John Boyega recently criticized Disney and Lucasfilm for sidelining Finn even while advertising him as a Jedi character ahead of the first movie. The shot list leaked before The Force Awakens strongly indicates Finn was indeed meant to be Force Sensitive and a co-protagonist with Rey.
Ever since The Force Awakens, many fans have argued Finn was intended to be Force sensitive. The advertising for the movie itself strongly hinted at it and its reveal of Rey as Force sensitive while leaving Finn’s status ambiguous struck many as a cruel bait and switch. While The Last Jedi clearly did not consider him Force sensitive or depict him on anything resembling a Jedi arc, The Rise of Skywalker all but confirmed it and JJ reportedly confirmed he saw Finn as Force sensitive. In May, John revealed there was indeed supposed to be a scene between Finn and Rey where the former revealed his sensitivity.
Recently, John Boyega made statements to British GQ magazine that strongly support those claiming JJ intended Finn to be Force sensitive. In it, he admonished Disney for advertising his character as important in the run up to TFA:
“You get yourself involved in projects and you’re not necessarily going to like everything. [But] what I would say to Disney is do not bring out a black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”John Boyega to GQ Magazine
At the same time, he defends the movie’s director and writer, JJ Abrams:
“Everybody needs to leave my boy alone. [JJ Abrams] wasn’t even supposed to come back and try to save your shit.”John Boyega to GQ Magazine
Taken together, these statements suggest JJ Abrams originally intended John Boyega to be a Jedi character alongside Rey and the abandonment of this plotline was not the director’s decision. What many people don’t know is we have direct evidence of what this plotline was supposed to be in the form of the infamous leaked shotlist.
Most fans are aware of the shotlist leak that propelled Making Star Wars to notoriety. With it, the site had a rough outline of the film and was able to predict it with a fair degree of accuracy. Its misses were largely down to changes to the story made after the shot list was created. What many fans are not aware of is the full list of scene descriptions were posted to the millenniumfalcon forum on December 1st, 2015. The list gives us an excellent look at JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan’s original vision for Finn. (The original site’s PHP appears to be broken; an archived version can be found here.)
Finn’s Original Story
Finn’s story largely proceeds as it does in the final movie until the middle of the movie. The main difference is Finn talks to Poe before the latter dies after their ship crashes on Jakku. Once the heroes arrive at Maz’s is when the story starts to markedly diverge.
EXT DAY – 174 – LANDING ZONE NR CASTLE • Chewbacca stays with the ship as the others head for Castle
EXT DAY – 175 – CASTLE – COURTYARD • Friends walk towards Castle. Han Solo warns them not to stare
INT DAY – 176 – CASTLE – GROUND LEVEL • Intro Maz Kanata – Han Solo asks her for help. They have a history together
INT DAY – 177 – CASTLE – GROUND LEVEL • Rey gets into trouble. Finn can’t fix it. Chewbacca does…
177 refers to the deleted scene where Unkar Plutt tracks the Falcon to the castle and attempts to abduct Rey. Chewie intervenes and manages to tear Unkar’s arm off. When you view the footage, it’s impossible to find a place in the final movie where it fits (below). Reading further it becomes clear this is because the entire scene was redone.
INT DAY – 178 – CASTLE – GROUND LEVEL • Han Solo asks Maz Kanata for her help
INT DAY – 179 – STARKILLER BASE – CONTROL ROOM • Engineers perform final firing protocol
EXT DAY – 180 – STARKILLER BASE – ABOVE THE CATAPULT • Plates as required for CG firing of The Catapult
EXT DAY – 180 – STARKILLER BASE – PARADE GROUND (SNOW) • Rally/Hux reacts to firing of The Catapult
EXT DAY – 181 – STARKILLER BASE – ABOVE THE CATAPULT • Plates as required for surrounding chaos caused by firing
EXT DAY – 182 – CASTLE – COURTYARD • Finn and Rey see something terrible in the sky
Here, Starkiller actually fires before the Forceback and Finn and Rey see it together. In the final film, Finn is in the middle of leaving with the smugglers and Rey is in the forest after running away from the castle in response to the Forceback. The change in timing of when Starkiller fires leads to odd sequencing issues in the final film as well become apparent later.
