With Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens choosing to put the focus on new characters like Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren, there was a lot of pressure on J.J. Abrams and his co-writer Lawrence Kasdan to make them compelling and interesting. By all accounts, they were successful in that goal, as the fan response to the fresh faces was one of the main reasons why The Force Awakens became a phenomenon. Reaction was so enthusiastic, that Star Wars 8 writer/director Rian Johnson is retooling his script to expand the roles for those characters.
Rey and Finn quickly found a spot in moviegoers' hearts, but creating them wasn't as easy. As they developed the film, the Star Wars 7 team spent a lot of time ironing out the finer details about their new characters, making sure everything was as strong as it could be. Michael Arndt, who was working on the Force Awakens screenplay before Abrams and Kasdan rewrote it, has given fans a look behind the curtain at how the franchise newcomers came to be.
In an interview with EW, Arndt spoke about the genesis for what would become Rey and Finn, essentially co-leads in the film. While Rey remained pretty much the same throughout, Kasdan played a large role in figuring out the best way to handle Finn:
"From the very beginning we sort of settled on very quickly that we wanted the girl, Rey, to be a scavenger. We always wanted her to be the ultimate outsider and the ultimate disenfranchised person, because that person has the longest journey... And then we were struggling to figure out who the male lead was going to be. I remember we talked about pirates and merchant marines and all this stuff, and finally Larry [Kasdan] got pissed at all of us and he's just like, "You guys, you're not thinking big. What if he's a stormtrooper that ran away?'"
While Star Wars fans have been treated to stories about outsiders and disenfranchised youths before (Anakin and Luke), Finn is something truly unique to the films. Never before had a single stormtrooper been humanized, yet alone turn against his fellow soldiers and join the other side. It was a fascinating dynamic to explore and marked a refreshing change-of-pace for the series. Finn as a kind of space pirate or merchant marine rings a little too close to Han Solo in the 1977 original, and there are those who feel The Force Awakens shares enough similarities to A New Hope as it is. Parallels between the two were bound to happen, but some things could be avoided.
It's noteworthy that it was Kasdan, and not Arndt or Abrams, who decided Finn should be an AWOL stormtrooper. The legendary Star Wars writer is retiring from the franchise once he finishes the script for Phil Lord and Chris Miller's young Han Solo anthology film, so he won't be around to "think big" in the galaxy far, far away much longer. There's always a chance he could be brought back as a consultant, but the onus is going to be on the younger voices to follow Kasdan's footsteps and push Star Wars further in exciting new directions as they look to build on the success of Force Awakens. The franchise is in their hands now.
That's not to say there aren't capable people working on the upcoming films. Johnson has impressed viewers both in film (Looper) and television (Breaking Bad), while Star Wars: Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow has talked about his desire to embrace George Lucas' sense of creativity. In addition, they're working with a solid foundation established by The Force Awakens, as many fans are on board with the new characters. Looking ahead, as long as Johnson and Trevorrow tone down original trilogy homages (i.e. no Starkiller Base 2) and throw in some fascinating twists and turns, the sequel trilogy should be in good shape and live up to its promise.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing in theaters, and will be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.