Finn: The Refutation of Yoda’s Warning & the Awakening of a New Jedi

Bright Suns, Stardusters!  Welcome again to another edition of Patty Has Late Night Star Wars Thoughts.  This particular evening I was thinking about Finn, my personal favorite of the new trio. My thoughts focused on the fact that, despite brimming with the emotions and engaging in attachments, which the Jedi Code so denounced, Finn never seems to be tempted by the Dark Side. The closest that Finn comes to being tempted by the Dark Side has been through inaction, rather than outright suffering. We see him run away and attempt to run away several times in The Force Awakens, he nearly runs away again in The Last Jedi due to his attachment to Rey and is further tempted by DJ to a life of simply not joining. In many ways, I am reminded of Yoda’s words about the dark side and how his warning does not outline Finn’s path, a path of justice not suffering:

“Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.” -Yoda

Yoda gives this wisdom to Anakin Skywalker when he is brought before the council.  These words ring through the ears of a young boy who has been taken from slavery and brought to the Jedi Order, leaving behind his mother in bondage. This statement from Yoda would begin the cyclical nature of Anakin’s descent into darkness, giving him unintended guidance into the Dark Side, then guiding him back to the Light.  We, as viewers, get to watch this cycle continue from Attack of the Clones, coloring Anakin’s life until his turn to redemption in Return of the Jedi

But Yoda’s warning did not have to be as such. Fear, anger, even hate, are not a given path to the Dark Side. Engaging in these feelings is not a guarantee that they will lead to suffering and cause one to spiral into the Dark Side.  Perhaps the warning was apt for Anakin, but the sequel trilogy appears to offer an alternative outcome to this experience, where these emotions can be part of becoming a stronger and more empathetic Force user.

From the beginning, FN-2187 is introduced to the viewers in fear.  Sent on a mission to slaughter innocent civilians, he is distinguished to us through the sheer horror he experiences and the brilliant blood streaked across his helmet, which feels more like the trope of the Final Girl in a horror film rather than a hero in Star Wars.  That fear propels FN-2187 not just through The Force Awakens but toward becoming the catalyst for events that will eventually lead to the destruction of the Palpatine, Kylo Ren, and The First Order.  It is FN-2187 giving into his fear and using that fear to break away from the First Order that puts the entire story into motion. Without FN-2187, Poe is never rescued. Without FN-2187’s fear, Rey is never found.

It is important to note, too, that FN-2187’s fear is justified.  As we discover his story, we find that he was stolen from his home and stripped of his humanity.  This new generation of Stroomtroopers are children ripped away from families and brainwashed into functioning as the First Order’s cannon fodder, with higher-ups generally being those who came into the ranks when older and, notably, came willingly. We see as much with Phasma and Cardinal.  These Stormtroopers have no more worth to the First Order than an easily replaced tool; they are  readily expendable. FN-2187 has seen first-hand the cruelty the First Order can and does inflict without hesitation. He has been inside their planet destroyer, Starkiller Base. Considering what he knows and what he has experienced, his fear is never shown to be disproportionate or exaggerated. 

It is through embracing his fear and acknowledging that something is wrong with the life that he leaves that FN-2187 is able to step through the door and finally acknowledge his own personhood.  He is given a name, Finn, his designation finally changing from cannon fodder to person. Little more than a year passes from the moment that Finn gets his name until the end of Rise of Skywalker, and we share the journey with Finn as he finds his way as a person, leaving behind his experience as a trooper. With a new understanding of his own humanity, the fear he has experienced does not consume Finn, instead pushing him forward, because he wants to protect and preserve this new feeling of freedom, this new meaning in his life, that had never been possible for him before. Spurring him on, Rey’s capture becomes a flashpoint for Finn’s growth as an individual. She was the first person to know him only as Finn, never knowing him as a stormtrooper, and she is taken by one of the people he fears most in the galaxy. Thus, Finn’s fear crystalizes and this fear grows to encompass those around him.  As a result, driven by this new protective feeling he has for those who recognize his personhood, that fear shifts towards anger, but that anger is not for Finn. The anger that Finn embraces is driven by a need and a want to protect and to defend. It becomes a shield that allows Finn to stand up and fight, even when he would be perfectly justified in running again.  After all, the Resistance does not seem to believe their odds against Starkiller Base. Maz and Han had already given him everything he needed to just disappear into a life of quiet peace, unknown and unknowable. Instead Finn refuses to turn his back on the new people within his life. His focus shifts toward a new purpose, changing from a desire to run and and get away from everything the First Order has done to him and will do to him. Instead, Finn finds himself convincing the Resistance to follow him to Starkiller Base, the exact last place in the galaxy he should go, in order to save someone who sees the person in him. 

