Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Star Wars: How Finn Changes Everything

Yeah, spoilers. Whatever.

Here's the thing.

We know that, in the brave new world of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the First Order isn't using clones for their stormtroopers. Children are "taken from families they'll never know" and programmed into becoming terrible shots unquestioning soldiers. (BTW, that's some serious long-term planning there...)

But that programming isn't absolute. Finn breaks it, apparently pretty damn easily.

So the question becomes, if every stormtrooper is a potential Finn, should we really applaud so enthusiastically every time one is shot, or impaled by a light saber? When a trooper is blasted 20 feet across the screen by a blaster, should the audience be laughing?

After all, these aren't clones bred to die anymore. They're brainwashed child soldiers, forced into this role by cruel overlords. And in theory, every one of them could break their programming, just as Finn did.

Oh, sure, maybe Finn is some special snowflake, and only he can break the programming, whether through the Force or family connections or contrived screenwriting. Maybe he just has better midi-chlorians.

But there's nothing on screen to tell us that. There's no reason given so far that, with the proper stimulus, more--most? all?--of the nuStormtroopers couldn't break away, just as Finn did. And shouldn't that be the first question that Leia and the other Resistance leaders asked--How did he break his conditioning? Could that happen again? Could we make that happen? Is this a way to cripple the First Order?

Hell, if I'm writing these movies, Finn's precedent provides a resolution, and at the climax of VIII or IX Rey and Luke use their Jedi mind tricks, and instead of humiliating stormtroopers or using them for cheap jokes, they free the stromtroopers from their programming, turning the tide in whatever battle they're facing, and that results in the Resistance winning. Of course, that's why I'm not allowed to write movies...

But neither the writers nor the audience seems willing to admit that, given Finn, maybe they should treat the rest of the stormtroopers with a little more respect than the clone cannon fodder we're used to. Aside from frying Max Von Sydow, these guys still can't hit the broad side of a barn. The good guys still use Jedi mind tricks to humiliate them (and doubtless lead to their executions for failing in their job). They're still used as comic relief, and the audience laps it up--"Ha ha he was running one direction then pew-pew he's blown in the opposite direction hahahaha"--instead of thinking, "Hey, why don't the good guys try to recruit him, instead of killing him? Or, since he's really an innocent victim of kidnapping and brainwashing, maybe they could just incapacitate him instead of killing him?"

It's plotting laziness (and moral laziness, to boot) to appropriate "children kidnapped and turned into soldiers by vicious leadership" as a metaphor and then to just continue with "kill 'em all" as your solution. Unless you think that all of child soldiers from Beasts of No Nation should have been slain, instead of freed and rehabilitated.

Yeah, I think too much about these things. So shoot me. And, yeah, it's probably way too much to expect from a JJ Abrams movie. But I think that, given Finn, it would behoove all of us, both behind the scenes and in the audience, to not be content to accept stormtroopers as faceless, valueless chum. And maybe we should be just the tiniest bit more reluctant to cheer and laugh when these kidnapped child soldiers are killed by the good guys and screenwriters who are too busty to worry about them.


Rick said...

I'm reminded of Scott Free and Granny Goodness in Kirby's New Gods saga. Scott broke free of Granny's conditioning as did Finn. Scott was pre-destined to do so, however. Yest another parallel between Kirby's expansive imagination and George Lucas' space epic.

Siskoid said...

To be fair, we cheered their deaths (if indeed we cheered) in the original trilogy, where there was no real confirmation they were clones (and I don't personally believe they were).

But more to the point, I don't find Finn's "programming break" particularly troublesome given that he was never a very good "Nazi", which is doubtless why he was put on sanitation duty. From time to time, I'm sure the programming fails - kids with the wrong psychological make-up or whatever - and these poor souls are put down, sent to work in the mines, and just don't make it to the plastic armor. Finn fell in the system's cracks though, and as soon as he saw combat, started thinking of deserting. If not for Po, and later Rey, he would have been caught and shot, something that must happen from time to time, off-stage.

Madman said...

In terms of plotting, The Force Awakens is truly awful. Keep at it Snell !

Jonathan Hendry said...

Yeah, no. I suppose occasionally a member of the SS had a "Are we the baddies?" moment, but I'll still enjoy seeing them die horribly.

Jonathan Hendry said...

"Unless you think that all of child soldiers from Beasts of No Nation should have been slain, instead of freed and rehabilitated."

I think one's response to child soldiers has a lot to do with whether they are a mortal threat to yourself and your loved ones. Freeing and rehabilitating them is certainly the right thing to do, when that is possible. But I don't expect anyone to jeopardize themselves in order to avoid hurting child soldiers who are actively attacking.

George Chambers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
George Chambers said...

The Empire, sorry, First Order (tomahto, tomayto) had measures in place for reprogramming stormtroopers as per the script, so it must have happened reasonably often. But whether clones or stolen children, the stormtroopers always remain as forcibly conscripted soldiers with equipment provided by the lowest bidder, so I've always felt sorry for them. Snell's idea of the Jedi using the Force to deprogram the stormtroopers is brilliant and I think would make some great cinema.

Nate Winchester said...

*blinks* Oh yeah, another blogger brought up this exact same thing. If Snell won't mind, I'll post the same comment I did over there:

The implication that they [stormtroopers] were all just stolen away from parents as kids makes it even darker. I really wish the movie had something where the “resistance” had an ongoing operation to break stormtroopers of their programming and try and return them home. Something that could have been spent time on instead of the stupid doomsday weapon. (heck if they established that the trooper programming involved using the dark side in a kind of perma mind-trick way, it would have made a lot more sense why the Republic wanted Luke back).

Dan said...

I'm with Hendry on this one. We have no idea how long Finn had been struggling. Assuming it's easy to break the mental conditioning is rhetorical laziness as it were ;). In addition, deprogramming is a net moral good when its physically possible but in combat its not, especially when the group these brainwashed soldiers just killed billions with a hyperspace weapon. This is quibbling about the real enemy while being actively shelled.