We’ve spoken before of Finn’s role specifically in the Skywalker family arc, and how his future is heavily foreshadowed to interweave with them as Han Solo’s did before him–but what about where he came from before the beginning of The Force Awakens? In this article, I make a case for a backstory for Finn that both adds depth to his past, and gives meaning to his future.
The character of Finn has thus far had little of his backstory explored. We know he was taken from his family at a very young age (it is ambiguous whether they survived the event during which he was taken), that he was raised to become a Stormtrooper for the First Order, and that he defected after being forced to attack innocent civilians. Unlike Rey, whose identity mystery is heavily built into the plot, Finn’s ambiguous origins factor less into his personal arc, and are treated as secondary to his journey to define himself separate from where he came from. Nonetheless, this does not mean Finn would not benefit from a backstory–only that the backstory he is given must be carefully chosen to amplify, rather than overshadow, his existing arc. Among much speculation that he is the son or grandson of legacy characters, the child of royalty, Jedi, or even Imperials, I propose this: Finn is a Mandalorian, the descendent of generations of both warriors and peacemakers, and just as his counterpart, Rey, carries the burden of her family’s legacy, he carries the burden of an entire world’s.
First, a bit of background: canonically, the people of Mandalore were originally noble but ruthless warriors who launched brutal attacks against the people of weaker planets. They also harbored a fierce animosity against the Jedi, as reflected in the Mandalorian-Jedi War. This war culminated in the destruction of Mandalore’s ecosystem, rendering it barren and lifeless and setting the stage for the struggle over Mandalore’s future that lead to the Mandalorian Civil War many years later. This war, which took place during the advent of the Clone Wars, was waged between the so-called “New Mandalorians,” who believed in a peaceful Mandalore; and those on the other side who wanted to restore Mandalore’s place as a fearsome warrior society. The New Mandalorians triumphed, and, led by Duchess Satine Kryze, began rebuilding Mandalore into a pacifist state. However, this period would not last long, as an alliance between Darth Maul, his Shadow Collective organization, and the Mandalorian insurgent group known as Death Watch launched a successful coup to take control of Mandalore and plunge it back into violence and chaos. Emperor Palpatine took advantage of this opportunity to imprison Maul and seize control of Mandalore for the Galactic Empire. A second Mandalorian Civil War occurred, concurrent with the wider Galactic Civil War, which ended with the Mandalorian people triumphing over Imperial rule, and the benevolent Lady Bo-Katan Kryze became the new society’s leader.
The state of Mandalore from this point forward is unknown. However, regardless of any presumed peace that was restored to Mandalore at any point after this second Civil War, the Mandalorian people nonetheless maintain one legacy of war and violence: the creation of the Republic’s Clone Troopers, which ultimately evolved into the Empire’s (and First Order’s) Stormtroopers. The original Clone Troopers were built from the DNA of a Mandalorian man, Jango Fett, who (though not necessarily especially loyal to the Mandalorian government or people) wore the Mandalorians’ traditional armor and thus stood as an emblem of the culture’s ancient warlike traditions. This fearsome-looking armor eventually morphed into the ominous, hollow-eyed Stormtrooper mask and uniform as appropriated by the Empire, ensuring that no matter what degree of concord the Mandalorian people created for their society, their culture would always be associated with the violence perpetrated by the foot soldiers of the Empire and First Order. As long as Stormtroopers continued to don the guise of Mandalorians to commit atrocities, the Mandalorian culture would continue to be shackled to its history of violence.
Similar to the suspicious gap in Luke Skywalker’s story between the OT and ST eras, the dearth of information about the state of Mandalore during this time begs the question of what was going on there that the Story Group has not yet revealed. One possibility is that the planet was ravaged by the First Order, although it is not, geographically speaking, within the areas that the First Order typically launched their attacks. Nonetheless, a planet populated by historically skilled warriors with a new and unstable government would be an ideal target for an attack specifically aimed at kidnapping children to raise into Stormtroopers. Given Finn’s mysterious backstory, canon evidence that Mandalore was raided in this fashion may be tipping the hand more than Lucasfilm is willing to do at this point, hence the radio silence from that planet in canon thus far. Another possibility is that Finn’s parents were Mandalorians fleeing another period of civil strife on the planet, and Finn was stolen from them during a First Order attack on the star system they fled to. We now set up the story of a boy stolen from a complex culture of both warriors and peacemakers, mercenaries and liberators, whose warrior side is divorced from all cultural context and used as a weapon to fight a battle he has no stake in. But at the beginning of The Force Awakens, we see that Finn’s compassionate, pacifist nature has not been bred out of him. He is the only Stormtrooper we see who has maintained this side of the Mandalorian spirit, which may foreshadow a unique ability to awaken his comrades to their true nature and rally them to fight back against those who sought to rid them of it.
