In Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope Owen Lars says,

"What I really need is a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaporators."

Was he just being overly specific in what he needed? (e.g., "I need a hammer for 3/4-inch nails")

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    Why wouldn't it be ? The 'binary' language (instruction set) of computer chips today can vary dramatically from manufacturer to manufacturer. Of course today, almost all current programming is done in some higher level language. But if you want the most efficient code possible, then it's nuts and bolts assembler language time. – Stan Aug 9 '15 at 17:16
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    Binary isn't a language; it's an alphabet. You could encode any language in binary, as long as you could get everyone to agree on what sequence of digits corresponds to what letter – Jason Baker Aug 9 '15 at 17:19
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    I assumed he simply didn't know if it was different (since he probably can't "speak binary" himself if he needs the droid to begin with), but he knew he needed it to talk to vaporators, so it makes sense to ask for that. If the droid that can talk to vaporators can talk to a zillion other things too, that's just a bonus. – Ixrec Aug 9 '15 at 17:20
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    @JasonBaker Binary is a language in the Star Wars universe. It is the language droids use. – Bamboo Aug 9 '15 at 20:11
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    For some reason I was under the impression (just to add confusion) that "binary" in "binary load lifter" referred to the fact that the droid was two-legged and/or had two arms to lift with, but didn't refer to the language it spoke. – Scott Whitlock Jan 11 '16 at 11:38

The binary language of vaporators is different from Binary, the language of droids

Binary is specific a language , sometimes called droidspeak,

Astromech droids such as R2-D2 communicate through an information-dense language of beeps and whistles known as Binary.

It is not "binary" as we use it (having to do with the digits 0 and 1). While the language was common to all astromech droids, it apparently wasn't standardized in all other droids since we know that binary loadlifters required programming:

"Vaporators! Sir, my first job was programming binary loadlifters – very similar to your vaporators in most respects." ―C-3PO

It appears the vaporators Lars has are not able to communicate in standard droid binary language, and use a specialized "binary language of vaporators." It's also possible newer machines have adopted the binary language, but these are simply salvaged or very old models that don't have that capacity and require specialized translation.

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    Interesting answer. I'll just add this for "fun", but even if we were talking only 1's and 0's (binary), there are multiple ways to interpret it at a higher level (programming languages). I always assumed it was like saying the vaporators used Python and most droids were using C# and he wanted a "Python" droid. But this is far more interesting. – Broots Waymb Aug 10 '15 at 16:02
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    It's kind of like how FTP and HTTP are "binary" (they transfer ones and zeroes), but are not compatible with each other. They have different underlying protocols. If it were live creatures, we'd refer to it as a "language." – phyrfox Aug 11 '15 at 15:50
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    In RL protocol terms, individual protocols can be classified as binary or text... FTP and HTTP are examples of a text protocol because the data packets sent over the wire are all in human readable text (eg: GET / HTTP/1.1) where as DNS and SNMP are binary protocol because their packets are a packed symbolic form. SNMP is a good example because it uses ASN.1 which can be encoded as text format or binary. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_Syntax_Notation_One#Example ... I assume SW's binary language is like ASN.1 – Kaithar Aug 11 '15 at 20:07
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    @DangerZone They're talking about programming the machines in what amounts to raw machine code in their universe. So to me it's more like the difference between x86 vs ARM vs AVR vs 68k vs Sparc vs MIPS... Still, in our universe, exposing a programming interface like in the SW universe would be considered a critical security bug. Then again, our browsers expose themselves to javascript so who am I to complain. – slebetman Aug 12 '15 at 4:18
  • Specialized API. Vaporators probably don't have much to talk about, so giving them the full array of normal droid communication abilities would be like giving your toaster a fully-featured operating system. Makes no sense. A specialist application goes hand-in-hand with a specialized (programming) language. – Wolfie Inu Oct 21 '15 at 9:36

In our world, there are many, many programming languages. Not every computerized system can be programmed in every language. Many can only be programmed in one, specialized language.

It seems like the Star Wars universe hasn't found a solution for this interoperability problem either. Apparently the moisture vaporators are programmed in a binary code which isn't exactly the Star Wars equivalent of Java but rather something unique and proprietary.

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    Binary is not a code or programming language, and is not related to strings of 0's and 1's we usually think of. It is an actual language, named binary, spoken by droids in the Star Wars universe. (The noises Artoo makes are binary.) So, it seems not every droid in the Star Wars universe speaks the same version of Binary, but maybe your answer could make it more clear that this is an actual language, and has nothing to do with programming. – Bamboo Aug 10 '15 at 1:44
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    That sounds like another ludicrous post-justification, like the parsecs thing. – Gaius Aug 10 '15 at 2:51
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    @Gaius Post-justification of what? This line hasn't gotten much scrutiny. We do hear the droids speaking an audible language to each other... it happens to be called Binary. The language most of the humanoid species speak is called "Basic." The Star Wars universe wasn't great at naming languages, it seems. – Bamboo Aug 10 '15 at 4:11
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    @Rori The "post-justification" here is non-film sources ascribing to film dialogue a meaning that is not apparent in the film. The Star Wars wiki page on Binary cites only a book released over twenty years after ANH. This answer doesn't require citations from outside the film - this answer is self-evident from the dialogue itself, the definition of "binary" as it relates to computers, and the way binary computers operate. – recognizer Aug 10 '15 at 13:46
  • @recognizer Ah, interesting. I think the explanation that Binary is the language the droids speak makes more sense with the dialogue. Lars says "understands the binary language," not "can program in the binary language." This fits with other information we have: we hear droids of all sorts communicating in the language we hear Artoo speaking throughout the films. The organics have Galactic Basic as a near-universal language, so it's not crazy that the droids would have binary as a near-universal language. Also, the canon link is better. – Bamboo Aug 10 '15 at 14:13

This scene is a little longer in the novelization:

"I need," [Owen Lars] broke in, demonstrating imperious disregard for Threepio's as yet unenumerated secondary functions, "a 'droid that knows something about the binary language of independently programmable moisture vaporators."