INT DAY – 183 – CASTLE – GROUND LEVEL • Maz Kanata won’t answer. Sudden buzz near doorway
EXT DAY – 184 – TUNNEL OF LOVE • Emissary from Leia looks up to see what’s coming
EXT NIGHT – 185 – FAR AWAY FROM TUNNEL OF LOVE • Tunnel Of Love meets its fate
EXT NIGHT – 186 – KYLO REN’S SHUTTLE – MULTIPLE STAR DESTROYERS • Light reveals Kylo Ren’s Shuttle and the rest of the Star Destroyers
INT DAY – 187 – KYLO REN’S SHUTTLE • Kylo Ren watches The Catapult’s work
INT DAY – 188 – RESISTANCE BASE – MAP ROOM • Leia and staff react to Tunnel of Love unhappy ending
There are two things to note here: 1) The scene where Kylo watches Starkiller is significantly earlier than in the film. 2) Leia and the Resistance get a scene here, which is actually their second in the shotlist. Moving the scene with Kylo resulted in it appearing immediately before we see him descending to Takodana in a shuttle. The deleted Leia scenes would have given political context to the films and addressed a significant criticism of the final. Right off the bat, we can see two major criticisms – the wonky second half pacing and overall lack of political context – were a direct consequence of alterations to Finn’s arc.
EXT DAY – 189 – CASTLE – COURTYARD • Maz Kanata and Han Solo watch the horror. Maz Kanata decides to help
EXT DAY – 190 – LANDING PAD JOURNEY • Plates as required for Maz Kanata journey to Maz Kanta’s Castle
EXT DAY – 192 – SAVANNAH • Reprise Hand takes sword, we reveal Naka
EXT NIGHT – 193 – SAVANNAH – PEASANT’S HOVEL • Peasant is using the sword as a firestarter
EXT DAY – 194 – SAVANNAH – PEASANT’S HOVEL • Local trader buys sword off of Naka
EXT NIGHT – 195 – SAVANNAH • Local trader already has sold the sword on
EXT NIGHT – 196 – BATTLEFIELD • A battle rages. The sword is being used.
EXT DAY – 198 – ACADEMY • Leia and Han Solo hand over Young Kylo Ren to his Uncle for training
EXT DAWN – 200 – ACADEMY • Young Kylo Ren being trained by his Uncle
INT NIGHT – 202 – ACADEMY • Bodies left behind – Young Kylo Ren is gone
EXT DAY – 203 – JAGGED TERRAIN/PALACE • Kylo Ren joins The Knights Of Ren
EXT DUSK – 204 – ACADEMY • R2-D2 upset as his master leaves
EXT NIGHT – 205 – JAGGED TERRAIN/PALACE • Kylo Ren joins The Knights Of Ren
Next up, is a very different Forceback. Oddly, there’s no apparent trigger or context for it here and scene numbers 191, 197 and 201 are missing. The infamous opening scene where the hand takes the sword is revealed to actually be out-of-context foreshadowing of someone picking up the Skywalker lightsaber.
EXT DAY – 207 – CASTLE • Reveal Maz Kanata’s spectacular Castle
INT DAY – 208 – CASTLE • Maz Kanata walks the group through the Castle interiour
EXT NIGHT – 209 – CASTLE • Kylo Ren and his Knights at campfire. Maz Kanata steals sword
INT DAY – 210 – CASTLE STAIRCASE • Walking down stairs, Maz Kanata reveals she stole it.
EXT NIGHT – 211 – MOUNTAIN SIDE • Reveal Maz Kanata on Speeder, she has the sword
This whole sequence reads as out of order, which is odd because almost the entire rest of the list is in order. In any case, we originally learned how Maz came by the sword.
