31

We see that Finn can fight with a lightsaber,

first on Takodana against strormtroopers and later on Starkiller base against Ren.

Is this something that's part of his back story that we're going to find out later, or is there some little-known fact about Stormtroopers that they're trained in hand-to-hand combat with non-projectile weapons? If memory serves, this is the first of the films that shows a stormtrooper brandishing anything besides a blaster-type weapon; as such, there's never been any suggestion that they are trained with other types of weapons.

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    you'll note that he's not very good at it... – KutuluMike Dec 27 '15 at 16:13
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    @Mike Although, he succeeded in injuring a force guy. – Baby Yoda Dec 27 '15 at 16:26
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    who was already severely injured, and proceeds to practically kill Finn in response – KutuluMike Dec 27 '15 at 16:27
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    @paultamalunas : Kylo Ren gets his mind read by an untrained first timer (Rey). He's clearly on the B team. – Eric Towers Dec 27 '15 at 20:28
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    It would seem very unlikely to me that stormtroopers wouldn't receive at least some training in various forms of hand-to-hand combat. – Harry Johnston Dec 27 '15 at 22:33

10 Answers 10

31

Because he was trained for it

In "Before the Awakening" book (Disney canon book that is a prequel to Episode VII, detailing Finn's training), Finn's chapter covers this in detail:

The following morning they started on intensive melee combat training. This was done outside the simulators, in one of the exercise rooms designated for the purpose. Previously, FN-2187 and the others had trained in hand-to-hand combat, working in close quarters with fists and feet. This time they found the room prepared with racks of weapons and shields lining the walls.

The instructors demonstrated the use of each weapon, the vibro-axes and shock staffs and force pikes and resonator maces, elaborating at length on the respective strengths and weaknesses of each and when and how to employ them to best effect. They explained the composite alloys used to make the weapons, how some of the equipment was strong enough to block even a lightsaber. FN-2187 wondered about that—not whether it was true but whether or not they would ever be expected to fight someone who used a lightsaber. According to the First Order, the Jedi were extinct.

Soon enough, the instructors passed out the weapons. FN-2187 found himself with a mace and shield. Zeroes and Slip each ended up with force pikes. Nines used a one-handed vibro-axe and a shield. They were told that all the powered weapons carried only a nominal charge, making them incapable of penetrating stormtrooper armor.

They began drills, basic moves—stance, attack, parry—and then repeated, over and over again, until FN-2187 could feel perspiration running down his back inside the bodysuit he wore beneath his armor. When they’d finished, his arms ached from the effort of maintaining the mace and shield, but there was a sense of pleasure, too, the delight of learning something new and learning it quickly and well.

The books further covers it and shows that in practice combat, Finn basically mopped the floor with most everyone else in melee practice, including his own current squadmate champion and other squads as well.


In addition, in the movie novelization, it is further explained:

... No one noticed the troopers who had come up behind them—except Finn. Charging, he surprised one trooper with the glowing blade of the lightsaber, then another. A third came at him with a close-quarters weapon and the two locked in combat. Despite lack of any training with a lightsaber, Finn was athletic and courageous. In tandem with such traits, the saber made him a formidable fighter.

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    Why do these other characters get nicknames in a section from the point-of-view of Mr. "That was the only name they ever gave me"? – Random832 Dec 28 '15 at 15:34
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    +1's all around: lots of good answers, especially those mentioning how Kylo Ren ain't that good anyway. I think the movie could have done a better job of building up the stormtroopers, especially in the area of melee combat. Maybe there's something about this in Attack of the Clones, though those are Clones and these are not. – paultamalunas Dec 28 '15 at 15:47
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    ...that is some clunky prose in the novelisation. – synesthesia Dec 28 '15 at 23:59
  • @Random832 He was also referred to as "eight-seven". Not as catchy as some of the other names, but based on his designation number, like "Zeroes" and "Nines". He could have said "I'm FN-2187, eight-seven for short" or something, but maybe the writers just wanted to point out that he didn't have a name in the traditional sense. – Tim S. Dec 29 '15 at 13:23
  • @synesthesia The whole thing's like that--there's essentially a paragraph about how BB-8 turns around by only turning his head. – Milo P Dec 29 '15 at 16:54
28

TL;DR:

In this "less civilized age", to paraphrase Obi-Wan, it takes far less training to get by in lightsaber combat. The old Jedi Order is long gone, and when it was destroyed, much of the finesse and skill possessed by its members went with it. As a result, the best lightsaber combatants in The Force Awakens are far less talented than the average Jedi was in the days when the Jedi Order was still alive and well.


