Let me explain.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens works on a number of levels — as a sci-fi adventure and a space opera, a mainstream hit and niche success — but its most potent quality might be nostalgia. The film brings back Han Solo, Leia Organa (General now, not Princess), Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker and seeing them together after all these years should be its most memorable quality.
So why aren't fans talking more about the reunion of Han and Leia, whose relationship comes loaded with so much history and only becomes more complicated? Instead of the pair's doomed love story, it's two of the series' new characters who many are talking about: Poe Dameron and Finn.
It's not totally surprising, considering ex-Stormtrooper Finn gets plenty of screentime as one of the film's leads. But the internet isn't celebrating him only for being exciting or fun to watch, but for his affecting relationship with Poe Dameron — their "bromance," if you will.
Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe, has joked in an interview that he approached his character from a romantic angle — which John Boyega (Finn) corroborated and teased himself.
To make sense of it all, go back to the beginning of the film. On his first assault operation, First Order soldier FN-2187 watches as a comrade is slain. The dying Stormtrooper leaves a bloody handprint on FN-2187's helmet, and it traumatizes him such that he defects from the only life he has ever known — even if it began with him stolen from his real family.
The conduit for FN-2187's escape is a captured rebel pilot, Poe, whose secret mission was interrupted by the First Order's attack. FN-2187 springs Poe because he needs a pilot to get him off the First Order's ship and to a new life. They crash land on the planet Jakku and the Stormtrooper, whom Poe renamed to "Finn" in their jubilant escape, presumes his new best buddy to be dead.
This is a powerful sequence of events. A Stormtrooper without an identity is given one for the first time; two dogs of war find companionship in members of the enemy side; a charismatic, major character has apparently died. The time that Finn and Poe spend together is short, but it has a profound impact on Finn, and it's easy to see why fans are reading so much into it. Finn wears Poe's jacket for the remainder of the movie as a tribute to his new friend, and when they reunite, and Finn discovers Poe still lives, the emotion is palpable.
Why, though? Could Finn be romantically interested in Poe, as some fans claim? The two don't spend a lot of time on screen together, and Finn does launch into an all-out rescue of Rey, for whom he also shows great affection. But that hasn't stopped shippers around the web from clinging to the idea that Finn's devotion to Poe, and vice-versa, is not simply platonic based off their body language when they finally reunite.
the fluff is sooo ssstrong with these 2 pic.twitter.com/9uctNedhyR— Shanen (@epseelutely) December 27, 2015
It's not uncommon for fans to put male characters together in this way, celebrating semblances of homoeroticism. Fanfiction and social media channels like Tumblr are chock full of works dedicated to male characters in love with other men, and their reasons are varied and complex.
For some fans, exploring issues of sex and sexual identity through a relationship between two men is a way of adding some depth or intrigue to those characters without going through the unequal power dynamic — or widespread clichés — of heterosexual romance. For other fans, it's also a way to see themselves represented in their favorite media.
So, is Finn drawn to Poe because of a queer attraction? That's for director J.J. Abrams and those in charge of the new trilogy to say for sure. But for 21st century fans of the enduring saga, the case of Finn and Poe is a way to humanize the two characters, and because of what it truly reveals in Finn's makeup.
Not only does a "bromantic" interpretation suggest that Star Wars itself is changing — at least in the sense that its characters could even be seen in this way, thanks to their more open displays of affection — but that its gigantic and diverse fanbase can feel included, too. It would be exciting for Star Wars to feature that kind of a relationship, because of what it would say about the caretakers of a billion-dollar franchise, and their acceptance of some of their most ardent fans, who have yet to see their lives and loves reflected in its story.
Finn/Poe fanart is literally what I live for pic.twitter.com/9fvOPxYUIT— laura (@daisyrdley) December 19, 2015
The new Star Wars landscape is already offering diverse representation, putting women and people of color in primary roles. For the film to broach sexual minorities too would be unprecedented for such a mainstream pop culture institution. But if any franchise could pull it off without worrying about taking a box office hit, it's Star Wars.
Lest eager shippers forget, Finn also flirts with the female lead, Rey, early on, and their growing relationship is a major factor in the film, too. He asks her about a potential boyfriend and has a tendency to hold her hand while running from danger (which she hates). But what are Finn's real reasons? Could it be a front, put up by a guy trained to be a masculine killing machine, now all alone with a cute girl who confuses him?
As wonderful — and valuable — as it is to entertain Star Wars' queer potential, it's interesting to consider this alternative: that Finn, kidnapped at birth and raised to obey people without any relationship to them, is starved for human contact, and especially for affection. His tendency to cling to Rey and throw enamored looks at Poe is not because he's into them romantically, but because they're the first people who've treated him as a fellow human being. Poe gives Finn his name, after all.
Finn's relationship with Poe is strong because it's the first time anyone's cared about him
Star Wars is called that because it takes place during a time of hardship and combat, and unlike Luke or Leia — or even Rey or Poe, as far as we know — Finn's history is completely embedded in war. His relationship with Poe is so strong because it's the first closeness this born instrument of brutality has ever been offered. It's that explanation that makes their pairing so compelling, even more than the classical romance of Han and Leia.
Whether the nature of their relationship is platonic or not is almost beside the point; what's most appreciated about Finn and Poe's dynamic is that it's an affectionate male friendship at the forefront. It's a friendship that is meaningful for both Finn and the audience, which can see two men show how much they care for each other without their masculinity being called into question.
The discovery that the first person who ever cared about him was alive after all is a powerful experience for Finn and, it seems, his fans as well.