INT DAY – 212 – CASTLE – UNDERGROUND CHAMBER • Finn is drawn toward the object, Rey repelled by it. She bolts
INT DAY – 213 – CASTLE – STAIRCASE • Rey climbs the stairs in need of escape
EXT DAY – 214 – CASTLE • Rey exits castle, head for the woods
INT DAY – 215 – CASTLE – UNDERGROUND CHAMBER • Maz Kanata explains her journey through many lives
The most important differences here are Maz deliberately shows the lightsaber to the group (Rey doesn’t come across it on her own) and Finn is present. Note Finn does not run away as he does in the final film; only Rey does. Not only does the change function to get Finn away from the lightsaber’s introduction, but it sets up Finn’s cowardice arc in The Last Jedi.
XT DAY – 216 – WOODS – NEAR THE CASTLE • BB-8 finds Rey in the woods. Suddenly bad guys overhead
INT DAY – 217 – CASTLE – CORRIDORS UNDERNEATH • A massive shaking starts – they notice Rey/BB-8 missing
EXT DAY – 218 – WOODS – NEAR THE CASTLE • Rey sees Castle ruined. Kylo Ren arrived. Stormtroopers behind!
EXT DAY – 218 – CASTLE – RUINS • Rey POV – Chaos at Castle. Kylo Ren lands
The First Order attack begins. As noted earlier, there’s considerably more time between Starkiller’s firing and Kylo’s arrival in the original version.
EXT DAY – 219 – CASTLE – RUINS • Stormtroopers tells Kylo Ren where all the targets are
INT DAY – 220 – CASTLE – CORRIDORS UNDERNEATH • Drill appears through roof, Stormtroopers descend in
EXT DAY – 221 – WOODS – NEAR THE CASTLE • Rey and BB-8 run, Kylo Ren chasing. Rey sends BB-8 away
INT DAY – 222 – CASTLE – CORRIDORS UNDERNEATH • Maz Kanata uses her special skills to take out the Stormtroopers
This is where Maz reveals she’s Force sensitive. Originally, she went with the Resistance after Takodana. As Rey goes alone to Luke at the end of the movie, the probable narrative reason was so she could help mentor Finn. In removing Finn’s Jedi arc, Maz became superfluous.
EXT DAY – 223 – WOODS – NEAR THE CASTLE • Kylo Ren catches Rey. Wants to know more
EXT DAY – 224 – CASTLE – RUINS • Heroes exit into ruins. Finn uses the sword fairly well…
Note the shotlist explicitly states Finn uses the sword fairly well. In the movie, he takes one stormtrooper by surprise and then fares poorly in melee combat (first half):
The Novel also has an extended scene which notes his natural proficiency:
EXT DAY – 225 – WOODS – NEAR THE CASTLE • Kylo Ren uses special skills to find out more
EXT DAY – 226 – CASTLE – RUINS • Han Solo saves Finn from sticky situation. Resistance approach!
EXT DAY – 227 – WOODS – NEAR THE CASTLE • Kylo Ren interrupted by Resistance, sends Stormtroopers
EXT DAY – 228 – CASTLE – RUINS • Resistance Aerial attack. Kylo Ren uses his powers. Maz Kanata does likewise
EXT DAY – 228 – CASTLE – RUINS • Resistance Aerial attack. Kylo Ren uses his powers. Maz Kanata does likewise
It appears Maz and Kylo originally had a contest with the Force. Finn’s storyline essentially proceeds as the final film from here until the Resistance briefing.
INT DAY – 247 – RESISTANCE BASE – MAP ROOM • Statura finishes, much debate. Leia reveals her secret weapon
INT DAY – 248 – RESISTANCE BASE – MAP ROOM • Finn wants to go get Rey. Leia won’t stop him
INT DAY – 249 – RESISTANCE BASE • Maz Kanata thinks the special thing should be with the boy. Tells Leia
Several major deviations here. As noted earlier, Maz has gone with the Resistance and here tells Leia the lightsaber should go with Finn. The second is a bit more subtle. In the movie, Finn is the one that informs the Resistance about the shields and is brought with to help bring them down. Here, the entire shield plotline doesn’t exist and the Resistance has another way of bringing them down. This results in a cascade of changes:
- The only reason Han, Chewie and Finn go to Starkiller at all was to rescue Rey.
- Finn comes across as more selfless as he wasn’t strictly needed on Starkiller.
