Archive for January 2001

The Real Hero of Star Wars

18 January 2001
Categories: Film buff, Star Wars

Image ©1977 Lucasfilm Ltd.A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Our Hero, an astromech service droid whose only purpose in life is to assist a predominantly antidroidist race known as humans, is stationed aboard a diplomatic cruiser. Short, squat, and generally taciturn, Our Hero spends a lot of time hanging around with a comic-relief sidekick whose primary function as a protocol droid has led to affecting a prim demeanour and matching British accent. Artoo Detoo, as Our Hero is commonly known, is entrusted by the human Leia with stolen schematics to the evil Empire’s Death Star, even as said Empire is capturing Artoo’s ship. Artoo and sidekick See Threepio escape in a pod without being fired upon by the Empire, thanks to the anthropocentric design of the Empire’s sensors, which ignores the droids aboard. Besides, the Force is with Artoo.

The droids crash land on perhaps the most godforsaken rock in the galaxy, Tatooine. No environment could possibly be worse for a droid’s mechanical systems, except maybe the humid swamps of Dagobah. Fortunately this planet is also home to one of the few humans capable of abetting Artoo, Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. Threepio is pessimistic as always and, because he has worked as a protocol droid for so long that he suffers from antidroidism himself, never grasps the importance of Artoo’s mission and deprecates it at every chance. Threepio abandons Artoo, leaving Our Hero to brave the wilds of Tatooine alone. The separation is moot, however, as both are captured by the nomadic, piratical, slave-trading, sub-human Jawas, who assault them with painful stun blasters and affix to them the droid equivalent of leg irons: restraining bolts.

The droids are soon sold to the moisture-farming family of the human commonly assumed to be the hero of this story: a snot-nosed, headstrong, whiny punk named Luke. The Force is strong with Luke, thanks only to heredity and not to his own development, and the punk is oblivious to the importance of the information Artoo carries. Artoo soon realises this and cons Luke into removing the restraining bolt so that Our Hero may strike out across the desert in search of Obi-Wan.

The next morning, Artoo has nearly reached Obi-Wan’s residence when Luke arrives, attempting to re-enslave Artoo, and making enough noise with his landspeeder to attract sandpeople from miles around. Fortunately for Artoo—and because the Force is with Our Hero—Obi-Wan soon arrives and takes them home. While Obi-Wan and Luke engage in a backstory-of-the-Force conversation, and Threepio rudely ignores his companion by shutting down, Artoo repeatedly attempts to gain the attention of the humans. Obi-Wan, who is kind enough to call Artoo “my little friend,” quickly grasps the weight of Artoo’s burden and determines that they must all leave the planet. Luke, the dead weight of the group, delays their departure twice: first by insisting that he has to stay on Tatooine for the harvest, then by running home in a futile attempt to save the lives of two humans who, by their inaction against the Empire, are little better than sheep.

At Mos Eisley, while Obi-Wan locates a ship and Artoo and Threepio avoid capture, Luke stumbles into the path of stormtroopers and a drunken outlaw, both times saved by Obi-Wan. They manage to escape Tatooine aboard the freighter of another antidroidist: Han Solo. Solo’s first mate and mechanic, Chewbacca, clearly is much friendlier to droids, perhaps because Wookiees are also regarded as second-class citizens. (Chewie’s egalitarianism is also apparent in the sequels.)

Soon the blundering humans have taken Our Hero to the very target of Artoo’s mission, the dreaded Death Star. Rather than panic, Artoo spots an opportunity. Our Hero sends Obi-Wan off to disable the tractor beam, and knowing that Obi-Wan is the one human to whom Artoo needs not “talk down,” flashes the route to the beam control so quickly on the computer screen that only a droid or a Jedi master could have followed it. Artoo discovers the one human so far who has shown trust in Artoo, Leia, and sends the other humans and Wookiee off to “rescue” her. (In truth, we know that Artoo could have done just as well without them, and sent them as a diversion, and to do what humans do best: run amok and blast things.)

The entire time the group is aboard the Death Star, Artoo and Threepio are rarely out of sight of the ship they flew in on, yet Artoo is able to hack deep into the main computer. Despite the fact that “the entire system is alerted to [their] presence,” Our Hero circumvents the security system, creates diversions throughout the station, and even is able to free the humans from the traps they create for themselves, all the while avoiding capture and downloading huge amounts of information about the Death Star. By the time the tractor beam is down and the humans have returned, Artoo has added a complete set of “as-built” specs to the original design plans first stolen by Rebel spies. Of course, no escape would be complete without delay and near-capture caused by Luke, as he single-handedly spoils the excellent distraction provided by Obi-Wan’s saber-duel with Darth Vader.

On Yavin 4, it takes the analysts no time at all to download Artoo’s cache and find that Our Hero has already completed an analysis of the Death Star’s defences and a tactical plan for attack. Of course, the humans give Artoo no credit for the plan. Because it is assumed that Luke “owns” Artoo, Our Hero is forced to ride shotgun on Luke’s fighter. While the novice tries hard to get the fighter shot out from under them, Artoo makes dangerous repairs, reprograms the targeting systems of the photon torpedoes so they’ll hit the exhaust port accurately, and in a last act of altruism, takes a direct cannon hit to save his ship. Yet only Threepio shows concern at Luke’s announcement, “I’ve lost Artoo!” The kid does the monkey’s job of pulling the trigger, Artoo’s pre-programmed torpedoes hit the target, and the Death Star is destroyed.

Back on Yavin 4, Luke is given credit for the kill, and a giant pageant is staged for the human saviours. Droids are almost entirely absent. The surviving humanoids that brought Artoo to complete his mission are given medals as Threepio stands silently nearby. Artoo arrives, newly repaired and with chrome shining, and proudly announces himself. Leia, who owes her very life to Artoo, merely nods gently at Our Hero with a doting, “you should know your place” smile. Only Chewbacca attempts to defend Artoo’s claim with a loud roar, but he is ignored.

And Artoo Detoo, brave little droid we all have come to love, quietly and ungrudgingly returns to the one role life has to offer: that of servant to a race that shows no appreciation or respect for a job well done.

Further proof of this narrative’s claims, plus a new idea: Artoo is a potty-mouthed wiseacre.