Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi remains one of the most controversial entries in the Star Wars franchise. There are many moviegoers who view it as one of the strongest and most creative films set in the galaxy far, far away, while others remain fiercely adamant that it ruined the franchise. There is one section of the film both groups tend to agree on, however. Even many of The Last Jedi’s supporters are critical of the storyline given to Finn (John Boyega), one of the Sequel Trilogy’s main characters, which they view as superfluous to the plot and less emotional than his role in the previous film, Episode VII – The Force Awakens. But if one revisits The Last Jedi, they will find themselves surprised at how good Finn’s story in the film actually is. Not only does it effectively develop him as an individual, it provides interesting contrast to the arcs of other characters in the film, especially Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), making it a crucial part of the film’s greater thematic arguments.
In the beginning of The Last Jedi, Finn wakes up from a coma in a medical pod, where he was being treated for the injuries he sustained in a fight against Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in The Force Awakens. When Ben and the First Order hit the Resistance fleet with their latest devastating attack, Finn becomes fearful that his best friend Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is training in the Jedi arts with Luke, will be in danger if she returns to the fleet.
He takes the tracking device meant to guide Rey back from an unconscious General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and prepares to leave in an escape pod before being stopped and incapacitated by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a dedicated Resistance mechanic and fan of his who is greatly disappointed to see him deserting. As she prepares to imprison him, the pair discover that together they have some of the knowledge necessary to disable the technology the First Order is using to track the fleet. After consulting with Poe and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), Rose and Finn head to the casino town of Canto Bight to recruit a master codebreaker Maz knows to help them.
Is Finn a Rebel?
Upon their arrival, Finn is first swept away by Canto Bight’s flashy materialism until Rose points out that the wealthy inhabitants make their fortunes off child labor, war profiteering, and other oppressive practices. They are briefly arrested before escaping in a stampede of horse-like creatures used for racing that some child workers, who are fans of the Resistance, help them set free. Finn states that he enjoyed tearing up the town and fighting back against the oppressive upper class. Instead of Maz’s contact, they recruit DJ (Benicio del Toro), a skilled hacker they meet in prison. DJ only helps for the promise of money, but he does take a liking to Finn and attempts to win him over to his cynical way of thinking by pointing out that both the Resistance and the First Order purchase weapons from the same arms dealers.
Throughout the storyline, Rose and DJ act as an angel and devil on Finn’s shoulders, and he doesn’t fully embrace either of their perspectives until DJ sells them out to the First Order during their infiltration of the command ship. After he and Rose escape execution, thanks to Vice-Admiral Holdo’s (Laura Dern) sacrificial attack on the First Order fleet Finn battles Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), his commanding officer from his time as a First Order stormtrooper. When it is clear she is beaten and about to die, Phasma snarls, “You were always scum,” to which Finn replies, “Rebel scum,” a popular phrase from earlier Star Wars works, the use of which signifies his realization that despite whatever moral compromises it may have made the Resistance is still the just side in the current conflict.
Some may argue that it is redundant to focus Finn’s arc on him deciding to commit to the Resistance after he already defected from the First Order in The Force Awakens, but the development he undergoes in The Last Jedi is a natural progression of his story in that film. As described in The Force Awakens, the members of Finn’s stormtrooper unit were trained and brainwashed from birth to serve the First Order. Although his moral opposition to their violent cruelty was strong enough to get him to leave, it makes perfect sense that he would remain frightened of them (especially after Ben almost killed him) and be weary of rejoining the war he just left, even on the opposing side.
It also takes more than his experiences in the earlier film to end the aftereffects of his indoctrination. The First Order tried to instill fanatical loyalty in Finn and though it didn’t work the way they intended, he does demonstrate obsessive behaviors. This is shown most clearly through his relationship with Rey. The pair quickly developed a deep bond in The Force Awakens, with Finn noting that Rey was the first person he remembers genuinely caring about him due to his traumatic childhood. Their dynamic is sweet but Finn’s loyalty to her sometimes causes him to lose sight of the big picture and make poor, selfish decisions.
