Finn, Rey, and narrative agency

Published 2016-01-07

Hey let’s SPOILER TALK about the new Big Space Battle Movie!

It's interesting to compare Rey with Finn. They are clearly the hero duo and have two of the three most compelling character arcs (along with Kylo Ren).

I've seen some criticism of Rey as a Mary Sue i.e. an absurdly competent character who can out-wrench, out-talk, out-magic, out-fight her way out of every situation she's thrown in.

And I've seen some criticism of Finn as a comic relief character (although no one laughs at him…) who bumbles his way through the movie, continually putting himself at risk and needing to be pulled out of the fire by Poe or Rey.

But consider: Finn has more narrative agency than Rey. By that I mean: he drives his own plotline. Finn CHOOSES to defect from the First Order. He CHOOSES to flee to the outer reaches, then he CHOOSES to come back. He CHOOSES to rescue Rey (tho she didn't barely need it, thankyouverymuch) and destroy the Starkiller in the bargain.

Finn throws himself incompetently into every situation. Rey competently masters every situations she is thrown into.

I can totally get why Kasdan et al wrote these parts this way; if it were the other way around (one character is the plot ragdoll AND incompetent; the other is his/her own narrative subject AND hyper-competent) — no one would buy that.

There might be (probably is) some racial/gender politics involved here. I dunno, and if so I'm totally behind them. the New Luke Skywalker is a woman and the New Han Solo is Black. ABOUT FUCKING TIME. But let's don't get bent out of shape that the woman is a Mary Sue and the Black dude is Comic Relief. Consider not just how they react but how they drive their own plots, and how the filmmakers chose to balance those roles.

p.s. In writing this I'm amazed at how much plot agency all the characters (even the baddies) have in the Force Awakens. It's a movie full of people doing things, not just being dragged around by Forces Beyond Our Control. That's some primo character development right there.