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In Return of the Jedi, there's a garbage bin droid having his feet branded in Jabba's palace. It sounds like it's screaming in fear of pain, and makes more pained noises as the hot irons touch it's feet.

Was the droid actually feeling pain1?

1. "Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage." Meaning, pain is not merely a recording or acknowledgement of sensory input, but must be processed as unpleasant. Other definitions of pain may exist, but they're outside the scope of this question.

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    There are scenes in Episode V where C-3P0 is acting like he's in pain when he was dismembered. That section of Jabba's palace was called the droid torture chamber in the EU and there was mention of pain sensors being added to droids. I'm not certain this is canon or not so I'm not going to post as an answer. – CBredlow Dec 16 '15 at 18:56
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    The Darth Vader marvel comic involves a lot of droids and torture. – ibid Dec 16 '15 at 19:02
  • You seem to be asking two different questions here; 1) Why was the droid in Jabba's torture chamber screaming and 2) Do droid feel pain. – Valorum Dec 16 '15 at 19:20
  • Man, I hope so, that one droid is a major pain in the servo. I put some iron filings in his oil while he was off and I'll be disappointed if he doesn't feel it in the morning! – Adam Davis Dec 16 '15 at 20:06
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    This is essentially a philosophical question, namely do droids have minds, thoughts and feelings like we do or are they merely philosophical zombies acting as if they have such things without actually having them. Like many philosophical questions, it probably can't be answered directly. The top voted answer does succeed in showing that there is at least one droid which convincingly and consistently behaves as though he is in pain, which is about all we can hope for. – Ixrec Dec 16 '15 at 21:17
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C-3PO offers good canon answers - he can feel both pleasure and pain

Pleasure

A New Hope: C-3PO says "thank the maker, this oil bath is going to feel so good"

http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Oil_bath

Pain

Empire Strikes Back: C-3PO exclaims "Ouch! Oh! Ah! That hurt, Bend down, you thoughtless...Ow!" when Chewie bonks 3PO's head on the Falcon whilst being carried on Chewie's back.

9:40 in the clip:

  • This doesn't answer the question of whether droids "feel" pain by using dedicated pain sensors or if they're simply programmed to pantomime pain. – isanae Dec 16 '15 at 21:06
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    @isanae - sure it does - without sensors, 3PO wouldn't have known he was bonked on the head. Digging any deeper is just metaphysical semantics: see the comment you made above: "In a primitive and not very useful way, but you would now have a machine that detects potential for damage and alerts you to it." - what's the difference? Also - to the video posted in the question, why would the droids go to the trouble of torturing a droid that couldn't feel anything, and why would the droid fake pain. That would be the strangest kind of theatre going on if that were the case. – NKCampbell Dec 16 '15 at 21:18
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    "Ah! That hurt" That's a good indicator to me that he's expressly indicating pain. Perhaps it's the same with the trash droid (I didn't know if perhaps something else was happening there, such as melting/damaged circuits causing that output), but it's in a droid language. – user31178 Dec 16 '15 at 21:25
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    I would postulate that it would be sensible for (at least certain droids) to be programmed to experience something akin to pain and pleasure at physical stimulus, for much the same reasons humans have evolved to do so - to encourage the continued good functioning of their bodies. I would imagine that 3PO, having been made by a hard working and technically adept young man on Tatooine, would be definitely be programmed to actively seek out oil baths to remove the sand that (as we all know) gets everywhere. – GeoffAtkins Dec 17 '15 at 8:16
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The corresponding scene from the film's novelisation makes it abundantly clear that the droid in question was in pain as a result of its "sensor circuits" melting:

An agonized electronic scream, like the sound of stripping gears, drew their attention to the corner of the room. From out of the mist walked EV-9D9, a thin humanlike robot with some disturbingly human appetites. In the dimness behind Ninedenine, Threepio could see the legs being pulled off a droid on a torture rack, while a second droid, hanging upside down, was having red-hot irons applied to its feet; it had emitted the electronic scream Threepio heard a few moments earlier, as the sensor circuits in its metal skin melted in agony. Threepio cringed at the sound, his own wiring sympathetically crackling with static electricity.

You may also want to note that according to the film's script, that "garbage bin" droid is in fact a 'power droid', a sort of mobile battery:

A second power droid is upside down. As smoking branding irons are pressed into his feet, the stubby robot lets out an agonized electronic scream. Artoo and Threepio cringe as the guard grunts to EV- 9D9.