- The scene where Finn reveals he worked sanitation to Han Solo serves no purpose and must have been added in reshoots.
- Phasma’s betrayal of the First Order doesn’t happen here.
EXT DAY – 250 – RESISTANCE HANGAR (MILLENNIUM FALCON) • Preparing to leave in the big picnic
EXT DAY – 251 – RESISTANCE HANGAR (MILLENNIUM FALCON) • Leia gives Finn the Sword. Han Solo promises to hurry back
Leia specifically gives Finn the saber here. Finn’s story proceeds as normal, minus the shield mission.
EXT NIGHT – 283 – OUTSIDE HIGH ABOVE THE STARKILLER BASE • Steamroller smashes it’s way past first Star Destroyer.
INT NIGHT – 284 – STARKILLER BASE – CONTROL ROOM • Panic in the control as Star Destroyers are taken out.
EXT NIGHT – 285 – OUTSIDE HIGH ABOVE THE STARKILLER BASE • Steamroller smashes past the second Star Destroyer.
INT DAY – 286 – RESISTANCE BASE – MAP ROOM • Cheers all around as the Steamroller does it’s job.
EXT NIGHT – 287 – OUTSIDE HIGH ABOVE THE STARKILLER BASE • Steamroller penetrates the Starkiller Base Shield.
INT NIGHT – 288 – STARKILLER BASE – CONTROL ROOM • Alarms ring as the Shield is breached.
This is the original way the shields were brought down.
EXT EVE – 293 – STARKILLER BASE – LANDING AREA (SNOW) • Rey and Finn jump onto a White Speeder. Stormtrooper spots them
EXT EVE – 294 – STARKILLER BASE – JOURNEY (SNOW) • Rey and Finn chased by a Snowtrooper. X-Wings overhead.
EXT EVE – 294 – STARKILLER BASE – VARIOUS • Plates as required for Starkiller Base Speeder journey
Deleted snowspeeder chase sequence.
INT DAY – 315 – STARKILLER BASE – CONTROL ROOM • Hux hears X-Wings are done. Prepare The Catapult
INT DAY – 316 – RESISTANCE BASE – MAP ROOM • Desolation. All is lost. Catapult fully ready
As Poe died on Jakku originally, there was no need for the Resistance fighters to actually succeed. This avoided the weirdly split focus of the final movie between Poe and the action on the ground (JJ even lampshades this in his DVD commentary).
INT DUSK – 323 – STARKILLER BASE – CORRIDOR TO RAMPARTS • Chewbacca dodges Stormtroopers and sets the explosives off.
INT EVE – 324 – STARKILLER BASE – RAMPARTS • Explosives cause havoc. Kylo Ren storms out
INT NIGHT – 325 – STARKILLER BASE – CONTROL ROOM • Panic in the Control Room. System’s offline.
It’s actually the heroes on the ground that disable the oscillator in the original plan. After this point, the shotlist matches the movie.
As discussed, the shotlist reveals crucial changes to Finn’s story. Here, he is directly connected to the film’s Force plot and associated with the lightsaber. The plotline where he attempts to run and hide is missing entirely, as is any suggestion he was a lowly janitor. If he was meant to have a Force plot of his own as all evidence indicates, then who decided against it and why?
John’s defense of JJ strongly suggests the changes were not what Abrams had wanted to do. Therefore, we must look towards Lucasfilm, Disney and Rian Johnson. In fact, the changes that were made all link in one way or another to the plot of The Last Jedi. Poe died originally, which would have obviously wiped out his entire story in TLJ. Without Poe, the story would have remained firmly focused on Rey and Finn. With Rey off on Ahch-To, this would have left Finn as our sole window into the Resistance storyline. Further, Finn is never portrayed as afraid to confront the First Order, wiping out any reason for his much criticized arc in TLJ.
In light of all this, it’s clear The Last Jedi was not made to follow JJ Abrams decisions in The Force Awakens. Rather JJ was forced to change The Force Awakens so Finn could be sidelined in The Last Jedi. Which is exactly what so many Black fans have tried to tell the fandom.