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So in various stages of the books and movies, droid memory wipes are mentioned. This made me wonder why didn't the Jawa's wipe the memory of R2D2 and C3PO before they sold them? I would think it would be standard practice to prevent the exact issue that arouse that droids go off on their own because of the programming left by their former masters. Especially since they 'scavanged' the droids. If they bought them from a reputable dealer to resell, then that is different, but they technically stole them or at least didn't care who their owner was. One would think that to cover your tracks, you would wipe their memory before selling them.

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    It is never been really clear to me what is involved in a wipe. Is it a completely reinstall of the base OS. Would C3PO have to re-(learn/install) his six million forms of communication? Do they have some form of DRM, so that re-purchasing the language database would cost lots of credits?
    – Zoredache
    Aug 22, 2013 at 1:06
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    Also, it just seems like good practice. When you sell a used computer (whether it's yours or someone else's) you always want to reformat the drives for security/data sanitization purposes. Aug 22, 2013 at 2:28
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    @Zoredache: I was wondering something similar, but more along the lines of the droid losing all those years of knowledge and experience. Language databases can be easily reinstalled (perhaps even pirated), but years of battle/engineering/human interaction experience can't be so easily replaced (though in theory you should be able to copy a "clean" veteran personality over to the new droid). The value of a freshly graduated electrical engineer is not the same as that of a senior EE with over a decade of industry experience. Aug 22, 2013 at 2:35
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    @Lèsemajesté: But don't you want them to lose all that experience? Otherwise they might start to think they're unique individuals with rights and that's just not proper thinking for a droid. Aug 22, 2013 at 4:45
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    @Zoredache: "Do they have some form of DRM?" Star Wars was a long time ago. Before the DRM. Before the Empire.
    – Ash
    Aug 22, 2013 at 12:07

3 Answers 3

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Droid memory wipes are established in The New Rebellion as only affecting a droid's personal memories, not their hardwired memories. I'll paraphrase from memory here, as I don't have the book with me:

Security Droid: "When you get a memory wipe, do you need to re-learn all 6 million forms of communication?"

C-3PO: "Of course not, that's hard-wired in."

To use an analogy; when a human gets amnesia, they may forget who their spouse, parents and children are, but they usually remember their skills. A painter may not remember any of their paintings, but they will still remember how to paint. We don't actually know why this occurs, but I'm not a neurologist, I just need an example.

Droids in the Star Wars universe are also shown to be able to 'download' (my word) knowledge and skills which would be unaffected by memory wipes. Again in The New Rebellion, C-3PO passes the time when he's "bored" (that word is actually in the book, though I think Threepio is denying that he's bored) by downloading new languages into his hard-wired memory; this process is shown taking less time than a human learning a new language, but more than simply pressing a button and gaining instantaneous knowledge. It seems akin to the skill downloads in The Matrix.

That answers the question of what a memory-wipe actually entails. As to why the Jawas don't perform a memory-wipe, it is never actually stated in either the film or the novelisation. I don't recall even noticing it mentioned in any EU material either. My supposition would be that memory-wipes on droids require equipment that the Jawas, technological scavengers, simply don't have. We know the Lars family does not have the capacity to wipe droids' memories; they need to visit the nearby town of Anchorhead to do so.

C-3PO's memory is wiped in Revenge of the Sith, but that was a consular ship; a spaceship is likely far larger than a Jawa sand-crawler, with better technology, and a diplomatic vessel is itself quite likely to have specialised software and hardwire onboard for dealing with protocol and translation droids. This is a possible explanation of why they don't also wipe R2-D2's memory; the ship isn't set-up to deal with astromechs in the same way as it is protocol droids.

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  • Yeah, I assumed that it was something like that. It makes sense anyway with the way modern computing works.
    – Trido
    Aug 22, 2013 at 21:56
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I assume that a droid is built like a computer, this makes a memory wipe a different procedure on each droid, to know what commands to issue, files to delete, or something along those lines.

In addition, C-3PO was not a standard manufactured robot, it was handmade by Anakin, so even if there was a droid standard, it would most likely not conform to it, so it would require research to wipe it's memory.

So wiping their memory could become a process that is lengthy, expensive, requires lots of skills, simply impossible without prior knowledge (of a password for example) or all of the above.

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  • C-3P0 was not build by Anakin. Anakin rebuilt him, using some limbs from similar droid. It's not an insignificant task, but it's a far cry from designing and building a bipedal robot with a functioning AI.
    – Jeff
    Jul 14, 2014 at 13:26
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Maybe the Jawas don't wipe memories because they sell stolen secrets along with stolen droids.

Just as people who scavenge hard drives from computers left at the city dumps sometimes sell them on the black market. Crime rings look for any secrets on the hard drive. Password files, financial information, and bank accounts are used to commit identity theft. They check use old emails for blackmail.

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