Finn imposed over the Project Stardust symbol

Finn hinges it all on a gambit that any member of the Resistance could call him on at any moment (which Han eventually does).  But the tenuous nature of his connection to the Resistance doesn’t matter. Finn is there to help Rey, to help Poe, and to make decisions for himself that feel right, rather than having his decisions made for him and having to do the things that feel wrong. Because even though Finn is scared, even though he is angry, Finn cannot let go of the Light inside of him. It is this Light that carries Finn throughout his journey, tempering and guiding the anger and the fear that would have violated the Jedi Code. 

I will never forget the first time I saw Finn activate Anakin’s saber.  The way the blue of the laser reflects off his skin, creating a glow around him that reflects the righteousness carried by the Jedi themselves, as his entire body seems to vibrate in tune with the saber. In that moment, Finn feels, even to the viewers, absolutely one with the Force.  Make no mistake, though: Finn is terrified in this moment.  But he uses that fear to make himself resolute in his stance, squaring off against Kylo Ren, who represents the First Order, in order to protect Rey. At the same time, this moment allows Finn to defend his choice to be himself. He stands against Kylo Ren not as FN-2187, but as an independent human being, as Finn.  He knows he is out-matched, but this is not the fear that drives him.  It is instead a fear of losing the ones he has come to care about and the fear of failing those that have come to depend on him that drives Finn to activate a weapon that feels like something out of a myth and face down Kylo Ren. Finn risks his life, facing down his own death, knowing that it would be a death chosen by him, and not just dying at the command of Kylo Ren, Hux, or Phasma.  Finn engages Kylo in battle and is struck down knowing that he has a name and that he has a friend that believes in him. In that moment, despite the fear and the rage, Finn knows without a doubt that he is a human.

Even after Finn falls in his battle against Kylo Ren, the next steps are taken in defense of Finn himself. The saber flies to Rey so she can stop Kylo from delivering a killing blow.  In this moment, both Rey and Finn stand up and stand tall to take their place in this fight, a fight that will come to define them both for the rest of their lives. In this moment, they show that together they are stronger, together they both can find meaning, and their reliance on others is not a weakness, but in fact a strength that will help them both bring balance back to the Force in unique but interconnected ways. Finn’s faith is rewarded; Rey does not leave him, just as he did not leave her. Even though Finn is not awake during Rey’s portion of the battle, the results still define Finn’s confidence in this new network he has established as an individual. 

While The Force Awakens appears to be focused on Finn’s fear, The Last Jedi is, in many ways, an examination of Finn’s anger. When he wakes up after the battle with Kylo Ren and the destruction of Starkiller Base, the last thing Finn can remember is going toe-to-toe with the psuedo-Sith and falling in battle. The world he finds upon waking up is different from the world he remembers: Rey is gone, the Resistance is in shambles, and a pervasive fear threads through the network he has come to rely on From Finn’s perspective, it has still only been a few days since he made his escape from the First Order. Nearly all that he feared has come to pass. Even as he staggers out of the medical bay in his leaking bacta suit, Finn finds himself back in a place of fear. The loss of that stability drives him to try and reunite with Rey, the person who refused to leave him behind. Her confidence in him makes it so he cannot abandon her.  As a result, Finn is introduced to Rose Tico.

