R2-D2 in The Force Awakens

Stop reading right now if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What follows is director J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Michael Arndt talking about the key role that R2-D2 plays in the film. The little astromech droid is one of many returning characters from the original trilogy, but the role of R2-D2 in The Force Awakens in the story has very close ties to the mystery of Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts. So again, major spoilers from here on out if you haven’t seen The Force Awakens. You’ve been warned.

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the feisty little droid R2-D2 isn’t seen much. As C-3PO tells BB-8, the droid has been in low power mode since Luke disappeared awhile back. He must be just as distraught as Luke due to Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side, for which the last remaining Jedi blamed himself. But at the end of The Force Awakens, R2 wakes up and has the rest of the map that The Resistance needs in order to find Luke Skywalker.

Some have criticized this part of the story for being a little too convenient. Why did R2 decide to wake up at this pivotal moment if he had this information inside of him the whole time? Couldn’t we have found Luke Skywalker a long time ago? And how did he have that entire map but not the little piece that was given to Poe Dameron and BB-8? It turns out there’s actually an explanation for all of that, and it has ties to what Luke Skywalker has been doing this whole time.

Screenwriter Michael Arndt explained to Entertainment Weekly after a screening of the movie:

“We had the idea about R2 plugging into the information base of the Death Star, and that’s how he was able to get the full map and find where the Jedi temples are.”

There’s a line from Han Solo in the movie that says those who knew Luke best said he went to search for the first Jedi temple. So it would make sense that R2-D2 had a map of where Luke might go searching to find them. In addition, that also explains why the First Order has the rest of the map since the villain mentions that they obtained it from the archives of the Empire. It could probably be made a little clearer as to how R2 got the map, but I don’t find it to be a huge problem.

Director J.J. Abrams explained that this was referenced more indirectly instead of just showing the scene in order to avoid getting bogged down with explaining everything that happened 30 years ago. And then he goes on to explain why R2 doesn’t just wake up and help everyone find Luke immediately:

“BB-8 comes up and says something to him, which is basically, ‘I’ve got this piece of a map, do you happen to have the rest?’ The idea was, R2 who has been all over the galaxy, is still in his coma, but he hears this. And it triggers something that would ultimately wake him up.

While it may seem, you know, completely lucky and an easy way out, at that point in the movie, when you’ve lost a person, desperately, and somebody you hopefully care about is unconscious, you want someone to return.”

So while it might seem like a matter of convenience to the story, it’s also a matter of inconvenience to everyone else since it just took R2 awhile to wake up from his sad little droid coma. The question now is what did Luke learn over these 30 years. How has Skywalker changed? Will it be a struggle to get him back in the fight?

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