From the robots that fail miserably at their jobs to the robots dealing with our literal crap, Mashable’s dives into the complex world of automation — for better or worse or much, much worse.
One of the coolest parts of living in the Star Wars galaxy, ranked just below the possibility of getting your hands on a lightsaber, is the fact that every human seems to get their own personal droid pal. While the concept of droid “ownership” is problematic — if they’re sentient, isn’t it slavery? —only one droid in the entirety of Star Wars has ever complained, and she was still a lot of fun to hang out with. So it’s pretty safe to assume droids actually like being our forever friends.
But when considering which droid to befriend, remember they’re not all created equal. A large number of Star Wars droids are, dare I say it, quite crap. Given their inherent loyalty, droid relations can last longer than most marriages. Do you want to be stuck for life with a constant annoyance like Threepio, or a cool cat everyone’s going to love like Artoo? What are they actually going to do for you on a regular basis?
Here’s our cheat sheet on droid crappiness levels for your next visit to the droid depot. Starting with the all-time champion of uselessness:
10. Protocol droids
“I have no need for a protocol droid.” Boy, you said it, Uncle Owen. The question is: Does anyone? Do we want to be interrupted during the hottest scoundrel-filled smooch of our lives? Need we ever be told the odds?
So a protocol droid is fluent in over six million forms of communication. Bully for them. There is no instance, at least in the Skywalker saga, where this comes in particularly handy. You’ll notice Threepio doesn’t even bother to translate Artoo’s beeps and boops. Why? Because everyone understands Astromech already.
This might help explain why Threepio was literally found in parts on a scrapheap on Tatooine by a penniless kid, Anakin Skywalker, and is still considered bargain-basement Jawa merchandise two decades later. A lot of people in the galaxy are multilingual, and nearly all of them observe common standards of behavior. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of call for translation or protocol advice — let alone delivered by a flailing, clueless metal butler.
The one time a translation became absolutely vital to the plot of Star Wars — the Sith knife in The Rise of Skywalker — it turned out Threepio couldn’t even speak Sith without a splicer hacking into his memory. Yes, he translated Luke’s words into halting Huttese for Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, but not all of them, and Jabba and Luke understood each other perfectly well regardless.
Later he was treated as a god by a tribe of vicious Ewoks, but didn’t help his captured friends until Luke intervened. C-3PO, you’re the worst.
We’ve seen a handful of other protocol droids in action, if you can call it that. There’s a silver one who serves refreshment to Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon at the beginning of The Phantom Menace: Great, so you’re a man-shaped drinks cart. There’s one retrofitted as a teacher in The Mandalorian that fails to stop Baby Yoda bullying his classmate. There’s 4-LOM, a protocol droid who became a bounty hunter, but he was so ashamed of his kind that he literally changed his face.
Which is a sign that protocol droids have a willful streak under their prissy exterior. Consider that Threepio waxed lyrical to Uncle Owen about how he could understand the binary language of moisture vaporators — and then never spoke to a damn one before running away the next day! Worst Jawa junk purchase ever. (To be fair, maybe Owen shouldn’t have blanked Threepio like he’d never met him.)
9. Battle droids
At least protocol droids advertise their lameness in their titles. Battle droids, on the other hand, are the most disappointing relative to our expectations. They’re the droids who can’t shoot straight, whose spindly metal bodies can apparently be knocked down in a light breeze. Given their annoying catchphrase, “roger, roger,” you could forgive even their commanding officers wishing for such a breeze.
The pathetic fighting skills are by design. George Lucas felt he had to make battle droids particularly useless in The Phantom Menace so they could come back stronger in Attack of the Clones, justifying the good guys’ use of a clone army in response. But this hapless droid infantry never reached the level of seeming like much of a threat — not in the prequels, not in Clone Wars, and not even in its latest elite prototype. The Dark Trooper droids effortlessly crushed by Luke at the end of The Mandalorian’s second season.
Bottom line: To paraphrase Yoda, droids make not battle great. If you’re a shadowy Sith lord buying them in bulk as part of an evil plan to trick the Galactic Republic into going to war with itself, just be sure you keep the receipt.
8. Power (“Gonk”) droids
Ever wanted a 1970s mainframe computer with big clomping metal feet? You’ll love the Gonk droid! Bonus: The goose-like honking that gave these boxy creatures their name.
Aesthetic hilarity aside, Gonk droids are at least good at their job. They’re walking batteries, basically, that can recharge anything from a communicator to a starship. Adopt a Gonk and you’ll never want for more phone battery. You need never fear running out of juice in an electric car or bike. Gonks are unashamedly utilitarian, ugly and proud.
A world full of Gonks would be a world that had solved climate change. Wherever you need power, the Gonk can bring it to you. Just…maybe not at the fastest possible speed.
7. Mouse droids
Imagine your Roomba was a spy, a deliverer of DMs, and also hummed little songs to itself as it worked. That’s the vibe of the MSE-6, also known as the Mouse droid. You may know it as the thing Chewbacca roared at on the Death Star. You may have guessed that it was used to clean the Death Star’s sparkling floors, but did you also know it was an essential intelligence worker, used by the Empire in surveillance and message delivery? You’re welcome, nerds.
Despite the MSE-6’s adorability — as in the above Robot Chicken sketch, which imagines it piloted by an actual mouse — such a droid would get old fast. If it skitters away in fear at a Wookiee’s growl, imagine how it would react to a dog barking. Or how much pets and kids would love to chase it down the corridor. You’re not going to get many DMs delivered by this Roomba if there is anything making sudden sounds in your home.
6. Probe droids
Sure, they can find pretty much anyone you’re looking for, anywhere in the charted galaxy, even if you’re a rebel base on a remote ice planet. On the other hand, why would you want to do that, weirdo? Ditch the floating multi-eyed metal arachnid and go back to looking at your crushes remotely on Instagram like a normal person.