Rose gives Finn a new, unique perspective. Instead of carrying Poe’s confidence or struggling with Rey’s indecision, Rose brandishes her anger.  She is brimming with rage. It radiates off of her. It drives her and motivates her, something the audience comes to recognize the moment Rose realizes that Finn is attempting to desert the Resistance for his own goals.  But her rage is not the rage of Kylo Ren, unregulated and volatile like a malfunctioning reactor.  Nor is it the rage of Hux or even Phasma, a controlled and brutal chill.  Instead, Rose wields a focused rage that manifests as a protective streak, driving her to present herself as a shield for others.

This protective fury  matches Finn’s own anger.  He, of course, has every right to be angry.  Everything that he had come to rely on in the previous film has been taken from him. He is adrift without Rey, though Leia does provide Finn with a link to Rey that grounds him, functioning like a talisman: a binary beacon to tether Rey and Finn across systems. This beacon foreshadows Finn’s ability to sense Rey through the Force, emphasizing his own abilities in conjunction with Rey’s, and the First Order is on their tail. 

But unlike Finn’s rage, Rose’s rage is focused.  She is quick, clever, and immediately ready to jump to work, regardless of how dirty it might make her hands.  Her area of expertise is one that mirrors Finn’s own, giving him a person to talk on a very personal level for the first time since leaving the First Order. Rose is the first person that Finn truly talks to about his knowledge of not just weapons but the technology behind them, showing that his knowledge is both practical and theoretical. They are both, at their hearts, engineers. When Finn realizes this connection that he has with Rose, his entire demeanor changes, he lights up and becomes engaged in a way he isn’t always engaged, which reflects his excitement with Rey on the Falcon in The Force Awakens. Finn and Rose not only understand what the other is talking about, but also achieve a connection through the excitement this shared knowledge sparks within them. This moment of connection allows Finn to move past his initial stangnancy in familiar fear and move to action empowered by anger. 

Rose imposed over the Project Stardust symbol

The Canto Bight sequence in The Last Jedi is controversial among fans.  As a note, I do agree that the scenes on the whole could have been edited better, but I want to argue that the scenes on Canto Bight function as the backbone ofThe Last Jedi’s message. This message is revealed through Rose and Finn’s exploration of this glittering planet, which reveals the corruption of the galaxy and shows this corruption as being deeper than the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order.  This is a corruption that has roots all the way back to the Republic, mirroring the puppeteering of the Clone Wars by Palpatine. This corruption carries the pain of slavery in the Outer Rim that was spoken out against, but never stopped. It carries the pain of children born to never know freedom but still feeling a spark in their hearts. It carries the shadow of Anakin Skywalker and his youth on Tatooine. Rose shows Finn the injustice just beneath the veneer of glory, opening up his world more than ever before. What Finn sees and learns on Canto Bight doesn’t just justify his pain: it gives him a community of people who have suffered like him and people who understand how he feels. More importantly, it gives him a community in need of help. While The Force Awakenswas Finn’s discovering who he was without the First Order, The Last Jedi presents Finn discovering what he stands for. 

Interestingly, Rose and DJ offer Finn conflicting ideas on how to approach and weaponize his anger at the corruption that he has been awakened to. DJ’s perspective on life falls in line with Finn’s original line of thinking: that the best thing to do is to avoid becoming involved at all, that to survive is to be passive, and that, no matter how angry you are, what you do doesn’t matter in the end because you can never overcome these powers… So why try? This path is a path of safety, but only for the individual, a path where there are no right choices, only a way to keep alive no matter the cost. 

However, Rose shows a way forward that allows for growth, a way for Finn to focus his anger into something productive. The path where he follows Rose allows Finn to acknowledge his anger at the injustices done to him and done to others, then use that anger to strengthen himself.  This is anger transformed to justice instead of vengeance.  Although this anger is hard and although this anger can be brutal, it is at all times strengthened by the hope of doing the right thing, of knowing that mistakes may be made but you can use those mistakes to do better.  It is a path of action, of danger, and of doing the right thing no matter what.

As Finn has his eyes opened to the reality of the galaxy and sees that glitz often covers grime, he realizes that there is so much work to do. With this new knowledge, Finn finally finds that same focus that drives Rose to do what needs to be done for the benefit of the people she considers her own.  Both of these individuals are angry in the way that only people whose lives have been destroyed by others can be, but they both temper their anger with hope and a belief in something better, something bigger than themselves.  This anger drives them to find that they are more than just the sum of their parts.

