FN2187 was kidnapped from a planet that he would never know. He doesn’t know if his parents are alive, if they were killed trying to protect him, or if they handed him over willingly. Sadly, he will never know. He would send most of his adolescent life training to kill people in the name of the Supreme Leader. He would be forced to serve the very people who stole him away from his parents, his home. He would be indoctrinated into their way of thinking. Molded into a weapon for them to aim at the innocent. This is Finn’s story and it is the story of all First Order storm troopers. They’re all victims. Some are beyond saving but shouldn’t an effort at least be made.
At the end of Rise of Skywalker, when all of the enemy ships were exploding and our heroes were pumping their fist into the air in victory. I thought of all of those storm troopers who had their lives taken from them. (I also thought of all of the gamblers on Canto Bite. They made a killing off of selling weapons to both sides.) This wasn’t the imperial navy. Those storm troopers who died on Endor and on the Death Star, made a conscious decision to ally themselves with a tyrannical regime. They chose to be the Emperor’s enforcers. The storm troopers of the sequel trilogy did not.
For a time, I thought that was the message of the sequel trilogy. War needs to be defeated. The First Order was raised by the empire. They were taught to hate. They were taught to conquer and to war. They can’t be defeated with more hate, more violence. They have to be shown the light. The storm troopers have to willingly remove their helmets and lay down their arms for victory to truly be achieved. They have to change and Star Wars has to be allowed to change.
In the Force Awakens, Finn is the opposite of Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren hides behind a mask because it gives him the power to be cruel. He’s running away from his better self. Finn removes his mask because he wants the light. He’s not cruel and the longer he wears the mask, the greater the chance that he may give into it. Finn convinced himself that he’s ran because he’s a coward. But he’s ran away from the First Order because he has empathy. He couldn’t put himself into another situation where he would be called upon to kill the innocent. As the story goes on, He found that there are people and ideals that he would die to protect. He found his true self.
Where the story gets away from itself is this. Why doesn’t Finn’s compassion extend to those who share his tragic backstory. The story unfolds in a way where, by Rise of Skywalker, he seemed to almost take pleasure in dispatching storm troopers. This seems like a logical progression for the character on his journey to the final installment of the Skywalker saga. But by the end, shouldn’t Finn be the voice that ushers in real peace in the Star Wars galaxy. If anyone could show the storm troopers a better way, it would be him. He’s been there.
There’s a trend in Star Wars, and other forms of popular media, for the hero to dispatch legions of faceless foot soldiers. But when the hero reaches the main antagonist he or she will say, “I won’t kill you. That’s exactly what you want. I won’t sink to your level.” But you killed thousands of people to face the main baddie. Palpatine is brought back to be a simplistic personification of all evil. A way to escape all of the heavy questions that the sequel trilogy has raised about war and the nature of good and evil. If Kylo Ren can be redeemed then why can’t the storm troopers be redeemed. That’s the question the film makers were avoiding by bringing Palpatine back. I’m sure the answer to that question would be far more compelling than blowing up yet another fleet of imperial ships armed with Death Star lasers.
I always assumed that Finn’s purpose was to be the one to convince the storm troopers to rebel within the first order. To lay down their arms. Thus, putting an end to the war that would actually last. But ROS ends the same way as ROTJ. The personification of evil is destroyed along with many of those he manipulated. But doesn’t that just mean that this cycle is just doomed to repeat. Another personification of evil will rise and build another first or second order.
I enjoyed the Rise of Skywalker. It was a fun, action packed ride. But the ending wasn’t satisfying. People say that J.J. Abrams betrayed Rian Johnson’s vision but I say no to that. J.J. betrayed his own vision. Or perhaps, even worse, he never bothered to consider the vast potential of Finn’s origin. Finn’s last act of heroism in ROS was to fire a canon at a room full of bad guys. Considering that Rey was taking down the root of all evil in the universe at the time. Finn’s little adventure seemed more like busy work. Instead of fulfilling his destiny as the liberator of his captive bothers, Finn killed hundreds of them while cracking wise for the camera.
Thomas K Davis
Author of the Versatile Layer book series