In The Force Awakens, he lies to the Resistance and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), saying he knows how to disable the shield generator on Starkiller Base when he doesn’t, just so he and Han will be sent to rescue the captive Rey, despite the risky operation this causes the Resistance to mount. This is the same way of thinking that leads him to try to abandon the Resistance, including other friends like Poe and Leia, for Rey’s sake in The Last Jedi.
Rose manages to open his eyes to the importance of the wider conflict but Finn’s tendency to go to extremes remains until the end of the film. After rejoining the Resistance, Finn over-commits during the Battle of Crait. He has become so determined to defeat the First Order that he plans to crash his hovercraft into their battering ram cannon despite knowing the crash will kill him, and isn’t even guaranteed to disable the weapon. Once again Rose helps him see the light, knocking him off course by crashing her hovercraft into his and telling him that the Resistance won’t win by “fighting what we hate,” but by “saving what we love.” Rose then kisses him and while it’s unclear if he returns her romantic feelings, he does obviously see how important her friendship is, and he seems to take her various lessons to heart. At the end of the film, he is still overjoyed to reunite with Rey but also pays close attention to Rose to make sure her injuries are healing properly, suggesting that he’s found a healthier balance for his relationships.
The search for balance of various kinds is a recurring theme in Star Wars, of course, and it connects Finn’s arc to that of various other characters in The Last Jedi. Rey, Luke, and Ben are caught up in the eternal struggle between the Dark and Light sides of the Force, and are all pulled in both directions at different points. Rey and Ben struggle to reconcile their allegiances to their respective sides of the Dark Side/First Order versus Light Side/Resistance conflict with the complicated relationship that develops between them. Luke’s arc is similar to Finn’s, as he must also stop acting out of fear. As an ashamed Luke tells Rey, his fear of Ben becoming a Sith led him to briefly consider killing his nephew and student, which only hastened Ben’s turn to the Dark Side. Rather than learn from this mistake, Luke doubled down on his paranoid thinking. Believing that his own influence and that of the entire Jedi religion were dangerous for the galaxy, he cut himself off from the Force and isolated himself on Ahch-To. Like Finn, Luke eventually rejoins the Resistance on a path of self-sacrifice, although he does so without the obsessive influences motivating Finn.
Finn’s arc also acts as a thematic opposite to that of his friend Poe. Poe starts the movie completely unafraid of the First Order, but it soon becomes clear his confidence has grown into cocky arrogance. In the opening of the film, he continues an attack, despite Leia’s orders to retreat, which ultimately costs many Resistance soldiers their lives. Even after being demoted by Leia, he remains brash and when he disagrees with Holdo’s strategy he stages a mutiny against her while the fleet is under bombardment from the First Order. When Holdo’s sacrifice ensures the Resistance’s survival, Poe has a change of heart, learning the importance of caution and living to fight another day. The contrast to Finn’s arc is highlighted by how both men behave during the Battle of Crait. Before Finn flies at the battering ram cannon Poe orders him and all the other Resistance pilots to retreat because he knows continuing to engage the First Order forces directly will cost too many lives. And when Luke’s projection steps out of the Resistance hideout to face the First Order Poe recognizes that the Jedi does not intend to lead a renewed charge but is instead giving the rest of the Resistance time to escape.
At the end of the film these characters, with the exception Ben, have all found balance of a sort. Rey literally shuts the door on Ben’s projection, acknowledging that despite whatever sympathy and affection she feels for him, she will still oppose his actions as the First Order’s new Supreme Leader. Luke’s body fades out of existence as he dies, signifying that he has achieved the same kind of enlightenment in the Force as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda before him. Poe remains a confident and daring soldier, but he has also learned humility and become a more responsible leader. And Finn has learned that there is a right side in the galactic conflict and dedicated himself to it while also shedding the toxic influences of his upbringing after a storyline that’s much more impactful than it’s often said to be and is an important part of the ambitious whole that is The Last Jedi.