So, who’s ready to fight about Star Wars? Because I’m The Mandalorian Wolf and I’m coming at you with a take that undoubtedly is going to cause many people to disagree, dislike, downvote, thumbs down and everything in between. What is that take you ask? I believe that there were two awakenings in TFA and those two awakenings were Rey…and Finn.
WAIT! Before you click away or dismiss me as a stark raving mad Mando, let me explain my take, present my case, and then you can say how much you disagree with how far I’m reaching. Okay? Okay.
Debunking the Red Herring theory
Upon first viewing of TFA with no prior knowledge of the movie, most thought that when Snoke and Kylo were discussing an Awakening in the Force, that they were referring to Finn, but post TFA, various people arrived at the conclusion that it must have been Rey. Certain fans even claimed that Finn’s role in TFA, and thus the trilogy, was a red herring created to keep Rey’s force abilities a secret. I’m here to tell you, that’s a load of kriffing barnacles.
Now think back to TFA, think back to this moment between Snoke and Kylo, and ask yourself “Had Rey done anything at that point that could be classified as an ‘Awakening’ of some sort”?
The answer is no.
50 minutes and 25 seconds into TFA, there isn’t any singular moment that objectively anyone could say Rey had exhibited any moments of an awakening.
A common argument I’ve heard is that Rey leaving Jakku is her awakening and that’s why Kylo and Snoke can feel her, apparently, Jakku was acting as some force cancellation. Now beyond it never being stated once that Jakku had that ability to suppress the force, when Rey leaves the planet with Finn, nothing happens. If by leaving Jakku she became more in-tuned with the Force, I would wonder why she has ZERO reaction whatsoever to leaving. Of course, someone could say that years of Jakku would make the Force slowly come back to her, and that’s why she couldn’t feel its faint power, but mightier Force users like Snoke and Kylo could feel it from across the galaxy…even though it was faint. What’s my reply to that?
Not only is this argument a reach at best, Rey having an awakening when she leaves Jakku but no one noticing, not even the audience or herself, doesn’t make any sense. Narratively and visuals, I believe you can pinpoint when Rey actually has an awakening.
When Finn leaves Rey, the script says that she is completely devastated and crushed. The Novelization goes as far as for Rey to question everything between her and Finn and how she feels about him. Rey is at her lowest emotionally and is lost. And it is only then after Finn has walked out and Rey had seemingly lost the person she had formed a quick, yet intimate bond with, does the world fade away and Rey is led to the lightsaber, where her Force vision begins. THIS is when Rey has her awakening.
Now, many might have missed this, but this moment of Rey being an emotional wreck and then being “awakened” had happened before in TFA, just not to her.
Slip’s death, someone Finn personally considered his friend, died in his arms on Jakku. In the novel “Before the Awakening” it is actually established that Finn was the leader of his squad of stormtroopers and Slip was the weakest link, a link that Captain Phasma, their commander and trainer, told Finn to stop always bailing him out of trouble. Slip’s death is described in every adaption of TFA as something emotionally crushing for Finn.
Which brings us to where I believe Finn had his own awakening. In the movie you hear the sounds of the battle going quieter and quieter, and an unknown sound that for the life of me I can’t place is heard.
Both Rey and Finn go through a moment of peak emotional stress, for Finn the sounds of battle and Rey the sounds of Maz’s bar/Catina/pleasure palace, seemingly fade into the background, except, for the screams Rey hears from her young self and for Finn, an unknown wooshing sound. Visually, both scenes even have Finn and Rey frozen before they turn to their right and wander off.
Now, this is the time someone will say “But Mando, what the bloody hell does this have to do with Kylo and Snoke sensing something? The whooshing sound Finn is hearing can be anything. JJ Abrams isn’t that insane or a mad man that would pay attention to that type of detail!”. Bruh, we’re talking about the director who foreshadowed Kylo’s TFA scar by having the way Han stroked Kylo’s face be the same position his scar originally was before Johnson retconned the position.
