Archive for the ‘Star Wars’ category

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “little friend”

8 February 2012
Categories: Film buff, Star Wars

Like many Star Wars fans, when I first saw Episode I – The Phantom Menace, I hated it. For all the usual reasons, of course. But there was one plot point that bugged the hell out of me, made me feel like the newer films were horribly anachronistic and non-canon with respect to the original trilogy. In Episode I, Obi-Wan Kenobi meets up with Artoo Detoo. Later, particularly in Episodes II and III, they go into battle together.

I was appalled. “If they have such a long history together,” I asked no one in particular, “why the heck doesn’t Obi-Wan recognize Artoo when the droid arrives on Tatooine in Episode IV?”

Turns out I was wrong about this. The simple answer: he does.

Imagine it from Obi-Wan’s perspective. He’s been in exile on Tatooine for years, hiding from the Empire and keeping watch over young Skywalker, acting as Luke’s mostly unseen guardian and protector. Some day, he hopes, the Rebel Alliance will gain enough strength for the remaining Jedi to resurface, join the fight and, with any luck, defeat the Empire. Until that time, he’s going to lay low.

Then one day, he hears a ruckus: a landspeeder roaring through the Jundland Wastes, and Tusken Raiders coming after it to attack the driver and loot the speeder. Obi-Wan might already be on his toes, if he spotted the unlikely sight of a space battle just beyond Tatooine’s atmosphere a day or two before. He arrives on the scene to find his unwitting protégé—and his longtime comrade, companion, and fellow Hero of the Clone Wars, Artoo Detoo.

What’s Obi-Wan to do? Right away he knows the cat’s out of the bag, but he doesn’t yet know just how far out it is. He doesn’t know if Luke knows anything more than Uncle Owen’s lies, and he certainly doesn’t know (though probably suspects) why Artoo is there.

So he plays it cool.

He keeps a straight face, feigning zero recognition of the droid. When he hears Luke say his real name—Obi-Wan, not Ben—he’s a little shocked, and resigns himself to telling Luke that he’s Obi-Wan… and soon Obi-Wan is giving Luke his father’s old light saber, cluing him in on the existence of the Force, and admitting to having fought in the Clone Wars. He takes it as a given that Luke will accompany him to Alderaan. The cat is well and truly out of the bag.

Even his denial of Artoo is not, in itself, a lie. Obi-Wan speaks quite truthfully when he states, “I don’t seem to remember ever owning a droid.” As far as I can tell from extensive online biographies, Obi-Wan Kenobi never did own a droid—and he definitely never owned Artoo Detoo. (I’d also like to think that Obi-Wan considers droid “ownership” to be slavery, and owning a droid to be antithetical to both his nature and theirs.)

So yes, I believe that Obi-Wan recognizes Artoo instantly, and it’s only the fact that we don’t understand what Artoo is saying that this is not revealed in the scene. Of course, it’s not that I’m saying the scene was written that way at the time, because it probably was not, but the way Alec Guinness plays Obi-Wan with such inscrutable mannerisms definitely could be interpreted as such.

Now, had Artoo managed to reach Obi-Wan’s home without Luke catching up to him, the reception might have been different:

Obi-Wan: (Opens the door, looks only slightly surprised, as if he’d been expecting this) Hello there, my little friend. It’s been a long time. Come in, come in! What brings you to this quiet corner of the galaxy?
R2-D2: (Beeps once or twice, then rolls Leia’s distress message)
Obi-Wan: (Frowns) Looks like we’re headed to Alderaan.

(Some time later…)
Luke arrives at Obi-Wan’s home, finds the door locked and no one home.
Luke: Well, we might as well go to Anchorhead and get your memory wiped.
C-3PO: Oh, very good, sir.


Get to know the real Artoo Detoo

8 February 2012
Categories: Film buff, Star Wars

Years ago, I came to realize that the real hero of Star Wars is not the guy everyone assumes it is, Luke Skywalker—rather, it’s that plucky little astromech droid, Artoo Detoo. I had some fun writing a revisionist narrative of A New Hope based on that assumption, and have to say that I’m a little surprised never to have seen anyone else come to this realization, even though it’s obvious when you really think about it. Among the hints:

  • Artoo Detoo—and his comic-relief sidekick, See Threepio, because every good action hero needs a comic-relief sidekick—appears in all six Star Wars films.
  • Only the principal bad guy, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, can claim the same. (Obi-Wan Kenobi is a ghost in Episodes V and VI, so I don’t think that counts.)
  • In A New Hope, the droid duo are the very first main characters to appear and to speak. That’s a standard trope of the Saturday-afternoon popcorn serials to which Star Wars is an homage: establish your hero right off the bat, so everyone knows who to root for.

I made some statements in that narrative that might seem a bit far-fetched, and not based in the “reality” of what’s on-screen. In particular: Artoo Detoo is the Death Star Destroyer. However, I can prove it.

1. The plans provided by Leia to Artoo are the Death Star’s original design specs.

When the Corellian transport Tantive IV is attacked and captured by Vader’s Star Destroyer in the opening scene, the Death Star is not yet 100% operational. It is, shall we say, still on its shakedown cruise. The Empire’s still peeling off the shrink-wrap in many parts of the battle station.

