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OK, remember a few things about Lucas' favorite droids:

  1. They are possibly not sentient. Sentience in Star Wars seem to be a fine line, and to be completely honest - does not seem to be consistently defined (it seems confused with free will), however the linked answer seems to rely on them not being slaves because they are not sentient. If they were sentient, it would explain a lot being asked here.
  2. They do not appear to be particularly high end or expensive models. In fact, depending on what level of continuity you follow they seem to be found or sold out of junkyards repeatedly (especially Threepio).
  3. They seem to both have after market upgrades though. C3PO's trademark color was granted as part of his service to Amidala, IIRC. Many of R2's more .. ahem ... specialized functions are listed as aftermarket upgrades for R2 units in the Wookiepdia, although who installed them is left a bit of a mystery... Chronologically it would have to be an unnamed mechanic on Naboo who is probably the most undervalued person in the galaxy.

Or in short: they aren't special. In fact they are rather old. And cheap. They'd just been hot-rodded a little. They are the Star Wars equivalent of your friend's Trans Am. However their behavior, and the behavior of those around them, is a bit odd for a pair of off-the-shelf droids:

  • C3PO often expresses opinions and even emotions (particularly fear, but also joy).
  • R2 express emotion as well, he just does it indirectly or via proxy (C3PO notes his "relief" in ESB)
  • Those first two I note because emotions are odd for non-sentient beings...
  • R2D2 is an astromech droid who spends the vast majority of the films not fixing ships
  • In fact, R2 is probably the most accomplished slicer we see in action, also odd for an astromech
  • They are both often noted for their "bravery" or "courage"
  • In fact they are repeatedly honored for it on the same level as their human counterparts:

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  • Amidala even makes R2 her personal servant. Because queens need .... astromechs?
  • Chewbacca goes out of his way to save Threepio in ESB

Also,

They are the only witnesses to Anakin's wedding, which is a bit bizarre considering what a blabbermouth Threepio is.

This seems odd, and there only seem to be a few examples (HK47 possibly?) where other droids behave in this manner or are treated this way. In fact, pretty much every other droid in the movies is little more than a prop.

So my question is:

Are C3PO and R2D2 different from normal Star Wars droids in some known in-universe way, or do all droids in the galaxy operate this way and are treated this way by others

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There's plenty of examples of other droids with personalities in the movies, and even more in the EU. For example: The tiny droid that runs away from Chewbacca's roar in the first film appears to express fear, and there's plenty more examples in Jedi of droids with personalities. What makes you think they're unique in that regard, given the many examples that they're not? –  Django Reinhardt Mar 2 at 19:47
    
So we are saying that even a MSE-6 repair droid has enough self-awareness for fear and self-preservation –  joshbirk Mar 2 at 21:01
    
@joshbirk Or he's been programmed to react this way –  Cristol.GdM Mar 2 at 22:50
    
A repair droid programmed to act like a scared mouse? I can see a protocol droid being programmed to behave with some human qualities, but I think the "they were designed this way" argument is getting stretched a bit thin. It doesn't even make sense for R2 to have any kind of emotions. In fact, emotions are probably the last thing you want on a repair droid. –  joshbirk Mar 2 at 23:26
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Plenty of things in Star Wars don't many any sense. But maybe they discovered they couldn't have fluid intelligence (i.e. learning) without also implementing emotions. Who knows. –  Django Reinhardt Mar 3 at 0:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

First of all, out of universe, the 2 droids are clearly special. They are the equivalent of the 2 peasant characters in The Hidden Fortress which was a major influence on Star Wars (OK, putting it less politely, Lucas ripped off Kurosawa :)


Going to in-universe, your thesis has some merit, but is not very correct overall.

  1. We don't know about C3PO since we don't see a lot of protocol droids in canon, and those that we see are by necessity more advanced AND human-like (they need to emulate emoting and empathy for their human interface function).

  2. Having said that, you're possibly falling for "Elisa" bias. You see behavior you didn't expect from a droid and you attribute some special quality to it. People were fooled into thinking "Elisa" program was sentient, and it's really pretty dumb as far as AI goes - but its developers are good at psychology.

  3. Having said THAT, we see plenty of droids behave in more "human like" way - IG-88, Skippy the Jedi droid, Guri (Xizor's bodyguard/pseudo-lover), General Grevious's Magnaguards. So it's quite possible C3PO is nowhere out of the ordinary because he expresses opinions or emotions.

  4. As far as R2D2, here the canon is firmly on the side of "normal". We see other canon astromechs behave similarly, for example Corran Horn's Whistler.

    Having said that, to address your subquestion, there seems to be a common thread to these "loyal" "more sentient" R2 units - none of them is known to have gone through memory wipes. And many had idiosyncratic owners.


