Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out. It's being seen by a lot of people. Lots of those people have the internet. What I'm trying to say is: the memes are flowing thick and fast.
And while I wouldn't say that any of the emerging themes or memes have reached the cultural saturation point of, say, Do Not Want, there are still some significant ideas out there, whether it's Emo Kylo Ren, Finn/Poe or even Finn/Poe/Rey. And then there's TR-8R, a fandom's fascination with one unknown stormtrooper.
And just in case you've read this far without having seen the movie, this is your warning that this post will contain spoilers.
If you haven't guessed from the cleverly transliterated name, TR-8R is the going name for the stormtrooper who shouts "traitor!" at John Boyega's Finn about halfway through The Force Awakens. The unnamed and undesignated stormtrooper then drops his blaster and shield to pull out a stun baton, the better to punish Finn for breaking ranks, and the two duke it out, stun baton on lightsaber.
The internet, it seems, was naturally intrigued by the implied relationship here, as well as — let's just call him TR-8R for now — TR-8R's slick way of spinning a baton.
BuzzFeed has a lovely collection of examples of fans taking the idea of TR-8R's devotion to sick spins and the First Order and running with it.
But is TR-8R's identity and his relationship with Finn really so shrouded? As usual, with Star Wars, the answer lies in a tie-in novel.
Greg Rucka's Before the Awakening, published on the day Force Awakens was released, is a tripartite novella, featuring three long stories — one for each of the three leads of the new Star Wars trilogy. The book is intended for ages 12 and up, but Rucka manages to keep that focus on the young reader from feeling like a restraint.
Rey's story doesn't reveal much about her family origins, but it gives valuable insight into her life on Jakku, and explains how she got her piloting skills. If you'd like to know who taught Poe to fly, or find out how he joined the Resistance and exactly what its place is in New Republic politics, Before the Awakening is where you should go.
But more pertinently to TR-8R, Before the Awakening also explains much about the structure of Finn's stormtrooper training and his social circle before the beginning of the movie. Fair warning: If you've got a soft spot for little FN-2187, this is not going to make it better.
Finn has grown up as part of a four-man (or -boy) fire-team consisting of himself, FN-2187, and three others, FN-2199, FN-2000 and FN-2003. Respectively, Finn's training mates have acquired the nicknames Nines, Zero, and Slip — the first two after their alphanumerical designations, and the latter because he is often slipping up. But FN-2187 doesn't have a nickname. Why? A seasoned stormtrooper figures him out right away, after finding out that he's also the team's leader: "An outsider. You're on the outside, and you'll always be looking in and wondering why you don't belong."
It's a detail that adds a whole extra layer of pathos to the way Finn embraces the nickname Poe gives him. He's barely met Poe, and yet the fighter pilot has already shown him that he can find a place to belong outside of the First Order.
Another reason why FN-2187 is isolated from his peers is his aptitude. He's well on his way to becoming a model stormtrooper, scoring "in the top 1 percent" in exams, an expert with tactics as well as blasters and hand-to-hand weapons. As far as his superiors — who include Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma — are concerned, FN-2187 has only one flaw: He cares about this teammates just as much as, if not more than, accomplishing mission objectives. It speaks, Phasma says, to a "dangerous level of empathy." Otherwise, she'd have fast-tracked him for officer training already. After watching him go out of his way to compensate for Slip's slip-ups one too many times, Phasma orders him to stop coddling FN-2003 for the good of the First Order.
Now here's where we reach the end of canon facts, and move into implications and inferences. Although Finn has doubts about the First Order's propaganda already, it's easy to posit that the dying stormtrooper who smears Finn's helmet with blood — the one whose death causes Finn to lose his final shred of faith in the Order — is FN-2003, Slip. And in the same way, we can hazard a guess that a stormtrooper who would recognize an unmasked Finn by sight and begin shouting at him in rage would likely be someone he trained with: Zero or Nines.
Sadly, Rucka's book gives no explanation for TR-8R's sick spins.
Update: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary appears to confirm that the slain stormtrooper on Jakku is FN-2003.
Update 2: The official Star Wars website has confirmed that TR-8R is FN-2199, known to his teammates as "Nines."