Erosion of Lightsaber Skills After the Destruction of the Jedi Order:

In addition to the suggestions made in the other answers (i.e., that stormtroopers may indeed have some training with melee weapons), it makes sense to consider what we saw in the original trilogy.

In Episode IV, Luke probably spent a few days aboard the Millennium Falcon with Obi-Wan, and received some very rudimentary lightsaber training during that time; the only training we actually saw was basically blaster-deflection practice against the remote droid.

In Episode V, Luke trained with Yoda for a while, probably less than a month. This training seemed to be focused mainly on physical fitness (running around, climbing vines, etc, with Yoda on his back), Force skills (lifting rocks, droids, and an X-Wing, doing headstands, etc), and mental preparation for facing Vader (the cave scene). As far as we know, there was no lightsaber training involved in the regimen on Dagobah, and we have no reason to believe that Yoda still owned a lightsaber. Even if Yoda did have his lightsaber stashed away somewhere, it is hard to imagine him using it during Luke's training, since he had clearly become extremely frail during his decades in exile; only a couple of years after he met Luke, he died of old age.

Despite this, Luke did reasonably well against Vader in their first lightsaber duel - during the fight, Vader complimented his skills and said Obi-Wan had trained him well. Yes, he lost a hand, but it's actually pretty impressive that he wasn't hurt worse, considering the fact that he had only used his lightsaber twice before that (once to lop off a Wampa's arm, and once to cut open the hull of an AT-AT on Hoth), and had never been in a duel before, let alone a duel with one of the most powerful Force-Users in history. Faced with such a formidable opponent, it is somewhat surprising that he was able to hold his ground for as long as he did, even if we take into account the fact that Vader was holding back and not really trying to kill him.

After his first fight with Vader, Luke had no further lightsaber training, as far as we know, and he only used his lightsaber against mooks (Jabba's cronies and some stormtroopers) between the first and second duels with Vader.

In his second and final lightsaber battle with Vader, for most of the fight, he does no better than he had in their first encounter - he holds his ground most of the time, but still struggles to keep up with Vader, even though Vader is old and limited by his injuries, armor, and robotic limbs.

In the end, Luke beats Vader, but not because he's skilled in lightsaber combat - he has none of the acrobatic skill, dexterity, and elegance we see the Jedi command in the prequel trilogy. He wins because he flies into a rage and begins flailing away as hard as he can. The Jedi in Episodes I-III move like ninjas, flipping around, making precise strikes with unbelievable speed and skill, but in the climactic duel in Episode VI, Luke ends up looking like an enraged barbarian swinging a club with all his might. There is no finesse or talent involved in the final moments of the contest, just Luke's frenzied smashing, and Vader desperately trying to fend off the barrage of sledgehammer blows. Soon enough, Luke's fury is too much for the elderly Vader to withstand, and the young Jedi lops off his father's hand.

Which brings us, at last, to The Force Awakens. We don't know what Luke was up to between the end of RotJ and the beginning of his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order, but we can probably assume that he didn't have many opportunities to improve his lightsaber skills in actual combat with other trained Force Users. Kylo Ren was trained by Luke, and his training was apparently far from complete when he turned to the Dark Side, killed the other Padawans, and joined the First Order.

This puts Kylo in a position much like Luke's circa Episode V: the Force is strong with him, but he has very little training, compared to the Jedi we saw in the prequel trilogy. Obi-Wan, Yoda, Mace Windu, etc, had been trained over decades in a controlled setting in accordance with traditions stretching back thousands of years and under the tutelage of dozens of Jedi Masters who had enjoyed a similar abundance of training.

Luke had received a few weeks of haphazard training under only two Jedi, one of whom (Obi-Wan) had very little experience as a Master, both of whom were very old and traumatized by having witnessed the destruction of the Jedi Order, and both of whom were forced to work in conditions that were far from ideal. Luke received less training than a Youngling would have when the Jedi Order was intact, and never experienced anything like the years of intimate, one-on-one mentoring and apprenticeship that the Padawans used to go through.

