(Welcome to A Different Point of View, a column where we explore the supporting characters of the Star Wars universe and discuss why they deserve more time in the spotlight.)

Out of all of the characters in the Star Wars galaxy, no species gets a shorter shaft than the droids. Created to fill gaps in everything from manual labor to cultural translation, there are probably more droids than organic beings in George Lucas’ universe. Yet for all their omnipresence, Star Wars has barely scratched the surface of what it truly means to have so many artificial life forms.

Whether you see Star Wars as science-fiction or science-fantasy, the apathy towards this huge chunk of the narrative weirds me out. After all, the foundational cornerstone of science-fiction asks whether or not constructs created by man have souls and aspirations. Teenaged Mary Shelley might not have known what a “robot” was when she created the sci-fi genre over a bored long weekend, but Frankenstein’s monster set into motion decades of questions that boil down to “What does it mean to be sentient?”

The time has never been better for Star Wars to pop the hood and examine the long, horrifying history of the treatment of droids.

WHO ARE THEY?

Droids in the world of Lucasfilm take on as many forms as they do roles. From the beeping astromech droids to the bipedal protocol assistants and everything in between, droids are everywhere in Star Wars. They construct buildings and perform maintenance. They tend to the sick and injured. They raise children. No menial, manual, or dangerous task is beyond them.

But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to narrow it down to the droids who know they’re droids. There’s the OG team of C-3PO and R2-D2. And for a while, they were the only cognizant droids of note, though fans loved the mysterious IG-88. Then along came BB-8 and Chopper and K-2SO and L3-37 and 0-0-0 and BT-1. Suddenly, the galaxy was awash with droids that clearly exhibit behaviors identical to self-aware organics. They all have something else in common, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

ig-88

WHEN WERE THEY INTRODUCED?

It depends on which droid you’re talking about. Threepio and Artoo have been part of the gang since 1977. IG-88 joined the Sentient Squad™ in 1980. The rest are fairly new additions. BB-8 came along with The Force Awakens, while Chopper was introduced in Star Wars Rebels. The sassy K-2SO came along with Rogue One and Solo gave us the tragic L3. Triple Zero and BT-1 are lesser known droids as they were created for the Darth Vader comic that introduced the world to Doctor Aphra. Regardless, with each new entry of self-aware droid, Lucasfilm inadvertently scoops out more of the  “they’re just machines” excuse that’s been exercised for years.

Rogue One - K-2SO

WHAT MAKES THEM FASCINATING?

Do you know why Artoo is the sassiest droid in the known galaxy? It’s because his memory hasn’t been wiped in over sixty years. Meanwhile, Threepio has had his memory wiped at least twice, but not since the Clone Wars. During the comic book run to explain Threepio’s red arm, the protocol droid speaks in-depth with another droid about how, even with memory wipes, he still gets flashes of his old life and the two wax poetic about whether or not sentience can truly be erased.

The other sentient droids also share this quality. While Chopper frequently has data wipes from his systems to protect the Rebels, Hera has never tweaked his personality or core memories. In Solo: A Star Wars Story, Lando laments that L3-37 is the way she is because he can’t bring himself to wipe her memory systems. Cassian Andor apologizes to Jyn for the behavior K-2SO as the deprogramming process seemingly gave the droid (or revealed) a personality. BB-8 may be younger but his childlike reactions will mature should he continue to escape memory wipe.

Then there are the evil droids. The terrifying protocol/torture droid known as Triple Zero is literally centuries old, with his personality matrix being so dangerous it had been quarantined for the safety of organic life. His counterpart, BT-1 is younger but just as alarming. Created as an assassin droid in an astromech chassis, Bee Tee killed his Empire creators, blew up the base, and jettisoned himself into space and freedom.

Of course, you can’t talk about rogue droids without mentioning IG-88. Created as an assassin droid, technically IG-88 is fulfilling his function. The only problem is he isn’t under the control of any organic lifeform. Instead, IG-88 gained sentience, realized he loved his job, and immediately set out to become a bounty hunter to rival the likes of Cad Bane and Boba Fett. Think about it. IG-88 chooses his clients, does the job, and the client pays him directly. Not his master. Him. To date, IG-88 is the only droid I can think of that has his own stream of independent income.

All of this points in a single direction: the only thing stopping droids from sentient enlightenment is the willful manipulation of their memories by organic life. I say willful because we know the Empire performed scheduled, systematic wipes on every droid in their arsenal to keep them docile. In the novel Phasma, it is made clear that the First Order has continued the tradition. Even the Republic and, later, the Rebellion, have no qualms about frying the souls of their droid compatriots in order to secure information from falling into enemy hands. It seems the only thing both sides of the war can agree on is the need to head off a droid uprising.

WHAT STORIES COULD LUCASFILM TELL?

Anything at all that centers and acknowledges that droids are living beings. If you aren’t aware, IG-88 is scheduled to appear in the upcoming live-action Star Wars show The Mandalorian next year but there are no details on if he will be a recurring character or merely a one-off Easter Egg for fans. I hope it is the former because there is a lot to unpack there. How do the other bounty hunters feel about a droid in their midst? Do they think IG-88 has an unfair advantage or that he brings down the prestige of the profession? Are there any deep thinkers in that question what a droid needs with money? Personally, I’d love to see IG-88 funneling his cash into a droid underground railroad, but that’s pie in the sky thinking.

Acknowledging the sentience and subsequent enslavement of L3-37 would definitely be a welcome storyline. Solo: A Star Wars Story spent the first half of the film hammering home that L3 is a loud proponent of Droid Rights and would rather die than feel she under the thrall of organic masters. The last act then cruelly murders her, rips her personality matrix out, and has the other droids of the Millennium Falcon distract her long enough to slave her mind to their operating system. The end result has L3, voiceless and defeated, sold to an organic that his not her erstwhile lover Lando, and forced to perform against her will for decades. Undoing the damage caused by this narrative would go a long way towards not retroactively feeling gross every time the Falcon comes on-screen.

I’m sure there are dozens of other tales Lucasfilm could tell with droids, either utilizing characters already in the canon or creating new droids to pick up the baton. Either way, with the number of self-aware robotics entering a galaxy far, far away each year, Star Wars needs to deal with the narrative fallout of a universe with a purposefully suppressed class of creatures.

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