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Does he have free will? What determines who he assists?

I remember in Star Wars when C3PO and R2-D2 were sold to the Skywalkers, there were control bolts inserted into C3PO's chest. But how did these bolts work?

Is C3PO free to leave the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia, Skywalker, and go out on his own path?

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Related (about the legal status): What happens to someone who destroys a Star Wars Droid? –  Gilles Jun 3 '11 at 16:32
The existential and civil rights problems of the droids in Star Wars has always slightly bothered me, since I was a kid. –  Mark Rogers Jun 3 '11 at 21:29
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3 Answers

up vote 37 down vote accepted

Without debating the ethics/morality/philosophy of the issue, let's note that C3PO is not a sentient being according to the laws of the galaxy, and therefore can not be a slave or free "person".

C3PO is merely, like any droid, a piece of property, legality-wise.

Practice-wise, there were some autonomous droids (e.g. IG-88, or Prince Xisor's bodyguard) but they were this way for practical reason - nobody (successfully) claimed ownership of them once they've gone autonomous (and they were not that way originally).

Linked Wikia article's on legal status states (without giving sources, so not sure how canonical the info is):

Droids were typically treated as property. More advanced droids sometimes received proportionally more respect. Some protested the status of droids as slavery. This was a contentious issue, owing in part to the difficulty of assessing levels of artificial intelligence, and determining which droids if any could be considered properly sentient. Although emancipation of droids was a radical concept, some opposed memory wipes except for very simple droids.

The Naboo considered higher level droids equal as fellow sentients. Under the Galactic Empire, no laws protected droids from abuse and those who showed them respect were looked upon as strange.

As far as droids rebelling, it did happen at least once. From http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Great_Droid_Revolution :

The Great Droid Revolution was an uprising of droids on Coruscant which occurred in 4,015 BBY and the first conflict of the Old Sith Wars.

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Both IG-88 and Guri (Xizor's bodyguard) were intended to serve their creators. In IG-88's case, his AI overrode this intent, and Guri on was either freed by Xizor's death, or, her AI programming. This doesn't change the fact that your answer is absolutely correct, it just shows that basically all droids are designed with the intent to be owned by a "fleshbag". –  Ryan Jun 3 '11 at 15:50
Is it wrong to beat my robot slave? –  Jack B Nimble Jun 3 '11 at 16:38
+1 @DVK: Playing devil's advocate, if droid's master dies, and no sentient being claims them as property, what is their state as a slave? Guessing it'd be masterless, though if an autonomous agent is masterless and aware of themselves, life, and death... how would they not be defined as "free"? Clearly at some point someone could claim them as property, but that's also true for a "free" person; for example, if Princess Leia's slave outfit doesn't say I'm owned, I don't know what does. –  blunders Jun 3 '11 at 23:41
After reading this answer, I realized "Can someone claim an autonomous object as property?" was the philosophical kernel I was trying to get at. This has been an awesome thread. –  CamelBlues Jun 4 '11 at 1:33
@Camel - You CAN do anything that you have the power to enforce and the will to accept the possible consequences for. –  DVK Jun 4 '11 at 5:33
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There was some alternative narrative to Star Wars around a while ago which puts R2D2 and Chewbacca as the main drivers of the plot. To wit, R2D2's memory was not wiped after the fall of the Republic as C3-P0s was. He holds precious intelligence and works in tandem with Yoda in order to organise the long-game counter-attack against the Empire. Chewy, as a high-ranking Wookie general, purloins an ambassadorial vessel (the Millennium Falcon) and goes into hiding underground, eventually hooking up with a lowlife smuggler (Solo).

I digress, but if R2D2s role in the films is seen this way (and it does get around a few gaping plot-holes) then it might support his claim to sentience, if indeed he does make one.

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Do you remember what that alternative narrative was (medium, author, title, …)? –  Gilles Jun 3 '11 at 22:07
@Gilles I believe I came across it on Reddit, but my Google-Fu brings me to this page... km-515.livejournal.com/746.html which may or may not be the origin of the hypothesis. –  jambox Jun 3 '11 at 22:16
That's at least a copy of it. It claims to be the original. –  Jeff Jun 5 '11 at 16:22
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C3-P0 does not have free will. He is programmed to obey his master. His master is defined as his current owner, though he may have sufficient 'free will' to reject someone who has stolen him from a legitimate owner (unless he's then memory wiped).

The restraining bolt limits many facets of a droid's abilities. It can be used to shut them down remotely, it prevents him from leaving pre-defined areas, and it can force him to obey commands.

C3-P0 is therefore not a slave. He is property with an advanced AI and a unique personality generated by his experiences. This personality MAY be sentient, but proving this is difficult. In any case, the droid casing it is contained in is a piece of property with no rights.

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re: free will - what about when he wanted to wander off from R2D2 in the desert at the beginning of ANH? –  DVK Jun 3 '11 at 16:51
@DVK; he and R2 had different motivational imperatives, and each followed his own as best he understood and saw fit. –  eidylon Jun 3 '11 at 21:00
@DVK: at that point, he had no clear path to return to his legitimate owner (Captain Antilles). His primary directive would have been to return to the captain, but with no clear path, he simply chose one. R2 knew a relative path to complete his mission, and thus went that way. Threepio chose a path at random, and discounted R2's decision owing to his own opinion of R2's reliability and decision-making ability. R2, having not had a memory wipe in over 30 years, was 'eccentric' and, being unable to explain his mission, was unable to get 3P0 to trust him. –  Jeff Jun 5 '11 at 16:18
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