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‘The Rise of Skywalker’ Might Be the Last Hurrah for Nice Droids

In the ‘Episode IX’ trailer, things look bleak for the lovable, helpful C-3PO. Will later depictions of droids reflect our deteriorating relationships with our computers?

Lucasfilms/Ringer illustration

If you’ve spent any time reading the tarine leaves lately, you might’ve noticed things aren’t looking great for a certain golden droid.

C-3PO turns up midway through the final trailer for The Rise of Skywalker. Apparently mid-tune-up, he pauses to stare vacantly—not that he has the ability to stare any other way, but I digress—at a group that includes Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. “What, uh, what are you doing there, 3PO?” Poe asks.

“Taking one last look, sir,” C-3PO replies, “at my friends.”

While it’s hard to guess at the specifics, this farewell suggests that everyone’s favorite protocol droid is likely setting off on a mission from which both he and his human pals know there will be no return. If you also factor in that the man in the tin can, 73-year-old Anthony Daniels, the only actor to have appeared in all nine of the core Star Wars movies, just published a seemingly conclusive memoir about the role this fall, you could probably see 3PO retiring to, I don’t know, a home for elderly galactic paralegals. Our guy may yet make it out of The Rise of Skywalker in one piece, or at the very least in pieces that can be reattached, but, well, suffering has always been his lot in life.

Like his robo-sidekick R2-D2, it’s entirely possible that the entire plot of Star Wars is driven by Threepio’s achievements: He helps secure Anakin’s freedom, rescue Padmé and the twins, deliver Leia’s message to Obi-Wan, and, you know, save the Republic. But mostly, he’s tottered after three (seemingly!) generations of the Skywalker clan, fussing and fretting, advising and kvetching. He, like many a hobbit before him, would have been perfectly happy to stay put and leave the marauding and dreadful starships to others. But his friends, Artoo and Skywalker alike, keep getting themselves into trouble, and what’s a good droid to do but help out?

There are bad robots in the original Star Wars trilogy—consider the needle-toting IT-O or the torture-obsessed EV-9D9. But even they are just carrying out the orders of their evil human/Hutt minders, mostly; EV-9D9 might have gotten the boot from Cloud City for her overwhelming desire to press molten metal to her fellow robots, but that was just due to some lousy human programming. After that, she filled in nicely at the Hutt palace, doing what all droids in the original Star Wars trilogy most wanted to: their job, by helping their (usually human) bosses by translating, piloting, shooting, cleaning, and, OK, sometimes carrying out, er, enhanced interrogations. Whatever your need, they just want to help.

Compare that to this winter’s other addition to the Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian. We know very, very little about the show’s protagonist, but we know a lot about how much he hates droids. His distrust is reasonable enough—droids murdered his parents—but the show goes further than just showing off its hero’s phobia: It wants us to know that he’s right. For every nonplussed electronic bartender or gaggle of curious mechanics, there’s a robot like Q9-0, who pilots the Razor Crest in “The Prisoner,” and then, having spent his time alone on the ship snooping through Mando’s secrets, tries to kill Baby Yoda.

Q9-0 wasn’t even the first droid to make an attempt on Baby Yoda’s life: That (dis)honor fell in the very first episode to the gangly IG-11, whose commitment to securing his bounty dead or alive trumped any interest in, you know, sparing the life of a cooing green baby. Droids in The Mandalorian are amoral to the point of antimorality: You can only divert the runaway trolley toward a group of innocents so many times before you just start being a serial killer. If C-3PO and R2-D2 represent a simpler time, when supercomputers were going to solve all our problems and make the world into a better place, The Mandalorian’s droids feel like they were created by someone who’s seen the Facebook algorithm in action. Computers might solve some problems, but they’re sure not doing it because they want to improve the world.

Losing 3PO, then, wouldn’t just be bidding adieu to a cherished character. It might also mean a farewell to a simpler, nicer, more helpful time, in Star Wars and in our own world. Soon, or maybe already, we might have no choice but to trust a strange computer.

Early in the filming of A New Hope, Daniels—miffed that people on set had been treating poor 3PO, and his early-filming jagged, glue-coated carapace, as “an inanimate object” during shoots—distributed custom matchbooks at a studio party. They read “3PO IS HUMAN!”

Nobody ever worries about upsetting a droid.