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In Return of the Jedi:

Artoo butts the golden droid over the edge and steps off himself, tumbling toward the sand.

But in Attack of the Clones:

ARTOO uses his rocket jets to fly up and into the factory.

Why didn't R2-D2 use his jets in RotJ instead of ending feet up in the sand?

Update: I am looking for an in-universe explanation. From an out-of-universe perspective, R2-D2's rockets had probably not been created yet by the writers when RotJ was filmed. Did this ever get an in-universe explanation? For example, were R2's jets and/or stabilizers damaged and never repaired? Did Captain Antilles sell them to junk traders in exchange for fuel sometime after Revenge of the Sith?

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    All the answers seem focused on explaining why R2 may not have been ABLE to use the rockets. Maybe he simply didn't see a need. It was the end of the battle, he was getting himself and 3PO out of the way to be picked up (with no expectation of further use until after pickup) and knew 3PO would land in a likely helpless position as well. So... Why waste fuel in order to be right-side-up when picked up? Is vertical that important to a magnetic hoist?
    – Scivitri
    Oct 5, 2011 at 22:27
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    Uh, how about the Jawas in A New Hope removed them to make R2 more marketable as a service droid?
    – user11946
    Jan 15, 2013 at 3:03
  • Oh well, it only took 5 years, but we've finally got a fully canon answer, courtesy of the latest SW novels.
    – Valorum
    Apr 8, 2016 at 22:21
  • @Valorum what are you referring to exactly? Mar 25, 2019 at 0:59
  • @StealthRabbi - To my answer below.
    – Valorum
    Mar 25, 2019 at 7:24

9 Answers 9

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This obviously looks like an afterthought explanation but here is what I found :

The magazine, Star Wars Insider Issue 62, explains that R2's manufacturers at Industrial Automation had limited their factory warranty on astromech rockets to about 20 years, which would explain why R2 doesn't have his rockets in the Original Trilogy.
generalanswers.org

I was dubbing on that reference because I don't have any copy of Star Wars Insider Issue 62. I also found the same text in a cached Wikipedia page and that section has been removed long ago. (see Wikipedia Talk on R2-D2)

Anyway, from the Industrial Automaton Wookieepedia article there's a remark on this limitation of the warranty that cite holonetnews as reference:

RORDIS CITY, NUBIA - Rescinding previous consumer documentation that guaranteed a "lifetime" of reliability in their after-market astromech hover rockets, Industrial Automaton has now capped the warranty at 20 standard years. This decision affects all optional R2, R3 and R4-adapted leg-bracket and barrel-housed propellant rocket systems.[...]

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    I kinda think this is not a real good answer, I know its cannon but .... if Han can keep the Falcon fling why not tell Luke (or have Chewie ) how to fix the rockets?
    – Vaughn
    Sep 2, 2011 at 16:28
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    How could you doubt of a canon explanation? Heresy!!!!
    – DavRob60
    Sep 2, 2011 at 16:45
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    Do Luke or Chewie even know R2 units have friggin' rockets?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Jan 3, 2012 at 12:40
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    "afterthought explanation" is better known as ret-conning
    – user2133
    Feb 29, 2012 at 19:13
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    @Vaughn - Han had to have enough information in his brain on all the cobbled together pieces of the Falcon. Between that, sabbac moves, and pick up lines there was little room left for actual maintenance knowledge.
    – Chad
    Mar 26, 2012 at 18:26
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Another possible reason could be that the rockets (even if they had fuel) weren't powerful enough to lift R2-D2 in the gravitational field of Tatooine (which, being a rather large planet, is likely to have relatively high gravity).

If I remember Attack of the Clones correctly that scene took place on an asteroid or planetoid, thus in low gravity.

Rockets powerful enough to lift an R2-D2 in 1G (1 Earth gravity acceleration) - and it's quite likely Tatooine had higher than that - would be rather large and bulky. Thrusters for (near) zero gravity to propel the same mass can be a lot smaller and thus easier to fit into a droid.

As the R2-D2 was designed for use in zero gravity primarily (space ship maintenance and repair, etc...) the designers aren't likely to have designed it with atmospheric flight in a high-G environment in mind.

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  • agreed, and I alluded to that in one of my comments, above. Nice one. Mar 9, 2011 at 7:44
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    There's no observable evidence for either Tatooine or Geonosis having gravity far from 1G - people seem to fall at the same rate, thrown and flying objects have 'normal' looking trajectories, etc. If they were off from 1G, it wasn't by much.
    – Jeff
    Mar 11, 2011 at 19:57
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    rather hard to film a high-G environment on earth, slowing down some actions while speeding up others at the same time, especially without the computer resources now available to movie studios (resources ILM didn't have when filming the original SW movies).
    – jwenting
    May 26, 2011 at 12:36
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    It was a planet (geonosis). Additionally R2 used the rockets also a few times again during the clone wars series if my memory serves me right
    – Thomas
    May 21, 2015 at 16:15
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    @ThePopMachine I'm not so sure about that. The reason there is that star wars takes a take it easy approach on many things. For example the geonosians and also wato (who doesn't seem much stronger there than them) seemingly have no problems on other worlds like Tatooine,... so I'm not sure if they are hampered by "normal" gravity at all. Tbh I'm not even sure canon star wars knows anything but normal and no gravity at all (thus low/high gravity). Can't remember any instance where low/high gravity is mentioned at ll there
    – Thomas
    May 22, 2015 at 7:12
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It's probable that, as his focus shifted away from starship maintenance (with its requirement for zero-g mobility) and toward 'Rebel hacker/awesomebot' R2 was modified to remove the rockets.

