Star Wars: The Force Awakens has given the internet a new hero. It’s not Finn, the former stormtrooper turned resistance fighter or Rey, the highly capable desert scavenger with a mysterious past. It a First Order stormtrooper who only appears in a single scene. The seemingly nameless riot control stormtrooper has been dubbed TR-8R by clever internet commentators, a name that evokes his solitary line: a cry of “Traitor!” upon seeing Finn. Memorable for his flashy entrance, enraged shout and solid combat skills, TR – 8R inspired an outpouring of fanart, tributes, and memes.
In a new age of filmmaking where interconnectivity is king, characters and ideas are carefully developed to appeal to the devoted fan just as much if not more than the casual moviegoer. The avid fan is more likely to consume all the products of a franchise after all. The backgrounds of several new Star Wars characters been kept mysterious to fueled rampant fan speculation, keeping the conversation going past the film’s runtime. TR-8R is a exception, a minor character who served to frame a short and exciting set piece with John Boyega’s Finn. The internet’s embrace of a minor character is not without precedent. The original films gave fans the enigmatic Boba Fett who clocked only minutes of actual screen time and a paltry five sentences of dialogue. TR-8R’s screen time lasted less than 30 seconds while uttering only a single word. Fans were taken by TR-8R’s scene, and worked to extrapolate a story for him. To Dark Side fans, he became a heroic figure, a stark contrast to the rather inept combat skills and lack of personality displayed by most stormtroopers.
Yet TR – 8R does have an official story, told within the developing transmedia narrative of Disney’s new Star Wars. TR-8R even has an official name—or number as the case may be. He is FN-2199 and his rage towards Finn is more than the simple anger of a First Order soldier against a resistance fighter. FN-2199 is revealed to Finn’s old squadmate and his reaction in the film is out of a sense of personal betrayal. All this took place off screen, within the pages of the novel Before the Awakening. Transmedia, the process of telling a story across multiple forms of media, has become Disney’s method to develop a new history of the Star Wars universe in ways that cannot be done only in the realm of film. It is a means to create what Neil Young dubbed additive consumption, a process where each new piece of information forces a revision of what was previously understood. The knowledge of TR-8R’s previous relationship with Finn helped the scene make sense to those already aware of the connection and then shed new light on the situation for those who became aware of it later.
From the publication of The Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1978, Star Wars developed a deep and involved history through media outside of the films such as books and games. The eventual result was the Expanded Universe, a continuity that greatly developed the story of Star Wars. Even Boba Fett owes his beginnings to his process, as he originally appeared in the much criticized Star Wars Holiday Special, in an animated segment no less. The Expanded Universe was beloved by many fans yet suffered from internal inconsistencies and was daunting to those new to Star Wars. Upon acquisition of Star Wars in 2013, Disney announced the Expanded Universe would be rebranded Legends and a new continuity would be created. Disney’s new official Star Wars canon would be one of a tightly interconnected and consistent narrative across all media platforms. As one example, the origins of the ruined Star Destroyer in The Force Awakens is depicted in the Battle of Jakku map for the Star Wars Battlefront game.
An important element of a transmedia narrative is fan engagement. As stated by Henry Jenkins, fans are an integral part of media franchises like Star Wars. It is an age of participatory fandom where fans are producers as well as consumers, helping to create what Marc Sternberg sees as a cycle of continuous and pervasive consumption of a media franchise. Fans, through their creations from fan art to cosplay, help keep a media franchise alive even through times of little or no official media. The sheer amount of fan interaction with media texts creates additional layers of information and rewards those who delve deeply into the media. In the case of TR–8R, this fan interest elevated the importance of the character to the narrative. The interest of fans has been noted and FN-2199 has been moved up in prominence. From the generically named “riot control stormtrooper” action figure that was originally included with in pack with a Finn figure, FN-2199 is now receiving a Funko Pop! toy with his own name.
Through fans engaging with the character and developing their own ideas, modified by the revelations about his past, TR–8R became a minor internet sensation. Foremost among the attributes fans ascribed to him was a strong sense of loyalty, rendering him a hero to those more taken with Kylo Ren and the First Order. Most of TR–8R’s online tributes focus on his seemingly unwavering sense of loyalty. His flashy moves with his Z9 riot control baton, dubbed his sick spins, spawned another series of memes. Inevitably, TR-8R’s feud with Finn found itself transplanted into other media, such as The Social Network or Captain America: Civil War. These fan generated products of images and even simple games form part of the transmedia narrative of Star Wars, the fans taking part in developing the media and characters they enjoy. To paraphrase the guiding principle of another media franchise, in modern fandom its all connected.
Colin, Harvey B.. Fantastic Transmedia: Narrative, Play and Memory Across Science Fiction and Fantasy Storyworlds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Untitled First Order Loyalty Game (link no longer accessible).
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
Steinberg, Marc. Condensing the Media Mix: Multiple Possible Worlds in the Tatami Galaxy. Canadian Journal of Film Studies 21.2 (Autumn 2012): 71-92. Accessed February 25, 2016.