As to the wider question of whether 'droids feel pain in the Star Wars universe, we know that C-3PO certainly does.

Moments later Threepio grabbed at his head in pain as a terrific screeching and yelling sounded over the comlink.

More stormtroopers had come into the room and joined the fight. Some of the troopers began to club the Wookiee with the butts of their rifles, banging against Threepio in the process.
“Ouch!” the droid screamed. “I didn’t do anything!”

The stormtroopers had begun to overpower Chewbacca, and were about to smash him in the face with their weapons when, over the sounds of the fray, Han shouted, “Chewie, no! Stop it, Chewbacca!”

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    Do you know if any of the novelization stuff matches up with the scripts? C-3PO seems to be our best character for showing pain, because he expressly expresses (ha) it. Any prequel examples? – user31178 Dec 16 '15 at 21:26
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    (Note, my previous comment isn't meant to say this answer isn't sufficient, I'm just curious and I know you usually have good access to the print materials) – user31178 Dec 16 '15 at 23:43
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    @CreationEdge - Quote #1 matches the script; "Threepio holds his head in agony as he hears the incredible screaming and hollering from Luke's comlink." – Valorum Dec 16 '15 at 23:49
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    @CreationEdge - Quote #2 is rather less clear. He's screaming but there's no indication of actual pain - "Realizing what is about to happen, Chewie lets out a wild howl and attacks the stormtroopers surrounding Han. Within seconds, other Imperial reinforcements join the scuffle, clubbing the giant Wookiee with their laser weapons. From the instant of Chewie's first move, Threepio begins to scream in panic while he tries to protect himself with his one arm. THREEPIO: *Oh, no! No, no, no! Stop, Chewbacca, stop...! – Valorum Dec 16 '15 at 23:50
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    Ah, the script-matching where it explicitly says "agony" is great! I'd +1 again if I could. – user31178 Dec 16 '15 at 23:52
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Yes, some droids could. There was special hardware called "Pain-simulator button" to achieve that.

That specific scene from ROTJ that you linked to was expanded in EU/Legends book "Tales from Jabba's Palace" novelette "A Bad Feeling: The Tale of EV-9D9" Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.

Ignoring for the moment the Gamorrean guard and the new prisoners {{of course, those prisoners were R2-D2 and C-3PO - DVK's note}}, Ninedenine racked up the gain on her internal receptors, savoring the intensity of it all. She concentrated her meta-analytical functions on the high-frequency carrier wave generated by the pain-simulator button newly connected to the GNK’s central circuits. That signal was … delicious.

Simply put, and Ninedenine did cherish simplicity, she knew that what she did was an act of creation—an art form. Though trying to explain to an organic that a droid such as she could appreciate art was like trying to explain that a droid could feel pain.

Droids could feel pain, of course. One of the two new prisoners coming her way was proof of that—a golden protocol droid from the looks of it, buffed to a courtly gleam, completely out of place in this warren of dank tunnels, decaying power conduits, and scurrying, fur-covered, organic scavengers.

The text further explains why she was sure C-3PO could feel pain:

“Disintegrated …?” the golden droid repeated, trying to make sense of what was going on. Ninedenine wondered if it too had picked up the pain transmission from the dismembered droid, and was experiencing the first touch of disturbance. Pain-simulator buttons were supposedly restricted technology, typically installed only in those droids who had to interact with organics at the most personal level. Strike a protocol droid on the head, for instance, and it would respond that the blow had hurt. Such empathy toward potentially damaging physical sensation was supposed to give them deeper understanding of organics. But as far as Ninedenine was concerned, it just made protocol droids better subjects for her experiments.

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    Good point that not all droids feel pain. Battle droids would have little use for it. – Cees Timmerman Dec 17 '15 at 10:37
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    @CeesTimmerman, Q: Why send battle droids instead of firing missiles or dropping bombs? A: Because you're not just trying to destroy and kill: You're sending them to capture something, to occupy some place, to achieve something that requires at least, some of them to survive for at least some amount of time. If an intelligent, autonomous being is capable of surviving in a hostile environment, then it probably is capable of experiencing something that deserves the name "pain." – Solomon Slow Dec 17 '15 at 18:12

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