Is R2D2 Being Demoted?

What happens when your old astromech gets replaced by a shiny new one? R2D2, along with C-3PO, was an iconic symbol of first the 1980s, then the 2000s. Now he’s being replaced by a pipsqueak, half his size.

The history of R2D2 and C3PO is interesting. R2 belonged to Amadala, Threepio to Anakin, who of course secretly got married and sired a set of twins. When Amadalaand Anakin both ?died,? the droids went to their daughter, which is where we meet them in the original movie.

Artoo and Threepio were both the comedic relief and plot elements of the original three films. They had their own fanbase (even getting stars on Hollywood Boulevard). They were second tier charaters in the original trilogy – just under han, Luke and Leia.

But the prequel trilogy changed their rankings. Threepio?s branding took a hit in the prequels. Threepio seemed to become whiny. In the original trilogy, Threepio was useful – watch him introducing himself to Luke, listen as he entrances the Ewoks. I’d ague that in the prequels, Threepio moved to being a third tier character, joining Nien Nub in the seen but not heard level.

Realistically, R2?s brand took a hit with the release of the prequel trilogy also. But where Threepio became effete and ineffectual, the little droid that could revealed himself to be superdroid – look, in the sky, it?s a bird, it?s a plane, it?s R2D2! There was nothing he couldn?t do – fly, fight fire, fight warrior droids, or any combination thereof. And he was invincible! All it cost was his role as comic relief.

Hardly the scrappy little droid that struggled to survive that we were all introduce to in Star Wars (1977). Although, given his work in the prequels, I can understand why Princess Leia felt confident in entrusting the battle plans with him.

So now we?re at the precipice – the arrival of a non-George-Lucas-helmed third Star Wars trilogy. We?ve all seen the hype – if you?re reading this, you have, I know. There are many intriguing ideas revealed, and few questionable ones (Luke?s/Anakin?s light sabre? Vader?s mask? Is this a film about fandom?)

One of the most interesting elements was included in the first trailer, BB-8. It?s the next generation R2 unit! (I haven?t heard that specifically, but that?s what it looks like – an R2 head on a beach ball.). BB-8 not only moves around, it also delivers holograms (Like R2). I fully expect that the movie one will have many skills beyond those shown by the toy. For one, another toy has revealed that BB-8 takes an R2 slot in an X-wing fighter.

A good look at both R2D2 and BB-8, for size and comparison of ports:

It?s easy to see how some of the markings on BB-8 align with R2?s various extensible arms.

But what really makes it cooler than R2 is the existence of its radio controlled toy replica:

Compare to the original R2D2 one (I know the comparison isn’t fair, given the changes in our technology, but the target audience is still 11-year-old boys):

So it looks like our astromech has a replacement: BB-8 is faster on the ground, no better at taking stairs, may or may not be able to fly. If it was George Lucas making it, R2D2 would have built BB-8 himself – because you know with a whole galaxy to play in, there are only really 30 characters. Hopefully that doesn?t happen here. As it is, the first time I saw it I thought of (get ready for the ?J? word) Jar-Jar Binks – supposed to be cute, turns out to be annoying and useless.

Now, my sense is that in the next films Artoo will join Threepio as third tier character, both having much smaller roles (Monmotha-level of screen time), and BB-8 will be front and centre. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Should Artoo have some heroic moment (beyond flipping a switch and falling onto someone)? Thoughts? Speculation?

Artoo’s most heroic moment: