Monday, July 17, 2017

Do Droids Have Souls?

Some of the most beloved and iconic characters in the Star Wars universe are droids: R2-D2, C-3P0 are the first two that come to mind. If you’re a fan of the prequels/Clone Wars, you might also get excited about Trade Federation battle droids. Since Lucasfilm was bought out by Disney we’ve been introduced to a new generation of droids: Chopper on Rebels, BB-8, and K-2S0.

To most sentients in the Star Wars universe, however, droids aren’t really all that special: they’re just there to keep things running.

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Mad About Movies

Your average droid doesn’t do more than general maintenance, piloting cleaning, cooking, wait staff, information storage, cannon fodder, etc. They are metal shells for computer programs designed to carry out certain functions. They’re just objects. Machines. And some people in the Star Wars universe have disdain for droids, even--you remember the cantina in Mos Eisley? They have patrons of every species imaginable, but the droids get asked to leave. “We don’t serve their kind here.”

Do droids really have the same value as sentients? Can they be considered “alive” and independent beings? In my Biology 100 class at BYU, my professor defined life as being able to 1) reproduce and 2) respond to stimuli. There isn’t much evidence for droids making other droids in the Star Wars universe. But droids certainly respond to their environments. And they need to do that in order to carry out their functions.

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But who programmed K-2S0 to do that? (Tumblr)

You could argue, well, that’s just how they’re built to act. A droid that doesn’t turn and run when it sees hostiles approaching it with blasters is not good for much besides spare parts. And droids do need to be able to communicate with sentients and other droids. One could argue that their “behaviors” are “encoded” into their “programming”, so they’re not really “alive.” That’s just what they’re made to be like. So are they no more than the sum of what someone else made them to be? Just a bunch of computer algorithms running a system of mechanized parts?

According to that line of thinking, are sentient beings no more than the sum of their parts, neural systems operating organic tissues in response to stimuli?

I should think not.

The Worth of a Droid

One thing I think people take for granted about the Star Wars universe is that the droids are supposed to be their own class of beings that sentients can interact with normally. That is what George Lucas intended. That is what the people in that galaxy far, far away expect of them. That IS how they’re built. Sentients don’t have time to do more than occasional repairs on these machine-people that are supposed to do the menial work of the galaxy. Otherwise their interactions need to be automatic and natural and not take up time. Star Wars is more fantasy than fiction in the sense that we have a plethora of beings for the heroes to interact with, but instead of fairies and talking animals we have droids and wookiees and what have you.

Me with R2-D2 at SLCC FanX 2015

The funny thing about humans--particularly Earthlings, i can’t speak for other planets--is that we assign meaning to EVERYTHING. We want to personify our trees and our dogs and the rats living in the basement. Some people talk to their cars the way they would talk to their annoying neighbors. Humans love the idea of the “other” having thoughts and feelings, of being our sentient equal or near-equal. We relate to the other by pretending that it is another human. Earthling technology is starting to catch up with our favorite sci-fi universes, with the development of smartphones, voice commands, Siri and Cortana, computers built into cars and appliances, and so forth. Computers can analyze things in detail in seconds, using mathematical processes that it takes years for humans to learn and hours to compute. But I have yet to see artificial intelligence that will not only deliver your breakfast in bed but stay to chat with you about the weather, much less have an opinion on their favorite day of the week.

In the Star Wars universe itself, a droid’s personality depends a lot on its function and its experience. There is a continuum for droid sentience (does it have something clever to say to you?) and independence (is it controlled by an external computer? Are its actions a result of someone manipulating controls directly?).

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There’s a scene in Attack of the Clones that might illustrate how droids are supposed to function in their society. Obi-wan Kenobi brings Jango Fett’s dart to his friend Dex because the analysis droids at the Jedi temple could not identify it. Obi-wan kind of makes an offhand comment, “Well, if droids could think, there wouldn’t be any of us here?” In the context of that conversation, Obi-wan’s point is that sentients do have a more specific memory for some things, even if they can’t remember everything at once, so for once an organic lifeform has some kind of advantage over a droid. But let’s think about that quote for a minute. People in this galaxy want the droids to work for them, and do their jobs efficiently. But they don’t want their droids to be so independent that they decide their human masters are useless and not work for them anymore. That kind of defeats the point of their existence--droids are machines that people build to help them. Droids have to have their programming limited so they can do what they’re supposed to. Droids can’t really exist without the society they live in, and the society cannot function without the droids. It’s a relationship of interdependence. Droids are extensions of self. Droids aren’t really shown as doing things on their own without working for someone (well, except for that one bounty hunter IG-88, but that’s another story).

