Many of the most devoted Star Wars fans obsess over the strangest minutiae while ignoring the more sublime and abstract themes. I take them to task for this on Words With Nerds occasionally, the fine podcast featuring Craig Sorrell and myself.
I tend to go down strange roads when considering the series. I don’t say this to elevate myself, but to qualify that I don’t entertain the usual thoughts about George Lucas’ epic saga.
However, this blog was triggered by how much attention R2–D2 has gotten as the hype machine slowly comes to life for Episode VII: The Fanbase Fractures Further™.
R2–D2 and C–3P0
Every character has their own trajectory in the saga.
We all love R2–D2. As children, few of us noticed the trick (and some complained about as older children) that R2 always had the perfect solution housed somewhere in his metal casing. Regardless, he goes from a simple ship’s mechanic to constant aide of two legendary Jedi.
Threepio goes from “…not very good at telling stories” to a yarn–spinner whose tale gains the necessary help to overthrow the Empire.
However, I want to focus on the demeaning treatment that Artoo, Threepio and all ’droids™ received in the Star Wars films, and our blindness to its deeply uncomfortable implications.
To make clear, I don’t mean just the treatment from the Empire or Wuher the bartender (replaced by Bea Arthur after running a meth lab under the Cantina), but the arguably racist treatment they received from the main characters themselves.
First, of course, let’s establish the treatment of ’droids™ as a whole.
’Droids™ are the Galactic Servants of the Living. Races that don’t wish to risk their own lives build Battle ’Droids™ to fight wars for them, though even those ’droids™ are later given autonomy and display personality.
Setting aside the changing nature of Battle ’Droids™, other ’droids™ act with awareness of danger, act out of self–preservation and display camaraderie and animosity.
Additionally, while ’droids™ demonstrate free will pursuant to consciousness, they are allowed to exercise it only when their master allows.
While Luke seems so “progressive” in the first film at insisting Threepio not use the honorific “sir,” he certainly slides happily into a dominant role later.
They are sent into hazardous conditions without regard for their own well–being. During the escape from Naboo, it’s not human lives on the line but ’droids™ that are thrown out to space to repair the ship under horrifically dangerous conditions.
They run dangerous errands like delivering the Death Star plans. Their safety is at best a secondary concern when Luke sends them into Jabba’s lair, where an actual torture chamber for ’droids™ exists.
This is significant because the series had established by that point that the ’droids™ can feel pain. Threepio exclaims “Ow” quite clearly when Chewie is banging his head while boarding the Millenium Falcon™ in The Empire Strikes Back, and Artoo screams when he’s fried in the original Star Wars (now Star Wars: A New Hope).
Luke sends them anyway, which in this light is nearly inexcusable.
An Inconvenient Truth
Some fans may try to wriggle out of the coming conclusion by telling themselves that our beloved Threepio and Artoo are treated better than other ’droids™. I concede they are treated better.
Restraining bolts are removed. Artoo accompanies Luke to the most secret places without having his memory erased.
But the threat of a memory wipe is there still; one of the first things that Uncle Owen wanted to do in the 1977 film was erase the ’droids™’ memory.
One of the last acts ordered in Revenge of the Sith is Bail Organa’s command to wipe Threepio’s mind. Not just memory, but the entire thing. In other words, he has Threepio lobotomized rather than risk him talking about the Skywalkers.
What sentient being does that to another?
Further, how have we overlooked so plainly in these films that ’droids™ as a whole are basically slaves, aware of their second–class status?
How have we overlooked how tragic it is that Threepio, even when given the choice, insists on calling Luke “Master”?
C–3P0 and R2–D2 are little more than House Servants. Treated more kindly, but with the same condescension as Prissy.
We as fans should be ashamed for not picketing these films and demanding that the next three films show a more evolved way of thinking about sentients! Because if a machine can learn the value of life, maybe we can too.