My breath honestly caught during the scene in which Finn stood over Phasma, the serenity that comes with intimate knowledge of one’s self clear in his eyes, and he proclaimed himself a proud and true Rebel Scum.  In that moment, Finn claimed his identity, stood with his people, and took hold of the life that he was actively choosing to live. When Phasma falls to the flames of the crumbling ship, that chapter of Finn’s story ceases to cling to him. His experience as a number no longer gets to define him. In that moment, Finn finds himself truly and wholly free. 

Yet,Finn’s lessons are not yet complete.  With this new understanding of the anger and drive for justice lighting a fire in him, Finn attempts to martyr himself by putting himself directly in harm’s way during the course of a small battle, despite the fact that this sacrifice will only gain a temporary advantage for the Resistance.  In that moment, Finn makes a choice that reflects the same choice that Paige Tico made at the beginning of the film, intending to use his last breaths in destroying a weapon of the First Order, blind to the fact that this will only give a semblance of victory to the Resistance.  

This time, however, Poe calls off the battle. This time, Rose is there to stop Finn and save him, putting her own life on the line for Finn’s. In this moment, Rose gives her final lesson to Finn, showing him that the most radical thing he can do is live. Making the choice to live is an act of spite against his oppressors, handing them a different kind of defeat by continuing to inspire others and guiding others to walk the same path as he has. In that moment, Finn learns a crucial lesson: do not allow an angry hunger for justice lead to self destruction, but instead use that anger for the selfless defense of others.  

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate; saving what we love.” – Rose Tico

Rose isn’t saying that their hate is unjustified or driven by flawed thinking.  Undoubtedly, Finn, Rose, and many others in the galaxy have good reason to hate the First Order and all that it stands for.  Their anger is well-founded .  But Rose’s perspective flips Yoda’s warning to young Anakin Skywalker on its head. It is not hate that leads to suffering; it is instead loss. Loss of what we love and loss of what drives us to be better for ourselves and others ultimately leads us down that Dark path and traps us in that cycle of descent.

Finn’s fear, his anger, his hate?  None of these are the cause of his destruction. Instead, these emotions are a source of strength for the Light within Finn.  He can use these emotions as a shield to protect himself and, more importantly, to protect others. These very Human emotions allow Finn to connect with others in the Galaxy, letting him engage in empathy and sympathy alike in order to understand and relate to the pain and suffering so pervasive in the Galaxy.

As The Last Jedi ends, we are blessed with a continued experience through reading the novel Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse.  In many ways, Resistance Reborn is a culmination of the Sequel Era’s expanded materials, but it also explores Finn in his new mindset of knowing who he is, what he fights for, and what he will fall for. 

“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Finn, for the first time in his life, feels as though he is allowed to take pride in his personal identity.  He embraces enthusiasm and hope, allowing himself to become full of light.  Yet he does not become unmoored. He remains steady in the ideals that he has made his own.  Even when he is undercover for a mission of vital importance, Finn refuses to let himself hide again. While he embraces creating the new identity of Kade Genti for their mission, Finn refuses to leave behind the Alliance starbird that has begun to mean so much to him.  His life finally has meaning in a very personal way.More importantly, while Finn knows that his life has meaning to the family he has found in people like Rey, Poe, and Rose, he also recognizes that his life has meaning to himself and that is something that cannot be taken away by the First Order or any other darkness in the galaxy. 

“Finn held up a silver pin he had retrieved from his pocket.

Poe took it, turning it over in his palm.  It was an Alliance starbird, the symbol of the Rebellion and, now, the Resistance.

“Where did you get this?” Poe asked.

“I found it. On Crait. I… I didn’t tell anyone because it didn’t seem right to keep it, and maybe I didn’t deserve it.  But I’d like to wear it. Tonight.”

“We’ll likely be mixing with the First Order.  Do you really think that’s wise?”

Finn looked up, fire in his eyes. “I don’t think I care if it’s wide. It means something to me. Besides,” he said, lifting his chin, “Kade Genti’s not afraid of a few stormtroopers.”’

