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

I remember in Star Wars when C-3PO and R2-D2 were sold to the Skywalkers, there were control bolts inserted into C-3PO's chest. But how did these bolts work?

Is C-3PO free to leave the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker and go out on his own path?

  • 7
    Related (about the legal status): What happens to someone who destroys a Star Wars Droid?
    – user56
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 16:32
  • 5
    The existential and civil rights problems of the droids in Star Wars has always slightly bothered me, since I was a kid. Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 21:29
  • He does seem to have a degree of free will. He acknowledges Luke as his new master, then proceeds to lie to him as a favor to R2. In a deleted scene from Empire Strikes Back, when he, Leia, Chewie, and Han are fleeing the rebel base on Hoth, he tears a sticker off a door. Stormtroopers find the door, open it, and are attacked by Wampas. That was C-3PO's idea, and he came up with it himself. Later, in Return of the Jedi, he directly disobeys an order from Luke (Luke wants him to pretend to be a god, and 3PO refuses).
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 21:38
  • Yes, he is a slave.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 21:48
  • Of relevance, and funny: this episode of After Hours. (Start at 55 seconds)
    – K-H-W
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 23:01

4 Answers 4


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 Great Droid Revolution, wikia:

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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 15:50
  • 8
    Is it wrong to beat my robot slave? Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 16:38
  • 2
    +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
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 23:41
  • 5
    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
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 1:33
  • @Camel - You CAN do anything that you have the power to enforce and the will to accept the possible consequences for. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 5:33

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 Wookiee 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.

  • 1
    Do you remember what that alternative narrative was (medium, author, title, …)?
    – user56
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 22:07
  • 4
    @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
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 22:16
  • That's at least a copy of it. It claims to be the original.
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 16:22
  • jambox, you should include the link (with also the comments about the doubt on tht link being from the "original" author) in your answer. That story deserves to be read, it's quite well thought out and fun :) and I'd also like to know if the author is indeed the true author. Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 23:16

C-3P0 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 then has his 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.

C-3P0 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.

  • re: free will - what about when he wanted to wander off from R2D2 in the desert at the beginning of ANH? Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 16:51
  • @DVK; he and R2 had different motivational imperatives, and each followed his own as best he understood and saw fit.
    – eidylon
    Commented Jun 3, 2011 at 21:00
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Jun 5, 2011 at 16:18
  • He lied to his new master, Luke, to help his friend R2-D2 (or at least covered up R2's lie about the message from Leia to Obi Wan Kenobi). He disobeyed a direct order from Luke in Return of the Jedi (by refusing to imitate a deity). In a deleted scene from The Empire Strikes Back, he rips a warning label off of a door, of his own volition, while fleeing the rebel base on Hoth. When Storm troopers find the door and open it, they are attacked by Wampas. The scene was deleted because the effects didn't work properly, not because the content of the scene was an issue.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 21:56
  • @WadCheber: Expressing dismay at an order which isn't anywhere near his core function isn't disobeying. Similarly, R2 lied to Luke, but 3P0 did not know it was a lie. And deleted scenes (no matter the rationale) are not in the movie and thus not canon. In any case, all of these actions are perfectly in-character for 3P0, who is not a standard droid (lack of memory wipes leads to eccentric behavior). He imitates free will, but can you prove that he possesses it?
    – Jeff
    Commented Jul 15, 2015 at 12:40

I don't think we can really call him a slave - if he is a slave, he isn't a very good one, and the people around him seem to treat him as a fellow creature, albeit one who is inferior to themselves. They get annoyed with him on more than one occasion, but they also appear to have some degree of affection for him.

He does seem to make some decisions on his own, and he definitely disobeys orders on more than one occasion.

When Luke and Owen buy the two droids, Luke takes them into the maintenance room and starts working on them. R2-D2 plays part of Leia's message to Obi Wan, and Luke asks him to play the whole thing. By this time, 3PO is already referring to Luke as "master". R2 has 3PO tell Luke to remove his restraining bolt, and Luke does so. This allows R2 to refuse to play any of the message. Luke is mildly annoyed, and orders R2 to play the message again. 3PO lies to cover up for R2, making an excuse for him - "His behavior is erratic", or something along those lines. When Luke leaves the room, 3PO says "He's our master now - just you reconsider playing that message". This makes it pretty clear that 3PO has just defied his master's will.

In Return of the Jedi, when the group is captured by Ewoks, it becomes clear that the Ewoks think C-3PO is a god. Luke orders 3PO to exploit this to their advantage by pretending to be a god, and 3PO explicitly refuses to do so. Luke insists, and at length, 3PO relents. But it is important to note that, at least for a moment, 3PO refuses to obey a direct order from his ostensible "owner".

