R2-D2: Hero of the Star Wars Universe

Star Wars is huge in so many ways.  Volumes have been written by film critics and historians about the franchise’s contributions to cinema - from its vast innovations in special effects to its revolutionary changes to the “blockbuster” phenomenon at the box office.  Turner Classic Movies even named "Star Wars: A New Hope" one of their "15 Most Influential Films of All Time".  Its impact on popular culture, movie merchandising, the toy industry, the economy and the hearts and minds of people around the world are almost immeasurable.

Inside the Star Wars universe itself, things just seem to be bigger.  After all, the very first shot (after the famous crawl, of course) is of the Imperial Star Destroyer almost never-endingly stretching over our heads, intimidating and dwarfing the rebel ship it’s chasing.

Devastator Star Destroyer


The Empire’s size is certainly imposing, as is that of its enforcer, Darth Vader, whose physical stature is emphasized as he lifts poor Captain Antilles two feet clear off the ground aboard the captured Rebel Blockade Runner.  Not to be outdone, our heroes come in large sizes, as well.  Chewbacca’s height and ferocity are highlighted as he delivers a Wookiee roar at a tiny mouse droid in the halls of the Death Star.  Even galactic slugs in a galaxy far, far away seem to come super-sized; Jabba the Hutt’s corpulence and sheer physical girth are revoltingly made clear.   Not to be forgotten, the concept of The Force is also expansive – it’s omnipresent and binds the entire galaxy together!

Darth Vader Captain Antilles  Chewbacca Growl  Jabba the Hutt


Hidden amongst the grandeur and enormity of it all, we’re reminded by one of the physically smallest of characters, Jedi Master Yoda, that size matters not.  That point is driven home as he asks Luke Skywalker, “Judge me by my size, do you?”  While the acts of heroism in this universe are large and sweeping, we contend that it’s another diminutive character, standing a mere .96 meters, that is the true hero of the Star Wars universe.  Yes, we’re talking about everyone’s favorite astromech droid, R2-D2.

R2-D2


Before you scoff or chuckle, let us point out that Artoo performs certifiably heroic deeds in each of the six films.  In fact, along with C-3PO, Artoo’s the only character to even appear in each of the six films.  This of course discounts Anakin Skywalker (due to his transformation into Darth Vader) and Obi-Wan due to his appearance in two films as a ghost/spirit.  We give you Artoo’s heroic resume from each of the six films.

  • The Phantom Menace
    • Artoo fixes the shield generator on the Queen’s royal starship, allowing it to escape certain destruction during the the Blockade of Naboo.
    • Artoo gets young Anakin Skywalker’s Naboo Starfighter out of autopilot during the assault on the Federation’s Droid Control Ship
R2-D2 Repairing Queen's Starship

  • Attack of the Clones
    • Artoo shuts down the machines of the droid factory before they pour molten metal on Padmé Amidala, who’s trapped in a crucible
    • Artoo re-attaches C-3PO's head to his body in the Petranaki arena and drags him to safety.
  • Revenge of the Sith
    • Artoo destroys a Buzz Droid, preventing it  from destroying Anakin Skywalker’s ship
    • Artoo stops a free-falling elevator aboard the Invisible Hand, saving Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lives
    • Artoo distracts General Grievous so Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi can retrieve their lightsabers
    • Artoo destroys two Super Battle Droids
R2-D2 Shocks Buzz Droid

  • A New Hope
    • Artoo succeeds in his mission to convey the holo-recording of Princess Leia to Obi-Wan Kenobi
    • Artoo slices the Death Star compuer and shows its schematics to Obi-Wan Kenobi, revealing where to disengage the tractor beam
    • Artoo shuts down the garbage compactor from crushing Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker
    • Artoo successfully hides and carries the read-outs of the Death Star to the leaders of the Rebellion so they can analyze them to find a weakness
    • Artoo flies with Luke Skywalker during the assault on the Death Star and manages to increase the thruster power of Luke Skywalker’s X-wing
    • Artoo is shot by Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter, possibly saving Luke’s X-Wing from destruction
R2-D2 Princess Leia Hologram

  • The Empire Strikes Back
    • Artoo slices the computer system on Cloud City for information
    • Artoo creates a cloud in a doorway which allows Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian to escape onto the Millennium Falcon
    • Artoo repairs the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive, allowing the ship to escape Imperial capture
  • Return of the Jedi
    • Artoo perfectly shoots Luke Skywalker his lightsaber from Jabba’s Sail Barge
    • Artoo shocks Salacious Crumb off of his pal, C-3PO
    • Artoo breaks Leia's handcuffs after Jabba the Hutt’s death
    • Artoo attempts to open the bunker doors on Endor before he is shot by a stormtrooper
Hopefully you’ll agree, that’s one impressive resume.  Artoo’s heroic acts, in totality, indeed qualify him as the Star Wars universe’s equivalent of David against the Empire’s Goliath.  In fact, we can think of only one situation where Artoo truly fails in his mission - proving he’s “human” after all.  In “Attack of the Clones” Artoo is charged with protecting Padmé Amidala from harm as she sleeps, but Artoo’s sensors fail to detect the wiley kouhuns (poisonous centipede-like creatures) sent to kill her by bounty hunter Zam Wessell.  Only through the quick actions of Anakin Skywalker is Padmé saved.

When considering Artoo, most fans seem to predominantly identify with his fun-loving persona.  A tribute to Kenny Baker’s performance and Ben Burtt’s sound design, despite the fact Artoo doesn’t speak (at least not in English – or more appropriatly “basic”), he’s a masterful communicator of his “thoughts” and “emotions”; we somehow can understand and identify with every bleep and whistle.  His expressive nature helps qualify Artoo as comic relief in the films, but at the same time has prevented many fans from truly realizing just how heroic he is.

His heroic nature, however, is not lost on the other characters inside the Star Wars universe, as well as those who created it.  When Artoo is shot by Vader’s TIE during the Death Star trench run, Luke Skywalker is clearly distressed as he exclaims, “I’ve lost Artoo.”   When introducing Artoo to Queen Amidala, Captain Panaka describes him as, “An extremely well-put-together little droid, Your Highness. Without a doubt, it saved the ship, as well as our lives."  And as Anakin Skywalker secretly sneaks Padmé Amidala from Coruscant, he quips, “Don’t worry, we have Artoo with us.”  Though Anakin is surely half-joking, he’s clearly aware of the droid’s true nature.

R2-D2 Anakin Padme

At the medal ceremony at the end of  “A New Hope”, as Luke Skywalker,  Han Solo and Chewbacca stand before Princess Leia in vicory, George Lucas chooses to give each of them a hero’s close-up.  Notably, R2-D2 also receives his own close-up, as he appears on the dais fully repaired, polished and feisty as ever.  While this elicits smiles from the other central characters, it should firmly cement Artoo’s place as a true hero. Finally, when asked in an interview, "Is there a character you are going to miss?" George Lucas replied:

“Well, R2-D2… because he's the hero of the whole thing. He's the one that always  comes through and saves everybody. I'd like to have a pal like that that would  come and save me once in a while.”
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