Welcome, as always, dear readers.
Recently, I’ve rewatched Rogue One
and, among other things, was interested this time to observe the two droid characters, K2SO, in the former,
and L3-37 in the latter.
Droids, of course, have appeared in Star Wars films all the way back to 1, where the small Anakin is building what will become C3PO.
Mechanical people in fiction go back much farther, however. You can meet several in the stories of the German Romantic, E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822),
where they are all extremely disturbing, from the Talking Turk in the short story, “The Automata” (Die Automate, 1814/1819—you can read a translation of it here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/31820/31820-h/31820-h.htm ) to the automaton Olympia in “The Sandman” (Der Sandmann, 1816, which you can read a translation of here: https://germanstories.vcu.edu/hoffmann/sand_e.html ).
In the US, a rather remarkable novella about one such appeared in 1868, under the title, The Huge Hunter; or, The Steam Man of the Prairies, by Edward Ellis.
(And you can read it here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7506/7506-h/7506-h.htm
It was, in fact, based upon a real invention in 1868 by Zadoc P. Dederick (yes—that’s his real name) of a steam-powered automaton. Here’s a photograph–)
In 1907, L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), added a mechanical man, the Tik-Tok,
to his growing gallery of Ozians in Ozma of Oz
and gave him his own book, Tik-Tok of Oz, in 1914.
(You can have your own copy of Ozma at: https://ia800206.us.archive.org/9/items/ozmaofozrecordof00baum/ozmaofozrecordof00baum.pdf
and Tik-Tok at: https://archive.org/details/tiktokofozfrank00baumrich
The Tik-Tok, by the way, makes a memorable appearance in Walter Murch;s 1985 Return to Oz,
where he is called “The Army of Oz”.
This is a film which was poorly received when it was first released, but I’ve always enjoyed it for its look-Kansas prairie really is Kansas prairie and not an elegant stage set– its visual effects—rocks as spies, with faces which come and go across the surface of the stone–and for the darker story it tells, although in blending incidents from several Oz books, it takes liberties with the stories which, if you were an Oz purist, might upset you.)
And then, in 1920/1 appeared the first real android—a combination of machine and humanlike tissue, and the first robot–in the Czech writer Karel Capek’s (1890-1938)
play, R.U.R. (for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”).
Capek (CHAH-pek) gave us the word robot, based upon the Czech verb, robotiti, “to work” (perhaps with a darker sense, as the noun robota can mean “forced labor”), and the robots in his play gradually become as menacing as those in the stories of Hoffmann, as they revolt and practically polish off the human race. (You can read the first English translation, from 1923, here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/59112/59112-h/59112-h.htm )
This is a far cry from that most familiar Star Wars duo, C3PO and RTD2,
who are the closest mechanical equivalent to the early screen team of Laurel and Hardy I can imagine
and reviewers since the first film in 1977 have agreed.
(You’ll notice, by the way, that, in this first poster, by the Hildebrandts, whose Tolkien illustrations I often use in this blog, Luke and Leia are rather vaguely portrayed, but, in the background, the two droids are pretty accurately depicted.)
For all that they’re made of metal and supposedly only capable of reacting as their programming dictates, C3PO and R2D2 clearly have personalities, C3PO being the pessimist and R2D2 the optimist, and that contrast provides a constant level of comedy throughout 4-6, a constant which relieves the tension in what is basically a serious adventure narrative.
Although gradually the pair make an appearance in 1-3, they are not given the same role (although in 2, C3PO briefly and comically loses his head, but not his identity, in the droid factory on Geonosis)
and, for me, this gives these three films a darker cast, not lightened in 1 by the much-attacked Jar Jar,
who has almost disappeared by 2.
As I want to focus on the two semi-independent films, I’m going to bypass 7-9, although there are flashes not only of the duo, but of another droid, one much less developed, Bb8,
and perhaps, if one wants to criticize 7-9, one approach might be that, without the comic potential, they may fall into the same category as 1-3—perhaps having lost the lighter touch of 4-6? (For more on the structure of the whole 9 episodes, please see the four-part “Three Times Three” series which I posted from January 8 to 31, 2020.)
It’s clear that C3PO and R2D2 were never replaced in their original role, so what of the two main droid characters we see in these films?
K2SO in Rogue One, brings some very interesting baggage, being an ex-Imperial security droid.
In structure, he seems more basic, like one of the Separatist battle droids,
rather than like someone dressed in a suit of gilded armor, like C3PO,
which, to me, along with his height and hulking stance, gives him an odd sense of menace and reinforces his initial hostility to Jyn Erso.
C3PO, as I said, is clearly a pessimist, with lines like “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” In contrast, K2SO is often given sarcastic lines, like “Jyn, I’ll be there for you. Cassian said I had to.” and “There were a lot of explosions for two people blending in.” (For a short list of such lines, see: https://www.bustle.com/p/11-k-2so-quotes-from-rogue-one-that-prove-the-droid-was-the-films-breakout-star-25352 ) I’m guessing that what was planned here was to produce a character with something of the sceptical repartee which made Han Solo such a memorable—and important part—of 4-6, which would certainly be a departure from any previous droid.
And the same could be said of L3-37 in Solo,
although here the writers have taken the character in a completely different—and rather surprising– direction. Rather like the robots in R.U.R., this droid is an advocate for droid liberation, which considering how many droids must exist in the entire Star Wars galaxy, would, if carried out, bring the entire galaxy to a standstill. We only see L3-37 sporadically throughout the film, so it’s never really explained why it thinks this way, as well as why, it being something programmed (or so we would normally assume), it could have romantic ideas about its partner, the young Lando Calrissian.
The writers, in interviews, have said that the droid had reprogrammed itself, although I’m not sure how this would have created the activist and potentially romantic character with which we’re presented, but, for me, it’s more important that there is a playfulness here, a willingness in the construction of both characters to go beyond what we’ve been given and have accepted as droids in earlier Star Wars films. Perhaps we might think that future films in this galaxy might have droids more like the replicants in Blade Runner, self-aware—and very dangerous when opposed.
Thanks, as ever, for reading,
Stay well and think of snappy dialogue lines
And know that, as always, there’s