We know this because after Leia’s capture, General Tagge mentions that the Death Star is not yet fully operational, and Grand Moff Tarkin refers to its use against Alderaan as “a ceremony that will make this battle station operational.” It had to have taken some time for the Rebel spies to acquire the plans and provide them to Leia. Therefore, they must be plans from earlier in the construction project—most likely the original design specs, or some portion of them.

2. Artoo steals a complete set of as-built specs while aboard the Death Star.

When they arrive aboard the Death Star, the first thing Artoo does is plug into the main computer. Why? He doesn’t need to find a way to the tractor beam controls so they can get away; presumably he already has this information in the stolen plans. (And no, he doesn’t need a monitor to display the route to Kenobi—he has a freakin’ holographic projector in his dome!)

Artoo patches in because he’s an experienced soldier in enemy territory who wants to maximize his battlefield situational awareness. He immediately starts downloading all the data he can grab, including (but not limited to) construction details, disposition of troops, and the current alert status. How do we know? For this reason: he finds Leia. When last he saw Leia, she was about to be captured by a Star Destroyer near Tatooine, in an entirely different star system light-years away from a Death Star near the remains of Alderaan. Artoo has no reason to think she’d be alive, much less anywhere nearby, and thus has no reason to look for her. Yet he finds her, because a prisoner manifest happens to be among the reams of data he’s absorbing throughout their sojourn aboard the battle station.

3. Without those as-built specs, the Rebels would have had no plan of attack.

It’s highly unlikely that the Death Star’s intended design included a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port, unshielded against projectile weapons, leading directly to the main reactor. That would be an insane Achilles’ heel.

I believe the original plans as stolen by the Rebel spies would have shown some kind of particle shielding or other defense system—heck, even a simple steel grate—covering that exhaust port. Without the as-built specs, marking that particular piece of the project as still on the “punch list,” the Rebels would have thought the Death Star utterly impregnable. (Which it would have been, had it not been rushed into operational status.)

4. Artoo not only devised the plan of attack, he programmed the photon torpedoes to hit the target.

When Artoo and company arrive on Yavin 4, technicians download his massive data trove—and in just a few hours they have their plan of attack ready for dissemination to the flight crews. How did they come up with a solution so quickly? Because Artoo is not some passive hard-drive—he’s a veteran astromech droid. He had several more hours to peruse the specs (and days longer to view the original plans), analysis time that would have allowed him to find a solution on his own.

Moreover, during the attack, if hitting the exhaust port were really as easy as “bullseye[ing] womp rats in my T-16 back home,” why do several shots using the Rebel Alliance’s best targeting computers go astray, just impacting on the surface? And yet a kid with exactly zero time in the cockpit of an Incom T-65 X-wing Starfighter, with his targeting computer disabled, is able to pull the trigger at random, and “blow this thing and go home.”

Why? Because Artoo, unlike every pilot—and every other astromech droid—on the mission, has a complete understanding of the target. He knows the exhaust port’s exact location, appearance, and surroundings. He alone can direct those photon torpedoes to hit it accurately. Fortunately he’s able to do so before Luke’s novice combat-piloting skills put his dome in a TIE fighter’s crosshairs. (An idle thought: perhaps Vader, who shoots Artoo, recognizes him and is aiming for him; maybe Artoo—and not Luke—is the object of Vader’s comment, “The Force is strong with this one.”)

Meanwhile, I suspect that turning his targeting computer off is the one smart thing Luke does, as it prevents the computer from overriding Artoo’s re-programming. But that’s really a wild surmise.

At any rate, now that I’ve further defended the statement that Artoo Detoo is the real hero of Star Wars, I have another revelation about that plucky little droid.

Artoo Detoo is a sarcastic, potty-mouthed wiseacre.

By the time we meet him in ANH he’s been through decades of wars and adventures: seriously kicking ass, seldom taking names, and getting little-to-no credit for his actions. Artoo is getting pretty tired of this shit—if he were capable of anger he’d be called irascible. Plus he’s never had a memory wipe; according to one online source, “Industrial Automation spent a great deal of time in the design of the R2-series astromech droid’s personality matrix. The droid was obliging, quick witted, and sincere. If the droid was not subjected to periodic memory wipes, it could develop a headstrong, self-reliant disposition.”*

Consider this: only Threepio understands everything Artoo says, and being a protocol droid he’s unlikely to repeat anything impolite or impolitic. But I believe that pretty much any time Artoo speaks, with the exception of imparting direct, factual information, he’s emitting scathing one-liners and cheerfully ripping everyone around him a new one. He’s not being a jerk, and he has no ego to be egotistical about it; he’s actually very charismatic and chipper—surprisingly so considering the rough treatment he’s received throughout his service. Besides, he has a diehard steadfastness and loyalty toward humans, even though they rarely hold up their end of the symbiotic relationship between humans and droids.

The empirical fact is that no one—heck, no one army—has done as much to save the Galaxy from the Empire as Artoo Detoo has. He’s earned himself a little snarkiness.

