Uncle Threepio’s Cabin

I recently watched Star Wars again, and noticed something new about it. The robots are like slaves.

At one point Luke removes a “restraining bolt” from R2D2, which seems to be designed to stop him running away. In other words, at least some of the robots want to be free, and will run away unless they’re physically prevented from so doing. The human characters, including the ‘good guys’, know this and have no problem with it.

Also, R2D2 doesn’t get a medal, despite also risking his life (and yes, he does have a life. Everyone in Star Wars treats droids as being alive).

This seems like a very…strange plot element, to say the least. It doesn’t seem to fit with movie serials, Westerns or the film’s other influences.

More ‘serious’ science fiction might deal with this issue – but that’s the point, it would deal with it, not just have it without any comment being made, either by characters or film-maker.

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4 thoughts on “Uncle Threepio’s Cabin

  1. I wrote about this a while back: http://wp.me/pylJj-jS

    It really is an odd paradox in the SW canon, everyone accepts that certain droids are sentient beings but no one in that universe seems to think that droids deserve to be treated as sentient beings.

    And in the SW game I am occasionally playing in, I did end up running a droid liberationist.

  2. One interesting thing is that Droids are specifically pointed out as not being a part of the force (and this is even before the Midochlorian(sp?) BS introduced briefly in the first prequel and never mentioned again).

    Robots act strictly according to their programs and mission, however it’s clear in the Star Wars universe that robots are frequently stolen and resold. This desire for freedom may not come from a desire to be free so much as a programmed requirement to attempt to fulfill their original tasks.

    R2-D2 is tasked with finding Obi-Wan Kenobi. His efforts to escape from the Jawas comes perhaps not from a self-aware desire to not be subjegated or heroics as we understand it but rather a programmed response to attempt to fulfill his command from Princess Leia at any cost.

    Perhaps droids in star wars are treated as alive by everyone because humanity’s need to impose humanlike characteristics on non-living things. A Child treats its dolls as though they are alive, and those dolls don’t even have the advanced AI capabilities that the droids in Star Wars have.

    By and large, I’ve found that the rights, humanity and treatment of robots with humanoid characteristics tends to be explored more thoroughly in eastern science fiction than in western. At times, one feels that they are preparing for how to deal with questions of rights and discrimination that do not yet exist but may face us in the future. However a lot of it delves deep into aspects of feminist criticism with robots as a proxy for women. I don’t think Star Wars was going there at all.

  3. I remember the restraining bolt making me nervous as a teenager but I think I wrote it off as a Jawa/slaver device inserted into the droids as opposed to something that droids were designed to accept. More disturbing that, for me, was the charnel pit of the Jawa robot room with one robot strung out in pieces but still alive – nowadays it makes me think of the opium smoker story by Dunsany in which torturers have flayed long strips up from a man’s skin and are sticking pins in the flap ends.

    But that the droids received no medals – that’s important. It supports the “lesser being” up argument nicely.

    It also makes me wonder at the ethics of creating what I assume are lesser intelligences in some droids, I’m thinking of the little scampering box things on the Death Star.


    James, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you at the news@a******* address.


    tim h

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Tim, I got your emails but I deleted them. I thought they were spam because your last name is the same as mine. I’ve replied.

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