Why Are Stormtroopers Now Allowed To Bleed?
For the record: This short piece discusses why a particular scene in a recent film works and not, as its clickable title seems to indicate, why the writers/filmmakers decided to write the scene. I can’t speak to why they decided to include any particular element as I do not, at this time, have psychic powers… I’m working on that.
In the original trilogy, there was virtually no bloodshed.
The most blood you see in the original Star Wars film (referred hereafter as “A New Hope” for the sake of clarity) is in the cantina scene, when an Aqualish pirate (who was legitimately called Walrusman for nearly a decade) got his arm cut off by Obi-Wan because he said some things that weren’t very nice.
Now, if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens… what are you doing here? Go away. Or not. I suppose it’s up to you. I’m going to continue, though.
In The Force Awakens, during the initial skirmish with Poe Dameron and some random villagers, several Stormtroopers are killed. One of which is shot while standing next to Trooper FN-2187.
This trooper dies a slower death than Star Wars usually allows for faceless mooks, bleeding out and even running his bloodsoaked fingers across FN-2187’s helmet.
Despite being a stark departure from previous depictions of stormtroopers being shot and killed in the series, there are a few ways this scene works well.
The first and more direct is that it serves to remind us that inside that armor is a living, breathing human being who is made of flesh and blood which can be broken. The imagery of blood reminds us of the physical heart and even to its abstract counterpart. It’s a good move, writing-wise, as it primes us for Finn’s defection (oh, yeah, Finn is FN-2187, if you weren’t aware of that, well… I already told you to leave) by reminding us that they’re ostensibly just people in armor and it helps us follow him on screen by giving his armor a distinguishing mark.
The second way this scene works is more emotional. The scene is constructed in a way that mirrors those we’ve seen in American war movies. These are films in which a living, breathing American has found themselves trapped in a uniform, knowing that any moral questions they thought they knew the answers to when they landed will have to wait until they get back home (presumably to being a boring farmer or dentist or something). Much like the films it invokes, this scene goes out of its way to connect to own identities and fears. Many of us can see ourselves in the shoes of a soldier (and plenty of us have). We call it a sacrifice when it’s something we do because we know, on some level, the act of fighting is usually traumatic, regardless of how justifiable we believe the fight is.
Both of these effects are indirect but all of media’s effects are indirect. If you’re a writer, it’s important to know why certain scenes and tropes work and don’t. If you’re not a writer, it’s important for you to understand that these scenes and tropes infect the subconscious heuristic devices that we rely on and the less aware of that we are, the more likely we are to be victim of it.
The film creates a wonderful paradox by including Finn as a major character. We’re meant to identify with the very faceless soldiers while being equally meant to forgive our heroes for killing them. It’s a level of complexity not found in the Original Trilogy (rather, previously this was discussed only in the now non-canon Expanded Universe and the two very canon animated series Clone Wars and Rebels) and I, for one, am grateful.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t explore the knowledge that stormtroopers are human any further than Finn’s defection but the seed is planted in the primary canon now and that cannot be undone.
I sincerely hope that they do a better job of exploring the lives and deaths of the people behind the deliberately faceless stormtrooper uniform in the future.
Oh, by the way, my car insurance agent says I should mention this:
David L. Reeves is a fiction editor and narrative consultant who needs you to hire him if you’ve written something. If you’d like to write something or if you would just like to read more “small analyses” like this one, you can support this patreon he started because he also enjoys consuming food at regular intervals during the day.