5. Medical droids
They’re medical marvels who can regrow you in a bacta tank after a Wampa attack, and dish out robot hands to anyone with a nasty case of lightsaberitis. But how much care are droids like surgical specialist 2-1B, above, actually providing, and how much does it really cost? There still hasn’t been a full investigation into the case of the nurse droid who claimed Padmé Amidala died of a “broken heart” when she gave birth to twins Luke and Leia.
Some 20 years later, another 2-1B had enough cause to file the galaxy’s weirdest sexual harassment suit, when its boss Leia made out with her brother right in front of the droid. You don’t want to know what other cursed moments those sad, empty eyes have witnessed.
4. Assassin droids
We’d long suspected the IG assassin droids were cool, based on the inanimate yet lanky bounty hunter we saw for a hot minute in Empire Strikes Back: IG-88. It took The Mandalorian‘s IG-11 (Taika Waititi) to show us just how cool they are in action.
OK, so IG-11 may have been a bit murder-happy, and had to be blasted before he shot Baby Yoda. But it turned out he could be reprogrammed as a nurse droid, and his ultimate sacrifice in protecting the Child was commemorated in statue form. So that works out about even.
If you’re considering reprogramming an IG unit, pay no attention to the concussion grenade launchers and flamethrowers that made this series of droid illegal in all but the lawless outer rim of the galaxy. You’re not going to stop a teensy thing like legality or potential murder sprees get in the way of your forever friendship, are you?
3. Security droids
K-2SO. The droid. The myth. The legend. A reprogrammed Imperial security droid whose contribution to the rebellion has gone cruelly unrecognized, K-2 (Alan Tudyk) was not only crucial in stealing the Death Star plans, he’s also a hilarious deadpan humorist who stole every Rogue One scene he was in. K-2 may well do the same in the 2022 Disney+ series Andor, which covers the sassy droid’s earlier adventures with his forever friend Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).
The only reason he doesn’t rank higher on this list is that we’ve only really seen this one KX security droid in action (well, not counting the lookalike that K-2 killed on Scariff). Here’s hoping Andor gives us more.
2. Self-made droids
The presence of L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Solo was long overdue, even as it opened up many cans of worms.
L3 was the first droid that we know of to identify as female. (Why haven’t we seen more?) She was a staunch droids rights activist who refuted the notion of human ownership. (So what does that say about our heroes who “owned” droids?) She and Lando Calrissian had a sexual relationship that “works.” (Uh, how exactly?) And though her body was destroyed, her neural core lives on in the Millennium Falcon. (But is being a ghost in that machine a terrible living death straight out of a Black Mirror episode?)
At least there’s one aspect of L3 that doesn’t raise uncomfortable questions: She’s a self-made droid, literally. Starting out as a squat little Astromech, she scavenged two legs so she could stand tall and proud. She kept modifying herself, mostly with protocol droid parts — and hey, apparently those things are just sitting around junkyards anyway.
Speaking of modifying protocol droids, remember 4-LOM? He was a lot like L3, escaping his programming and rebuilding himself. He chose a terrifying insectoid droid head and went on to become a bounty hunter in Empire Strikes Back. If Disney+ is looking for more material after its latest slate of Star Wars shows, the saga of an independent mixed-part droid like 4-LOM trying to make his way in the galaxy could be Mandalorian-level fascinating.
Behind the scenes on the first Star Wars, R2-D2 was the very definition of a crap robot. His wobbly remote-controlled voyages ended with him crashing into walls on almost every take. Only clever editing from Marcia Lucas’ team made it look like Artoo knew where he was going; you can still see his disastrous trajectories if you look closely enough.
It didn’t matter. The little blue trashcan, when combined with Ben Burtt’s electronically-filtered baby talk and Kenny Baker’s jiggly puppet work, had already won our hearts. In the movies and books that followed, Artoo became the prototype for a whole class of sassy little worker bees, the most adorable, steadfast and surprisingly effective droids ever made: Astromechs.
Why do we love an Astromech like Artoo, or BB-8, his ball droid cousin, or R5-D4 with his bad motivator, or Chopper, the feisty wooden-domed star of the Rebels cartoon? Weirdly, something about their single eyes and squat bodies arouse our parental instinct, as if we evolved to care for baby cyclopses. Thus primed, we delight in their antics and their variety of unusual appendages. But also we beam with parental pride, because Astromechs get shit done, people.
Look at Artoo. In just a couple of days, the guy can carry top secret plans for a princess, find an escape pod, trundle across half of Tatooine looking for Ben Kenobi before and after being captured and sold, convince a kid to remove a restraining bolt, annoy a Wookiee playing holographic chess, find the princess, make sure the Death Star doesn’t kill his friends — then for an encore, co-pilot the X-Wing that blows the whole damn thing up, while getting shot to hell. That’s all while being constantly interrupted by a clingy protocol droid and getting blanked by old pal Kenobi. Cool as ice.
Trust me, no one but the dumbest droids want to mess with an Astromech. There’s a reason why these guys slot in somewhere in every crucial piece of military hardware. Without the skill and smarts of these essential workers, nobody could even start a star war.
No wonder one of the oldest subcultures in Star Wars fandom is a global club where members build their own full-sized remote-control Astromechs. No wonder the incredible new rolling Astromech BB-8 was the one element of the divisive sequel trilogy that all fans seemed to love. And no wonder George Lucas himself is the world’s biggest Astromech fan — even going so far as to tell his crew that the entire narrative of Star Wars is being drawn from Artoo’s memoirs a hundred years later.
Ultimately, Star Wars is a droid’s tale — and there’s no doubt which kind of droid is telling it.