The Force is divided on Rian Johnson’s eighth chapter of the Skywalker Saga.
They can’t stand “The Last Jedi” for letting go of the old guard. They love “The Last Jedi” for taking on new territory. Despite a $220 million opening weekend, making it the second-biggest opening ever in North America, the fandom is torn about the future of “Star Wars.”
Not me. I loved Johnson’s installment almost as much as J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens.”
Except for one thing. Finn.
You know how “The Walking Dead” fans say, “If Daryl dies, we riot?” Well, if Finn doesn’t get more depth by the next film, the Force can’t be forgiven.
I love Finn. And from the moment he was introduced in “The Force Awakens,” there was disdain for John Boyega’s character. He was called a buffoon, a throwaway character. He was attacked for his vulnerability. I defended him.
Black heroes don’t often take the big screen. So when we get a character like Finn, the stakes are high. The expectations are impossible. We want them to be strong, smart and successful. We want a character who will balance out the way black people are so often demonized in the media and on-screen.
Unfortunately, “The Last Jedi” often makes Finn as the guy who constantly needs to be taught a lesson and wants to escape. He deserves better.
But is it fair to put so much pressure on a fictional character?
“Finn presents an interesting dynamic for the audience,” BenHaMeen, “American Gods” staff writer and host of FanBrosShow podcast tells me.
“As a representation of black men we expect him to behave a certain way, to represent our hopes and dreams on screen. But Finn isn’t black. Finn is for all intents and purposes an alien. Finn doesn’t think Black Lives Matter, Finn thinks his life matters. Thus when we are disappointed that Finn isn’t as heroic as we would like him to be, we have to also ask ourselves: Are we holding on to ideas of race and culture that should be left in a galaxy far, far away?”
I agree — to a certain extent. This is fantasy. And we should be able to escape the real world issues. This is why I can enjoy “Empire.” Sometimes. It might be a hot mess but the nuance in how black people are portrayed on prime time is slowly growing. I can also watch “black-ish” and “Queen Sugar.” So we can have the salacious soap opera, the wholesome family show and the in-between.
“Star Wars” is sci-fi fantasy. Seeing people of color play a major part, a heroic part, in this kind of franchise is still, well, alien. This is why “Black Panther” with its unapologetically black star-studded cast, is a big deal. And let’s keep it real. If writers were painting these characters with no regard to real world inclusivity, why bother to have black, white, Asian and Latino people at all? Why make a big push for girl power?
Because representation matters. How we see ourselves on screen sends a message, especially when you’re dealing with marginalized communities who have gone underrepresented for decades.
Of the top 100 films of 2016, the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg found 70 percent of the characters are white. Black, Asian and Latino people are consistently underrepresented. So, no, they don’t have to be perfect when you decide to write a character from one of those communities, but there is a responsibility to stretch beyond tokenism.
I don’t agree with Finn-emies. Let me Skywalk on all of the haters and say Finn is not Jar Jar Binks. He is not a stupid clown.
This is a man who was taken as a child and forced into the Stormtrooper army. We meet him in “The Force Awakens” as he frees himself. So it’s unfair to portray him as a fearful fool when this is someone who has spent his entire life enslaved. It takes smarts, courage and determination to liberate yourself. He grew up in a system without love. It makes sense he fights for himself. But once he makes friends, he fights for them, too.
“The Last Jedi” does Finn a disservice by tying his purpose so deeply to Rey. I’m #TeamRey. But everything Finn does shouldn’t be about her. Our first glimpse of him, he’s falling all over himself trying to find her. And then he’s willing to risk it all to find a safe place for her. Even that sacrifice is portrayed as betrayal and cowardice. Enter Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), an engineer who lost her sister, a gunner, in fighting with the Resistance.
I’m here for Rose. Asians are even less represented than black people. I celebrate her although I want to see her pushed well beyond the geeky Asian stereotype. But listen up, “Star Wars” writers’ room. You don’t have to lift Rose at Finn’s expense. They can win together.
Instead, she’s constantly checking him and saving him. She’s also the one teaching him lessons about love and oppression.
Did you catch that last part? Everyone’s so caught up on how much they hate the CGI of the casino scene they missed the part where Finn is taught about slave labor. Nah. Who forgot Finn was stolen from his family?
It’s a harder pill to swallow than that beastmilk Luke chugged. We don’t see Finn make decisions for himself and for the greater good of the Resistance until the last quarter of the film. Even then, Rose is there with a save and the moral of the story.
It’s clear Finn, Rose, Poe and Rey are the keys to bringing down the First Order. I’m ready for the ride.
But when it comes to tropes, “Star Wars”: resist.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist, @jeneeinkc