When Finn wakes up in The Last Jedi, he’s similarly only interested in Rey (who has left to find Luke Skywalker), and quickly decides to abandon the Resistance fleet because of their desperate situation. He’s caught mid-escape attempt by Rose, a below-decks engineer on a Resistance freighter, who has none of his dubiousness over their shared cause. Her sister, a gunner, heroically dies in the film’s opening sequence; Rose doesn’t want her sacrifice to have been in vain. Quickly enough, she and Finn are drafted into a risky mission to combat the First Order’s tracking of Resistance ships.
Rose is a wonderfully sneaky character, in that she’s set up as a plucky sidekick but almost immediately becomes a crucial teacher, and equal partner, for Finn. Her certitude about the Resistance is not tied up in a noble idea of heroism, but in her understanding of what they’re trying to overthrow. She was born on a mining colony, she tells Finn, that was stripped of resources by the First Order and then blitzed for weapons testing. When the two journey to a casino city draped in finery named Canto Bight, Rose rolls her eyes at Finn’s delight, pointing out that it’s a haven for arms dealers that runs on slave labor.
During their travels, Finn and Rose meet DJ (Benicio Del Toro), a thief who happily sells his skills to the highest bidder and tells Finn there’s no moral absolutism in the galaxy. “It’s all a machine, partner,” he warns. “Live free, don’t join.” At the start of The Last Jedi, Finn might have believed that: He’s still a runaway from the First Order trying to get as far away from the action as possible. By the end, he’s committed to taking them down, slaying his evil former master, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), in a charged showdown on a First Order ship. “You were always scum,” she scoffs. “Rebel scum,” he replies proudly, embracing an identity he’d once tried to escape.
Johnson roots that rebellion in Finn’s trauma (he was brainwashed into service by Phasma and her cronies as a child), but also in the oppression Rose shows him on Canto Bight, which extends beyond the heartlessness of the First Order. The gleeful alien gamblers and slavedrivers of the casino city aren’t in stormtrooper outfits pointing guns at people, but the system underwriting them is, and by the end of the film, Finn understands why it’s worth toppling. Star Wars has sometimes lacked this kind of worldbuilding; in the original movies, viewers learned the Empire was capable of evil acts like blowing up entire planets, but we didn’t really see the wider impact of their tyranny. This kind of vagueness even led to some people defending the Empire as the true heroes of the saga.
Johnson, though, uses The Last Jedi to underscore the power of the collective. Star Wars has always been a franchise about big, Joseph Campbell–inspired hero journeys—Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi, Han Solo swooping to the rescue at the last minute, that lightsaber flying into Rey’s outstretched hand. But in The Last Jedi, Poe’s hotshot heroics are constantly dismissed and slapped down by Leia and her second-in-command Holdo (Laura Dern), both of whom know he’s after personal glory as much as anything else. And Finn’s final lesson comes as he tries to mount a suicide run in the film’s final battle, aiming to martyr himself to briefly forestall a First Order attack, until Rose knocks him out of the way to save his life.