Resistance Reborn, Rebecca Roanhorse, p.201-202

No longer a number, no longer adrift without purpose, The Rise of Skywalker introduces us to a Finn that has come into his own as a person with a complete and concrete identity. While The Rise of Skywalker mostly focuses on Rey’s journey toward finding herself and her purpose, we see the repercussions of Finn’s choices and actions in previous films.  When our heroes come upon an enclave of defected stormtroopers, we discover that Finn’s own defection carried through the troops he left behind, inspiring others to reclaim their lives and find a personal purpose.  He is, in many ways, a legend to people who have never met him, inspiring them and helping them realize that they, too, are people, not just tools that serve the First Order. The ripple effect of Finn’s actions directly results in Jannah and her people being there to help the Resistance, proving to be previously unknown allies hidden behind the face of their enemy. This thread continues throughout the story of The Rise of Skywalker, speaking to the hidden allies tucked away in all corners of the Galaxy, the ones who eventually come to the aid of the Resistance in the final battle. These children who were raised to hate all, including themselves, are given the chance to learn to love and the opportunity to fight for that love of their volition.  These unexpected allies rise up together with Finn and Jannah leading the way to take on the Final Order. Before the battle, Rose sees Finn off, both of them knowing that this might be the last time they see one another, both of them knowing that they are continuing their fight for the love and justice they both deserve, that everyone with them deserves, and everyone that they haven’t met deserves. They know that this last battle is the culmination of their choices to pursue the enduring good in the Galaxy, using their anger as a guiding Light.   

The Rise of Skywalker also takes the moment to confirm the bond between Rey and Finn. Throughout the film, we see Finn feeling and sensing Rey through the Force, putting more trust in her than anyone else in the galaxy. Notably, Finn feels Rey’s death and experiences her resurrection through the Force, his heart knowing when Rey is in the most danger while also recognizing that she can and will hold her own. This, too, is another moment of growth in Finn. He shows that he is capable of significant trust in others, despite having every reason to distrust those around him. Again, Finn makes a conscious choice to engage in the Light, which is a direct contrast to the inherent mistrust that Anakin Skywalker seems to have in those around him.

Throughout the films, we see that suffering is not the beginning and the end of Finn’s journey. We see that, in many ways, Finn’s journey is still just beginning.  His burgeoning ability within the Force, his ability to look hate in the face and refuse to let it control him– these things open so many possibilities for the former trooper known as FN-2187. By embracing the love within him, Finn comes to embody the Light side of the Force.  He has forged a path for future users of the Force that allows them to feel, process, and accept their emotions as tools for their connection to the Force, rather than denying the very natural parts of themselves that make them dynamic individuals. And make no mistake, even with all of his fears and doubts, Finn allows himself to be wholly motivated by love and his ability to connect with others. Finn does not just support Rey and Rose, but delights in their abilities.  He meets a person and, despite everything he has been through, he is able to see all of the good in them, even to his own detriment at times, such as with DJ. More importantly, Finn is able to recognize that each and every person he meets is a unique individual who is capable of leaving a mark on the Galaxy, good or bad, and he recognizes the value of that. Throughout all his trials, Finn never loses hope when it comes to believing in other people, which helps him to further inspire others through stories that circulate of his actions.

Standing side by side with Rey and Poe, Finn is able to contribute to the creation of a new Galaxy, one that can move forward past the impact left behind by the First Order. The Galaxy envisioned by this group of unique individuals is one that can take on the hardest battles and continue the fight for justice. The Galaxy envisioned by Finn, Rey, and Poe is capable of holding accountable those who thought they were above the conflict, those who saw others dying and suffering and continued on as if it was of no consequence to them. Ultimately, Yoda’s warning was not wrong; it was limited in scope. It was, in fact, an absolute. It was an absolute that we are able to see Finn grow beyond.

“Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” – Yoda

In contrast to the Code that guided the steps of Jedi of old, Finn and others like him seek out  justice, temper their emotions with love, and give others, including myself, hope for the Galaxy. Finn acts as a guiding Light, alongside Rey, for a new order of force users– a new order of Skywalkers.