Now, let's review your bullet points:

  • C3PO often expresses opinions and even emotions (particularly fear, but also joy).

    As described above, this is par for protocol droids.

  • R2 express emotion as well, he just does it indirectly or via proxy (C3PO notes his "relief" in ESB)

    Normal for other R2 units in C canon.

    However, I am not sure you can call these "emotions" per se; they are somewhat anthropomorphized by necessity of expressing the wording when talking to humans.

  • R2D2 is an astromech droid who spends the vast majority of the films not fixing ships

    R2D2 is treated as more of a familiar or personal droid. This is somewhat unusual, but mostly of because who owns him - his owner(s) don't spend majority of the films flying the ships either.

  • They are both often noted for their "bravery" or "courage"

    This is purely anthropomorphization. They are no more brave or fearful than an average droid (and frankly, where's the example of C3PO 'bravery'?).

    They DO end up in more unusual or dangerous situations, and that's due again to who owns them, not to some innate quality.

  • In fact they are repeatedly honored for it on the same level as their human counterparts

    This says something about humans around them, not the droids themselves. There's no canon example of R2D2 doing something to get fame, glory or a medal.

  • Amidala even makes R2 her personal servant. Because queens need .... astromechs?

    Again, that speaks more about Amidala than R2D2. I can expand but it's outside the scope of your question and should be asked separately.

  • Chewbacca goes out of his way to save Threepio in ESB

    OK, I'm starting to repeat this more than "We are doomed!", but this reflects more on Chewbacca than C3PO.

  • They are the only witnesses to Anakin's wedding, which is a bit bizarre considering what a blabbermouth Threepio is.

    He doesn't blab if he has a direct order not to discuss something. And less chance of him blabbing than a human.

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IG88, Xisor's droid and Skippy are all examples of droids who clearly are not normal and have specific sentient programming (or cough cough, the Force). Come to think of it, so HK47 probably does as well. So I guess one thing I'd be looking for is proof/evidence/explanation of why these droids seem to also fall in that camp. –  joshbirk Mar 2 at 18:19
    
As for #2, I'm not the one putting these droids up on an altar and praising them with courage. So are we saying that in-universe characters routinely fall to this trap? –  joshbirk Mar 2 at 18:21
    
@joshbirk - yes. Humans freaking anthropomorphize their PCs and cell phones, even now. Or think pilots and sailors and their ships and planes. –  DVK Mar 2 at 18:28
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@joshbirk - People preserve and cherish fully-non-sentient things (ships, cars, etc...) well outside their nominal use or usefulness. Also, see: Caligula's Horse :) Or awards for police dogs. –  DVK Mar 2 at 18:33
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Artoo and C3P0 seem pretty damn sentient to me. .. –  Richard Mar 2 at 18:47

I've been re-watching the movies and watching the Clone Wars series and studying the extended canon of books and video games and stuff lately and I've learned a few things. Simply put they are special and here's why.

C3PO: C3PO was built by Anakin (this should speak volumes). When C3PO was built, Anakin was a young prodigy and had the ability to build or fix anything according to dialogue in Episode 1. He builds C3PO FROM SCRATCH, meaning 3PO wasn't built on an assembly line like other Human Protocol Droids of his kind. He was built by the most powerful Jedi of all time (arguably). Anakin has the highest count of Midi-clorians of any known being, he's lonely, he's a genius and he builds a custom made EMOTIONAL droid that goes on to be one of the most decorated droids in the entire galaxy. I think this makes him special. With all his brilliance, Anakin gave him emotion and threepio becomes a legend.

R2-D2: R2 seemed to have started out as a typical R unit. I'm unsure of his origins but by a stroke of luck he's the only droid that survives the concentrated fire of the separatist blockade in Episode 1. He goes on to receive accolades from Amidala and somehow one thing leads to the next and years later he comes into a partnership with Anakin. I say partnership because Jedi's aren't allowed to own possessions. R2 ends up fighting the entire clone war as Anakins personal R2 unit. The Clone Wars series teaches a lot about R2. In one episode R2 falls into enemy hands and we learn that he has NEVER had his memory erased. And here we arrive at what makes R2 special. He has NEVER had his memory race, even after the clone wars. Anakin sees R2 as a friend and chooses not to erase his memory. R2 thus expresses free will, creative thinking, even emotions such as fear and joy not to mention he has a memory that extends all the way back to his creation. Memory is closely linked to emotion. R2 is also extremely lucky. I think all this clearly makes him special. And again, he becomes just as much of a legend as Threepio.

So to answer the question, yes I believe they're clearly special, though it depends on how you define special. Both of them are made of metal and wires and circuits and the matter of sentience is certainly arguable, but, they clearly have humanlike qualities and display numerous examples of Heroics. I think it would be crazy to say there's nothing special about them when Anakin clearly saw something in them.

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