Yet Another Unanswered Question from #StarWars: #TheEmpireStrikesBack

In my on-again-off-again series of “unanswered questions,” I have a gem of one that’s got about a million explanations, but all of them require “head canon” to work it out.

Why Didn’t the Empire Completely Disconnect or Remove the Hyperdrive from The Millenium Falcon While it Was at Bespin?

In the film, we see that they’re turned it to the “off” position. It worked well enough to fool the heroes. But it was resolved with Artoo flipping a switch, supporting Lucas’ own assertion that Artoo was a real hero of the series. (I agree with this assertion, and have spoken several times about the fact that there’s a moment with Artoo during the escape on Bespin that actually makes me tear up any time I watch it because it’s so beautifully done.)

R2D2 who's known as Artoo Detoo in Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back which is Star Wars Episode V which is a Star Wars movie called The Empire Strikes back which features R2D2 who's known as Artoo Detoo.
Every time. The music, the moment, the pacing…all perfect.

Anyway, when the’re in the Falcon and trying to fly away to freedom (spoilers), they discover they can’t jump to hyperspace. Chewie and Lando start looking for errors to fix, only to come up empty…and fortunately not crippling the ship any further.

Lando exclaims that they told him they (The Imperial techs, presumably) had fixed it, and emphasizes this by saying they promised to fix it. We’ll table Lando’s naivete for the moment, as it’s not the particular point I’m after in this conversation.

The thing that really stands out is that the Imperial techs simply switched the hyperdrive to “off.” Artoo rolls over to the access panel and turns it “on.” We see a flashing red light turn green, in a beautifully simple visual cue.

But there is the question. Why didn’t they disconnect it completely? Simply turning it “off” means it can be turned “on” again…and easily.

Potential Answers

I have a lot of potential answers in my head, but I’d love it if anyone offered a perspective in the comments. You can even tell me if one of these answers works for you, or if I’m just crazy for thinking it works as an explanation.

  1. It was simply in the “off” position so that the techs could work on it. They didn’t count on Lando escaping, and so there was no need to disconnect the hyperdrive. Lando was a collaborator, and they considered him either a low-to-no risk for pulling a stunt, or counted on him to try it afterward, in which case the “off” switch would delay him long enough for them to blow him out of the sky.
  2. It was disconnected, but only an astromech could get to the spot necessary to reconnect it. This would be even better, because then Artoo just keeps being the gift from Vader’s haunted past that keeps on giving.
  3. That’s what was wrong with it the whole time. Chewie and Han never find what was specifically wrong with everything as they’re going around during the asteroid belt chase. Chewie displays a thinking process error we’ve all experienced from time to time, and why IT asks that annoying question all the time: “Are you sure it’s turned on?” Maybe the breaker tripped during the shots they were taking – say, a fuse overloaded when they took some shots while escaping Hoth – and they never thought that was the issue. They could have avoided the whole mess on Bespin if they had checked.
    1. Also, it’s possible the breaker tripped when Han entered the cockpit. Do you remember the power surge where he had to hit the panel to get the ship to power back up? Maybe it tripped then.
  4. Han forgot to reactivate it when before they left Hoth. They didn’t have time for a pre-flight check, Han and Chewie had been working on things, and they simply forgot to check. I dislike this one most of all because it makes Han seem dumb.

So…what do you think? Do you have any thoughts on the issue? Do you think someone from Lucasfilm should hire me for these sorts of pieces so I can get an official stamp on my ideas?

Share your thoughts below!

The Millenium Falcon from Star Wars is a Star Wars ship called the Millenium Falcon in Star Wars.
Yeah, I love this iteration of the design a whole lot, too. It’s like the whole thing I have with the second Death Star. It’s just ever so slightly cooler.

Can Droids See Force Ghosts?

Netflix recently unleashed the entire run of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, including the sixth and final never-before-seen season, which dominated my weekend watching habits and has doubly reinvigorated my mental pursuit of esoteric Star Wars questions on top of the recent exchanges on Words With Nerds.

Often I promise these sorts of blogs will be brief musings, but then I start writing and I can never predict their final length. I like to think as I write on these things instead of coming into it fully-formed. Let’s see where we go this time!

What I’m Wondering This Time

One topic I’m not sure has ever been explored fully, is whether ‘droids see Force Ghosts. For those who don‘t immediately understand that phrase (really?), I mean things like the ghostly blue apparition–figures that appear after certain Jedi deaths.

Obi–Wan is of course the first we ever saw as an audience. Yoda followed by the end of Return of the Jedi, along with Anakin. The prequels later teased out the fact that this was a rare occurrence. I think that as an audience most presumed all Jedi could come back in this form. After all, our sample size of Jedi was fairly small, and they had a 100% return rate.

So anyway, I was wondering while watching one of the season 6 Clone Wars, could R2 see Obi–Wan on Dagobah? Yoda was talking to Luke as he boarded his X–Wing and he was joined by Blue Ben® trying to impel the youth from rushing off to face Vader at Cloud City.

Luke spoke to both, and Ben’s voice is heard very clearly by Luke and the audience. But if Obi–Wan is using some ancient art to communicate with another Force User via his connection from the Cosmic Force to the Living Force, could a ‘droid even hope to hear or see him?

As Obi–Wan explained to Luke, the (Cosmic) Force is generated by all living things. The living things are loosely explained in the prequels to be the Living Force, emphasizing the theme of duality Lucas was exploring in The Phantom Menace.

The key function of all this is, of course, the fact that the physical aspect of the Force is living.

As endearing as the ‘droids are, as key as they are to the motion of the story, they are not alive. There is no “living circuitry” to them. They may have intelligence artificially engineered into them, but they are in no way organic. Therefore, they are not alive.

If you want to play semantics, they are less alive than fire, which eats, breathes and grows. (Thank you, Backdraft!)

No Ghosts For R2!

So to my mind, R2 would be ruled out from seeing Obi–Wan in either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. He does not possess the correct antenna to see him, which is a connection to the living Force.

R2 can feel the effects of the Force when he is lifted in the air. He has personally witnessed the tremendous abilities of the Jedi. So he is aware of the Force, and has seen evidence of its existence, but cannot ever hope to participate with it on an intimate level.

This has to be troubling to a sentient machine. R2 would even see Luke conducting conversations with the dead while seeing nothing except a living person talking to thin air. That has to be maddening, even possibly causing logic conflicts that a mere ‘droid cannot resolve!

That opens other possibilities as well with ‘droids that would develop a deep resentment of living creatures in general and Force Users in specific. So perhaps, though I’ve spoken about the unfair treatment of ‘droids in the past, there was a practical reason for the bartender (Wuher) in A New Hope to have a “no ‘droids” policy.

After all, people couldn‘t know whether seeing someone doing one more thing they couldn’t would cause automata to snap finally. Imagine how messy it could get if a bunch of machines wigged out and started killing patrons. Very bad for business.

Loopholes

The one loophole I see in this would be that possibly a ‘droid could see the Force Ghost but not hear it. Then, at the very least, it would be able to reconcile why otherwise–sensible beings occasionally sat down on logs and talked into space.

Or perhaps there is a threshold of impact for Force Ghosts at first, but the more they exert their influence on the physical realm the more non-Force Users can interact with them. But then they become full–on poltergeists and then we have to speculate that possibly there is some Star Wars version of the Ghostbusters out there, whose actions inadvertently cause them to be evil since they’re interfering with the “light side” interacting with the living.

See? I never know where I’m going with these things either.

The Vague Racism of a Galaxy Far, Far Away

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.

Treatment

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.

Second–Class Sentients

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?

Conclusion

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.