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NOTE: Specifically looking for some in-universe explanation; canonical or “legends” is fine. Lots of discussion of this specific line exists online, but nothing seems to go past idle “armchair speculation”; hoping something more solid and substantial can show up here.


At the beginning of the original Star Wars (1977) film, the Rebel Blockade Runner (Tantive IV) is captured by an Imperial Star Destroyer (Devastator) near Tatooine. R2-D2 and C-3PO escape that whole mess by leaving the the ship in an escape pod (aka: lifepod). As their escape pod spirals down to Tatooine, C-3PO states the following:

That’s funny, the damage doesn’t look as bad from out here.

What damage to what doesn’t look as bad from the vantage point of the escape pod? The shooting script for the film (Revised Fourth Draft - January 15, 1976) frames the dialogue as such:

INT. LIFEPOD

Artoo and Threepio look out at the receding Imperial starship. Stars circle as the pod rotates through the galaxy.

THREEPIO: That’s funny, the damage doesn’t look as bad from out here.

Artoo beeps an assuring response.

THREEPIO: Are you sure this things safe?

Is C-3PO somehow referring to the Star Destroyer since that’s what we see on screen (see screenshot) as well as being referenced in the script itself? If so, why is C-3PO interested in the damage to an Imperial Star Destroyer? Is his droid eyesight somehow so strong he could see the Rebel Blockade Runner captured in the docking bay of that Star Destroyer? Heck, was C-3PO even aware of what ship he was on to begin with and maybe thought the Star Destroyer was the ship he was on?

C-3PO and R2-D2 taking in the view from their luxurious escape pod.

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Doesn't the shooting script excerpt you quoted indicate that 3PO is mistaking Devastator for Tantive IV? It says "...look out at the receding Imperial starship". That seems to definitively answer that A) it's a joke and B) the joke is that 3PO has no idea what different starships look like. Of course, starting a joke with "That's funny..." seems a little bit like trying too hard. – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 at 14:36
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@ToddWilcox "That's funny" usually means "that's odd" or "that's strange". While it could mean "that's humorous" in some instances, the rest of the sentence doesn't indicate that C-3PO thinks it's a joke in this particular instance. C-3PO is being serious, and the joke is on him. – CJ Dennis Jan 12 at 2:03
    
Interestingly, the novelization doesn't include this line. Instead, 3PO asks R2 if he's sure he knows how to pilot the escape pod. – phantom42 Jan 12 at 6:21
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What makes me curious: "Artoo beeps an assuring response." So as long we can assume Artoo knows what spaceships look like. (I guess we can do so.) This excludes 3PO is making a joke. Or they both make the joke on the audiences cost. what I doubt aswell. So it can't be a joke nor it can be nescience of C-3PO, as artoo should at least know better. – Zaibis Jan 12 at 15:28
    
@CJDennis I always saw the joke being based on C-3PO's ignorance, and not a joke that C-3PO himself was telling. Instead, I see the joke as being told by the screenwriter(s) and/or director and/or editor(s). They all worked together to make sure the words, "That's funny..." made it into the final cut ahead of this line. If the joke was intentional (which it might not have been), then that's pretty heavy-handed, IMHO. Of course the straight reading of the line intends the meaning of "funny" to be "strange". There's no need to insult my intelligence. – Todd Wilcox Jan 12 at 15:41
up vote 42 down vote accepted

I've always seen this line as a joke, by the way, playing off of C-3PO's relative ignorance of space vessels and technology in general.

The damage in question is almost certainly the damage that Tantive IV logically must have suffered at the hands of Devastator prior to the capture of the former. The movie opens on a battle between the two ships, and we see R2-D2 and C-3PO being pretty much thrown around the interior of Tantive IV from the impacts of Devastator's attack. It's reasonable for C-3PO to imagine heavy damage being suffered.

Prior to Captain Antilles shutting down the main reactor, we see a shot from Devastator cause a large explosion in the middle of Tantive IV. It's doubtful Antilles would shut down the engines unless some critical system were damaged enough that he had to. They did not want to be captured at any cost.

It's unclear whether C-3PO doesn't seem to find the damage looks that bad because he is looking at the underside of Tantive IV, or they are too far away from it to see the damage, or he mistakes Devastator for Tantive IV, but the joke plays either way. There is a long history of 3PO getting it wrong all throughout the canonical and non-canonical "literature" (yes, I called Star Wars "literature" but I chickened out and put it in quotes), although this would seem to be the first obvious example of him being clearly ignorant of things that are not his specialty.

Out of universe: Note that the scene must have been shot before it could have been composited. That means that Daniels would have read his line in filming while looking at a blank space that might have been blue or black, or he might have actually overlaid it afterwards in ADR. Either way, the intention of the script could have been different from what we see because neither the screenwriter nor Daniels would be able to see the final composited shot. When the shot was composited, it might have turned out differently from how it was imagined (or even storyboarded).

