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 I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw Star Wars: A New Hope. The film came out the year I was born, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t catch it at the theater. All I remember is an image from my early childhood, a procession of characters down an aisle toward a princess on our TV screen. Even though they didn’t give Chewie a medal, and despite (or maybe because of–I’m still deciding) the existence of Ewoks, I was hooked on these stories populated by characters who were at once iconic and accessible: a peerless warrior packaged as an insecure loner with daddy (and sister) issues. A princess who kicks ass. Or–perhaps my favorite, save old Chewie–a sarcastic smuggler with a beating heart buried underneath all that cynicism (and carbonite). I found something of myself in each of these people. Plus: the music.

felicityWhen I heard that J.J. Abrams would be directing Episode VII, I’m pretty sure I teared up. I’ve been a fan of his work since Felicity, a television drama so poignant that most of my college roommates refused to join my viewing parties because “it’s so hard to watch when she just embarrasses herself every week.” I nodded in faux agreement, knowing I would remain loyal as long as the show aired because I was Felicity: that awkward coed looking for love and coming up empty-handed so much of the time. As far as I was concerned, J.J. Abrams could do no wrong. (Even when Felicity time traveled. Ouch.)

My husband and I saw The Force Awakens on December 26–historically, the most depressing day of the year for me. We ventured to a new outdoor shopping center named First World Utopia or something–the kind of place with music gently playing from artfully hidden eco-speakers and fragrances wafting out of storefronts. It felt like a polished alter-ego of our lazy Sunday mornings in New York, when we’d hit our neighborhood bagel shop and watch a half-priced flick at the local theater. In this version, though, there was no poop on the sidewalk (that would be waiting for us at home with the kids); there were no panhandlers asking for change. All the grit had been scrubbed away in favor of Anthropologie, J Crew, and a theater with leather recliners. For us, two kids in and months devoid of movie outings, it was so much easier than real life.

I’d heard about the character of Finn prior to seeing the film and was already intrigued by the idea of a renegade Storm Trooper. What I didn’t expect was that we would actually witness his transformation on screen. I also didn’t expect him to be the character with whom I identified most: I mean, am I not supposed to worship at the altar of Rey while singing “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” and analyzing the feminist implications of a gender-swapped Jedi?

Maybe in a future post. But for now, let’s get back to Finn.

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The first time we see him, Finn is running off a ship with a gaggle of other storm troopers as they receive orders to raze a village. Spoiler alert: Finn can’t do it. Except that at this point, he’s not Finn, he’s FN-2187, new on the job and clearly–even through the faceless uniform–not comfortable here. Then, in a scene that had me recalling pierced hands and scarred foreheads, he receives a mark from a fellow trooper, a dying soldier who reaches out and paints his own blood on Finn’s mask. He’s now recognizable–by us and by the bad guys, who are keeping tabs on him and notice that he doesn’t discharge his weapon.

The First Order and its bloodthirst don’t sit well with Finn. He can’t disregard life as easily as they can. But up to this point, he’s played the game: blending in, following the rules. And I get it. The early panoramic shot of the First Order onboard their headquarters is somewhat breathtaking: gleaming and polished with a color scheme dominated by cool steel and jet black. For a second, I loved it. The sense of precision was intoxicating, soldiers in lockstep and leaders composed. Then I remembered who they were. It’s that moment Finn had: surveying the scene and realizing, better late than never, that something’s not right here. There’s a price to pay for polish and predictability. So Finn runs away.

C.S. Lewis wrote,

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

When Kylo Ren and company referred to Finn as a traitor, I wondered if it both stung and felt like a badge of honor. There is the element of safety that comes with belonging to a group, its tacit acceptance validating even ill-founded self-worth. Again, though, there’s a price to pay for finding all value in the keeping of rules–for placing our identity in the Law. For choosing lockstep over realness. I think about the institutions and activities we angle for membership into that can actually be crutches for our self-rehabilitation; the escape hatches that can be just doors to more enslavement: religion, self-improvement, New Year’s resolutions. What happens when we become traitors to the silent pact of only preening Facebook posts or perfect Instagram shots? What happens when we turn from the polish, predictability, and pride of saving ourselves by following the rules?

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We end up on the operating table, stripped of our dignity. But not before the wandering in the desert, the utter displacement that Finn faces as he’s lost between two places: the one he left, and the one he aspires to. Here is where I found myself in Finn, Boyega capturing his character being adrift with every bewildered look and claim at prior membership. I know what it means to not belong; I think we all do. But he isn’t, and we aren’t, lost: he was headed home the second he turned from the polish of the path of least resistance and toward the truth. In his last scene of the film, Finn lies unconscious, his heartbeat monitored by machines while the rest of the core rebels plan their next move. He sits this one out, and I love it. I love that he misses out, because it reminds me of every time I’ve been on the operating table of transformation administered by grace, where bootstraps were not around to pull up on and there wasn’t a damn thing I could bring to the team but empty hands and wounds. I love it because if this time he’s on the table, next time he’ll be with the crew, because that is the point: we are never left to our own devices once we choose to renounce them, and the heart change that occurs is forever if only we recognize that we need it.

In an earlier scene, Poe Dameron gives FN-2187 a new name–is there anything more Jesus-and-Peter than that?–and, eventually, calls him a good guy. Which is exactly what Finn has been aching to hear, even though he knows it’s not true. It’s what I’m aching to hear, even though I know it’s not true. Time ago, I would have just taken the lie and run with it: I’m good. But the mask got bloody and finally I had to admit that something wasn’t right. Grace doesn’t tell me I’m good when I’m not; it tells me about the One who is all the good I want to be and never will be. It confronts me on the battlefield, tells me to lay down my weapons, my deadly doing, my life on the run from the truth–betray my self-salvation projects–and begin a new life on the run: the run home to the Father’s arms. Where, as Maz Kanata says, “the belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead.”