The Last Jedi and the Hero’s Journey – Part Two: Finn

In this series, we analyze the use of the Hero’s Journey framework in The Last Jedi to advance the story arcs of the main characters. The first post discusses how the Hero’s Journey models fit within the structure of a Star Wars movie trilogy, and examines Rey’s path in the film as an extended metamorphosis phase of her overall heroic journey. In this post, we continue with an examination of Finn and a look at the character archetypes in the film.

The Heroes of The Force Awakens: Finn Becomes Proud Rebel Scum

Like Rey approaching Luke Skywalker to offer him the lightsaber, Finn begins The Last Jedi exactly as we left him: unconscious in a Resistance medical ward, recovering from the injuries inflicted by Kylo Ren’s red blade at Starkiller Base. Like Rey, Finn’s character arc in the movie begins once the opening sequence – the space battle over D’Qar – has concluded.

The theme of Finn’s metamorphosis is the transformation from selfishness to selflessness in his motivation in fighting the First Order. His journey in The Force Awakens takes him from stormtrooper to defector to accomplice in a Resistance mission, but the driving force behind those actions is Finn thinking about himself or his friends, not a duty to others. He breaks with the First Order from a crisis of conscience; he liberates Poe so the pilot can help Finn escape. He lies to Rey about being a member of the Resistance, then admits the truth when she confronts him on his plan to flee to the Outer Rim with pirates. He travels to D’Qar not because he has sworn allegiance to the Resistance cause, but because they offer his best chance to rescue Rey from Kylo Ren; he lies in the briefing to ensure his assignment on the Starkiller Base infiltration mission. In the snowy woods he duels Kylo Ren to protect Rey, though it ends up that she is the one who has to save him.

When Finn awakens in the Raddus’ medical ward after the evacuation of the D’Qar base, he is still the same person who went to Starkiller Base to rescue his friend, opposing the First Order because Han and Poe and Rey brought him there. His journey in The Last Jedi, though, challenges Finn with a series of tests, each one compelling him to rethink what he stands for and what kind of person he wants to be. By the end, Finn chooses to live up to Rose’s initial vision of him – ironically, putting truth into the lies he told Rey and then Han Solo in The Force Awakens – and transforms into the Resistance hero befitting his reputation in the fleet’s word of mouth.

Each test pushes Finn further in confronting his motivations, whether he will continue to focus on himself and his friends or rather accept his place in a larger fight for peace and justice in the galaxy. Upon learning Rey has survived the events in the Starkiller Base forest and traveled to find Luke Skywalker, Finn is seemingly content to remain with the Resistance and wait for her to return; he is with Poe and Leia when they realize the Raddus and its support ships have been tracked through hyperspace. With the X-wings and bridge devastated, Finn reverts to his survival instincts and decides to take the beacon far away from the doomed ships so that he and Rey will be safe.

From their first moments of interaction, Rose Tico shines a light on Finn’s intentions, providing him the means to reshape his own choices. Initially she is awed by him, expecting him to live up to Paige’s praise; seconds later she is horrified, calling him a selfish traitor. Their mutual realization of complementing skill sets to disable the First Order’s hyperspace tracking offers Finn the chance to preserve the fleet, saving Poe and Leia as well as giving Rey something worth returning to. Recognizing the risks of the mission to Canto Bight are even greater than the danger to the fleet, Finn hands off the beacon to Poe before departing with Rose.

By the time he returns to the scene of the fleet pursuit, Finn’s tests have changed him. At first wowed by the glitzy wealth of the casino, he then sees the darker truths when Rose tells him to look closer. In the fathier stable, she shows him the power of the Resistance as an inspiration for the downtrodden. But Finn must get past whispers of temptation, too. Aboard the stolen ship, DJ points out that the war-profiteering arms dealers sell to the Resistance, not just the First Order. The codebreaker also shares his amoral perspective, telling Finn that both sides of the war are the same, and best course is “don’t join” either one. It is an echo of Finn’s plan on Takodana, that staying out of the fight is the only way to stay alive. This time, though, Finn chooses differently; when DJ cites that same moral equivalency to justify his action to save himself by giving up the Resistance’s escape plan, Finn tells him he’s wrong. Finn has accepted not only the rightness of the good side’s cause, but also his duty to fight for it. Finn squares his shoulders proudly for his rejoinder to Phasma: “Rebel scum.”

