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In the YA book Before the Awakening, the stormtrooper leadership has the following discussion regarding performance of their soldiers:

"FN-2187 has the potential to be one of the finest stormtroopers I have ever seen."

"From what I just observed, Captain, I agree."

"But his decision to split the fire-team and return for FN-2003 is problematic. It speaks to a potentially...dangerous level of empathy."

―Captain Phasma and General Hux

To me FN-2187's decision not to shoot on Jakku speaks to his having normal levels of empathy. Empathy is part of what makes people effective leaders, something required for succeeding in the military. Yet in the movie they treat this as a weakness.

It seems to me that Finn's defection would have been a more common occurrence. (Indeed, his decision to take off seems to suggest he has seen this situation before and doesn't want to go down this path).

My question is: Is there any evidence to suggest that FN-2187 had an above-average empathy level compared to other non-clone Stormtroopers?

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    imo your misunderstanding what they mean by dangerous levels of empathy. im reality i assume that the average storm trooper has FAR below average empathy, so just having a normal level would be very problematic.
    – Himarm
    Dec 23 '15 at 5:45
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    Was that dialogue actually in the movie? I don't recall that.
    – user31178
    Dec 23 '15 at 8:26
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    Well there was that great scene where those two Jedi came to Finn and did a blood test to measure his empathy levels, and a really high number showed up on the screen. I think. Dec 23 '15 at 11:54
  • I don't seem to recall that dialogue appearing in the movie either
    – DLE
    Dec 23 '15 at 15:52
  • @CreationEdge The linked Wookieepedia page sources the dialogue from the book Before The Awakening, which covers the lives of Finn, Rey and Poe before TFA. Dec 23 '15 at 21:49
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TL;DR:

  • TFA Novelization and the film: No direct clues, above his own actions
  • Prequel book "Before the awakening": YES!!! That was pretty much the point of that whole "Finn" chapter in the book.

Novelization and the film: No direct clues, above his own actions

Even his superiors couldn't find any clue as to his deviation (from Alan Dean Foster's novelization):

The three-dimensional imagery was mundane: standard-issue trooper personal history and training records. Nonetheless, Hux reviewed it carefully. When analyzing a psychological profile in search of an anomaly, one looked for small clues. A bit of correspondence, a favored quote, even the posture of the individual in question: Any of these might suffice to point to an explanation for the trooper’s inexplicable behavior. He did not expect to find a picture of FN-2187 holding up a sign that read “I am going to go berserk and free a prisoner and steal a TIE fighter.” If there were any indications of mental imbalance or Resistance sympathies in the trooper’s records, Hux expected they would be subtle, not blatant.

But so far, there was nothing. Nothing to suggest that FN-2187 might one day go rogue. Nothing to indicate he was anything other than a representative of his kind, no different from his comrades. Nothing to distinguish him as a person, as a soldier, as an exception.

When he thought about it, Hux mused, the fact that FN-2187 came across as mind-numbingly ordinary was more unsettling than if his history had been full of semi-traitorous rants and near psychotic episodes. It suggested that the ranks might harbor others like him....

“Nothing noteworthy,” Phasma said. “FN-2187 was assigned to my division, received some additional specialty training, was evaluated, and sent to reconditioning.”

Hux shook his head slowly as he continued to scrutinize the records. If anything stood out in the history of stormtrooper FN-2187, it was his exceptional banality. “No prior signs of nonconformity. Not so much as talking back to a superior. He appears so ordinary as to be invisible.” “This was his first offense.” Phasma betrayed nothing other than professional interest in the episode or in the man. “It is his only offense.”

What DID happen was a combination of a couple of things:

  1. FN-2187 has never seen combat before.

    This is covered both in the novelization; as well as - in more detail - in the Visual Dicionary. Basically, General Hux had a big philosophy (inherited from his father, a commander of Imperial ST training academy) about training stormtroopers using indoctrination combined with extensive training simulations, which he considered as good as real combat.

    In case of FN-2187, Hux was mistaken.

  2. FN-2187 just saw a particularly gruesome death of his comrade in arms

  3. FN-2187 found that he couldn't kill a person.

    On one hand, that was definitely out of whack for a conditioned stormtrooper.

    On the other hand, regular human research found that this is quite normal in human soldiers, even after extensive training (see the famous research by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in his Pulitzer-nominated book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society).