I think we’re biased towards the droids that hang out with our lead characters because we see them a lot more. And our lead characters care about them, a lot. It’s not surprising, in a sense, because sentients need these droids to do technical stuff for them--practically think for them, or at least store information. The droids at the very least recognize that making their owners happy can be of mutual benefit. Even Chopper from Star Wars Rebels, savage as he is, does like the other crew members of the Ghost to some level.

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It’s my headcanon that the Star Wars universe has advanced enough artificial intelligence technology that, given the right mix of experience and memory storage, a personality will naturally work its way into a droid’s programming, just a pattern of tics and thoughts and expressions. It’s kind of the same rule with people: what you learn from and go through can affect what you are. You get out what you put in. Regular maintenance droids that get wiped regularly? Not much going on. But droids that people keep around, that collect information and experience? They’re definitely alive.

Droid Heroes: R2-D2 and C-3P0

Let’s talk about C-3P0 and R2-D2 first. R2-D2 started out as a regular maintenance astromech for the Queen of Naboo. He saved Queen Amidala’s ship from being blown up and was given special recognition by the queen for his service. Qui-gon Jinn brought him to Mos Espa to assist him in buying a new hyperdrive, and he helped Anakin set up for the podrace. Then during the battle of Naboo, R2 accompanied and protected Anakin Skywalker on his trip to the Trade Federation battle station.

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Padme Amidala must have kept a close eye on R2-D2 during the rest of her terms as queen of Naboo, considering how much help he had been during her planet’s time of crisis. And she keeps him on as senator. At the start of Attack of the Clones, R2 accompanies Padme in her starfighter while her decoy flies in the senator’s barge. R2 goes with Anakin and Padme to Naboo and later Tatooine and Geonosis. It’s thanks to R2 that Padme escapes from being killed in the droid factory, and 3P0 gets his parts back together after the battle.

During the Clone Wars, R2 goes to work for Anakin and the Jedi order. Anakin Skywalker, it is important to remind you, is a technological genius. So of course, during the Clone Wars, as Anakin spends more time with R2, he would obviously want to make modifications to the droid just to tweak him, see what he can do to upgrade his capabilities and make him more useful.
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And There Came a Day

Anakin is also the mastermind behind C-3P0. Anakin and C-3P0 couldn’t be more different personality-wise--C-3P0 is a lot more vocal about his anxieties while Anakin has to do the Jedi thing and repress them. But Anakin built C-3P0 to help out his mom and later put him to work for Padme during the Clone Wars, and I wouldn’t put it past him to tweak C-3P0’s programming a bit in his free time. I’m telling you this because Anakin’s personal touch would have made a difference for these droids: he was attached to them, so they would have been even more advanced--sentient--because of Anakin.

When Anakin says goodbye to C-3P0 in Phantom Menace, 3P0 laments that Anakin has to leave before he can get his coverings. Anthony Daniels has mentioned a deleted scene between C-3P0 and Padme in Attack of the Clones. I can only guess that instead of the gray suit he had in that film he was supposed to still be “naked.” In this scene, at the Lars’ homestead while Anakin has gone to look for his mother, Padme asks 3P0 if he is happy--a really interesting moment, a human asking after the welfare of their droid. C-3P0’s reply is that he wishes he had proper coverings. Padme is able to put the coverings on 3P0 right before Anakin’s return. What made this deleted scene stand out to Daniels and to myself is that it demonstrates that droids do have feelings. C-3P0 kind of bases his self-worth early in his existence on how completed he is. And he wants to feel useful to the people he works for. (Video: go to 35 min.)


C-3P0 has a sense of what he is supposed to be--that is, a protocol droid. A butler. Yet he is a butler who always ends up in the wrong situation.