As limited and incomplete as Luke's training was, Kylo Ren's training was even less thorough, because he only had access to Luke's knowledge, and it seems safe to assume that Luke didn't teach Kylo everything he knew. So Luke only knows a tiny fraction of what Obi-Wan and Yoda knew, and Kylo Ren only knows some fraction of what Luke knows.

As such, we can assume that if a fraction of Obi-Wan and Yoda's knowledge plus some wild flailing allowed Luke to beat Vader, then Finn, who has no Jedi training, but who received a modicum of melee combat training, can wildly flail against Kylo Ren and do at least a little damage before being cut down.

However much melee weapon training Finn received as a stormtrooper, it wouldn't have helped him at all in a lightsaber duel with a Jedi from the prequel trilogy, because those Jedi were endowed with an immense amount of training and knowledge. But Kylo Ren only received a portion of Luke's knowledge, and Luke only received a portion of Obi-Wan and Yoda's knowledge, so Kylo is a much less formidable adversary than the old school Jedi and Sith were. As such, less skill is needed to fight Kylo Ren than one of the Jedi or Sith in the old days.


Lightsaber/Sword Combat in General:

Finally, melee combat is fairly intuitive - the basics are obvious to anyone, even if you have no training whatsoever:

  1. Hit the other guy until he's dead.

  2. Don't let the other guy hit you or you'll be dead.

That's really all you there is to it - sword fighting consists of different methods of obtaining these two related goals, hitting the other guy while preventing him from hitting you. The less skill your opponent has, the less skill you need in order to beat him.


Finn's Skills With Lightsabers/Swords:

Clearly, Finn had less skill than he would have needed to beat Kylo Ren, because he lost. He couldn't even beat a mere stormtrooper in melee combat, despite the facts that (1) Finn's weapon was superior, and (2) the other stormtrooper's training was presumably not much better than Finn's. But the amount of skill he would have needed to beat Ren was less than what Ren would need to beat Luke in Luke's prime, and Luke's relatively meager skills were enough to beat Vader; however, it is highly unlikely that Luke could have beaten Anakin prior to Anakin's dismemberment at the hands of Obi-Wan.


Conclusion:

Finn probably received at least some basic training in the use of melee weapons, because other stormtroopers seem to demonstrate some degree of proficiency in this regard, and such training is fairly standard in real-world military instruction (e.g., bayonet training in boot camp). Furthermore, the basics of melee combat are fairly intuitive, because the fundamental concepts are so obvious - hit the other guy and prevent him from hitting you. Finally, no one in The Force Awakens is as competent in lightsaber combat as the old Jedi Order was, so less skill goes farther than it used to in the old days. Thus, Finn's paltry skills allow him to do reasonably well in melee combat, but he struggles to survive a duel with a stormtrooper with better training, and even Kylo's relatively meager abilities with a lightsaber (compared to, say, Mace Windu or Yoda in their respective primes) are far too much for Finn to withstand. So he gets in two fights with a lightsaber, and he loses both - that's about what you'd expect, since he's just a former soldier with minimal training and good intentions, who happens to be holding a lightsaber.

