Second Look – Programmable Souls: On Droids and Narrative

Beyond analyzing the Expanded Universe from a storytelling standpoint, another function I want this site to perform is to scrutinize what Star Wars is about, thematically, from an informed, adult perspective. It’s important to keep in mind that the films function, very deliberately, as children’s entertainment, but one of the great pleasures of SW for me is poking at the edges of that superficial narrative to see what deeper messages and implications can be extracted. When one of the first guest-article pitches I saw, from the inimitable Becca Hughes, was on the role of droids in the films’ explicit man-vs-machine paradigm, I knew I had a winner:

“Droids are magical helpers. Droids are familiars. If this were pure fantasy, Artoo-Detoo might well be Puck. Mechanizing the role is, once again, an easy way to adhere to the decor of the Star Wars universe, but slapping “droid” on both the comedy sidekicks and the faceless minions implies a commonality I don’t actually think is there. The similarities are cosmetic. Thinking of Threepio and Artoo as soulless is, well, soulless, but the movies clearly invite us not to think about battle droids as anything other than automata.”

This might be a purely intellectual exercise, Becca goes on to say, if not for the importance of Darth Vader—and by extension, narrative “warning signs” like Luke’s mechanical hand and the entirety of General Grievous—to the overall message of the story. If Vader’s irredeemability is evidenced by his being “more machine than man”, what does that say for the characters who are all machine? Click here to read what Becca had to say about it.