C-3P0 and R2 have some experiences in the Clone Wars TV series that broaden our understanding of droids a little further. There is an episode in season 3 when R2 and 3P0 go run an errand for Padme on Coruscant. 3P0 gets captured and tortured for information by the bounty hunter Cad Bane. Meanwhile, R2-D2 is distracted by an offer to spend a day at a droid spa. If R2-D2 is only supposed to function based on his programming, why is he distracted from his assignment? Well, the fact that the droid spa even exist points to the fact that droids have a sense of personal comfort--they like being cleaned, tuned up, functioning, and so forth. They like to take breaks and relax from their routine. They have a sense of what does and doesn’t benefit their well-being--or, functions, if you rather.

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Other than a couple of diplomatic missions for the Republic, C-3P0 stays with Padme for most of the Clone Wars. Being the servant of a galactic senator is finally allowing him to live up to his calling.

During Season 4, R2 is captured with Ahsoka Tano and Lux Bonteri by the Death Watch. In his captivity, he finds a group of broken, dismantled, damaged droids that the Death Watch were using for target and battle practice. “Please, help us,” one of them pleads to R2. Droids base their personal happiness on their ability to do what they’re built to do--and being able to function in one piece goes a long way towards that.

At the start of Clone Wars Season 5, R2-D2 goes on a top-secret assignment with a group of droids. Anakin gives R2 an affectionate pat on the dome when he says goodbye.

ebnycupcake (tumblr)

At the end of the arc, the other droids return in one piece but when R2 is reported missing Anakin is distressed. He goes back to the ruins of the spaceship that the droids destroyed and goes looking for whatever’s left of R2, and he does everything he can to fix R2 until he’s functional again.

No human cares about droids the way Anakin Skywalker cares about R2-D2. ANAKIN. FREAKING. LOVES. THAT. FREAKING. DROID.
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Even without the context of the Clone Wars tv show, it’s a sad moment when Anakin, having turned to the dark side, asks R2 to stay behind with his starfighter on Mustafar. R2 is used to going into danger with Anakin. That’s what he does. That’s the thing with joining the Dark Side, though: you eventually shut out even the people you thought you cared about.

R2 doesn’t get to see what Anakin became. But it’s heartbreaking news for him. And even more heartbreaking to watch Padme die.

(What was R2 doing while Anakin was on Mustafar? I need answers).

Obi-wan leaves the droids in the care of Bail Organa. Bail gives the droids to Captain Antilles. He orders Antilles to have 3P0’s memory wiped. But just because 3P0 doesn’t remember doesn’t mean that Bail doesn’t know what that droid is capable of--he knows that droid has been working for Padme for years. Bail puts 3P0 and R2 to use for the Rebel Alliance. Leia probably knew them, too.

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Undercover work might be difficult at times for C-3P0, bu R2-D2 is always up for a fight. And through it all, R2 always has 3P0's back. And in spite of how vexing R2 can be at times, 3P0 appreciates the astromech's company.

I do not doubt that R2-D2 knows Leia’s backstory, even if he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I like to imagine them meeting occasionally and becoming friends. I think Leia knew what she was doing when she asked R2 to take the Death Star plans to Kenobi.

“Are you sure you don’t want a different droid, sir?” the attendant asks Luke Skywalker as R2-D2 is loaded into his x-wing for the Battle of Yavin..“He looks a little beat up.”

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Luke declines. “Not on your life. That little droid and I have been through a lot together.” They’ve only known each other for a little while, but R2 and Luke are already tight.

I remember once when I was watching A New Hope with my family that my mom said, “he also saved your parents’ necks a few times, boy” at that moment.

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"Never tell me the odds." Rebloggy

C-3P0 goes with Han and Leia while R2 goes with Luke to Dagobah. 3P0 is able to help Han with fixing the Millennium Falcon but boy does he get into a lot of life-threatening situations.  And he has to put up with Han and Leia sniping at each other, and venting their spleen on him. C-3P0 is anxious because the people he’s looking out for get into dangerous situations, and he’s usually in the mix with them.

C-3P0 spends the years leading up to The Force Awakens working for Leia and the Resistance, and if you want more C-3P0 in action I highly recommend (for the millionth time) Bloodline by Claudia Gray.
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R2-D2 also saves everyone’s butts multiple times in the original trilogy. He gets hurt a lot, but it doesn’t slow him down. We only understand most of his comments in translation, but we know enough from his beeps, yells, and movements to see that he is sly and resourceful.

I’m kind of sad how R2 got shafted in The Force Awakens, but I guess it goes to show how deep his bond was with Luke (and especially if he remembers Anakin leaving...brb I need to cry). And we know from Rey’s vision that he was there when the First Order destroyed Luke’s other Jedi students. R2-D2 has been through a lot of trauma. I hope he gets more screentime in The Last Jedi.