His actions on Crait confirm Finn’s transformation into a selfless Resistance hero. He is the one who proposes mustering the resources available to take out the First Order’s siege cannon, prompting a smile from Rose. It is not simply that he is dedicated to opposing the First Order – “I won’t let them win!” – but a willingness to lay down his life for the cause. Like Holdo’s hyperspace jump and Luke’s psychic projection, Finn intends to destroy the cannon at the cost of his own life; and like them, he knows his sacrifice will not be a total victory for the Resistance, only buying time for others to escape and live to fight another day. Rose saves his life at the last moment, though, reminding him that while self-sacrifice is noble, it is not always necessary – sometimes retreat, not martyrdom, is the right choice. Finn’s commitment to selfless heroism earns a karmic reward, too, in a heartfelt reunion with Rey.

Hero’s Journey Archetypes in The Last Jedi

The other prominent characters in The Last Jedi take on roles that serve as archetypes in the heroic journeys of the leads. In The Art of The Last Jedi (page 111), writer-director Rian Johnson describes the story as structured around three triangles, each forming a set of character relationships that drive the story forward.

One triangle is Rey’s. In her journey, Luke is the Mentor figure – though a more grumpy and less instructive version than is typical. As he was in The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is the Shadow, the dark reflection of the hero and her symbolic and spiritual adversary.

Another triangle is Finn’s, and Johnson overtly compares it to the familiar metaphor of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, each whispering in the ear. Rose is an Ally, supporting Finn’s progress on his path to selfless heroic metamorphosis. DJ is at first a Shapeshifter, with his skills, trustworthiness, and allegiance seemingly shifting and inscrutable to Finn and Rose; later he becomes more clearly a Shadow, overtly tempting Finn to revert to the selfish motivations of his past. This plotline also includes a Trickster, BB-8, whose unexpected creativity facilitates a jailbreak, a starship theft, and – provoking befuddled expressions from Rose and Finn – even the commandeering of an AT-ST.

This structure is a marked contrast to Rey and Finn in The Force Awakens, when they each were the primary Ally character for the other in their respective Hero’s Journeys. In The Last Jedi, Rey and Finn do not even speak to one another; they share only a brief embrace upon their reunion at Crait, and Rey gives a knowing smile seeing Finn tuck Rose under a blanket aboard the Falcon. But this does not mean their friendship is forgotten. Rey reminds Chewbacca to ask after Finn’s condition if he makes contact with the Resistance from Ahch-To on the Falcon’s comms, then entrusts the Wookiee with a message for Finn as she enters the escape pod to head to the Supremacy. Finn’s first concern upon waking up is Rey, and he seeks to ensure the beacon does not lead her back to certain doom. His celebratory whoop in the speeder cockpit on Crait confirms that Rey’s return in the Falcon has never been far from his mind, though no doubt with particular appreciation for her sense of timing.

Though she is an important supporting character in The Last Jedi, Rose’s role in the story does not take her through a Hero’s Journey progression. Rose does not change, as the principal heroes do; rather, she remains a constant touchstone of good to exert gravitational pull on Finn’s development. She is Finn’s Jiminy Cricket, the voice of conscience and truth in a muddy galaxy. But without an arc or metamorphosis of her own, she remains an archetype in Finn’s journey, not the center of her own.

The third triangle involves the conflict over the leadership of the Resistance during the fleet pursuit of the Raddus as its fuel supply dwindles. Poe is the next-generation character in this triangle, the hotshot flyboy who must learn to get his head out of his cockpit and become a leader. Leia is his Mentor, urging him to live up to her expectations of him. Holdo is his Shapeshifter, whose leadership style seems to Poe at first aloof, then misguided, then traitorous – before, with Leia’s guidance, he finally realizes the difference between selfless leadership and heroic grandstanding. On Crait, Poe’s choices demonstrate he has not only heard the lessons from the two women, but also has internalized and accepted them. Rather that rushing to try to blow things up, he is willing to wait for help to arrive until the siege cannon forces their hand; he orders the speeders to retreat when their approach to the cannon proves futile, then understands the nature of Luke’s sacrifice is to allow the others to escape to fight another day. That is the moment when Leia, with a proud smile, passes the torch by telling the others to “follow him.” Poe’s own transformation has been completed, from ace pilot to leader.

Part Three continues with Luke Skywalker and the Wizard’s Journey.

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B.J. Priester has been a Star Wars fan since he played with the original Kenner action figures as a young boy. His fandom passion returned after watching Attack of the Clones in 2002 and reading the entire New Jedi Order series in 2003. He voraciously caught up on the novels and comics in the Expanded Universe in addition to writing fanfiction, frequently co-authoring with Tricia. B.J. has served as editor of FANgirl Blog from its inception, as well as contributing reviews and posts on a range of topics. He edited Tricia’s novel Wynde, and is collaborating with her on several future projects set in that original universe. Currently a tenured law professor in Florida, B.J. has been a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., a law clerk to a federal appeals court judge, and a law journal editor-in-chief. He is also a proud geek dad whose son who is a big fan of Star Wars and The Clone Wars.