Either way, as a joke the line plays regardless of whether he mistakes Devastator for Tantive IV or he just doesn't understand what damage would look like. The fact that it wasn't edited out, either by muting the dialog track or cutting the shot entirely, strongly supports the idea that it was meant to be a joke. Either that, or when editing of the scene was done, a line that wasn't meant to be a joke made Lucas and the editor(s) present laugh hard enough that they left it in.

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Not a bad theory—my question actually addresses some of those speculations—but lots of idle theories of what that line means exist online. It would be nice if there is some solid reference—or at least something more solid than fan speculation—out there in some form. – JakeGould Jan 11 at 14:14
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What idle theories? He mistook the Star Destroyer for their own ship. This seems to be the whole point of that joke at the beginning of a light-hearted fairy tale in space. I got that joke when watching it as a 10 year old and found it quite funny since then. – Cahir Mawr Dyffryn æp Ceallach Jan 11 at 14:18
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It was always my assumption that C-3PO was mistaking the star destroyer for the Tantive. – evilscary Jan 11 at 14:25
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I'd always assumed that R2-D2 had convinced C-3PO to get into the pod by saying the ship was heavily damaged and his statement that it doesn't look too damaged was because he realised it wasn't as bad as he was led to believe – RoguePlanetoid Jan 11 at 16:16
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@RoguePlanetoid If you re-watch carefully, you'll see that Artoo doesn't do the convincing. Instead, a blaster bolt hitting right near Threepio's head startles him and scares him into the pod. Also, based on Threepio's responses, Artoo's efforts to convince him seem largely based around his "mission", and it even seems more like Artoo is basically saying "I'm going, come if you want, or stay, but decide quickly, my mission is urgent". Then the blaster bolt is the final argument. – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 at 16:24

I believe you've misinterpreted what a low tone beep from Artoo means. Please allow me:

Artoo beeps an assuring response OMG, you're an idiot.

C-3PO is referring to the Star Destroyer, that's why Artoo berates him.

At soundboard.com there's an audio clip titled Laughing R2D2, at the end of which are these same two "words" Artoo uses in the escape pod. If Artoo is giving C-3PO an "assuring response", I've misinterpreted him my entire life.

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The quote in the question isn't an interpretation, it's the text from the script. – Plutor Jan 11 at 15:26
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@Plutor - The script misrepresents the scene, which I can only assume was misinterpreted and seems the obvious reason for confusion. – Mazura Jan 11 at 15:38
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"The script misrepresents the scene"?? It's the shooting script! The script determined what the scene was! I assumed this answer was meant at least partly in jest, but saying the shooting script doesn't reflect the intention of the screenwriter... I can't even formulate a response to that. – Todd Wilcox Jan 11 at 15:53
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FWIW I agree with Mazura. "Assuring response", yeah, right. It's a snort! – Mr Lister Jan 11 at 16:11
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R2D2 the most vulgar character ever created. So Vulgar that all his lines were beeped out – John Demetriou Jan 12 at 15:38

C-3PO, in the earlier scene indicates that he's aware that the main reactor of the Tantive IV has suffered a critical hit.

“Did you hear that?” C-3PO said to R2-D2 as the Tantive IV’s engines powered down. “They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!” - Star Wars: Junior Novelisation

As the escape pod leaves the vicinity he remarks to his companion that despite this, the Rebel vessel seem to be largely intact.

The escape pod continued to plummet away from the Star Destroyer. Inside the pod, C-3PO peered through the small circular window that was the vessel’s single viewport. Gazing back at the rapidly receding view of the Tantive IV within the Star Destroyer’s main hangar, he commented, “That’s funny, the damage doesn’t look as bad from out here.” - Star Wars: Junior Novelisation

So to answer your specific questions; C-3PO is not referring to the Star Destroyer; His eyesight is evidently sufficiently good enough to be able to make out gross features of the Tantive IV from that distance and he's fully cognisant of what ship he's on.

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"C-3PO, in the earlier scene indicates that he's aware that the engines (the big glowy things on the back of the Tantive IV) had suffered a critical hit." Sources? – RedCaio Apr 12 at 9:59
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@RedCaio - "“Did you hear that?” C-3PO said to R2-D2 as the Tantive IV’s engines powered down. “They’ve shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”" - Sorry, it was a hit to the reactor, not the engines. Arguably a more critical blow. I've edited accordingly. – Valorum Apr 12 at 10:02
    
I'm at a loss why this canon confirmation of what he's looking at would merit a downvote. – Valorum Apr 12 at 19:33
    
I didn't DV btw. Thanks for clarifying. Have a +1 from me! :) – RedCaio Apr 12 at 20:22
    
@RedCaio - It just seems an odd one to downvote. – Valorum Apr 12 at 20:23

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