The Last Jedi is a movie about choices, about options. The main characters are given the opportunity to choose their own destinies. Will Rey follow Luke down the path of the Jedi or will she follow Kylo down the path of the dark side? Will Poe end up as a martyr for the cause or a savior of lives? Will Finn find a way out of danger for him and Rey or will he finally commit to the Resistance and put his life on the line for people he doesn’t even know? And who will help him make that decision?
Rian Johnson creates paradigms for each major character to look to for inspiration. That is why Rey has Luke and Kylo; Poe has Holdo and Leia; Finn has Rose and DJ. Let us take a dive into DJ’s world and see what it is this character is actually up to.
Finn’s main character decision to make is whether or not to commit to the Resistance. From a story perspective, Finn needs to commit to the Resistance but, from a character perspective, Finn wants to rescue Rey. Remember, the transition from The Force Awakens into The Last Jedi is about five minutes or so; the first thing Finn says after he wakes up from his bacta coma is simply, “Where’s Rey?” We understand immediately what he is focused on. And in order to get his goal accomplished (making sure Rey doesn’t return to the Resistance amidst being followed by the entirety of the First Order’s naval fleet), he has to connect with some master code-breaker on Canto Bight. While there, Rose basically makes her pitch to Finn on joining the Resistance: to tear down the First Order, by hand if necessary. She’s in it for the little guy, the peasants and slaves oppressed by violence and war mongering generals (and their orange cats). And that’s fine. But what is Finn’s other option?
Enter DJ, a man with no real name, with no real affiliation, with no real problems. Even when we are first introduced to his character in prison, he clearly is not the least bit bothered by it. After Finn and Rose turn down his offer to help with the job he overheard them discuss, he has no interest or reason to pursue them. He opens the gate and strolls down the hall and in the other direction from our heroes. After encountering BB-8 (“Roundy”) in the hallway, he finds a way back into Finn and Rose’s orbit by rescuing them at the last moment when they are trying to escape Canto Bight. After haggling over the cost of his expertise, the trio sneak aboard Supreme Leader Snoke’s flagship with a goal of shutting down a thing to make something else stop working so that the Resistance can make their final escape. However, it turns out that sneaking aboard the First Order Mega-class Star Destroyer unnoticed is harder to do than previously imagined and the gang is caught. However, DJ, being without affection for the Resistance, offers to trade information for his life (as well as a payday) and is handsomely rewarded by the First Order. In his parting moments, when Finn threatens that DJ has joined the wrong side, DJ turns and responds with a wonderfully in-character lackadaisical response: “…Maybe.”
What does DJ actually offer Finn, then? What can he teach our former stormtrooping janitor?
Clarity of purpose
DJ makes no bones about how he lives life. Even when in jail on Canto Bight, he has no cares in the world that make him anxious or uncertain. He accepts where he is and how he got there without any push back or complaint. And, when the opportunity presents itself to turn one bad situation into a slightly better one, in the vein of escaping the prison with Roundy, he has no hesitation linking up with BB-8 and stealing someone else’s ship. Now, BB-8 is able to convince DJ to return for Finn and Rose (or perhaps it was a quid pro quo arrangement where BB-8 would get DJ a ship if DJ got Finn and Rose out of their particular jam) but not out of any sort of altruism or duty to fellow man. Rather, DJ sees it as another move; not towards or away from anything in particular, but simply in the interest of staying moving. DJ fears being locked down and committed to anything and therefore his drive is simple: stay true to yourself only and stay moving.
Rose shares a similar level of clarity in her purpose although she has a different focus. Rose is fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves, whereas DJ is only interested in fighting for himself. For DJ, it is a matter of self-preservation. Perhaps he has already seen what “good” the Resistance is able to do for the common being: get yourself killed either in the Hosnian system or in space above D’Qar. DJ is not interested in living a life that could end up with shortening its own duration; rather, he wants to extend that lifespan as much as he can.
2. Integrity of person
When the whole gang comes together to discuss how they will sneak aboard Snoke’s ship, DJ challenges Rose on the integrity of the Resistance. DJ does not believe that either the Resistance or the First Order has any integrity when it comes to dictating right and wrong. Rose takes obvious offense to this, as she just witnessed not just friends but also her sister die for such a cause. DJ actually builds off of the argument that Rose constructed earlier when she was identifying the denizens of Canto Bight. There was only one way she could imagine that anyone could become so wealthy in times such as those: war profiteering. However, DJ is able to prove that these profiteers were not simply First Order sycophants, but also supplied the Resistance with its own ships and armaments. By taking service from those profiteers (DJ’s theory would go), then the Resistance is in the same bed as the First Order: dangerous and duplicative. Both entities claim to fight for peace and justice, and they both are willing to blindly accept the equipping from the same sellers. DJ’s unspoken retort is that if the Resistance were truly the shining beacon of freedom and justice that Rose believed it to be, it would not be willing to do business with those who would allow themselves to do business with the First Order.
DJ has the vantage point here to put on full display the hypocrisies of such organizations. He himself has no problem taking service from any one particular seller, similar to the First Order, because he does not hold himself to such a standard that the Resistance does. In a strange way, he proves himself of a higher integrity because he is able to more successfully implement his code of ethics. That is, as opposed to the Resistance which (to him) lacks integrity because it cannot hold to its own self-imposed ethics. DJ can call out that hypocrisy because he is not tethered to the Resistance’s ideologies and because his own personal ideology does not set up such a barrier to action as “getting dirty with the people spreading the dirt.”
This does not suppose that DJ is a virtuous person; rather, only that he is consistent in the personal application of his own belief system. That consistency begets integrity: you can count on him to follow through on the execution of his belief system when that system is tested. Which leads us to…
3. Isolation of survival
There is no way that DJ could establish the type of relationship that Finn himself wants. DJ is a man unto his own way whereas, as we have previously identified, Finn wakes up with a single solitary goal in focus: finding Rey.
DJ shows Finn that personal decisions have interpersonal consequences. As he is not willing to tether himself to anything or anyone, DJ is able to survive. He relies on no one and needs no one to rely on. However, that does not line up with the character of Finn as we have gotten to know him. While he may not be a team player (yet), we have seen him thrive in community rather than in isolation. He needed Poe to get him off the Star Destroyer, he needed Rey to get off of Jakku, and he needed Han and Chewbacca to infiltrate Starkiller Base. DJ, on the opposite side of things, shows that he got himself into trouble on Canto Bight and that there is no one coming to rescue him. He snuck himself (along with Finn and Rose) onto the Supremacy and cut his own deal to save his own neck.
DJ’s selling out cannot even be considered a “reversal” or “betrayal” because he never admitted allegiance to Finn and Rose. It was a simple business transaction: performance for pay. If Finn and Rose counted on DJ to uncharacteristically buy into the proposition that the Resistance are indeed “the good guys,” then they were simply not paying attention to DJ before. DJ even warns Finn and Rose right at the beginning: don’t join. It is more than a life motto; it is a warning to others. It is a warning that when you hitch together two individuals, you increase the likelihood of disappointment and pain. DJ’s philosophy avoids that by simply avoiding it.
Finn, after having both the examples of Rose and DJ before him, makes the call in the end to fully endorse the Resistance, both in word and in deed. He has had the opportunity to see what it might take to save Rey and the only way to do it is through the Resistance, by stopping those that would do her harm. Finn could have followed DJ’s path, taken care of himself, sworn off the Resistance entirely, but he saw the end fruits of that: it would require allowing Rey to go her own way, separate and apart from him.
And that is something he simply could not have.