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Star Wars Droids Have the Worst Lives and No One Seems to Notice

Apr 22, 2023


They work for our favorite characters. They amuse us constantly. They provide countless memorable designs toy companies can exploit endlessly. Yet, where is the respect for the perspective of the droids of Star Wars? These little mechanical critters are responsible for making everything in this fictional galaxy far, far away run properly, yet they’re often treated like trash throughout any Star Wars property. They’re just comic relief that get kicked around, dismissed, or have their consciousness put into starships without their consent. It’s egregious and downright tragic, though that’s often interwoven into the very text of the Star Wars movies themselves. Though we’re all often too busy laughing at C-3PO’s funniest lines or yearning to pet B2EMO just once, the reality is that droids are intentionally painted as tragic characters throughout this expansive saga.
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Droids Are Tragic Underdogs in the Star Wars Universe

Image via LucasFilm

Underdogs are the core heroes of the original Star Wars films. This theme has gotten lost a bit in some modern Star Wars media that focuses on pre-determined Chosen Ones (though projects like The Last Jedi, Andor, and Rogue One certainly return to this concept) but part of what made this universe so tangibly human despite looking so alien was that the characters were dwarfed by larger circumstances in ways the audience could relate to. Luke Skywalker was trapped in a backwater town watching the rest of the world passing by him, Stormtroopers were inspecting everyone like officers of any real-world fascist regime, while the Empire’s visible contempt for any life (like the citizens of Alderaan) also evoked the horrors of authoritarianism.

It’s from this core theme that the underlying tragedy of the Star Wars droids emerges. “I suppose we’re meant to suffer, it’s our lot in life,” C-3PO moans in one of his earliest lines, which establishes just how grim of an existence these sentient creatures lead. They can burst into flames at the drop of a hat and nobody will care — they’ll just be replaced like a busted fridge would be in our world. Meanwhile, an early demonstration of droids being forbidden entry into the Mos Eisley Cantina (complete with a bartender saying “we don’t serve their kind here!”) can’t help but evoke real-world prejudices back on Earth. The life of a Star Wars droid is so mired in tragedy that these movies reflect the real-life experiences of historically marginalized groups of people to emphasize the woes of characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Their hardships are underscored by how many of these mechanical beings are incapable of voicing their own woes nor having other means (such as hands to speak in sign language) to communicate their emotions. R2-D2 and BB-8 speak only in beeps, while other droids seen throughout the franchise, such as those little mouse droids, speak in even more incomprehensible short bursts of noises. Within this universe, this trait is not a defect nor an accident, but an intentional way of further stripping away humanity from these robots. R2-D2 and BB-8 are often much smarter than the human beings they linger with, yet they have been built from the ground up to have their autonomy and ability to communicate be non-existent.

How Do the Star Wars Movies Grapple With This Tragedy?

Image via Disney

Typically, Star Wars movies only reference the innate tragedy of being a droid in this universe as a way to inspire dark comedy. After all, it’s a rough-and-tumble galaxy out there, everybody’s going through a rough time. The misery experienced by droids is part and parcel of all the anguish people seem to experience existing as a Star Wars character. With all this rampant woe, the specific hardships experienced by droids doesn’t stand out as much and can be played for giggles or even as a way of ratcheting up tension. The Phantom Menace, for instance, introduces R2-D2 among a squadron of other R2 units, all of whom get blown up except for our plucky hero. The decreasing number of droids surrounding R2-D2 is shown as a way of ramping up the suspense of this set piece, with the humanity of those now destroyed droids given no mind.

The other key reason the anguish of droids isn’t lingered on, though, is that to do so would upset the kid-friendly tone of the Star Wars universe. Whether they’ve been independently owned by George Lucas or one of many Disney franchises, the Star Wars saga has always been about zippy adventures that appeal heavily to children and moving lots of merchandise. Upsetting either of those elements would upset the financiers and producers of those projects. To emphasize the woe that droids experience in this franchise would undoubtedly capsize both of those objectives, especially since it would end up casting the actions of heroes like Luke Skywalker in a darker light. Would we still be cheering for this guy or other Star Wars protagonists if their discrimination of droids were treated with gravity?

The willingness to eschew the stakes of what a miserable existence Star Wars droids must live is exemplified in Solo: A Star Wars Story, which features L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a droid who crusades for the rights of other droids. This a peculiarly-rendered character, with the movie never quite figuring out if L3-37 is supposed to be somebody we sympathize with or a figure whose consciousness of droid rights should exclusively be a source of mockery. In the end, Solo fails to take a stand on this issue, though it inexplicably undercuts any interpretation of L3-37 by having the character’s consciousness uploaded into the Millennium Falcon after she dies, a deeply twisted moment that no one in the movie acknowledges. A bizarre burst of fan service just underscores what a miserable life droids live. Even the ones that crusade for a better tomorrow end up getting trapped inside spaceships for an eternity against their will.

The horrors droids experience in the Star Wars universe is truly crushing and makes for a fascinating tonal counterbalance to the cheerful escapist antics of typical installments in this franchise. The best productions in this franchise lean into how this crushing treatment reinforces the anguish of existence itself and the specific hardships of various marginalized communities. At their worst, these movies seem oblivious to the droids being actual fleshed-out characters. After all, the very act of living is a relentless nightmare for the droids of Star Wars. The least projects in this franchise and audience members themselves could do is treat these robots with a modicum of respect.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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