words as she passes it are ambiguous. “Take it. Find your friend.” And do what exactly? Give it to her? Use it to protect her? What? Recall, no one but Maz and Rey herself knows that Rey can use the Force at this point. In fact Finn is never told this in TFA.
In assorted other things the fact that Han’s attention shifts off Maz and onto Finn the moment she tells him to take it, but before she stops talking is interesting. His intent gaze on Finn as he makes the choice to take the weapon is mirrored in the second “giving” by Maz.
Maz too is looking rather expectantly as Finn reaches out and takes the lightsaber from her. The music that has so far been playing softly in the background swells dramatically the moment Finn’s hand touches the saber and mixes with the diegetic sound of an approaching TIE fighter as Finn raises the lightsaber as a young Arthur might Excalibur. The scene ends in a dramatic boom as the castle is struck just as we see Finn look at the saber with a serious face.
It is noticeable that Finn is so entranced by the lightsaber that he doesn’t seem to hear the incoming TIE. Not long before at Niima Outpost he jumped at the first sound of it, but here he’s oblivious to the noise.
Now before I go on to the second “giving” I’m going to make a small detour around Arthurian myth.
Much have been made of the Arthurian parallels in TFA. Kylo Ren as a Mordred like figure. Luke as either a Merlin or a fallen Arthur himself and of course Rey pulling the Skywalker lightsaber out of the metaphorical stone. But the Arthurian parallels have been ignored where Finn is concerned, especially when it comes to the giving of the lightsaber/Excalibur, because in Arthurian myths there are two kinds of givings of that sword. One is Arthur pulling it out of the stone which declares himself the true king of Britain, in the other it is given to him by The Lady of the Lake.
In both versions Arthur starts out as a youth of unknown parentage grown up fostered by strangers, just as Finn is. In the second versions Arthur runs into Merlin, often portrayed as an older, wiser man. Depending on the version Arthur either asks Merlin for help or about his future, in either case Merlin takes him to The Lady of the Lake.
The Lady depending on the version of the tale is either a powerful magical being or a High Priestess of Avalon. She proceeds to ask the young Arthur several question and put him through a test which he fails, but she sees that though he is not perfect he has a good heart and a true spirit. Realizing this she bequeath him Excalibur, the sword of the true king and the mark of a hero.
Maz is in a quite literal sense The Lady of the Lake. She a powerful alien, strong in the Force who has made her home on a lake.
Her initial interactions with Finn runs parallel with The Lady’s testing of Arthur, complete with Finn “failing the test” by choosing to leave. But in deciding to return to the fight Finn proves to The Lady of the Lake that he’s heart and spirit is true and so she gives him Excalibur (the Skywalker lightsaber) to wield.
That she means for him to wield it and not just as a caretaker becomes clear in the second “giving”.
When they exit the now ruined castle the dark forces are upon them and battle is joined. Maz once more tells Finn to go find his friends.
This time Finn has no intention of leaving proving him once more worthy of Excalibur and this time Maz’s words are unambiguous, she intends, and always intended, for him to be a wielder of the blade, not just a carrier.
As Finn again lifts the Skywalker lightsaber and this time ignites it, Maz look on with great expectancy clearly meant to mirror the audience. Will “Excalibur” accept Finn as its wielder? And will Finn accept the lightsaber as his?
At first we see doubt on Finn’s face, it’s an unfamiliar weapon and a Jedi’s weapon to boot. How can he wield this? But Maz believes he can and Finn is nothing if not up for whatever challenge life throws at him so he ignites it. The blade flashes to life in his hand, accepting him as a worthy wielder, and the moment it does Finn’s decision is also made. He may not be a Jedi (yet), but the sword is his.
tl;dr. There is a lot of Arthurian coding around Han (Merlin) bringing Finn (a young Arthur) to Maz (The Lady of the Lake), Maz testing him and in finding that he has a good and pure heart gives him the Skywalker lightsaber (Excalibur). The sword allowing itself to be ignited (drawn from the sheath) confirms Finn’s worthiness as its wielder.