In a deleted scene from The Empire Strikes Back, C-3PO is fleeing the rebel base on Hoth with Han, Leia, and Chewbacca. He stops in front of a door, peels off a warning sign, and hurries after the others. Shortly afterwards, Stormtroopers find the door and open it. They are immediately attacked by Wampas. The scene was deleted because the Wampa effects didn't work properly, not because the content of the scene was a problem. This is an example of C-3PO making a decision on his own, with no instructions from anyone else. I would call this free will.

In the first movie, when the droids are left alone in the hangar control room aboard the Death Star, 3PO lies to a Stormtrooper in order to get away from the Imperial troops. We have no reason to believe that Luke told him to do so, and although this doesn't qualify as refusing to obey an order, it does imply a degree of autonomy, or free will. He made the decision on his own, with no instruction from anyone else.

Throughout the original trilogy, C-3PO constantly argues with the people who are technically his superiors - people whom he refers to as "master". He questions Han's decisions at every turn. He insults Chewbacca on a very frequent basis, most notably (and perhaps understandably) when Chewie puts his head on backwards. He often says things which are mildly insulting about humans, sometimes going so far as to call them rude to their faces.

He doesn't attempt to hide his disgust at Jabba and his minions, despite the fact that Luke has given the droids to Jabba, making the Hutt their new master.

When Lando attempts to save Han, after having betrayed the group, Chewbacca attacks Lando and Leia makes it clear that she supports Chewbacca's actions. 3PO takes it upon himself to vehemently oppose Chewbacca and Leia, almost screaming "What are you doing! Trust him!" When Chewie finally backs off, 3PO apologizes for him, saying "He's only a Wookiee". Whatever 3PO's status may be, it seems safe to assume that Chewbacca outranks him, but this fact does not prevent 3PO from constantly insulting him - if you said the same things to Chewbacca, he'd probably rip your arms off.

C-3PO is not the equal of Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewbacca - and in fact, he is probably less respected than R2-D2 - but they clearly don't see him as a slave or a mere object. Despite all their frustration with his griping and whining, they value him as an important member of the team, and they put up with his annoying behavior on most occasions. When the situation is dire, they might shut him down so they can concentrate on the task at hand, but this is just a more effective way of saying "Shut the hell up for a minute and let us think!"

When Chewbacca finds 3PO in pieces on Bespin, he fights with the weird little creatures who are about to destroy 3PO, and once he gathers all the pieces together, he appears to genuinely upset about 3PO's "injuries" and shows what might be considered sympathy for him. Leia has a similar reaction to seeing him in pieces. When Chewbacca is locked up in a holding cell, he immediately starts to reassemble the droid. This suggests a certain level of concern for 3PO's wellbeing.

It goes without saying that Luke loves R2-D2, so it isn't hard to believe that the group feels more or less the same way about his less endearing counterpart. Sure, he has his faults, but they wouldn't keep him around if they didn't care about him. The fact that they are willing to put up with his nonsense is indicative of a deeper feeling of affection for him. Why would anyone tolerate all the negative aspects of his personality unless they cared about him enough to overlook those flaws? He is certainly at the bottom of the totem pole, but at least he is on the totem pole.

If the others saw him as nothing more than an object, like a trash can or a computer, they would have no reason to accept his idiosyncrasies. They would simply get a newer, better droid who wasn't so annoying. They never do so because they like him and value his contributions to the mission. He is a member of the team, and not merely a possession.

  • Saying that owners cant love, argue with, or tolerate faults in their slaves, or treat them as an inferior fellow creature collide with thousands of years of evidence of masters doing exactly that with their human slaves.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:53
  • @Oldcat - But in most cases in history, a disobedient or argumentative slave would be beaten and/or killed. Masters don't usually allow their slaves to say "NO!" when they are told to do something.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:56
  • Well, you say they deactivate C3PO, which is like being knocked out. They treat him badly, too. They never cold-cocked Leia for being annoying that I remember. Maybe in the "Extended Universe"
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:58
  • @Oldcat - I don't think you can say having an on/off switch flipped is like being punched in the face. And didn't Leia slap Han at least once? Yoda beat R2 silly with a stick.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 23:01
  • Why not? It isn't like any of his "friends" asked him if he liked it or cared. And adding even more examples of anti-droid animus hardly helps your contention that they are just part of the gang.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 23:05

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