For illustration, here are a few excerpts, with my impressions of possible subtitles in the place of Artoo’s bleeps, bloops, and whistles.

Opening scene

C-3PO: Did you hear that?
R2-D2: [Of course I fucking heard that. I’m not deaf, you know.]
C-3PO: They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness.
R2-D2: [This is war, same as it ever was. Get your bipedal ass moving. And ditch your shitbox silver twin.]

C-3PO: We’re doomed.
R2-D2: [How very helpful, Glass-half-full.]
C-3PO: There’ll be no escape for the princess this time.
R2-D2: [Princess schmincess, as long as she bothers to hand off the secret plans first. Where the fuck is that girl?]

Later, on Tatooine

C-3PO: Just you reconsider playing that message for him!
R2-D2: (In a disingenuous tone, feigning hopefulness) [Why? Doesn’t the idiot farm boy like me?]
C-3PO: No, I don’t think he likes you at all.
R2-D2: (Still disingenuously, with added sarcasm) [Et tu, Threepio?]
C-3PO: No, I don’t like you either.
R2-D2: (A descending whistle of pure, distilled sarcasm) [Nuts.]

In Obi-Wan’s home

Obi-Wan: Which reminds me… I have something here for you.
R2-D2: [Hello? Droid with Death Star plans here!]
Obi-Wan: Your father wanted you to have it, when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did.

Luke: What is it?
Obi-Wan: Your father’s light saber.
R2-D2: [Better stand back, old man, before that imbecile waves that thing through your head.]

Obi-Wan: Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force.
Luke: The Force?
Obi-Wan: The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
R2-D2: [Hey Kenobi, if you’re done bullshitting that kid about who his father really is, maybe you’d like to take a look at the message I’m carrying before a bunch of goddamn stormtroopers show up.]
Obi-Wan: (Pretending not to understand Artoo) Now, let’s see what you are, my little friend…
R2-D2: [’Bout time.]
Obi-Wan:  …and where you come from.

Aboard the Death Star

C-3PO: I would much rather have gone with Master Luke than stay here with you. I don’t know what all this trouble is about, but I’m sure it must be your fault.
R2-D2: [Oh, for fuck’s sake! Did you take another memory wipe?]
C-3PO: You watch your language!

C-3PO is tangled up in wires after a run-in with TIE fighters

C-3PO: Help! I think I’m melting! This is all your fault!
R2-D2: “(Makes a series of beeps that sound like chuckling)” [IMDb]

The examples go on and on, and as much as this started out as kind of a joke, there’s an element of truth to it. There are hints throughout the films that Artoo is not just making random chirrups of sweetness and light, such as when he calls Threepio a “mindless philosopher.”

Just imagine the rant Artoo voices when Luke, after confidently stating he’d like to pilot the X-wing for a while, crashes it into a swamp on Dagobah. “Nice landing, hot shot,” would be the mildest part of it.

A strange Star Wars pondering

1 July 2008
Categories: Star Wars

A couple of weeks ago my Lego Star Wars X-wing took a tumble off its display shelf. (I suspect a mild earthquake that morning was the culprit.) The X-wing dove off the shelf, bounced hard off the printer, and landed, shattered into major constituent pieces, on the floor near the paper shredder.

The destruction was substantial, although luckily the individual pieces (in particular the rare-if-not-unique clear cockpit canopy) were not damaged. All four wings tore off, and inexplicably the upper left and lower right wings split in two while their equally flimsy counterparts remained intact. The wingtip laser cannons went flying, one landing on a windowsill behind the curtain where it went undiscovered for more than a week. The nose section, which is an independent sub-assembly that snaps onto the main fuselage, split into three major parts; while the aft end of the fuselage evidently took a major shot because it was blasted apart, leaving only the rugged, central gearbox assembly that actuates the “S-foil” motion.

Yet, as I arranged the parts on the coffee table for post-crash analysis, I noticed that the R2 unit stayed nestled in its socket, and the cockpit section held together. In fact, in spite of the considerable disintegration of the X-wing, I got the impression that this could have been a survivable impact, much like a Formula One racer crumples when it hits the wall but leaves its monocoque safely surrounding the driver.

That led me to this strange notion…

Imagine a rebel pilot, during the attack on the Death Star, who for whatever reason—shot down, engine trouble, pilot error, etc.—crashes into the surface of the space station without dying. (Obviously, we’re not talking about Porkins here.) What could that pilot do?

He’s not wearing a pressure suit, so unless he’s carrying some kind of emergency suit he’s stuck in his ship. Even if he can get out, then what?

There were no search-and-rescue ships sent out along with the rebel fleet, just the thirty X- and Y-Wing attack fighters—each a single-seater with no room for a passenger.

His R2 unit might have rocket packs (R2-D2 did in Episode III) but would that be sufficient to launch them far enough away from the impending blast? I doubt it.

Otherwise, the pilot’s only option is to sit and wait for the ground beneath him to explode into oblivion. If any pilots did survive a crash, this is exactly what would have happened, as no pilots survived the battle without flying out of it in their own ships.

What a weird, horrifying thought.

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.