Prequel book "Before the awakening": YES!!! That was pretty much the point of that whole "Finn" chapter in the book.

Yes. He is shown to want to help FN-2003 (Slip) and is explicitly discussed as "too high level of empathy" over it.

“Yet you have concerns, Captain. I would hear them.”
“Not for this class.”
Hux sighed, at the edge of annoyance.
“FN-2187,” Phasma said, “has the potential to be one of the finest stormtroopers I have ever seen.”
“From what I just observed, Captain, I agree.”
“But his decision to split the fire-team and return for FN-2003 is problematic. It speaks to a potentially…dangerous level of empathy. You heard him.”

And he feels it himself:

Nines and Zeroes made no secret of their growing resentment. Even FN-2187 felt it. He could see Slip struggling, and he would think to help him, to try to ease his burden, even move to do so.
Then he would remember Captain Phasma and would instead turn away. He didn’t like how that made him feel—almost like he was sick, like there was something sitting deep in his stomach that didn’t agree with him. It didn’t help that FN-2187 couldn’t see any indication from anyone else—not from Nines, not from Zeroes—that they felt the same way. He was sure he felt it alone.
He began to wonder if there was something wrong with him.

This continues (and, basically, becomes the central point of the entire book, really). I will stop quoting, if only because I'd have to quote like 10% of book's text for all the examples of Finn's unusual empathy:

  • He considers losing a melee bout to Skip because Skip's injured - THEN, decides to win, because if Slip wins, he gets to fight the next guy who would hurt him far more.

    Bout five was Slip, and right away FN-2187 could see something was wrong. Maybe it was the blow to the head, or something else, but he was moving slowly. His footwork, impeccable before, was sluggish and sloppy.

    FN-2187 ducked before he’d even thought about it. He had another opening and almost took it but for some reason found himself unable to. It struck him, then, that if he were to lose, Slip would be left to face whoever went next.
    It struck him, too, that whoever Slip fought next wouldn’t care that he was already hurt, that another injury might be too much for him.
    You’re one of us, FN-2187 thought.

    He admitted that to Phasma:

    Were you toying with FN-2003? Was that what I saw?”
    FN-2187 hesitated, and just doing that, he knew, made Captain Phasma unhappy. If she was angry, he couldn’t tell. Through her helmet, her voice was always carefully modulated.
    “FN-2003 had been injured in a previous bout,” he said. “I didn’t want to see him hurt any further.”
    ...
    “I see.” ... “You didn’t want him fighting someone else, someone who wasn’t…sympathetic to his situation.”
    “No, Captain.”
    “Your objective was simple, FN-2187.”
    “I won the bout, Captain.”
    “But you considered losing to him first, didn’t you?”
    FN-2187 didn’t respond.
    “A real stormtrooper has no room for sympathy,” Phasma told him.

  • He refused to shoot at unarmed leaders of striking miners on Pressy’s Tumble/Pressylla

    “I have given your request the thought it deserves.” Phasma looked at FN-2187 and the rest of the fire-team. “Kill them.”
    Nothing happened for a moment, no movement, not a word, as if everyone—the negotiators and cadets alike—was unsure of what he’d heard.
    Then Slip opened fire.
    Then Zeroes, then Nines. FN-2187 raised his rifle to his shoulder, his finger on the trigger, and saw the Abednedo in his sights. He saw his wide eyes and all his fear, and in that instant he saw a life full of suffering that was about to end, and he told himself that perhaps what he was about to do was a mercy. Still he couldn’t pull the trigger.
    In the end he didn’t need to.
    Slip did it for him.

  • After that, he goes into a simulation, and refuses to shoot at civilians that the enemy hides among

    The problem had to be with him, FN-2187 thought. That was the only explanation. It was what everyone had been saying all along, after all. He was different. Maybe he was so different he was broken. So he would work to fix it, to be a real stormtrooper, to be one of them. That was, he thought, what he wanted most of all. Not to be alone.
    So he worked through the simulation, and it grew harder and harder, and still his shots were unerring. It wasn’t until the civilians began to enter the scenario that he ran into trouble. At first they appeared only as random bystanders, obstacles to be avoided. Then there were more of them, and more, and more. Men and women and children, and suddenly FN-2187 could see only them and not the enemy hiding among them. He could see only those innocents, and in that moment he could no longer pull the trigger.
    In that moment he understood it had never been a game.
    He understood that he was never going to be one of them.

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