Where is Finn?: The Erasure and Sidelining of a Star Wars Protagonist

Da fuck

It’s pretty ironic in retrospect that when the Sequel Trilogy began, there was a large pushback from racists and bigots that a black man and a woman couldn’t be the protagonists in the newest trilogy of Star Wars movies. People were honestly trying to boycott it because a white guy wasn’t the protagonist.

Now years later, the trilogy has come almost full circle with people refusing to see Finn as the co-protagonist of the ST or John Boyega as the male lead. I mean, if we want to look at it deeply enough, some people don’t even think Rey is the true protagonist, but Kylo is. It’s rather funny, in a sad way with the lack of self-awareness, that there are so many fans of the ST (Sequel Trilogy) that have forgotten, or don’t know, that originally there was a giant pushback for these heroes not to be the protagonists, yet years later, fans are echoing the intent of these people without realizing it. Finn has been sadly the biggest victim of this ironic mess. From being one of the central characters in all of the marketing, merchandise, advertising, and basically present and in full view of everything ST related, to slowly being forcibly pushed way into the back and made small enough on posters, merchandise, and media coverage at times that you actually need to zoom in or hunt down a trusty magnifying glass to find him.

The problem has extended from the #boycottstarwarsvii movement on social media in response to Boyega’s casting in 2014, to Lucasfilm (LFL) allowing multiple artworks to be created with Finn excluded, placed in the back, or smaller than the supporting characters, to the EU stories where he is sidelined, depicted as a joke, or generally just treated in a way that would make any sane black person, or person in general, go “Yikes!”. This isn’t an easy conversation to have, nor is it something many people even know how to approach, but from the perception of many fans, especially black fans and other fans of color, this comes across as pretty racist at best. So, without further delay, let us begin.

#BoycottStarWarsVII

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Friendly reminder, when people bash the idea of Finn being Force Sensitive, you make this guy smile.

Yeah, I’m not going to sugarcoat this, John being cast as Finn, the male lead/protagonist, alongside Daisy’s Rey, the female lead/protagonist, was met with a LOT of backlash. For those who don’t remember, or just weren’t following the TFA like a lunatic like other losers (me), there was a hashtag going around, #BoycottStarWarsVII, which if you couldn’t tell from the title, was for the boycott of TFA. The main reason for this all circles back to John Boyega being the lead that had many bigoted racists in their feelings (translation: mad).

How bad was it? Well, let me just show you:

 

 

These are the ones I can actually post. The others I have kept/found I won’t be posting due to the content in them being beyond disgusting. This was all over the place. Racists were rejecting the idea of a black male lead in Star Wars tooth and nail to the point of demanding people to boycott the newest movie.

So, how did the boycott go?

TFA-NUMBERS
If you look closely, you can see Bob Iger’s tears of joy next to the dollar signs

Yeah, it failed on every level imaginable!

Something interesting about it though was that while some people were speaking up about the racist treatment that had been thrown at Finn:

Trevor-Noah-smacks-down-BoycottStarWarsVII-“Stop-complaining-racists-—-you-had-your-‘Star-Wars’-movie-already”-Salon.com_1.png
You’re a good man, Trevor Noah. Thank you.

Others had remained silent on it completely. There was an odd amount of radio silence on how the public was treating Finn and his actor John Boyega, and looking back on it now, when there is still a great amount of pushback against the character and actor, I can’t help but feel that silence was a choice, rather than ignorance. Which brings me to the main topic of this very article:

#WhereIsFinn?

The #WhereIsFinn movement was created by fans of the character who started to notice something…odd. Now, I can’t actually pinpoint the first moment Finn’s erasure had started, but I do remember the most prominent and famous one that many in the community still remember to this day, and that was the Chinese Poster for The Force Awakens.

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Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again

Oh, this kriffing poster! Years later and my blood still boils like Anakin’s did on Mustafar! Now, I’m not pointing any fingers at any one individual at Lucasfilm, yet I highly doubt that if Rey was made smaller than a BB-8, or if Kylo was taken off of the poster, whoever said yes to this would have had the same response. Finn was made significantly smaller on the official Chinese poster for TFA. Now, for those reading this who don’t know, racism against black people isn’t just an American thing, I know, surprising, right? It’s something that happens everywhere, and movies with a black lead don’t usually do well overseas. So, someone made Finn smaller, and it somehow slipped through the cracks. A one-time thing though, right? It was a mistake and it’d never happen again. Lucasfilm would never try to make the co-protagonist of the sequel trilogy smaller or treat him with disrespect…right?