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    Or you could argue that the diplomat jedis of old would know little of lightsaber combat against a force-wielding adversary, and their techniques were developed primarily as a means to train them in the force rather than as an efficient means of fighting other lightsaber wielding force users. Then it makes perfect sense that Vader and Obi-Wan as well as Kylo Ren all share a much more efficient fighting style, based on efficient defence and offence rather than jumping and twirling. – user161825 Dec 28 '15 at 11:28
  • Couldn't Luke learn from the force ghosts of Anakin, Yoda, and Obi-Wan, though? It's not actual dueling, but it wouldn't be nothing, and it would be beyond what we see in episodes IV-VI – Jerry Schirmer Dec 28 '15 at 17:13
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    1) "After his first fight with Vader, Luke had no further lightsaber training, as far as we know, and he only used his lightsaber against mooks (Jabba's cronies and some stormtroopers) between the first and second duels with Vader." We don't know what training Luke received between 5 and 6. We only know that he wasn't too confident "Jedi" during 5 and suddenly a very confident Jedi with a brand new lightsaber he built himself. He uses his powers as he deems necessary without any doubt of their results. Logically, he must have received more extensive training with Yoda in between the two films. – Ellesedil Dec 28 '15 at 17:46
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    @Ellesedil - Compare the hundreds of Jedi who Yoda taught to the one Jedi who Obi-Wan taught in the movies, and compare Yoda's hundreds of successes to Obi-Wan's 100% failure rate in the movies. Compare what you could learn from living with Yoda, Obi-Wan, Mace, Qui-Gon, and scores of other Masters for 20 years to Luke only knowing Obi-Wan for a week and Yoda for a month. – Wad Cheber Dec 28 '15 at 19:49
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    @WadCheber To be fair, while Anakin did kind of turn out as the ultimate disappointment, Obi-Wan did a great job of teaching him how to be a Jedi insofar as Anakin was very highly skilled in lightsaber combat and force usage by the time they confronted each other on Mustafar. Also just a point of note, Obi-Wan was in communion with his old master, Qui-Gon Jinn (a venerable master by anyone's reckoning) while on Tatooine. But I agree with you, Obi-Wan definitely didn't teach Luke much of anything about lightsaber combat. – TylerH Dec 28 '15 at 20:43
24

In the same movie, you can see Finn defending himself using lightsaber against a staff kind of melee weapon used by another stormtrooper. It means that stormtroopers get melee combat training, too. Using a sword instead of specialized First Order melee weapon won't be that hard.

First Order Melee Weapon

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    So your theory is that Stormtroopers are all trained with that massive crowd-control billy club thing, and that proficiency with that translates to sword combat? And that Finn's practice session against the one stormtrooper was enough to familiarize himself with lightsaber combat, so that he could hold his own against a crippled Jedi? Is there a melee weapons expert in the audience that can support these claims? I'm not against it, but I'd like to hear a little more. – paultamalunas Dec 27 '15 at 17:15
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    @paultamalunas Finn was ofcourse not a lightsaber combat expert, but he did perform little bit better than average because of the melee weapon training. Rey, who actually used the lightsaber for the first time when she went against Kylo, performed awesome because she was already a great warrior when it comes to melee weapon combat. – Baby Yoda Dec 27 '15 at 17:22
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    Finn is always looking for blasters he can use. At one point, he "I wish I had a weapon" and Rey replies, "You have a weapon", pointing at the lightsaber in his hand, and the look on his face clearly indicates he never considered a lightsaber a real weapon. – Mr Lister Dec 27 '15 at 18:21
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    <Pedant>It's Maz that says that, not Rey. Rey's run off in the forest at that point.</Pedant> – synesthesia Dec 27 '15 at 20:50
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    @paultamalunas if it makes you feel better, in novelization Finn pretty much sucks against Ren. "It was time for play to end" goes through Kylo Ren mind before he blows the final blow. Finn could stand against Ren only because Ren considered him not worthy the effort and wasn't even trying. When Finn proved him wrong, Ren was quick to defeat him. – Mirek Długosz Dec 27 '15 at 22:48
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The sword (which a lightsaber essentially is) is one of the most ancient and instinctive weapons outside of a club or a spear, with a history dating back to the Bronze Age. My kid picked up a lightsaber (a toy one, fortunately) aged three, and knew it was for hitting and jabbing with.

So, pretty much everyone knows how to use a sword; it's just a question of whether you're any good at it. And Finn isn't, really. He's in two lightsaber fights and gets his ass handed to him both times.

The first time he lasts about twenty seconds against a melee specialist Stormtrooper who's about to kill him before Han intervenes, and the second he lasts a little longer against a heavily wounded and very clearly in-pain (mental and physical) Kylo Renn, and ends up in a coma.

Rey on the other hand, properly knows how to use a lightsaber because the Force wants her to.

