Star Wars Psychology: How Does a Stormtrooper Learn to Hug?

Stormtrooper since infancy, when does Finn learn to express any affection?

Posted Jan 27, 2016

Photo by Travis Langley. San Diego Comic-Con International.
Source: Photo by Travis Langley. San Diego Comic-Con International.

At long last, Star Wars fans have an Episode VII. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has broken a stack of box office records, rapidly become the most successful movie ever made. As fans' imaginations swirl with speculation over Finn's background, Rey's heritage, Luke Skywalker's wanderings, and more, one question of great psychological importance goes unanswered. When does a stormtrooper know how to hug? How does a soldier who helps rebels kill his fellow soldiers learn the body language of affection?

[You should realize by now that this post has The Force Awakens spoilers. Not the biggest one, but still.]

Given no name, identified only as FN-2187 until a Resistance fighter soon renames him, the character we know as Finn has served the Imperial-seeming First Order with no known disobedience until sent out into the field for the first time. When Kylo Ren orders stormtroopers to massacre villagers, FN-2187 will not fire. The light side has awakened in him. He will not do this evil deed. He help the Resistance fighter, Poe, escape (because he needs a pilot), killing other First Order soldiers without hesitation along the way. Through the film, he keeps fighting and killing his former comrades. 

Although raised from infancy to become fighting machines conditioned to obey an order, they're still human, and Finn has somehow retained that sense of right and wrong. Actually, the film provides a number of indications that those on the side of the First Order view their cause as right and the Resistance as murderers creating chaos. So some sense of morality has been encouraged, not fully suppressed but instead shaped in a particular direction. As parents, educators, and priests from across the world and through the history of humankind know, not everybody will adhere to their learned morals and values. Some will reject morality, but others will develop their own self-defined ethical principles. Regardless of why, Finn knows the massacre of villagers is wrong.

When, then, does he kill stormtroopers and help destroy a planet-sized based full of soldiers and others? Apparently his ethics allow for the killing of killers in combat situations or to save the lives of others. It's a complicated big of ethical acrobatics, to be sure, but Finn seems unbothered by it. If he knew all his fellow stormtroopers to be psychopaths and had never developed feelings of kinship for any of them, this might explain how he so easily starts killing them. So when does he learn to hug?

Their escape takes Finn and Poe to the desert planet Jakku, where Poe appears to have died in the crash. Later, however, he turns up alive. When each discovers that the other still lives, they greet one another with an comfortable, brotherly hug. Again, how is Finn so comfortable with that? The response is less natural and more learned than people might think. 

It's a question. There may be no easy answer.

Star Wars; The Force Awakens trailer (original screen capture).
Source: Star Wars; The Force Awakens trailer (original screen capture).