The theme of restoration and redemption of old legacies has already been heavily touched upon in the Sequel Trilogy, particularly as it applies to the journey of the Skywalker family. The Skywalker Family’s original sin–its tendency towards the Dark side–was rooted in its patriarch, Anakin Skywalker, and his fall to the Dark. The family’s legacy was restored to the Light side through the actions of Anakin’s children, Luke and Leia; and was then perverted again by his grandson, Ben Solo. Rey, the youngest heir to her grandfather’s legacy, serves as its restorer, returning it to the complicated, but overall Light-sided natural state that it was in before Anakin’s fall. A similar arc can be foreseen for Finn, if he is in fact a child of Mandalore. The original Mandalorians were torn between warlike and pacifist factions, reached a period of peace, and then had their culture and heritage exploited to become the face of the Empire’s brutality. If Finn is Mandalorian, he turns Mandalorian warriors from emblems of oppression to emblems of liberation. Mandalorian soldiers will no longer be associated with the beginning of a period of ongoing war, but rather with the end of it. We can also see hints in a deleted scene from The Last Jedi that Finn will not only bring peace to the galaxy through winning the war, but may also rally his fellow Stormtroopers to rebel against those who kidnapped and indoctrinated them to begin with. In doing so, he further defines the legacy of his people, by attaining victory not just through battle, but also through bringing freedom to others.
This duality also plays into the idea of Finn as another source of “balance” in the plot of the sequel trilogy, a theme that also echoes throughout the saga as a whole. Finn, being raised as a soldier, flees a military life at the first opportunity in The Force Awakens, associating fighting for any cause with sacrificing his own humanity. This is further underscored in The Last Jedi, where he feels hesitant to commit to fight for a cause that may be flawed (as well as preferring to assert his new freedom by escaping and running away with the woman he loves). However, by the end of the movie, he has found the courage to commit to the Resistance’s cause, without sacrificing the compassion he demonstrates immediately after the battle, embracing Rey and tending to a wounded Rose. In this way, Finn also embodies the yin-yang themes and iconography present in the rest of the trilogy, and indeed, the saga. Just as Luke Skywalker breaks his non-interventionist pledge in a way that is nonviolent and self-sacrificing, Finn’s arc in The Last Jedi foreshadows his ability to become a Spartacus-like leader among his former fellow soldiers, achieving victory both through bravery in battle, and through reminding others of their own humanity. The cultural roots of this inner struggle only serve to deepen the meaning of this very personal journey, adding richness to it without detracting from the ways in which Finn alone drives it.
One of the biggest possible pitfalls that Finn’s character could potentially fall into is having the issue of his own stolen past completely dodged due to the narrative dominance of Rey’s similar struggle. And while it is true that Rey’s arc (and indeed, the plot of the trilogy) revolves far more around her unknown identity than Finn’s arc revolves around his–at the top of The Force Awakens, he has already come to terms with losing “a family [he’ll] never know”–Finn deserves to connect with the identity and humanity that was taken from him. This being said, avoiding this pitfall comes with pitfalls of its own: namely, that Finn’s backstory is either meaningless, contradicts his arc, or strains narrative credibility.
The main crux of Finn’s arc is him learning to craft an identity for himself on his own terms, and being able to claim that identity while also devoting himself to a cause. Simply making him the descendent of another legacy character is heartwarming, but doesn’t do much to add depth to this arc in and of itself. Whereas Rey’s journey relates to finding a place in her own story (ie, connecting with a place and identity lost to her), Finn’s journey relates far more heavily to defining himself, separate from where he came from. Having Finn find meaning in a culture whose history and struggle mirrors his own, not only lends meaning to his story, but also gives him greater freedom to continue the journey of crafting an identity on his own terms (as opposed to finding meaning in similarities to very specific people).
Additionally, by making Finn the descendent of a specific legacy character, we risk cheapening his arc simply because it feels like a less complex copy of Rey’s. Rey gets three movies to explore the meaning of her family and where she came from, while Finn would only have one movie to do the same. Again, we render Finn’s backstory an afterthought, as opposed to something that has been woven into his journey from the beginning. It also risks losing the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and, by proxy, their investment in the characters. It’s far more likely for a girl from a significant family to spontaneously meet a boy from a significant culture, than it is for two children of two significant families to encounter each other. Although such coincidences aren’t totally foreign to Star Wars, they usually relate more to blood family members being drawn back together through the Force (and sometimes still feel shoehorned in).
It also gives Finn Galactic significance–he is no longer just one of many people aiding in the Resistance effort, he is also the symbol of the legacy of his entire planet. Finn being a son of Mandalore makes any victory he attains a victory that has not only been fought for the few months he’s been with the Resistance, but also a victory in a struggle for identity and legacy that’s gone on since at least the fall of the Old Republic, if not since ancient times. And, in turn, it gives Finn’s identity as a warrior a greater, more personal meaning than just being something he was trained for as a Stormtrooper. He comes from a planet with a complex, but nonetheless rich history of noble warriors who lived by a deeply-rooted code of honor. Therefore, rather than any natural skill as a warrior being seen as just the result of his childhood indoctrination, it can also reflect the history of valor that his people were known for, only blended this time with his natural compassion and kindness as opposed to rage or hatred.
Of course, this is a very specific backstory theory, and it is possible that Finn (regrettably) may get no backstory at all, or one that’s only explored in EU materials. Nevertheless, Finn as a lost Mandalorian is one example of a background for the character that would enhance and enrich his story, without feeling tacked-on or thematically meaningless. It provides an ideal balance between grounding the character in his origins, while also leaving him the freedom to fulfill his existing arc of creating an identity separate from his origins. And most of all, it underscores that Finn is not simply along for the ride, or to help out others: he is, in his own right, a hero in the making, and the chosen bearer of a legacy of his own.