 

 

Yeah, it’s been a LONG few years

Some of this is official artwork, some of these are posters, others are book covers, the backwards tux is how Rian Johnson thought Finn couldn’t dress himself, the leaky bacta suit was included in the film, etc.  These are far from the only times Finn has been made small or been made a fool of since post-TFA Star Wars, but I wanted to give some type of understanding to what’s going on. Now, I know some people may be wondering: “Well he’s there. What’s the big deal?”

Well, to understand what it’s a big deal, you have to understand how Finn originally was marketed and depicted.

 

 

Regardless of your views on if Finn is Force Sensitive or not–which, if you’re doubtful, let me shamelessly plug another article I wrote about there being two awakenings in TFA (click here)–Finn was always presented as the male lead of the ST: heroic, brave, and important to the story. The idea of him being just as important to the ST as Rey, or the antagonist Kylo, wasn’t something that people scoffed at, which is a stark contrast to how things are going now.

Through these last few years, there has been a trend of individuals trying to remove Finn’s importance from Star Wars, whether it be by depicting him as smaller than characters he’s narratively bigger than, leaving him off of posters and artwork, depicted him as a joke in various forms of media like comics or books, or even just cropping him out of pictures completely. There are even attempts to make him seem less important on Wookieepedia or TvTropes.com, and it’s having a domino effect with how the powers that be see the character. Disney and Lucasfilm are businesses at the end of the day, and like any business, they do what’s best for them first and foremost. If certain fans and media go out of their way to erase, sideline, or mock Finn, then Disney and Lucasfilm will not try to course correct it, but rather let it continue or make less content for the character. Then fans of the character get less interested in content regarding Finn, and the cycle continues.

At first, many didn’t think much of it, yet as time went on, the number of instances that it seemed people were going out of their way to depict Finn as a supporting character or sidekick were starting to pile up. Its honestly become a trend now that if new content is coming out that has to do with the sequel trilogy era, you might as well play bingo for one of the ways Finn will be depicted.

We have him pushed to the back, looking like a supporting character/sidekick:

 

 

If that’s not your flavor, then we have The Rise of Skywalker media coverage, which consists of basically Rey and Kylo, with article writers that seem to forget everything about the last two movies and can’t remember that they’re not on Archive of Our Own anymore.

 

 

The Journey to Rise of Skywalker really isn’t doing too hot for anything Finn related, if you couldn’t tell by the giant orbiting space station that is Poe’s head on the cover for Resistance Reborn. In Spark of the Resistance, Finn isn’t even in the book, sent off on some subplot with Chewie that likely we’ll never hear from again. Maybe he went back to Canto Bight to free the slave children instead of the horses. Side note, whose idea was it to have the former slave child of two decades (Finn) not even comment on the slave children at Canto Bight? Oh…yeah, never mind. There’s also Resistance Reborn, which is again more about Poe than anyone. There’s even a scene where Poe has to tie Finn’s tie because he doesn’t know how to do it, and so many people are now flashing back to the backwards tux.

At this point, I can already hear that person who always appears in discussions about Finn saying “Who cares? He’s just a supporting character who was a janitor. John isn’t the male lead”

First of all, go jump into a Sarlacc pit!

Second, let’s talk facts:

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Huh, Finn sure does have a LOT of screen time for someone that doesn’t matter. Oh, well. Maybe, he was there for moral support.

As of both TFA and TLJ, Finn comes in 2nd to only Rey, while having 15 more mins of screen time than Kylo. In fact, in two movies, Finn has more screen time than Han or Leia had in their first two OT movies. Hell, Finn almost has as much as Obi-Wan did in his first two PT movies and Finn lost around 16 mins of screentime because he had the most deleted scenes out of TLJ. 7 deleted scenes if you’re curious. No, I don’t know why, beyond the fact that one of them had more Canto Bight in it, and yeah, that one should have been cut.

See, that’s the funny thing I’ve never understood about people saying that Kylo is the real co-protagonist and male lead, or that Poe is bigger narratively than Finn. Finn still has more screen time than Kylo in both TFA and TLJ and Poe isn’t even in the same league as Finn’s screen time in either of his two film appearances.

Further, John’s Finn represents something not seen in the Star Wars franchise ever before – the first and only black lead of any Star Wars movie let alone trilogy. Lando and Mace Windu didn’t exceed 10min of screen time in any of their films, and Ahmed Best’s Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace was severely reduced and nearly erased following the toxic backlash that drove the actor to contemplate suicide. And while James Earl Jones’ voice of Darth Vader is a timeless and iconic addition of black voice acting to the Star Wars franchise, Finn, and Finn alone, represents something more as a leading face of the concluding arc to arguably the most successful episodic series in cinematic history.