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    While this is true (+1), my experience of children under three is that they instinctively treat all items as "for hitting and jabbing with"... – user56reinstatemonica8 Dec 27 '15 at 21:58
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    On the other hand, if you remember that a lightsaber is "an elegant weapon", Finn is better at it than Rey. He didn't wave it about like mad, chopping trees down left and right. – Mr Lister Dec 28 '15 at 8:52
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    "Force wants her to", the force is sentient now? – Kevin Dec 28 '15 at 17:10
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    @Kevin If it's a web connecting all life in the galaxy as Yoda taught, it might be something akin to sentient in some sense. Or maybe the vocabulary we have just tends to imply agency, like trying to say “the ball wants to fall back to earth because of gravity” differently ends up with “gravity pulls the ball back to earth,” both implying inanimate objects/forces might have agency. – SevenSidedDie Dec 28 '15 at 20:11
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    Rey's performance results against Kyle Ren probably come more from her extensive experience with using a staff for combat as a matter of survival on a scavenger world her whole life. Her connection with the Force most likely just heightens her senses and clears her mind. The Force didn't just say "okay you're good with a lightsaber now"... as Han Solo said "that's not how the Force works". – TylerH Dec 28 '15 at 20:34
3

It is not a reflection of the SW story, but a reflection of today's values.

  • In the original SW (1980s values), poor old Luke had to study for years, train with Yoda in the swamps, get attacked by practise drones, etc ... It was no easier for little Anakin ... yanked away from his slave mother as a mere child, because if you hadn't started by the time you are 5, it was too late anyway (let us not mention the unbelievable angst and suffering caused to the universe because the Jedi order couldn't afford to bring his mother along with him, but I digress).

  • In the Force Awakens (21st C values), where people grow up with ADD, and attention spans of five minutes, and most can't remember even their own telephone numbers, where writing skillz are gone, and even computer skillz are replaced by thumbing on a phone, ... hey - almost everything gets done with little effort by the new generation. Why learn to play the piano (which takes years and years) when you can press 3 keys on your iPhone and it will fill in the chord structure for you? Hey, I'm so powerful. I can make Maggi instant soup. I'm like super chef. I'm so Jedi. It's just the way the world seems to work for people who grew up on McDonalds: obese, fat and deluded.

  • In all fairness.... I don't remember my own telephone #. I remember detailed content of most Star Wars books I read (evidently :) but not my own telephone #. :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 29 '15 at 13:26
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    Why go to the effort of writing a montage song and filming lots of short scenes in different locations when your protagonist can just close their eyes for a couple of seconds and voila.. I know kung fu ;) – Dave Dec 29 '15 at 14:18
  • ...or they just didn't bother showing the years of training and study those characters had put into melee weapons because all that happened way before the movie started, and had little to do with the story. – T.E.D. Dec 29 '15 at 15:51
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    or they wanted to explore lightsaber combat with a non force sensitive run of the mill human – 16807 Dec 29 '15 at 16:48
1

From the movie, we know that some Stormtrooprs get training in anti-lightsaber tactics with a specifically anti-lightsaber weapon. This means they must get training to use it, and at least some of them must have experience attacking with a fake-lightsaber prop for the anti-Jedi troops to practice on.

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0

Don't forget what stormtroopers are trained for. They are trained to shoot with blasters as we know from Finn.

BUT

If you think about it some situations have a blaster rifle as a bit of a liability to use. Example close quarter combat on board a ship or in a house. There you need to be experienced with brawl combat and using weapons that are better suited than a shooting blaster. Thus it is only logical that the Stormtroopers also have been trained in close combat.

With what we see from Finn so far we can conclude that he has training in at least blaster firing, brawl and a bit of weapons training. Possibly staffs as we see the other stormtrooper use one and very possibly knives. With the sword he had a few problems at first so we can interpret it either as him having no direct experience with swords at all OR the lightsaber is just so strange to use for him (don't forget the lightsaber is almost weightless against a heavy sword)

0

It's also possible that Finn is force sensitive (although perhaps not to the degree that Rey is).

Although we do not yet know for sure, there are some things which may hint that he is force sensitive, as noted in this post "Is Finn Force Sensitive?", things including a reaction to the deaths from the starkiller, even the music scores themselves.

0

I think there is room to assume Finn is a natural. You know, "the force is strong in this one." So, the explanation here is that Finn's fighting is guided by the Force.

-1

Finn may be Force sensitive but he also probably learned a variety of combat skills from stormtrooper training. And just because he doesn't match Kylo Ren in trained saber-fighting skills, doesn't rule out getting in a lucky shot. From my days in a variety of ring-fighting sports or martial arts, I can tell you that less skilled fighters will sometimes sneak in lucky shots against skilled fighters...Even without the will of the Force...

protected by Community Jan 4 '16 at 6:25

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