The droids, specifically R2D2 and C-3PO, are my favorite part of Star Wars. While Most people get into the ships and the Force powers, while I enjoy them as well, watching Artoo and Threepio are what I enjoy the most, which is why my favorite spinoffs were their cartoon and comic adventures. However, the treatment of droids in the Star Wars Universe is certainly questionable. They didn’t just make mindless robots with their own AI. Each droid has his or her own personality, hopes and fears, and a sense of religion apart from the Force. (Too bad Threepio didn’t realize every time he said “thank the Maker” he actually meant Vader.) And yet, like in a lot of productions, the droids are treated as servants, and even the heroes who befriend them rarely treat them like other sentient beings simply because they have an off switch. There’s a point where you make the robots so “human” that the question of whether or not they should be comes up. And yet this rarely happens for droids.
In this video by the Pop Culture Detective the treatment of droids within the world of Star Wars and whether Lucas realized the can of worms he was opening when he made the Droids comic relief the way he did.
I need to watch that Orville episode (see what I mean about how behind I am in watching everything?) but you can have a story with the machine believing itself superior to man, or at least man being the problem, without it being questionable. I’m not sure why the machines of that episode go on a conquer spree, but most of us have seen the Terminator movies, where the robots consider themselves superior and thus wipe out man, an allegorical warning for an overly automatic age. Casshan: Robot Hunter is another good example, where the Black King believes the best way to fulfill it’s protocol to combat environmental pollution is to enslave the humans and force them to clean up ecological damage by making them slaves. Machine as threat is a worthy story topic. A machine is only as good or evil as its programming when it lacks a soul.
However, because robots are easier to repair than a human you can let them take more damage, which is why parents don’t mind stories where the robots are blowing each other up the way they do humans. Then again there’s a reason kids cried when Optimus Prime died in Transformers: The Movie. Despite taking damage that no human could have handled, it was hinted at in some episodes that Prime could be killed. One story was even about saving Optimus’s life from serious damage, made worse when Laserbeak was able to blast Optimus’ body during “surgery”. The allegory of living robots became even closer in recent years, with the introduction of some components being like organs in the human body and unable to simply be replaced, like Bumblebee’s voice box or the transformation cog. And yet in Silverhawks there was one robot guard at the penal colony that stood in for that one guard who always gets shot during a prison break because he was a machine and could be rebuilt. On the other hand the Power Rangers franchise has often danced between living being and robot, showing that both can exist and sometimes the distinction is blurry because robots can come back from damage a lot easier than us fleshy organisms.
The question is when does a machine cross the line from mechanism to mechanical lifeform? The problem is Star Wars never really addresses that difference and wants to yield all the benefits with none of the responsibility. It disappoints me to see how droids are sometimes treated, and yet because they can take more punishment there are also things you can get more away with. It’s a fine line that the franchise just chooses to ignore unless the plot can be worked in its advantage, and it’s not something they can change too much without throwing the entire franchise into further disarray. It’s not something that’s been addressed and even in today’s climate I wonder if it can do so without ruining the old stories? Not that the current people in charge care much about the old stories, but while I’m not saying it’s impossible I’m also not how it can be addressed without changing the droids as characters. I love R2D2 and C3PO the way they are but can they be treated better?