And maybe the whooshing sound isn’t anything, buuuuuuuuuut then something interesting happens after that:
The script says that as Kylo Ren is returning to his ship, he stops because he FEELS something, which causes him to look directly at Finn. In the movie at this time, we haven’t even been introduced to Rey, yet we know that Kylo Ren has felt something because of Finn.
This is the birth of Kylo’s hate boner for Finn that lasts the entire movie and even transfers over to TLJ if you’ve read the novelizations where Kylo is still thinking of Finn.
With what we’ve already covered, from a logical perspective, it makes total sense that the awakening Kylo confirms he felt to Snoke, was coming from Finn. In fact, to ignore the clear setup that Abrams does and claim Finn is still a red herring for Rey, is to be willfully ignorant of what the film is showing, telling, and setting up. Which is what The Force Awakens is to the trilogy as a whole, its a setup movie. Writers JJ Abrams and Lawerence Kasdan are laying the foundation for where the story will eventually go, whether that be immediately or in the future, which as of the time of me writing this, the future is The Rise of Skywalker that’s releasing at the end of this year.
But let’s take a step and go back to the counter-argument that Finn is a red herring for Rey and why that’s a load of Bolognadianoga flavored barnacles.
Going back into TFA, Rey actually “takes her first steps” into the larger world of the Force before Finn is even given the lightsaber by Maz. Which, on a side note, the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Rey “Thesey are your first steps” after her Forceback, gives a little bit more weight to my theory that Rey’s awakening happens in Maz’s castle and not when she leaves Jakku.
If Finn is meant to be a red herring to hide Rey’s force powers in the story, why is Rey confirmed to have the Force before Finn is even given the lightsaber by Maz? A lightsaber that in the novelization, Finn wonders if he is even worthy to use.
Which this brings up even more questions about why does Maz even give Finn, a total stranger, a weapon that belonged to Luke Skywalker instead of Luke’s long-time friend and bromance partner, Han Solo. And you can say that she’s giving it to him so he can pass it to Rey because it’s her destiny and this is all working back into Finn being a red herring, and I’d reply: meet me in a Deny’s parking lot for a bare-knuckle brawl.
Maz doesn’t just give Finn the lightsaber because she views him as an errand boy, which honestly makes her wiser than whoever actually thinks that. She literally insists that he uses it as a weapon instead of giving him a blaster. Maz isn’t ignorant to what a lightsaber can do and since she’s been around for ages, she more than likely knows how dangerous it can be to even the person using it. The novelization even goes as far as to treat this as a mini subplot between the two.
But ignoring the novelization because that’s external information and not the film, TFA itself presents these moments as something big for Finn. The visuals make it a point to frame this as Finn choosing his own path, to fight the FO by any means, which works into Finn’s thematic journey of being a hero of choice who has to fight for everything he gets, instead of a hero by fate who has destiny choosing their path for them.
Further evidence is how the destruction of the Hosnian system affects Finn. The moment that clearly IMO is meant to parallel Obi-Wan feeling the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope.
Now to address the counter-argument, which seems to be what anyone always has to do when arguing for anything interesting happening to Finn, some claim that the screaming Finn is hearing is coming from Maz’s castle and not the Hosnian system. Which…doesn’t make any sense.
Here is a shot of the people of Hosnian Prime realizing they’re all about to find out if there is a space heaven:
And here is a shot of the people of Maz’s castle walking out of it to stare and gawk:
So, the counter-argument to Finn hearing screams coming from the sky is that apparently, everyone in Maz’s castle was screaming off-screen…and that the castle is close enough for Finn to hear the screaming…but not close enough that Rey apparently didn’t even notice the large ship that Finn was boarding…and that for some reason when we cut back to Maz’s castle, no one is even screaming, yelling, or looking that panicked at all, in fact, they look stunned in silence. Yeah…here’s my reply to that:
Another counter-argument I hear is that if Finn did indeed have an awakening and is force sensitive, why did he lose to Kylo and get his back cut open? Well, let’s ask Anakin and Luke how they did in their first proper battle with a dark side force user:
Look at that, the chosen one, born from the literal Force making sweet love to his mother, and the son of the chosen one, getting their limbs chopped off in their first fight with a dark side Force user. All things considered, I think Finn got away pretty lucky. But, let’s ignore the past and only look in the context of this film. How does Rey manage with her first encounter against Kylo?
