The Force Awakens… A Crush?
I’m not one to praise chick flicks, but the “boy meets girl” moment in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitely my favorite scene. Though the romantic themes are not as overt as in other Disney films, the relationship between Finn and Rey demonstrates the positive impact a female influence can have on a man, and it helps bring balance to unrealistic feminist ideals. Making the story more about the characters also helps to turn Star Wars into a simple “feel-good” story once again.
Finn begins the story as FN-2187, a faceless stormtrooper without a name or personal connections. Though he renounces the First Order, he lacks a strong commitment to anything else. His one objective, as he tells Poe Dameron, is “to get as far away from the First Order as we can.” Finn defends his fear by saying that the others “don’t know the First Order” like him. Being experienced with their strength and tactics, he considered resistance to be futile. For a man without attachments, running away would make sense, but there’s a seed of virtue within Finn that holds him back. That, and a few well-timed attacks which interrupt his departure plans.
Finn possesses surprisingly good moral sense even though he struggles to act on it at times. It leads him to make the right decision when he’s truly under pressure like when helps Resistance pilot Poe Dameron escape from the First Order “because it’s the right thing to do.” He instinctively rushes to help Rey when alien thieves attack her, and his protective instincts kick in once again when stormtroopers come searching for them. There is a small sense of moral obligation when Finn agrees to do just enough by helping return BB-8 to the Resistance before vanishing somewhere in the Outer Rim, but more significantly, he does it to impress a girl.
While it may seem a bit juvenile for Finn to develop a crush on Rey the moment he sees her, the desire to appear heroic has a long-term influence on his character. When Rey asks if he is part of the Resistance, he lies and tells her “obviously” with a ridiculous attempt at smooth talk. Han Solo later warns Finn that “women always figure out the truth,” but this deception and the later revelation of his true identity actually has a greater impact than if Rey rejected him outright. Rey admires Finn for the ideals she thinks he possesses, and it creates a powerful sense of disappointment when he doesn’t follow through. Her eyes express more than words ever could. “I was ashamed of what I was,” Finn tells her about their first meeting. “You looked at me like no one ever had.”
Though he claims not to be a hero, the sense of shame that Rey provides Finn gives him the opportunity to grow beyond his past. Their friendship also offers him a way to orient himself within the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order. Finn despairs not just because he saw the strength of the First Order, but because he lacks companions to stand with. Community provides man with the aspiration to be strong and virtuous, and that desire must come before participation in the fight between good and evil is even possible. A person without values is merely a spectator, one likely to run away. Rey serves as Finn’s first real attachment, and it’s his desire for her wellbeing that makes leaving so difficult. It’s noteworthy that Maz Kenata charges him with “go find your friend” rather than “go save the galaxy.”
Saving Rey from Kylo Ren also requires Finn to align himself with a greater cause in order to help her. Though he does so selfishly at first, doing the right thing long enough eventually builds good habits. It certainly worked for Han Solo, who first joined the Rebel Alliance only for the money, but later became a general in the battle against The Empire. Though Finn dangerously exaggerates his experience on Starkiller Base to obtain help, his time there with Han and Chewbacca demonstrates how big movements also depend on personal relationships. “Our friends are in trouble. We can’t leave,” Han Solo tells the others. Though he begins as a very weak character, Finn shows great promise for becoming a leader in the Resistance.
Finn shows the most room for improvement, but Rey also benefits from this relationship. She initially shows many of the virtues the feminist movement cherishes. She’s self-supporting, fiercely independent, and can handle herself in a fight. She’s also lonely and has a rough edge after working for years among junk collectors and outlanders. She’s rude to the adorable BB-8 at their first meeting, and she has no appreciation for Finn’s chivalrous intentions at their first meeting. Male protectiveness serves as “a form of relatedness” and “a way of sublimating selfishness” as Allan Bloom describes it, but Rey allows no room for Finn to demonstrate those qualities. She easily dispatches her alien attackers without help, and then promptly knocks out her potential knight in PVC body armor. When Finn tries to protect her from the stormtroopers, she berates him for it: “I know how to run without you holding my hand,” she protests. The two eventually learn how to depend on each other as they escape, but it is a telling scene how feminine independence can put men down in the process. Thankfully, Finn was not easily daunted in that respect.
Rey’s character development requires emotional vulnerability more than it does finding courage or developing particular skills. Relationships offer the only solution for loneliness, and somethings that requires letting others care about you even if you are capable of taking care of yourself. Rey blocked out others while she waited for her family to return, but her walls toward Finn and toward parental figures like Han Solo gradually come down.“The belonging you seek is not behind you, it’s ahead,” Maz encourages her. By the end of the film, Rey is genuinely moved by the fact that Finn would come back for her. The whispered line, “thank you, my friend” reflects a significant transformation from the isolated scavenger on Jakku.
Lens flares aside, J.J. Abrams accomplish a surprising number of good things in this latest Star Wars film. In addition to the nostalgia, The Force Awakens taps into an important cultural need: the hunger for virtue and meaningful relationships. Instead of portraying a cliché or stunted version of heroism, Abrams introduces imperfect characters who show a clear trajectory of growth. Yes, Finn may be annoying, but he begins to develop the masculine qualities that our culture needs. Rey might be strong and capable, but that doesn’t mean she must be infallible at all times at the expense of connectedness or belonging. The relationship between Finn and Rey offers a subtle way of redeeming romance from its shallow Hollywood conceptions and introduces a level of maturity to the eternal “boy meets girl” theme.