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The real problem here is that there are people in the Star Wars community that just don’t want Finn to be the co-protagonist, the irony of which is amazing since it’s just the TFA boycott all over again. For every time someone says that Finn is the co-protagonist of the ST, there will be someone there to comment that he’s not. Kylo is, or in fact, Kylo is the SOLE protagonist of the ST and Rey is below him. So the irony that originally racists and sexists were boycotting the ST because they didn’t want to have a woman and a black man as the protagonists, have now turned into “fans” in general claiming that the true protagonist of the entire sequel trilogy is Kylo, the white guy.

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Ironic indeed, papa Palpatine

Now, people putting Kylo above Finn isn’t the only cause of Finn’s erasure. As you can tell above or in recent merch or artwork, Poe is being depicted in front of Finn, bigger than him, more heroic, etc. Now, there is no problem with Poe getting more of a spotlight. But when every single thing that comes out is constantly depicting Poe, a character who is at best a supporting role that was upgraded to the status of one of the main characters in TLJ, as bigger and narratively more important than Finn, who dominated the marketing for TFA and still has more narrative presence in the trilogy than Poe, it comes off as colorism at worst and biased favoritism at best from LFL. Recently there’s been a drought of actual Finn content that treats the character with respect or even content at all with him in it at all. Meanwhile, the EU for the ST is practically filled with Poe to the point of arguably oversaturation for some. Now, I like Poe and I like Oscar, and maybe others can’t see it because they’re not used to colorism, but as a black man myself (Kenyan-Brazilian to be exact), I’d be lying if I said that elevating a white-passing Latino man of color like Oscar’s Poe while slowly erasing a darker-skinned Black man like John’s Finn doesn’t look like clear colorism on LFL’s part from the perspective of many black fans. For black fans, it seems like there is a constant battle to remind people of Finn’s status in the trilogy while everyone is trying to put Kylo and Poe above him.

 

 

Since 2016 when Finn’s erasure started to take place, people on social media have been trying to bring attention to this problem, yet they’ve been met with others in the fandom ignoring them, or suddenly saying it doesn’t matter and changing the topic. In fact, recently, while even more people have been trying to bring attention to #WhereIsFinn, the #WhereisRose tag was created. Not only was it picked up by Nerdist, but major social media accounts agreed there was a problem with how Rose (who, mind you, is a supporting character) wasn’t on the initial merch, but were silent about the co-protagonist being shoved in the back behind Poe, made smaller, or not being present in the marketing in the same levels he was at the start.

 

 

The thing about #WhereIsRose is not that it’s a bad thing to bring attention to the fact that Rose isn’t in the TROS marketing or merch, it’s the fact that these same people who are fighting for what they feel is an injustice, are totally ignoring the blatant racism and erasure of what’s going on with Finn. The difference is, some of these people aren’t even overtly racist, but they are against the idea of Finn being the co-protagonist. So this erasure of him isn’t seen as a bad thing, it’s seen as what should be. For instance, there is a vocal shipping community in the Star Wars fandom that has ironically been echoing many of the same things that the bigots did when the ST began. Only instead of the bigots who said “Finn shouldn’t be,” you have shippers saying “Finn isn’t” whenever it is said that Finn is the co-protagonist, or the male lead, etc, etc.

Another puzzling aspect of #WhereIsRose, is that if the objective co-lead of the trilogy is getting sidelined, or artistically segregated into tiny portrayals with the other black characters, what hope is there to give a supporting POC character proper justice and representation? In fact, we’ve seen the result of successfully gaining attention for #WhereIsRose without any thought or consideration for #WhereIsFinn.

Take for instance this The Rise of Skywalker art (below), which segregated the black characters to be much smaller than Poe, and left out Rose. After the artist acknowledged #WhereIsRose backlash, the artist then added in Rose, placing her in front of the other black characters. In doing so, the art now further segregates and minimizes the black characters behind Rose and under Poe. The artist has yet to acknowledge the #WhereisFinn trend pointing out the artistic segregation even though they were quick to acknowledge the #WhereisRose trend AND act upon it.

 

 

Approving artistic representation such as that above spells out an extremely negative portrayal of ALL black characters, since not a single one of them could break a bigger feature than Poe – a secondary main character. Regardless of the artist’s intent, and without their responding to or acknowledging the #WhereIsFinn trend – it sends a message of favoritism and apathy at best, and accurately portrays colorism and anti-blackness at worst.

You see, that is in of itself is part of the reason why #WhereIsFinn even exists. Finn’s erasure is coming from all sides at this point, and only certain fans even care about it or recognize it, most of them being fans of color who are openly getting ignored or mocked. I’m not saying it has to be #WhereIsFinn vs #WhereIsRose, but if you think the lack of Rose merch is a problem and gives a voice to the racists and sexists, and see ZERO problems with Finn’s erasure and sidelining over the last few years, then there is a severe problem with how you are seeing the world and its problems with race. No, it is not right for a black man to be the co-protagonist, be on equal footing with two other white characters, then years later be placed in the back of everything or not even shown at all. There is a problem with this and people need to see it. No one is saying that we shouldn’t ask about Rose, regardless of if she is a supporting character or not, but all we are asking, and by we, I’m now referring to myself and many black fans at this moment, is that the same type of energy be used to help defend Finn and John Boyega from the racist treatment that has been going on since 2014.

