There’s only one thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens that scares me…
It’s not the question of whether or not it’s going to be any good, because I know it will be. It’s not the possibility that the movie will birth an everlasting big screen dynasty, because it’s too early in the game to speculate on that. It’s not the intentional absence of Luke Skywalker from everything, because I think it’s admirable to preserve such a fundamental question for the actual movie. It’s not even minor spoilers, though I am taking some protective measures, and have sworn off any further clips, now that I have my Finn focused TV spot to watch over and over again.
No, what I’m afraid about more than anything else, is the true revelation of Finn’s overall role within this new trilogy. Because I know what I want it to be, what I need it to be, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t. And that would make for a missed opportunity of an unimaginable scale.
If Finn is not what they’re clearly suggesting in all the posters, teasers, and press, it will go down as the cruelest trick ever played on black fandom.
Seeing the image of a young, black man, holding and then wielding what is essentially the skeleton key of the entire Star Wars universe? That right there is a powerful and undeniable symbol of the future so many people are still today fighting against. It means that intolerance and intellectual cowardice loses another stronghold, and that we are not going back into the cave for anybody.
For those that think I’m overstating, you need to spend a few minutes in the comments section of some of these John Boyega/Daisy Ridley stories. Yes, I know you’re never supposed to read the comments, or give much credence to assholes and bigots, but I think it’s important we never lose our willingness to look the enemy right in their diseased hearts. To stare into that ugliness, and remember that these feelings are real and tangible and above everything else…the most honest shit anyone’s ever said. This is what they really think about us in the safety of their own homes and the anonymity of their message boards. It’s not all just kids, crackpots, and degenerates. If you really believe that, you’re a fool, and welcome to follow them.
The most dangerous forms of hate, intolerance, and misogyny are the ones that have become utterly casual. I’ve watched what are likely well-intentioned people get into furious arguments over which of the two main characters are force sensitive, when it’s always been obvious to me they likely both are. This argument is really telling though, and plays into this idea of “only one of us can have the special thing,” causing me to wonder if it’s naiveté on my part to have ever assumed different. Why does everything always devolve into some tired, backwards “us vs. them” narrative? Have our collective imaginations become so hardened and limited that some of us can’t even conceive of a reality where both diverse leads are gifted? Does one of them automatically have to be less? In a lot of discussions found online, the answer is resoundingly “yes.”
Now, on the flip side of this, are many fans of color that simply can’t believe what this movie is telling us about itself. The very real possibility of spending the next several years anticipating and living with Star Wars movies at least partially focused on a young black Jedi feels almost too good to be true. Even in 2015, it feels like a mind trick, and from there the natural conspiracies begin flowing like water. Thoughts like, “I bet they’re just gonna kill him first chance they get. I bet he’s not really going to be a Jedi, and is just carrying the saber until someone else more important gets it. They’re just using him to hide the importance of Rey’s character. There’s no way in hell that he’s the special one.”
I’ve been laughing at these kinds of assertions for months, even publicly doing so alongside Brandon Easton during our podcast. But the closer we get to game time, the more my own faith and spirit wavers, and I start to believe that it is too good to be true. That Boyega paired with that very particular lightsaber is one enormous diversion, a carrot only to be snatched away at the very last minute. For so many of us, it’s soooo important that Finn is the real thing—that he’s favored, like all the Jedi in all the movies before him.
But emotionally, I’ve been preparing myself for the opposite these last few weeks. Throughout the obsessive re-watching of the newest trailer and TV spots, and EW’s full throated coverage all last week, I’ve been trying to control the intensity of my own expectation. Trying to drown out that familiar Star Wars line, just in case my dreams are ultimately dashed. If by the close of the movie, Finn is just a cool, honorable, heroic young brother with a blaster, smack dab in the middle of a trilogy I never imagined we’d ever be seeing, I suppose that’s a notable victory, right?
I trust J.J. Abrams as a storyteller implicitly (and that’ll actually be the focus of an upcoming piece) but I’m hoping that he and everyone involved haven’t underestimated the power of fully embracing the diversity they’ve placed at the fore of this new installment. And that they realize what some people, dying to see themselves fully reflected in one of the greatest stories ever told, will feel if The Force Awakens says to them “Yes, you are special…but you’re not that special.”
One of the recent spots is captioned, “Discover The Force Within.”