What We Learn from a Character’s First Scenes in The Force Awakens

May the Fourth be with you!

It’s no secret that I’m a Star Wars nerd. As I talked about last month, Star Wars shaped me both as a person and a writer as I was growing up. Love or hate certain parts of it, there’s no doubt that Star Wars has, in all likelihood, the biggest “fandom” to ever exist. It’s touched the lives of millions and has made a permanent mark on the world – all in less than 50 years. As writers, we look at a phenomenon like this and think, “There’s gotta be something to this Star Wars thing.” Something doesn’t have that huge of an impact for no reason. And so, here we are, to take a deep dive into why Star Wars works.

The Force Awakens is my favourite Star Wars comfort movie. I can nearly quote it by heart, and it always inspires me to tell my own stories because I think the storytelling in the movie is spot on. Does it follow the Hero’s Journey just as closely as A New Hope? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great movie in its own right.

One particular thing that’s always bowled me over is just how amazing the protagonists are. Introducing your main characters is hard; you have to tell your readers/viewers a lot about them in a very little amount of time. Oh, and you can’t actually tell them, you have to show them. Getting this intro right is, I believe, one of the most difficult tasks when writing a good story. And yet, The Force Awakens does it masterfully with not one, but three main protagonists.

Though many things make these intros successful, one particular ingredient I noticed is that each of the three characters is faced with a powerful, personal decision very early on that shows us the core of their character.

So, where’s the magic? Let’s find out, starting with the brash pilot himself.

Poe Dameron

The first character we’re introduced to is the least important of the three in this movie, but he’s also the catalyst for the other two characters getting involved in the plot. And he also opens the story – no pressure there. The movie gives us a near-complete picture of Poe within just a few minutes, as the plot starts moving very quickly very fast.

Giving us this much information in such a short amount of time wouldn’t even be possible with “telling” instead of “showing.” By dropping Poe straight into a challenge that pushes him to extremes, we get to see straight into who he is.

This is what we learn in Poe’s first couple of scenes. Keep in mind that the “external” qualities are mainly descriptors, while the “internal” qualities define who he is as a person.


  • He’s a pilot – even if the scrolling credits weren’t a clue, his X-wing gives it away (and his outfit a bit, too) 
  • He’s with the Resistance – even if you doubt his dialogue, the way he runs away from and then confronts the stormtroopers shows exactly which side he’s on


  • He’s funny – his dialogue makes this clear
  • He’s brave – he confronts stormtroopers and even Kyo Ren head on 
  • He’s resourceful – when his X-wing is shot, he barely hesitates before jumping on another plan 
  • He’s compassionate – he tells the old man to run and ensures BB-8 he’ll come back for him 
  • He’s strong-willed and believes in the Resistance wholeheartedly – as told by his defiance towards Kyla Ren

His “Key Question”

As I mentioned, each of the main characters faces a challenging decision within their first scene or two that shows you the core of who they are. Poe’s is: “Fight, or give in?” Poe chooses to fight/resist, showing us that he’s strong, unafraid, and believes in the Resistance with his whole being. He’s dedicated.


One great thing to notice about Finn is that he doesn’t speak until a few scenes into the movie. And yet, before he even says a word, you have a firm handle on who he is. This is good storytelling, people! Moreover, Finn is wearing a helmet for his entire first scene or two, so not even his expression can tell us what’s going on!

Here’s what we learn about him


  • He’s a stormtrooper – I mean, duh, but it’s still important to know
  • He’s inexperienced – by the way he runs around the battlefield aimlessly and doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself, we can assume this is his first time in battle long before they mention it several scenes later


  • He’s not a firm believer in either the “good” or “bad” side – he doesn’t shoot his blaster, but he doesn’t try to help Poe or the villagers, either 
  • He’s conflicted – we see him lift his blaster, but not fire
  • He’s compassionate – he checks on a fallen stormtrooper 
  • He’s nervous – we see his anxious, jerky movements even with the armour on 
  • He’s cowardly – shown by the fact that he does nothing when he sees innocent people being harmed, even though he obviously doesn’t agree with killing them himself

His “Key Question”

Finn’s character-revealing question is: “Do I follow orders, or follow my conscience?” The nuance in how he responds gives us a multi-faceted view of his character. He obviously believes in good to a degree because he chooses not to kill, but he’s not a brash rebel like Poe because he stands by as others do choose to kill.


Ironically, though she’s the real centrepiece character of the movie, she’s introduced last. This allows the story to primarily focus on her now that the other two characters have been introduced.


  • She’s poor – her clothing looks “scavenged,” worn, and dirty 
  • She’s a scavenger – we see her collecting parts and selling them 
  • She lives in oppression – we see her given “one-quarter portion,” which you can instantly infer isn’t enough


  • She likes routines – we see her keeping track of the days and multitasking while making dinner
  • Her spirit has been beaten down a bit – she watches Unkar Plutt give her the 1/4 portion without complaint (this time -notice the difference between the first day we see Rey and the second. The arrival of BB-8 – something new and unexpected in a life that otherwise never changes – gives her hope and strength.) 
  • She’s fanciful and imaginative – she wears a pilot’s helmet for fun and holds on to the childish fancy that someone is coming back for her 
  • She’s strong-willed – she gives the Teedo what-for when rescuing BB- 8 
  • She’s both selfish and compassionate – she does save BB-8, but then she simply tells him a safe path to the outpost and then declines taking him in. Finally, though, she does grudgingly accept to house him for one night
  • She’s physically capable – from the way she moves while scavenging and effortlessly carries her staff, we can see she’s nimble and strong (which is quickly proven in a couple of scenes)

Her “Key Question”

Rey’s key question comes in that pivotal moment when Unkar Plutt offers her a whole lotta food in exchange for BB-8. Though it seems like only a brief interaction, it dramatically changes Rey’s future. If she had sold BB-8, taken the food, and gone home, she would have never left Jakku. The question here is: “Do I sacrifice my own safety and comfort for someone else, something greater than myself?” We see her face this question over and over again throughout the rest of the movie – and the rest of the series.

What We Learn from All of This

The really neat thing about all of this information is that we don’t consciously notice that it’s being fed to us – but we take it in anyway and it shapes the way we view the movie and the characters. It sets the story up with a solid foundation. This is exactly what we need to do when we’re writing our own stories, may it be a book, a movie, or anything in between. It’s so important to give the audience a good grasp on the main character(s) from their very first scene. It sets up the entire rest of the book and explains the characters’ motivations as they react to change. We must use “showing” as our guide. Let the character’s actions speak louder than their words.

Need help figuring out show don’t tell at the start of a book? I can help! Take a look at my services page where I offer book coaching and feedback starting at just $10.

Happy writing!

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.


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