People stood up for Rey, people are standing up for Rose, yet whenever it is time to stand up for Finn, no one does a damn thing. All many fans of Finn are asking for is that the same effort people give in fighting sexism or racism against other characters, they do the same for Finn.

But to be the devil’s advocate, for once in this argument, let me tackle why #WhereIsFinn isn’t picking up the same coverage that #WhereIsRey did get and #WhereIsRose is now picking up.

People. ARE. TIRED.

There is nothing more disheartening for a black fan, or a fan of Finn in general, who really wants good content for the character, than to be met with a comic that projects the negative attitudes that the fandom has for Finn by calling him a janitor in the description or having him scream “fear my mop!” while dirty water drips on his shoulder as Kylo stares him down. Regardless of Canon already debunking multiple times that Finn wasn’t just not a janitor, but rather one of the best cadets that the stormtrooper program ever had, seeing Finn depicted as a joke or a sidekick just makes fans and non-fans of the character not want to even consume his content. No one wants to see their heroes constantly made to look bad, and that’s something parts of the community and LFL do at times, which has a domino effect on how people absorb Finn content.

The second reason, that is in relation to everything we’ve talked about, is that Finn barely gets good, solo content made for him at all. There aren’t even many people championing for the character to be seen anymore because of the fact that all attempts to bring awareness to this problem, have fallen on deaf ears. There isn’t an “FN-2187 comic series or novel” that is used to flesh out Finn’s life and suffering when he was in the First Order while providing world-building for the FO and its characters. There isn’t a “Finn’s journal” that helps dive into the character’s inner POV and feelings throughout his adventure. In contrast, there has been a decent amount of solo content for Rose, Rey, Poe, and as of recently, Kylo, yet we still have nothing for standalone for Finn that’s detailed and personable.

 

 

The comics that come out give fans of the other characters have moments like this:

 

 

While what little Finn fans get looks like this:

 

 

It’s rather hard for people to feel anything but disappointment for this character they cared about because of how he’s been handled, and that disappointment is having a negative effect on how everyone in the community, media, and even Lucasfilm treats Finn.

This character means something to people:102835.jpg

This character is an inspiration to many black fans, not just because he’s the lead in one of the biggest franchises in all of cinema, but because he’s someone who was oppressed by a system that enslaved him and chose to be better, to do the right thing, and stand up for what’s right, regardless of what the cost of it was to him. Seeing so many people at LFL, in the Star Wars community, and in the media not only refuse to treat the character with any respect, but also act like he deserves disrespect, is heartbreaking to many many fans of Finn who relate to the character, regardless of their skin color, age, or gender.

 

 

It doesn’t matter what you are in this world. We all want the same thing in life, and that’s to feel like we belong. This article isn’t being written to target anyone, it’s not being written to start any fandom drama. The reason this article exists is that there are a lot of fans not getting their voices heard when it comes to trying to fight for Finn, and we want to give that voice a platform. We want people to hear them because this message is important. FINN. IS. IMPORTANT. He’s important for reasons of representation, he’s important to people who want to believe they can change their life for the better, and he’s important to the story of this trilogy. All we’re asking, all anyone is asking, is for him to get the treatment he deserves from the media, community, and LFL. That is why people are asking where is Finn.

 

 

“Finn could not simply be a sidekick or key ally in the story; he needed a story arc of his own. For the first time, The Force Awakens offered a Star Wars film in which two characters, not only one, are undertaking the Hero’s Journey.”

“Each of these archetypes appears in the Hero’s Journeys of Rey and Finn – but not always in the same way or with the same character in the respective storylines. This makes The Force Awakens an interesting study in the use of archetypes.The Hero, of course, is the central protagonist of the journey. In Rey’s adventure, she is the Hero; in Finn’s adventure, he bears that mantle and Rey fills a different archetype.” – Tricia Barr

Thank you for reading, and may the force be with you…Always.

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3 comments

  1. Great article, Mando. I don’t know how you can sift through all of the garbage that is both the fandom and the promotional materials and stay sane, but I appreciate that you do it. (Moth)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t usually leave comments anywhere. But thank you for making me not feel like I And so many others were crazy for sticking up for Finn and enduring the mental anguish of seeing the status quo as usual carried out. I’m a content creator, black man, and one day I will do my part to help make the changes, and make all of this right. That’s my mission to us, people of Color, a real voice.

    Liked by 1 person

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