Studying Skywalkers: Identity in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Part 1

Charting Finn's journey from Big Deal to Resistance hero.

Studying Skywalkers is an exclusive column that investigates the characters, themes, and lessons of Star Wars from an educational, literary perspective. In part one of this installment, looks at identity, with a closer examination of Finn.

The Force Awakens focuses on three major new characters, Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Each of these respective characters must decide who they want to be, and this inner journey is shaped through many illuminating moments that create a sense of identity for these new and compelling characters. These three, distinct character arcs create degrees of captivating internal conflict that move us to look further into the mythology of Star Wars and allow us to witness each individual as they explore the question asked by Maz Kanata in the trailer for The Force Awakens: “Who are you?”

Through these journeys, both good and evil are both present in The Force Awakens, and each of the three characters mentioned above must face personal challenges of various degrees of rigor, in order to develop a stronger sense of self. One of the crucial aspects of internal conflict means facing your fears; Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren have steps to take in order to find their inner strength. Each has a vastly different outcome that reveals his or her paths to light or darkness. For part one of this series, we begin with Finn.

Finn starts the film as a stormtrooper, tasked with hunting down Poe Dameron, the pilot asked to retrieve a map that will lead to the last surviving Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker. Finn receives his baptism of blood through the death of a fellow stormtrooper, and once a bloodstained handprint is placed on his forehead, Finn is transformed. This inverse blessing turns out to be just that, as Finn sees the cost that comes with being an agent of evil. Evil seeks to subvert the light, and ironically, the death of a fellow stormtrooper shows Finn that he wants no part of the death and destruction he has been raised to acquiesce to.

His realization brings to fruition a character that does not want to hurt innocents, but to escape the chaos of the First Order, and, as a result, he seeks a new identity. Captain Phasma, the commander of the legions of stromtroopers helps demonstrate how vehemently the First Order represses individuality and identity. When Finn, in a dramatic moment of reflection, gasps for air in the midst of an apparent moment of emotional crisis, Phasma admonishes him, and orders him to put his helmet back on. Finn must blend in with the other stormtroopers, and cannot, even for a moment, show a visible sign of individuality or weakness. Phasma realizes that symbolically, Finn’s removal of his helmet symbolizes his own identity as a person, and not as the personification of the First Order. Finn needs a change, to escape this control and repression.

The Force Awakens - Finn with a lightsaber

In order to accomplish this, he must metamorphosize into a better version of himself, and once he rescues the ace Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron, this change begins to transpire. In a crucial moment of character, Poe asks Finn his name, to which he replies, “FN-2187.” The inhumanity of the First Order is in full regalia here, as Finn, as well as the other stormtroopers, do not warrant a name, but rather, a number. Poe christens his rescuer Finn, forming a bond between the two, and freeing Finn from the restraints of the First Order. Poe, in essence, restores Finn’s humanity with this act, and later, in a literal (as well as symbolic moment), Finn sheds his armor on the desert plant of Jakku. The sands of Jakku represent the rebuilding of Finn, as his conscience, as well as his character, begins to take shape amidst the grit and soil of the planet’s surface.

Finn is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. As he continues to learn about his role in the galaxy, we anticipate what is next for the former stormtrooper. However, he is not the only new character that is beginning to examine his or her place in the saga. Join us in two weeks, as continues to examine identity in The Force Awakens with Rey and Kylo Ren.

Dan Zehr is a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning, and runs Coffee With Kenobi (with co-host Cory Clubb), a Star Wars podcast that analyzes the saga through critical thinking, analysis, interviews, and discussion. He is also a member of the Rogues (as Blue Leader), a network of teachers that incorporate Star Wars in the Classroom.