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It seems really weird that Finn was kidnapped as a baby and then groomed to become a First Order soldier, and when he goes on his first (correct me if I'm wrong) combat mission, one of his buddies dies and he just chickens out.

Is there any canonical material showing Finn's training or why he defected, or is it just kind of a plot hole?

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    It's been a bit since I watched it, but I recall it as being unwilling to kill the villagers, rather than cowardice. – Michael Richardson Mar 24 at 16:06
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    Indeed. Is it cowardly to not want to murder unarmed civilians? – Valorum Mar 24 at 16:11
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    I think they missed a golden opportunity with Finn's characterization, to be honest. Imagine that the US were fighting China, for instance, and a general gave the order to kill some unarmed civilians. One of the soldiers refused and deserted, but would they start quoting from the Little Red Book, extoll "socialism with Chinese characteristics", and immediately join the Chinese army to fight against their former country? It does not seem likely, right? There would be serious friction between their beliefs and those of their fellows if they ever ending up joining. – Adamant Mar 24 at 16:21
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    There could have been far more interesting interactions, with Finn arguing that the First Order leadership was brutal, but the Republic was ultimately too weak to govern the galaxy, for instance. Or thinking that Phasma was corrupt, but surely Snoke had to know better. Instead, he just ends up seeming like a Resistance fighter who accidentally ended up in the First Order. Which, in fairness, is the problem with just about every Imperial defector in canon. Agent Kallus went from diehard Imperial secret service agent to diehard Rebel intelligence chief (!) in what, under a year? – Adamant Mar 24 at 16:23
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    @Adamant Vader went from "right-hand man of a genocidal tyrant" to "loving father" in about a minute of screentime. Redemption happens fast in the galaxy far, far away. – Withad Mar 24 at 16:55
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There are a few sources covering Finn's early years, such as his story in Before the Awakening and Age of Resistance - Finn. The "Serving the First Order" section of his Wookieepedia article cites a few more.

During his training, he's consistently shown to be more empathetic than his fellow would-be Stormtroopers - he releases some animals he had been ordered to exterminate, prioritises helping a squadmate over achieving the objective in a training exercise, and hesitates when ordered to execute unarmed negotiators, long enough that someone else does it for him. All this builds up to his final decision to defect after the massacre at the start of The Force Awakens.

There's no single, specific reason given why Finn was able to defect despite his childhood conditioning. We know he's not the only First Order trooper to defect (Company 77 did so as well) so it seems like their training simply wasn't 100% effective at turning children into obedient, emotionless soldiers. A few were able to retain or develop a conscience and Finn was lucky enough to escape before he was executed for it.

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    Yet the Empire decided that was a better solution than programmable clones.....I never got that – MissouriSpartan Mar 25 at 3:37
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    @MissouriSpartan Probably much cheaper! The clones have to be raised from birth at great expense, undergo massive programming and training and ultimately have a limited life-span. They're not in any way cheap, just very consistent and loyal. The Empire is quite happy to make do with a cheaper and easier solution of just recruiting regular people. The First Order meanwhile steps back towards conditioning children into soldiers, but hasn't gone the whole way towards clone armies – Ruadhan2300 Mar 25 at 9:46
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    @Holger The Empire recruited adults: see "Solo: A Star Wars Story", for example. The First Order went back to raising/indoctrinating children (which, notably, meant they didn't have to invest in the infrastructure/technology/research necessary for creating clones — although, the Final Order evidently did have access to such.) – Chronocidal Mar 25 at 10:43
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    @Chronocidal so the First Order combined the worst of both approaches – Holger Mar 25 at 10:45
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    @Ruadhan2300 your cost considerations puts in mind the quote that a human is "A Non-Linear Servo-Mechanism Weighing Only 150 Pounds that Can Be Produced Cheaply by Unskilled Labor" said/written/attributed in many variations to Arthur C. Clarke, Albert Scott Crossfield, George T. Hauty and S. Fred Singer (e.g. quoteinvestigator.com/2016/02/01/computer ) – user3445853 Mar 25 at 20:36
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We get a pretty nice overview of Finn's though process from the canon novelisation Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Finn's Story.

He doesn't like killing civilians.

Slip had died for nothing. Even worse, his death had come as they were terrorizing and killing innocent people. That wasn’t what they had trained for. The First Order was supposed to represent peace and stability, not fear and death.

I can’t do this anymore, he thought.

He recognises that having failed to kill the civilians (as ordered), he's in a significant bind, one that results in extensive punishment.

FN-2187’s time was officially up. If he turned over his weapon to Phasma, the scans would show that he had disobeyed orders, and he would be punished. If he didn’t turn over the weapon immediately, she would assume that he had done something to disguise what the rifle would have shown, and he would be punished. If he didn’t show up at Phasma’s division within the next few moments, she would send some of her personal guards after him and he would be punished.

He identifies Poe as someone who can help him to escape both the immediate situation (punishment for not killing unarmed women and children) and the wider problem (that he's working for an organisation that is happy to order him to kill unarmed women and children).

He needed help.

But who would help him?

Everyone on the Star Destroyer was allegiant to the First Order.

Well, FN-2187 thought, not exactly everyone…

FN-2187 took a deep breath as he approached the cell. Once he entered, there would be no turning back. It was now or never. Confidence was key. He kept his stride steady, and the heavy door opened before him.

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In the Star Wars book "Before the Awakening" by Greg Rucka, FN-2187 (Finn) excels in his training, being consistently in the top 1 percent. However, while he excels in training, he also has a conscience. This is evident by the fact that he tries to help "Slip" and even risks the mission to go back for him in the opening of Finn's chapter. Finn really becomes disillusioned when he is on his first deployment. He hesitates to kill one of the miners (even though Captain Phasma had told him to kill them), and cannot bring himself to do it. Slip ends up doing it for him. Other stormtroopers had a conscience as well. In "The Rise of Skywalker, there are other stormtroopers who defected as well. I think it was a combination of the First Order's cruelty and his conscience that made him defect. Hope this helps.

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