"Vaporators! We are both in luck," Threepio countered. "My first post-primary1 assignment was in programming binary load lifters. Very similar in construction and memory-function to your vaporators.

Star Wars Chapter 3

Although Threepio is bargaining for his life, meaning we have take everything he says with a grain of salt, his specific reference to memory-function suggests that moisture vaporators and load lifters accept different instructions than other sorts of droids.

1 Would that then be his second assignment?

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    +1. I suddenly have the urge to start using "first post-primary" instead of second in every day conversation. – Bamboo Aug 9 '15 at 21:04
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    At the risk of missing the joke, I guess "primary" here meant something like primary education. – muru Aug 10 '15 at 2:52
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    Agreed; notice the previous line about secondary functions. I think he's referring to the first job he wasn't specifically designed to do. – deltab Aug 10 '15 at 3:01
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    A novelization answer that wasn't written by Richard? How droll! – Wad Cheber Aug 10 '15 at 4:06
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    @WadCheber Actually there seem to be several people here on this site who have the book. Quite a coincidence eh? – Mr Lister Aug 10 '15 at 18:14

I imagined it as a sort-of API, like it has added functions to more finely tune calibrations. For instance the binary language of most droids would include "wet", but a moisture vaporator would need to be far more precise, and may use special nomenclensure, if for instance, there are other gases being tracked, etc.

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    I just realized I spent 15 minutes thinking up a unique plausible explanation for a character in a movie to have said a line, to a device that has never existed, about a made-up language that another made-up creature could have a reason to say the answer it gave, and why it knowing another made-up device's made-up language would thereby help it. – Engineer Aug 9 '15 at 23:20
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    Time well spent :-) – Valorum Aug 9 '15 at 23:24
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    Still more useful than time spent as a Donald Trump apologist. – Robert Soupe Aug 10 '15 at 1:41
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    That's time you could have spent carefully filling in a 9×9 grid of numbers. – deltab Aug 10 '15 at 3:17
  • Thanks to everyone for their up-votes! I hardly expected the response I got, and I'm tickled that everyone finds my post amusing. I feel like a cat finding out it's an internet meme. :)) – Engineer Aug 12 '15 at 20:41

On the planet earth, today, there are a huge number of binary encoding standards.

  • Based on 6, 8, 16, 32 or 64 bit groupings
  • Encodings for specific character sets (for differnet languages), there are encodings which carry simple
  • lean data (such as the readout from a scale) to more complex, video, photo and audio encodings.
  • Different manufacturers (for instance, Microsoft Office keeps changing it's file encoding to avoid their files being read by other manufacturers' software).

If, in the real world, we can't come up with a single standard for everything. How would a galaxy of many worlds, a huge number of species who presumably each have distinct thought-patterns, with many languages and manufacturers, come up with a single standard binary encoding?

  • A 34-bit encoding? Is that a typo for "32"? – Doug Warren Aug 10 '15 at 14:45
  • @DougWarren Yes, it was. Corrected now. (Although, 34 bit is possible. There's no particular reason it coultn't happen). – AJFaraday Aug 10 '15 at 14:47
  • @AJFaraday - Indeed. 36 bit words were once common – Johnny Aug 10 '15 at 22:46
  • On the subject of Microsoft Office, Office Open XML has been an open standard for almost a decade, and is the default target for Office >=12. – mirichan Aug 12 '15 at 8:07

The binary language and the machine language are synonyms. Different machines need different languages. At the lowest level, this is the arbitrary decision of how to assemble groups of binary digits into instructions. At the higher level, it would be what peripherals are attached and what kind of interface is needed to talk to them. If you want to think of binary as an actual language, there are numerous parallels with human languages, for example breaking words into phonemes, how many symbols are in the alphabet, what the grammar is and so on.

As to why moisture evaporators should require an non-standard language, there could be numerous reasons, optimisations to maximise compatibility with solar panel technology, maximising battery life, providing reliable unattended operation for long periods, etc.


It's possible Owen was simply working off of C-3PO's list of talents. 3PO was explaining how he could speak a wide variety of languages; this is of little use to Owen. The only skill that he needs a droid to know is the one that makes them a good moisture farmer. And that's what he tells 3PO: you can be the best droid for talking to organics, but if you can't get my machines to work you're no use to me. The reference to binary language is simply used as a segue from 3PO's language skill and the desired skill of the operation of moisture vaporators.

It's also worth mentioning that droids aren't always going to be naturally good at talking to other machines, just like humans aren't very good at talking to monkeys.

protected by Often Right Aug 11 '15 at 7:53

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