Okay, maybe 2nd times the charm?
It’s only until Rey’s 3rd attempt at fighting Kylo, when he’s emotionally a wreck from killing Han, already injured from Chewie’s bowcaster, Finn’s shoulder love tap with the youngling slaying laser sword, and Rey’s own BDE, that she finally wins. Finn’s loss to Kylo is in line with the hero’s journey, something that Luke himself took, and sets up the stakes and tension for a rematch in the future.
Now, I could go over parallels about how Anakin and Finn were both 23 when they defected from the order that raised them since they were young and would return to help bring it down as they chose a new destiny for themselves. I could go over how Finn’s stormtrooper number is a callback to Leia’s cell number: FN-2187 and how she also found out she was Force Sensitive in the last movie of her initial trilogy but, I think we should cover a more important topic.
If Finn had an awakening in TFA, why doesn’t Rian Johnson address it in The Last Jedi and since Johnson seemingly dropped that subplot, how does any of this factor into the future of the trilogy (TROS)? Well, I think I’ll have JJ Abrams answer that for me:
Now with this quote in mind, I think it’s safe to say that even though Rian Johnson himself has said he had to work inside of a vacuum when he was making TLJ, he still had creative freedom to take the story anywhere he wanted it to go, just as long as he didn’t leave that vacuum. So, when looking at the character of Finn, a character Johnson didn’t really seem as interested in as Kylo, a character he himself said he related the most to, it’s a reasonable assumption that instead of going where JJ would have intended the character to go, Johnson took him to where he thought he should go…Which was apparently space Vegas I guess.
JJ also mentions in the quote above, how in shaping TROS, he and TROS co-writer Chris Terrio looked back to ideas he and Lawerance Kasdan had during TFA and I think that’s another clue as to Finn’s awakening.
In the concept art of TFA, when Finn had his concept name of Sam and was white, and Rey was Kira, both of them discovered Luke’s lightsaber together:
Interestingly enough, judging by call sheets that were leaked when production of TFA had to take a pause due to Harrison’s injury (link), and in turn, the script went through more re-writes and re-shoots, Finn and Rey had still found Luke’s lightsaber together:
Now, this isn’t the only seemingly Force-related experience Finn originally almost went through in TFA. Originally after crashing on Jakku, he was also going to be rescued after the initial crash by members of an ‘indigenous alien tribe’ who would take him back to their village and ‘perform a healing ritual,’ so that he ‘is reborn a hero (link). Which is pretty…um…Force sounding. It’s also rather ironic that we see an interesting-looking alien tribe in the Vanity Fair photoshoot for TROS on some desert planet:
In addition to Leia’s unused TFA footage that came from her subplot being trimmed down and cut, there being more to Rey’s origins as JJ has said in recent interviews, John Boyega himself said that in TROS JJ Abrams went through the task of clarifying Finn’s past, future, and destiny. Also, keep in mind that John himself has always been vocal about wanting clarification on if Finn was Force Sensitive or not, and in these last years, there has been no word debunking it or confirming it. Though, during Star Wars celebration 2019, John did say he had to stop reading the script and thank JJ personally because something happened in the script that he had been waiting for (Go to timecode 0:33).
In conclusion, I don’t feel Finn’s character was ever a red herring for Rey in any way. Finn’s arc in TFA, in my opinion, is about him going on the hero’s journey and having an awakening of his own. TFA was his setup, and even though TLJ didn’t develop that plot further, considering it had no time skips and Finn was a little busy saving the Resistance again, I think it’s unfair to say that the subplot is dropped, especially considering JJ seems to want to finish what he started. All in all, this is just my personal theory, however, I feel the character of Finn has always had a set beginning and end game in mind for this trilogy and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to Finn in TROS.
Thanks for reading this long, long, take, and may the force be with you!