It's also possible that, as a member of the rebellion against the government of the time (instead of as a robot in the service of the present government, as in the prequel trilogy) the fuel was hard to come by. R2 can't have a lot of storage space for fuel, and I'd be willing to bet that his flight capabilities either require a significant amount of his internal power OR need a separate fuel source. If it is fuel, then it's certainly likely that he had none at the time - either because the Rebellion didn't think it would be needed or because it had been removed by Jabba's people (why would a drink server need it?).

Keep in mind that there IS evidence for R2 having flight capabilities in Empire Strikes Back (unless you think the bottom of a lake in a SWAMP is a good environment for a wheeled robot, and that it would be level enough for his sensor probe to maintain a flat path).

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  • I argue that there is a need to maintain R2's rockets. This particular Rebel droid has a LOT of intel in its databanks. Why remove one of the most useful means of escape? Mar 27, 2016 at 10:31
  • Jabba defuelling them is highly logical. You wouldn't want your new toy flying out of the range of your droid caller.
    – T.J.L.
    May 13, 2016 at 4:22
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This is very briefly covered in a footnote in the (Disney-canon) Star Wars novel Return of the Jedi - Beware the Power of the Dark Side.

Somewhere, deep in his memory banks, R2 remembers a time when he could have fired his rocket thrusters and abandoned ship gracefully. But they haven’t worked in ages and his warranty is long, long expired.

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    +1 for finding a canonical answer. But I still think it is a pretty weak ret-con. It would've been more satisfying of an answer (IMHO) to say the Jawas disabled the rockets to keep R2 under control, a la restraining bolt. But hey, I'm not an official ret-conner, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night...
    – iMerchant
    Apr 8, 2016 at 23:10
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    And clearly those rockets were designed to jettison him from a ship in space, not let him fly up from the surface of a planet.
    – jwenting
    Sep 1, 2016 at 7:59
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    @jwenting - We see him flying around like Mary Poppins in the Clone Wars TV show
    – Valorum
    Apr 27, 2020 at 17:19
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Among the plausible reasons:

  1. because the small repulsorlift engines in R2 might not work over "off the cliff" surface (either not enough power, or problems with control).

  2. It was a faster way down :)

I don't know of a canonical answer.

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Since I first watched Revenge of the Sith, I thought a direct answer to this question was given when R2 spits out a full load of petroleum-like fluid and uses his thrusters to ignite it and fry a bunch of battle droids on Dooku's flagship. It is even clear that he used all his fuel for this, because the thrusters cough and turn off right after. Why he never refills can be explained in various ways. Maybe the tank was not refillable as that fuel quantity was intended to last for decades. Or that particular fuel was never available again after the fall of the Republic.

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Perhaps, in the RotJ secne, they were disabled or removed despite the fact that R2 had a restraining bolt. The foreman robot in Jabba's palace recognized R2 as being a troublemaker and could have accounted for him being wily enough to try to circumvent the restraining bolt at some point. Furthermore, I would imagine that they would be a limited use item as R2 did not use them for a very extended period on Geonosis.

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According to Wookieepedia:

R2-D2, during the Clone Wars, utilized a Brooks Propulsion rocket booster, which he used to escape and, in the case of the Battle of Coruscant, offensively. After the Clone Wars, however, Brooks Propulsion Devices, the company responsible for the development of his boosters, was shut down, and his rocket boosters were eventually damaged and thus could not be repaired. Despite this, however, R2 hardly regretted the loss of his ability to fly.

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    Wiki answers are pretty worthless unless they can be backed up with an original source.
    – Valorum
    Jun 9, 2014 at 18:32
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I have no source for it, but Occam's Razor; the rockets were broken and never repaired because the Rebellion didn't see them as a necessary feature in their Astromech droids.

It's not just R2, either. Look at the scene in the Yavin IV hangar bay before the Death Star attack. Astromech droids are all loaded into the X-Wings and Y-Wings using cranes.

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    If you COULD find a source, that would greatly improve your answer...
    – Mithical
    Jan 31, 2016 at 18:53
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    I would imagine cranes would be used in a hanger to preserve limited rocket fuel. Jan 31, 2016 at 19:08
  • Well in the Star Wars Rebels animated TV series we see the astromech droid Chopper uses his rockets quite a bit so the Rebelion can definitely see the need and use of that tool. Mar 29, 2016 at 4:27

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