New Droids on the Block

However, the droid I’m looking forward to seeing the most in The Last Jedi is BB-8. BB-8 is a little rolling ball of loooooove. I heard somewhere that humans are more likely to identify things as cute that resemble babies. BB-8 is round, small, makes cute chirping sounds, and has a big eye.
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BB-8 is characterized in The Force Awakens as younger and a bit more innocent than R2 and 3P0. He’s a lot more passionate in how he expresses his emotions--electrocuting Finn when he sees him wearing Poe’s jacket, rolling up to Poe at the Resistance base, the blowtorch thumbs-up. Droids generally care about the people who care for them, and BB-8 cares a lot about Poe. When Finn and Rey decide to take him to the Resistance, it’s only natural that he makes them a part of his family, too.
I’ve heard BB-8 described as the kind of droid who rolls out space cookie dough. Chopper from Rebels, on the other hand, has no reservations about murder. Imperial droid on the Ghost? Chopper chucks him into the sky. Someone on the Ghost team wants to give him a command? He talks back, beeps grumpily, probably curses a lot except thank goodness it’s bleeped out. Strange droid in the way? ....that was gruesome.

And then in Rogue One we had K-2S0. K-2S0 is a reprogrammed imperial droid attitude problem.

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Cassian Andor explains that the personality issue is a product of the reprogramming. K-2S0’s job is strategic analysis. K2 delivers with a side of sass. He’ll tell you the odds of the criminal that the Rebel Alliance picked up using that gun to shoot you whether or not you want to hear them. He thinks you need to know that he’s not going to die if the rest of you float forever in the cold empty vacuum of space. Also, he’s noticed that you kind of hate him, Jyn.  He has no tact whatsoever--if he sees something negative, he will point it out.
And yet K-2S0’s death is the hardest to watch. Because he was working so hard to help Jyn and Cassian to complete their mission, even though he knows very well that they will most likely die before it’s over, which they do. Just, no. By that point in the film, he was as valuable a member of the team as the other five. Because you see the light in his eyes go out and it gets you right HERE.

In Star Wars, we are also duly entertained by background droids. None are more entertaining, of course, than the droids in the Clone Wars series. B1 Battle Droids are just cannon fodder for the clones, but they enjoy doing their job, and when left to their own devices they can certainly be opinionated.

I don’t like B2 super battle droids as much, but I will never forget that one droid in S1. Ep.1 that Yoda turned to fire on its comrades. Battle droids are very easily confused.
I like the mouse droid in A New Hope. Definitely a droid I would love to have.
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The Movie and the Muse
And don’t forget the pit droids in The Phantom Menace. #SpiritAnimal
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The Harold B. Lee Library Science Reference Desk at BYU has a cardboard pit droid. I’ll have to post a photo sometime because I have to go through years and years of pictures to find it right now.

So in summary:
Droids can feel fear.
Droids can feel sadness.
Droids can feel happy.
Droids can feel angry.
Droids can be brave.
Droids can make sacrifices.
Droids can love.

Droids are computers but they are also quasi-sentient, and depending on how they’re treated they can develop sentient-like personalities.

Do you think droids have souls?

Do you think they don’t?

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The Hollywood Gossip
Do you think that I don’t think droids have souls after growing up watching R2-D2 over and over again demonstrate his loyalty and devotion to the Skywalker clan and their friends? Or C-3P0?
Do you think I don’t think that after watching Chopper and K-2S0 work to make a difference for the Rebels?
Do you think I don’t think that after seeing BB-8’s tender affection for Finn, Rey, and Poe?
There is a story I heard once from a BYU professor of mine about Saint Teresa of Avila. A group of Spanish explorers were sailing off the coast of South America when they saw a large number of black and white creatures standing by the shore. At first glance, the Spaniards believed them to be nuns, and the priests blessed them. Then as the ship grew closer, they realized that the “nuns” were actually penguins. Mortified, the Spaniards reported their mistake to Saint Teresa. Certainly they would be cursed for accidentally blessing animals, since, according to their belief, animals don’t have souls.
Saint Teresa’s response was simply: “Give them souls--but little ones.”
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There is nothing wrong with a being that isn’t human having a soul.


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